Let’s give a warm welcome to today’s author, Frank Cavallo, with his guest post on storytelling. And check out his books!
TELL YOUR STORY—LITERALLY
I’d like to suggest something to my fellow fantasy writers. It might sound like a bad idea. It might not even work. I’ve only tried it once myself.
Tell someone your story. I mean that literally. Tell it out loud.
Let me explain what I’m talking about, because it’s probably something most of us never do. I’m sure we’ve all given a brief oral synopsis of one of our projects. Usually that’s for the benefit of a non-writer, a family member or co-worker who asks what we’re working on. In those cases, you might reply with a kind of thumbnail sketch of the plot, maybe analogize it to something they’d already be familiar with, or at most, you maybe give a quick outline.
Or possibly you’re in the habit of reading your manuscript out loud, to get a better sense of how it flows. I do this too, and I find it very helpful. But it’s not what I’m getting at either.
I’m talking about much more. What I’m suggesting is that you try to tell your entire story to someone, start to finish, including every significant plot point and detail. Even if it’s long. Even if it’s a 100,000 word novel. Especially so, in that case.
It might not be easy to find a willing ear, I know. Maybe you’re lucky enough to have an agreeable spouse or a supportive friend, maybe the folks in the lunch room at the office who you eat with every day would find it entertaining.
Whoever it ends up being, I’m sure the exercise will surprise you. Plus, it will almost certainly make your story better.
For my part, I happened across this completely by accident. A few years ago I was on a long road trip with a tour group composed of people I had never met. We were rambling around the extraordinarily empty Mongolian countryside in a van for several weeks, with a lot of downtime and nothing much to occupy our attention except ourselves. Once they all found out I was a writer, and I was touring Central Asia to research a novel, the spotlight was on.
They wanted it all. Every character, every up and down, the whole thing.
I had never tried to do that before, and quite frankly, I really didn’t want to do it at all. Eventually though, they got me talking through it, and the result was much more interesting—and helpful, than I expected.
How It Helps
For one, it’s not easy. Keeping track of parallel events, the comings and goings of various characters or multiple narratives within a longer story can be difficult. This goes for the audience too, especially when you’re working in a fantasy landscape, with unusual names and details you’re asking them to follow. Watching how they retain and process the information as you’re telling it can be eye opening.
If it’s confusing to them, it’ll be obvious to you. There’s no more merciless editor than a live audience, trust me.
Writing a book takes a while (at least for me anyway.) You have to spend a lot of time with your characters. In a way, you have to love them, and that can sometimes lead you astray. Many times I’ve fallen in love with one of my characters to such a degree that I blundered into the trap of feeling like the readers needed to know everything about them. Every digression, and every aside seemed oh-so relevant and important to me when I was scribbling them down.
Try explaining it all to a group of people who are following along in real time however, and you’ll very quickly realize what elements of your story are actually important, and which are superfluous. Believe me, they’ll let you know.
For the same reasons, it’s also a great test of how well you’re building suspense or laying groundwork for things to come later. Some of your digressions probably are significant, and laying them all out like this will show which ones work—and which ones need work.
Relating your tale out loud also forces you to reckon with the fundamental structure of your story. Why does A follow B and lead to C? Is there another way that could have played out, a better way? Does it even make sense the way you’ve written it? Telling it to a live audience will reveal that very quickly.
I think this is another area that’s especially important for writing fantasy, because many of the elements we use are inherently unrealistic. Any time you’re writing a story with magical or fanciful aspects there’s a chance they might lead to logical errors. These might not seem obvious to the writer, at first, but a group of astute listeners will pick up them right away.
When I get deep into a story I often develop a trajectory that think a plot line should take, and sometimes I end up with blinders on to any other possibilities. It all seems to make perfect sense when I’m writing it, but seeing and hearing how it all strikes an audience shows me plainly what does and does not add up in my narrative.
“Of course Prince Arias, upon seizing the Amulet of Grok, immediately uses its enormous power to dispatch the pack of ogres who have him cornered in the dungeon,” I might say.
The audience however, might just as quickly point out that, if the Amulet can do everything I told them earlier in the story, why doesn’t he just use it to open a dimensional portal to escape?
They’re hearing it for the first time, and if it doesn’t add up to them, you should probably re-examine what you did and why.
It’s definitely not a perfect medium. You’re not going to be able to give people the same level of depth when you’re delivering the story out loud. It’s not feasible to play out entire conversations between characters, for example, and because of that you’ll lose a lot of the emotional development that comes across on the page through dialogue.
You’re also liable to end up telling things at least partially out of order, so creating the same amount of dramatic tension as you have in a novel is tougher. If your audience is anything like mine was, they’re liable to ask questions, which can at times provoke a spoiler or two, and that can also ruin some of the suspense.
Don’t fret over these things. This exercise isn’t about giving them the same experience as reading the book themselves. It’s just a test of how well everything holds together when presented “live.”
I’m not arguing this is necessary. Like I said, I’ve only done it once myself. It’s true that probably any of the things an out loud rendition of your story accomplishes can be achieved through competent editing and re-writes.
Writing tends to be a pretty solitary endeavor, which is how most of us like it, I suspect. But every once in a while, it’s nice to share your story with people face to face, to see how it hits them, to learn on the spot what works and what doesn’t. Telling a story—actually telling it—is one of the oldest traditions in the world. It can be scary and it can be frustrating, but it can also be really cool to experience your ideas connecting with people right in front of you.
So I’m not recommending you do this all the time, but occasionally, it might be nice to give it a try. I did, and it ended up being both enjoyable and helpful, and what’s wrong with that?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Horror and dark fantasy author Frank Cavallo’s work has appeared in magazines such as Another Realm, Ray Gun Revival, Every Day Fiction, Lost Souls and the Warhammer e-zine Hammer and Bolter.
His latest novel, Eye of the Storm, was released in August 2016 by Ravenswood Publishing.
“In Eye of the Storm, I try to bring back some of the elements that I like from old time pulp fiction,” says Frank. “It is a throwback to old school adventure stories, combining the pacing and the feel of those classic tales with some newer elements that are not all that common to typical fantasy fiction.”
Frank’s previously published works include The Lucifer Messiah, The Hand of Osiris, and the Gotrek & Felix novella Into the Valley of Death. He is currently working on a new novel, The Rites of Azathoth, with Necro Publications, due out in February 2017.
Frank was born and raised in New Jersey. He graduated from Boston University with a degree in Communications in 1994 and he earned a JD from the Cleveland Marshall College of Law in 2001. He currently resides in Cleveland, Ohio, where he has been a criminal defense attorney for fifteen years.
To learn more, go to http://www.frankcavallo.com/
EYE OF THE STORM
Get it at Amazon
Eye of the Storm is a new Dark Fantasy / Sword & Sorcery novel by Frank Cavallo. It is recommended for fans of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Karl Edward Wagner and Robert E. Howard.
On a research mission in one of the most remote regions of the world, former Navy SEAL Eric Slade and Dr. Anna Fayne are caught in a mysterious storm. Catapulted through a rift in space-time, they are marooned on a lost world.
Struggling to survive and desperate to find a way home, they must confront the dangers of this savage land—a dark wizard and his army of undead—a warrior queen and her horde of fierce Neanderthals that stands against him—and a legendary treasure with the power to open the gateway between worlds, or to destroy them all: the Eye of the Storm.
“Eye of the Storm is a terrific fantasy from Frank Cavallo… He is very imaginative and it shows in his writing, which is descriptive and well defined.” – 5 Stars, Readers’ Favorite
“This was a whole lot of pulp, sci-fi, adventure fun.” – Bob Milne, Beauty in Ruins
“A five-star time travel novel for the 21st century. Highly recommended… Eye of the Storm is one book that is guaranteed to grip you from the get go. Read it.” – Best Thrillers
“Cavallo spins a fast-paced tale in his latest read…with a unique cast and setting…a flurry of twists and turns…quite a page turner, Eye of the Storm is bound to be a favorite among fantasy enthusiasts.” – Red City Review
“Eye of the Storm … stands above others in the fantasy/alternate universe genre for its original story line and unpredictable twists.” – Midwest Book Review