For a long time I put off writing a novel, having been preoccupied with the contemplation of how to accomplish prose rhythm, and having little knowledge of the elements of story-telling and of the methods necessary for writing an excellent story. But having now obtained more proficiency with prose rhythm, by polishing rough drafts according to my ear, I am ready to begin the process of writing a novel. But with this among other things I am experiencing trouble: moving myself to learn.

Knowing that this site is one about writing, and not one concerning self-help, but seeing this problem chiefly pertains to writing, I ask you to demonstrate patience with what is my question, which is what exactly do I need to accomplish to learn and to master story-telling, whether reading books which are written about it and developing stories with their techniques, or writing novels with concern for no formulas with dependence on my power to imagine, of which it is necessary to build up the measure through practice?

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    I've always found that it's important to find what you want to story to end at first, then work your way back . For example, the film Into Spiderverse, one of the most celebrated animated films of all time, was entirely built to lead to the "What's Up Danger" sequence. – hszmv May 19 at 17:59
  • Who are your favourite authors? – DM_with_secrets May 19 at 22:13
  • I can't answer that question because I never read fiction anymore. I tried reading a Tale of Two Cities but I only read four chapters. I also read Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea. I read some other books, some of which I can't even remember. – garbus May 20 at 18:10
  • I don't read books as much as I want to. When I do read books, I read non-fiction books. – garbus May 20 at 18:11
  • I read those books a long time ago, when I was much younger. – garbus May 20 at 18:16

Doing a lot of writing AND getting feedback on it is key to developing any writing skill. I would recommend starting with short stories, not because it's the same as a novel --they are very different --but because some of the skills translate, and because it's a much quicker turnaround process than writing novels, which generally take several years to complete. As far as the feedback process, I'd recommend finding a writer's group, either a local one or an online one (I'm personally on Scribophile, and have found it very useful).

Story structure is it's own skillset and an important and central one. There are a number of good resources to help develop it. I'd recommend reading fairy tales and folktales from all around the world --they are story structure in its purest form. There are also some very good books on the topic --Story Genius, Techniques of the Selling Writer and Anatomy of Story are three books I've found helpful recently, while Story (McKee) and The Writers' Journey are two classics on my personal shelf.

Ultimately, strong stories are about characters with wants and needs, and how they go about pursuing them. The technique comes from the way they alternately get closer and farther from achieving their goals, and from giving your character a journey through the narrative that changes them permanently in some way.


Let's split up the question a tad bit.

What exactly do I need to accomplish to learn and to master story-telling?

To learn is very simple, which you've already done through your prose. To master, though, is hard. And since there isn't a rubric to go by for mastery of storytelling(as far as I know), it's a difficult thing to pin down.

But to get better at storytelling, you should look at other stories. Go to a library or bookstore, or even a thrift store and grab a couple of books that look good. Read them, note what you liked, and then keep that in mind as you write your novel. But learning by example can only go so far.

I'd definitely join Scribophile as suggested by Chris Sunami, and maybe Wattpad as well to find a community that can give feedback.

If you want to, I'd recommend joining a tabletop RPG group as their game master. You do a lot of storytelling as a GM, and it really helps you come up with things on the fly. Very helpful for pantser writers. TBH, playing DnD as a Dungeon Master was probably one of the first things that pointed me towards writing.

Reading books which are written about it and developing stories with their techniques?

In my opinion, no. You write what you want how you want it. I might read one or two, but only to see what tips(if any) they put out that you didn't think of and then add them into your writing as you see fit. Kind of under this category, if you see an ad for Cat Rambo's Academy for Wayward Writers(or something like that, I think) on the site, click the link. (Or just use this one) There are online writing classes there that help a ton. I took one on writing fight scenes and it helped tremendously.

Affiliation disclaimer: I took one class, no other affiliation

Writing novels with no concern for formulas with dependence on my power to imagine?


Do this one. Throw the rulebook away and write what you imagine. You might be bad at first, but there's always a second draft. Just write what you want. Formulas are something for 3rd and 4th drafts, if ever. You wrote it, so it's whatever you want it to be. If you are writing to publish for money, though, then formulas would probably be a good idea.

Is it necessary to build up measure through practice?

Sadly, yes. Reading and playing tabletop RPGs will only get you so far. But since you've done prose, you have a head start. There isn't really a set strategy for getting better through practice. Just write. See what happens. Maybe try a NaNoWriMo every few months. Look for feedback on your writing, implement it if it's a valid suggestion, and keep looking for help to improve.

  • My ability with prose rhythm seems to fluctuate, so that sometimes, I am able to write with flow in a style similar to what I want, and at other times, it is best for me to adhere to the rules of clarity as much as I can. – garbus May 20 at 18:19
  • But I have to say, according to all honesty, that I hardly set down anything, because of my putting things off. – garbus May 20 at 18:20

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