The holiday season is approaching, and with it a focus on gifts. It’s important to many of us to find just the right thing for our loved ones. But this is also a fruitful time for us to reflect on our inner gifts, and the gifts we can bring to ourselves.
One of our greatest inner gifts lies in story, both the stories we have lived and those we imagine. Your stories belong to you and express your unique voice; no one else could tell the same one the same way. When you choose to write these stories down, you share this gift with readers. For some, it may be exactly the gift they need. And it’s a gift that works in two directions: your stories can reveal new insights and perspectives to yourself as well as to others.
The art of storytelling also has inherent gifts that you can invoke deliberately to bring out your writing’s meaning and coherence. When you write, it helps to keep in mind the following three gifts of storytelling, inspired by the Enneagram’s conflict resolution styles, as tools for revealing your story’s wisdom.
Gifts of Context
No narrative exists in a vacuum. All stories have greater meaning beyond their own existence. They have something to say about being human and existing in this world (even if they are set in a different one). What is your own story saying? Here are a few questions to keep in mind when considering the context of what you’re writing.
- What will this story give the reader?
Reader experience is important to think about. Are you speaking to a specific group of people, with a directed message? What do you aim to give through your story, and what will readers receive? Here’s where feedback helps to see if your intentions are conveyed effectively.
- What possibilities does this open up?
Most stories engage with questions and options. There are multiple ways to tell a story and multiple decisions to be made as you go along. First person or third person? Reality or fantasy? Car chase or romance scene? What about both? Don’t be afraid to follow tangents as you’re writing and let inspiration lead you.
- What themes are you engaging with?
Sometimes this question is a starting point and sometimes it isn’t clear until the end. This is your “I want to write about ___.” Why is this theme important to you? Chances are that your personal connection to theme will yield powerful material. What have others already written on this theme, and how can you engage with this wider dialogue?
Gifts of Logic and Structure
Writing isn’t just about context. It is also a structured art. Thinking ahead and strategically will help you create something coherent and polished, as will revising and rewriting once you’ve finished a draft. The following questions touch on important structural and logical points to keep in mind as you write.
- What rules and constraints will you follow?
Most writing has a genre (or multiple ones) and structure. Some people prefer to lay out structure and logic from the beginning, creating outlines and defining parameters for their writing projects. Others “discovery write” and build in structure later, revising as needed. Giving some thought to the rules and traditions you will work in will help grant your project a strong shape.
- What is the “high concept” or interesting part of your writing?
The most successful narratives have an attention-grabbing hook. In your case, there must be something driving you to write your story in the first place. Follow your inspiration to its source to find this aspect, and let it guide your writing. Keeping your own interest in mind will keep your story lively for readers, too.
- What knowledge and research do you need?
Often, our stories require knowledge we don’t already have. Cue reading, Google, and asking primary sources. Experts in a field often have the most informed and targeted answers. Some experts might even be willing to read your story and give suggestions. Decide what you need to know and start learning.
Gifts of Emotion
Consider the emotional undercurrents that shape your story. How does the project make you feel, and what feelings do you want it to evoke in the reader? Just as it’s useful to read in your genre, it’s helpful to look at sources that reflect a similar emotional landscape for inspiration. The primary source of your own experience is invaluable, too.
- What elements of internal life are you portraying?
Keep this question in mind as you build characters and narrative voice. The same plot event can be told multiple ways to evoke different emotions. Just as your story is a journey of sorts, its emotional arc takes your reader on an inner journey, with different landscapes and realizations.
- How do reactions drive the story?
When plot events occur, they impact both outer and inner worlds. Dive into their consequences by having your characters react, and allowing their reactions to drive events. Show the internal impact the events have, as well as the consequences of your characters’ decisions.
- What goals drive the story?
This question shapes structure, but is also at the core of your narrative’s emotional landscape. Something needs to happen, and this “something” is never neutral. It presents high stakes for narrative and character(s) alike. How does the character feel about the goal, and about plot events in relation to it? How do you feel about these?
With these questions in mind, explore the gifts that your story brings. What is new and unique, resonant and true about it? What aspects will stay with the reader long after they put it down?