How strong are your story instincts? This abstract and sometimes elusive concept rests at the very bottom of a writer’s toolkit. Your story instincts determine how successful your storytelling is, and whether you are able to offer readers the all-important “it” factor. Your story instincts are the foundation onto which you build with all the other tools and techniques you pick up along the way. And your story instincts are also, simultaneously, the preexisting source of all the knowledge you will claim as you grow your skills.
When I was a newbie working on my early (unpublished) novels, I would often take a walk down the mailbox after my daily writing session. Almost always, I was vaguely dissatisfied. I knew whatever scene I had just written wasn’t so bad in itself, and yet I also knew something about the book as a whole wasn’t working. I remember saying to myself at some point during my second novel that I didn’t know what was wrong, but I just knew.
How Do You Know if You Have Story Instincts?
Your story instincts and your ability to tap into them clearly will define how much “talent” you may have as a writer. So how can you tell if you even have any story instincts?
It is my belief all humans have this instinct. We are born with the common language of story. Indeed, some psychological research, such as presented by Edward F. Pace-Schott, posits our very “dreaming as a story-telling instinct.”
5 Tips for Honing Your Story Instincts
Story instincts are tricky. Well-honed, they speak to us clearly and guide us to writing better and better stories. But if we don’t speak this instinctive language fluidly, or if we’re unsure we’re hearing its voice at all, we can easily lead ourselves astray.
We can convince ourselves our desire for a story to be good makes it so, just as we can let the critical voices of inner doubt blind us to our true story
1. Learn to Listen to Your Gut, Especially When It Tells You Something Is Wrong
When everything is going well, we often take our story instincts for granted. It’s not until a little alarm starts ringing inside that we perk up and listen.
2. Get Specific About What You Like or Don’t Like in Others’ Stories
Once you’ve learned to tune in to your inner story sense, you must learn to interpret what it’s telling you. A vague sense of unease about your just-finished manuscript will not help you fix it
5. Trust Your Story Sense
Your story sense is good. I don’t doubt that for a second. Your ability to communicate with it and understand it can always improve. But the foundational understanding and instinct is there. Trust that.