Choosing your story format.

American Idol was heartbreaking. But I’ve learned to expect that from Hollywood week. On the first round, they get one chance to sing a song, with or without an instrument. In the second round, they choose their own groups and have 12 hours to learn and choreograph the song – together. Talk about stressful.

First Round

Some talented singers chose the totally wrong song. They didn’t put in the prep work and forgot their lines – or they lost confidence and blanked. And they were out, just like that. Unfair? Maybe.

But maybe, even though they have talent, they weren’t ready. Maybe they didn’t know what genre of music was best for their voice. Maybe they didn’t know what kind of song would show off their skills in the twenty seconds they had to impress the agents   judges.

Second Round

My first reaction to the second round was to scream “unfair!” and shut the television off or mutter not-nice words about Simon. But the pressure of working with other singers drew out some good qualities and not-so-good qualities. Clearly, some would be easier to work with, than others.

Okay, so let’s be real. Pull up a chair. Do you think twice about your story format before you write the first draft. I never used to, but I do now.

What is story format?

To me, story format includes all the different methods used to tell a story. I would include on the list words like point of view, tone, and mood. And voice.

Point of view sticks out the most. If you want a personal intimate story than first person works well. If you want a storyteller feel to it, then 3rd person limited or ominscient might work.

And you have to look at your story, your character. Only you can decide how the story will best be told. The style that will accentuate your skills and make your characters come alive.

And the more you grow as a writer, the more you realize this before sitting down to a first draft. Even though it might change on a rewriting. And the more you read and write, the more your writer’s ear develops.

What do you think about before choosing a format for your story?

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15 Responses to Choosing your story format.

  1. Robert Guthrie February 12, 2010 at 7:30 am #

    My main character tells me what the format will be. I might start in 3rd person and the charactaer squirms and yells and demands to speak directly to the audience. The main character of a middle grade work decided he should take a back seat and allow the third person to have more control and offer a wider perspective… All to say that my first intentions to not always stay.

  2. Laura February 12, 2010 at 12:59 pm #

    Robert – That’s what happened to me too. I started in 3rd, but switched over to first because I needed more freedom. Though, I realize not all writers look at first person as freeing. Thanks for stopping by. 🙂

  3. Catherine A. Winn February 12, 2010 at 2:43 pm #

    This was a great post, I did the same thing at first. Now I “listen” to my characters early on and go in the direction the story calls for. It also happens with the main character’s name. Many times I give him/her a name and as the story or chapter progresses the name has to change–it just doesn’t fit the personality.

  4. Laura February 12, 2010 at 3:22 pm #

    So true, Catherine. If only I could get the wax out of my ears and hear right the first time.

  5. Tina Lee February 12, 2010 at 4:20 pm #

    On the WIP that I’m trying to finish up now I didn’t think to do that when I started. And by this point I have reinvented the wheel nearly six times. And you better bet that I will think of all those things in advance as I start other projects. But I also think I needed to write that many words to become the better writer so I think it was okay to go through all the rounds to finally get where I needed to be. Assuming that I am there now!!

  6. Laura February 12, 2010 at 4:49 pm #

    Tina Lee- I agree, if I can’t figure out, I have to experiment; and sometimes, I don’t figure it out until the first draft. I’m hoping this next time to figure it out earlier, even if it might evolve. 🙂

  7. MG Higgins February 12, 2010 at 5:10 pm #

    I’m always in my main character’s head, so it’s very difficult to write in anything other than first-person POV. I write short stories in 3rd person, but there I prefer a “narrative” voice.

  8. Laura February 12, 2010 at 5:49 pm #

    MG -It’s amazing how different writers find different pov easier/harder to write in.

  9. Ansha Kotyk February 12, 2010 at 6:05 pm #

    Laura, you just nailed why I am adicted to watching AI (the only tv I watch each year). I think I see the parallels with my own writing life. 🙂
    As for my storytelling, I always start in 3rd and always end up switching to first. Why is that? More liberating? I have to agree.

  10. Laura February 12, 2010 at 6:22 pm #

    I’m with you Ansha. I’ve switched over to first person more than once. That’s why, during the dreaming/outlining stage, I’m giving my next work more thought. Or I’m going to try too. Thanks for stopping by!

  11. Kristen Torres-Toro February 12, 2010 at 7:33 pm #

    For me, format is something I just know. It’s how the story feels when it comes to me, if that makes any sense.

    Btw–in the book Notebook, she still dies. But Noah doesn’t. He’s a primary character in The Wedding. That’s the biggest difference.

  12. Laura February 12, 2010 at 7:46 pm #

    Kristen – That’s awesome that the format comes to you with the story. Nice. I’m glad Noah lives. The movie was so moving!

  13. Anita Miller February 12, 2010 at 9:43 pm #

    I just start typing and see what happens. A couple times, I’ve had to change things around, but my gut is usually right…we’ll know for sure, if I ever get published!

  14. Heather Kelly February 12, 2010 at 11:04 pm #

    I had to turn off American Idol at one part because it got too harsh for me. I was yelling at the screen, “Why pick a song with the hardest words known to man?!”

    The PoV question is a good one for me right now–since a crit partner (hello Tina!*waving*) gave me some feedback which is making me experiment with a few different ideas. Good stuff.

  15. Kelly Polark February 12, 2010 at 11:37 pm #

    I basically go with what feels right, and if it’s not working I change it. I don’t think too much at it, use my gut. And if it works, it stays.

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