Why Story Must Come First Before ‘The Message’

I am the son of a college statistics professor and a writer, and I was raised in a house that cherished reading and film along with college football.

My first real introduction to how to interpret stories came from the film critic Roger Ebert. My mother had one of his collections of reviews in the house. I would sit there with that book on weekends just reading Mr. Ebert’s thoughts on movies that I recognized and moved out from there. From him, I learned the importance of clarity in technique as well as approachability in form, all through the context of film, that is.

Lincoln Academy 2001 Interview Roger Ebert

Applying those basic large picture lessons to the world of writing has never been a particular challenge. The challenge comes in everything else.

I started writing stories in the second grade as assignments for school. I can’t remember much of those early attempts at narrative (except for one image of a story written out in a single long piece of paper, a rendition of a tall tale, I believe), but I do remember my first attempt at a novel.

This is where my love of movies and writing come together again, much more overtly, for that attempt was “Star War”s fan fiction where I placed a thinly veiled rendition of myself into the universe of Jedi and the Force. Ambitions of novel writing plagued me for several years and through several different fandoms (first that of Lucas, then Tolkien, and finally to the point where everything had to be some kind of adaptation of Shakespeare).

Why Second Chances Help Writers Thrive

My first real novel was an attempt to upend every convention in the fantasy genre in one go. It was a miserable failure. For those who had the misfortune of reading it, I do apologize. I should have followed that age-old writing advice that you take your first novel and place it in your bottom drawer never to be seen again (or, as Sylvia Plath did, toss it into the fireplace).

And yet, for my first serious attempt at novel writing’s lack of artistic merit, it provided me with huge lessons about how to approach the monumental task of taking a germ of an idea and spending several hundred pages expounding on it dramatically.

RELATED: Author Andrew Klavan: Literature Shouldn’t Be Stuff or Boring

Since that time, I’ve written two other novels into third drafts, a fourth novel into its second draft, and I’m nearing the end of the first draft of a fifth. I love the art of storytelling, and I’ve developed a compulsion to continue at it, probably for the rest of my life.

One of the things that drives me to continue my writing is the fact that most prominent writing seems to have forgotten some of the basic rules around theme (for a quick overview of theme’s importance to storytelling, in my opinion, you can read this post I wrote on it in the realm of movie watching).

The Curse of the Modern Storyteller

Pushing messages has outweighed telling stories, much to the detriment of storytelling in general. I aim to tell stories with interesting and thoughtful themes, but the story must always come first. A subtext is worthless if the text above it does not entertain.

My name is David Vining and I blog under the name TheJamesMadison at the Ace of Spades HQ. In addition to writing about movies each Saturday, I write fiction as well.

I have several collections of short stories currently available for sale on Amazon in both paperback and eBook varieties.

Each collection is centered around a different theme or genre. In my first collection, “A Light in the Darkness: A Collection of Short Stories,” the theme is about searching for some kind of hope or escape from the reality that people can find themselves in. These stories range in setting from Ancient Briton under Roman rule to a small town in the 1950s and a simple drive to the grocery store.

The second collection centers more around a genre than a particular theme. That collection, called “A Boy and His Satellite: A Collection of Short Stories,” is science fiction inspired with tales set on generation ships, in the asteroid belt, and even in rural Tennessee (it fits, trust me).

The third, the upcoming “Mutiny!: A Collection of Short Stories,” revolves around mutinies of different types. From the successful, hopeful, and desperate to the completely inept, I explore the ideas that drive people to overturn entire systems that they may or may not understand entirely.

The fourth and fifth will revolve around magic set in historical settings such as the Oklahoma land grab or during the Salem witch trials and the American Civil War.

Photo on Foter.com

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