When writing or drafting a new story, sometimes it’s easy to get lost in the forest due to the trees – in the myriad of ideas that flash up in a brainstorm. The pyramid above helps remind me of the emphasis each area needs in the overall structure:
If a story is too complex, you’ll lose or confuse your readers; but if it’s too simple, it becomes predictable and therefore no challenge to the mind of the adventurer who’s picked up your book to get lost in another world. Most of the best stories are, at their heart, quite simple – “boy meets girl”, or “person achieves goal”.
If you don’t know what your settings and themes are, how can you effectively work toward the final outcome? If you don’t know who your character is, and what your basic plot (goal and how it’s achieved) is, how can you guide the reader through dialogue or prose toward the desired conclusion? Diction is important because it is central to creating the voice of each character, and sticking to genre-specific vocabulary and expressions (i.e. no proverbial airplanes through the scenes of a historical novel). As Mark Twain once wrote,
“The difference between the right word and the almost-right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”
And if you have the top four slices of the pyramid in place, but don’t have proper foundations – in other words, know your grammar, spelling, punctuation and syntax (sentence structures, tense usage, etc.) then no matter how brilliant your plot might be, or your character development, if readers can’t get past your bad diction and grammar, you’ve lost them as present and future readers!
I’d like to encourage you to know your weaknesses, and develop them into strengths! If grammar or spelling is a weakness, work on it – invest time into reviewing the rules – Wikipedia is an excellent source for articles on how to use punctuation, etc. Buy a good grammar book, or even a grammar practice book with an answer key at the back (The “English Grammar in Use” series is one I used for years with EFLA students). If plot or character development is a weakness, then make a list of questions for each, and take the time to think about and answer them.
Good writing is about quality; it’s about solid foundations and constant development, the honing of your skills; it’s about research, thinking outside the box, and being able to convey in words the images born in your mind. Just as sharpening a pencil makes it easier to write, so does sharpening your mind and skills.