Storytellers Not Wanted

I come from a long line of storytellers.  My dad and granddad could spin a yarn a mile long that would have you in stitches, tears, or both.  Like a lot of yet-to-make-it-big writers, however, I sometimes confuse storytelling with writing, and believe me, they’re two totally different things.

I know I can invent a good story.  I’ve been doing that ever since I was five when my mom asked me who spray-painted the cat.  Not to mention my uncle said my last book was the best book he ever read, and he drives a truck that actually delivers books.

I often wonder why literary agents can’t see the things my family sees.  Of course the real question is—why can’t my family see the things literary agents see?

I had just finished my final draft of an 80,000 word manuscript when someone recommended a book to me, “Self-Editing for Fiction Writers” by Renni Brown and Dave King, two former book editors.  Don’t think I’m writing articles so I can secretly plug books; I don’t even do that with my novel, “Reternity,” which you can get right now on Amazon.  But this self-editing book can really help you—a lot.

After I finished reading it, not only did I feel like a nincompoop, I also threw my entire manuscript away and started over.  The book explains to you what agents and editors look for and that can’t be bad information.  So if nothing else, read the book so you can feel as dumb as I do.

Review organizations tend to review books pretty much the same as your family does, by how good the story is and how much they enjoy reading it.  Don’t misunderstand, that is an important part of a book, just don’t confuse that with an evaluation of your writing skills.

The thing is, if you want to be serious about this writing thing then do the same thing you would do with every job you’ve ever had—learn to do it well.  Writing classes are always a good idea and chances are you can find some in your area.

So if you think you have the next great erotica legal thriller where the entire jury is caught in a sting at a local cathouse, the madam turns out to be the prosecutor’s wife, the judge is having an affair with the defendant’s step mom’s sister, and you just know everyone will love the title, “Hung Jury,” you might be right.  You may very well be the one to tell that story.  But the question is—are you the one to write it? 


Neal Wooten, Publisher/Indie Author/Illustrator/Cartoonist

Managing Editor; Mirror Publishing, Milwaukee, WI,
Author of Reternity,
Author of Reternity,

Posted by on February 27, 2012. Filed under Books,Neal Wooten. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.

33 Responses to Storytellers Not Wanted

  1. Bolivar Lopez, Author of the Adventures of Z

    February 27, 2012 at 5:35 pm

    There is a lot I can relate in this article. Sometime back I wrote some procedures. I couldn’t find a mistake, thank god for friends. It turn out to have an error almost every other line. This is were I started to improve my writing skills.

    • Patty Silhacek

      February 27, 2012 at 5:50 pm

      I can only say, I am a little confused about the contents of which I just read. However, I agree, as I said, I am an author not a writer. Be great if ever the two should meet.

  2. K Blanc

    February 27, 2012 at 6:07 pm

    Mr. Wooten’s observations are spot-on. The written and spoken tale both center on a story, but this is indeed where their similarities end.

    Written fiction is at a disadvantage, lacking the subtle auditory and gestural nuances that the oral storyteller can provide. An oral story is “told”, whereas the novel must “show” rather than “tell” in order to engage the reader’s imagination and interest.

    The above-mentioned book, SELF-EDITING FOR FICTION WRITERS, is a gem. I too own a well worn copy! The book guides the writer through the same editing techniques used by professional editors to tighten and polish a draft manuscript (or, as Mr. Wooten recounts, start over completely).

    Revision is a tough and often tedious process, but it can make a good manuscript great.

    –Katherine Blanc, author of the children’s titles JUST ONE VOTE and THE BOY WHO CONQUERED EVEREST.

  3. Laura Marlowe

    February 27, 2012 at 6:15 pm

    Yet another witty and insightful only-as he-could-write-it Neal Wooten article that I enjoyed thoroughly and am going to share immediately.

    Write on, Neal Wooten!

    Laura Marlowe, author of Tommy the Throwaway Dog

  4. Emma Johnson

    February 27, 2012 at 6:34 pm

    Everyone loves a story with a twisted,eye-raising, jaw dropping outcome. This one seems to be as twisted as a maze on a stormy night. You just can’t figure out how it’s going to end. Writer or author, there’s a story in everyone. Some people are afraid to stick their necks out to find out which they are and the rest just need a nudge in the right direction.

  5. Emma Johnson

    February 27, 2012 at 6:37 pm

    Author of “A Wolf, A Little Bully And The Big MIx-Up”

  6. Jodi Fiore, author of Lia-Ria Adventure stories

    February 27, 2012 at 6:51 pm

    Great article Neal! Thank you for the tip, I definitely need to get this book!

  7. J. E. Nicassio

    February 27, 2012 at 8:01 pm

    Thanks Neal…I can really use this for my sequel.

  8. Connie Amarel, author of Gary "Grasshopper Hops Again!", "Voyage to the Bottom of the Bed," and "Gary Grasshopper Battles a Bully"

    February 27, 2012 at 8:11 pm

    Awesome article, Neal! It seems the more I read about writing, the more I realize how much more there is to learn. (do you think I used “more” too many times – lol!) =D

  9. Writing is a craft, and just as with any other skill, it must be honed, expanded upon, and refined. As authors, we are often our own worst editors. After all, how dare we trash, replace, or tell to “scoot over” words that came out of our own heads? Any guide that can help an author not simply get his or her words to the page, but also make more conscious decisions about which ones should or should not get to stay there, is an invaluable resource.

    Thank you for the recommendations.

    Rebecca Wilson-Shore, Author “Timmy’s Brave Day”

  10. Cathy Cress Eller

    February 28, 2012 at 4:18 am

    There may be a story in your head and passion in your heart but if you don’t know how to put it into words for others to read, then it might as well stay in your head. I think Neal found this book, Self Editing for Fiction Writers, just for ME! A big “Thank you” to Neal for helping us “baby authors” grow and learn from one of the best!

    Cathy Cress Eller
    Author of Carnella Caterpillar Jeepers Creepers, Ladybug Grace Have No Fear, Madelyn Butterfly and Emma Cricket Wing It and A Basket Case for Owen and Cecil.

  11. Irma Jacobs Tirro

    February 28, 2012 at 5:06 am

    Neal delivers valuable information in a manner that is appealing and encourages you to be a better writer. I always look forward to his articles.

    Irma Jacobs Tirro
    Author of The Lonely Snowflake and It’s Almost Friday

  12. Amy Laundrie

    February 28, 2012 at 5:09 am

    I’m also a big fan of SELF-EDITING FOR FICTION WRITERS. I even did the exercises (okay, it was homework for a workshop or I wouldn’t have)and found chapter ten the most valuable. It’s titled ONCE IS USUALLY ENOUGH and explains how to write tight.

    Now ‘fess up, Neal. Did you really spray paint your cat? I have to know.

    Amy Laundrie, author of NOAH’S ARK PET CARE which includes a scene where a girl catches a lizard and its tail comes off. She flushes it down the toilet. As a nine-year-old, I did the same thing.

    • Neal Wooten

      February 29, 2012 at 7:32 am

      LOL – Amy, no, I did not really spray-paint the cat. I actually did far worse things, things I would never write about on here. And contrary to this article, I was unbelievably honest, fessing up to everything.

  13. David E. Hubler

    February 28, 2012 at 5:39 am

    It would seem the best way for male authors to secure an agent and then a publisher for fiction these days is to reverse the path taken by Mary Anne Evans, aka George Eliot because fiction has become a woman’s preserve. And if you pen a novel about vampires or zombies, you stand a good chance of having your work optioned for a film.

    David E. Hubler is the author of “You Gotta Believe!” “The Politicians’ Health, Diet and Sex Guide” and “The Too-Tall Troll in the Tiny Tollhouse.”

  14. Carol McLernon

    February 28, 2012 at 6:17 am

    I once recommended that a writer start over. I never heard from her again. Maybe she’s still rewriting–maybe not. It’s all about perseverance. I plan to share this valuable information with members of the writing class I’m teaching. Thanks.
    Carol McLernon, author of Black Hawk: A Boy and his Vision.

  15. I had a hard time as well coming to grips with having to re-do my book based on editorial feedback. You often see your manuscript as your child – and heaven forbid someone speak critically of it.

    But it can come down to this: Do you want to get it done fast or done well? Fast may get you out there more quickly, but it doesn’t guarantee what’s out there will be worth reading.

  16. A story is the the start. How the story is dressed in words, grammar, composition, etc., is another matter. I have reviewed books that had a promising premise, but the author didn’t proofread for spelling or grammar, which detracted from the story. Often times things entered the story that didn’t add to the story. A good writer (or editor) needs to know when and what to prune. Neal, I would have liked to have seen examples in your blog to support your assertion.

  17. Neal Wooten

    February 28, 2012 at 8:41 am

    Very well, John. If this were in a manuscript, who can tell me what’s wrong with the scene?

    Robbie sat on the porch feeling sad. He saw Ms. Johnson coming and knew she was the biggest gossip in the neighborhood.
    “How’s your dad?” Ms. Johnson asked.
    “How do you think he is? He was in a car wreck.”
    Ms. Johnson realized Robbie didn’t want to talk about it so she left him alone.

  18. Katherine N Perna author of "The Firefly"

    February 28, 2012 at 9:07 am

    The article was informative. Neal, I can only imagine how frustrating it must have been to have to start from scratch after writing a 80,000 word manuscript. I am definitely going to take a look at the book “Self-Editing for Fiction Writers” and share this article with other writers as well. Thanks!

  19. Ruth Anne Meredith

    February 28, 2012 at 9:56 am

    But you are so RIGHT, Neal! There are definitely some things we say when we tell a story that are WAY different than when we write it!

    Thanks for sharing your sources. Lol I wonder if they have a book called “Writing for Dummies.” I would definitely pick that up …

    To start from scratch on an 80,000 word manuscript all over again has to be so aggravating and humilating. Wow, and I thought I had it bad when I lost the first 9 chapters of The Lands of Forever on my dad’s computer because it was fried. But I like that quote that you put on the front of the Mirror Publishing website, the one that says,
    “You send that work out again and again, while you’re working on another one. If you have talent, you will receive some measure of success – but only if you persist.” – Isaac Asimov

    Ruth Anne Meredith, author of The Lands of Forever

  20. Sandra White

    February 28, 2012 at 10:34 am

    Good article, Neal, and good advice. As a shy introverted child, I didn’t do much story-telling; instead, I kept my stories in my head–to be released at a later time. Now the challenge is to do adequate research as a foundation for my ideas, then take from my stored reserves and write a tale good enough to satisfy my perfectionist persona.

    Sandra White, author of “The Album” and “Riches to Rags”

  21. millie

    February 28, 2012 at 12:34 pm

    Listen to Neal! I’ve flipped through pages of my copy of Self Editing for Fiction Writers so many times my husband began to wonder if I had pictures of the Chippendales stashed in there!
    But seriously, it is THE best reference for serious fiction writers. A definite must-have.

    Millie Richmond
    Author of
    and soon-to-be-pubished,
    Daddy’s Gone

  22. J.Smythe

    February 29, 2012 at 6:04 am

    Kinda begs the question: Who writes all of the garbage that is on TV these days….to say nothing of all the so-called “reality” shows? Where are the editors there?
    I may be in the minority here but some of those “professional” editors are just plain stupid!Where were they educated? Have they experienced life “in the streets”? Have they experienced what a hard life it can be below the clouds in this society? Could they write about it like the real people live it? Write about the real world! The best writers are usually the ones who have lived it! Get Real! Life experiences for some of us was/is tough! Check out: “Mason Mayne, Federal Investigator, book one” Real people…alto’ fictionized…make the best stories.(It’s only on the e-readers for a purpose)

    • Neal Wooten

      February 29, 2012 at 7:29 am

      That’s too ironic, J. I write a weekly column for a newspaper and it comes out tomorrow. My column tomorrow is titled “Rality Bites” and is about the very thing you’re talking about here.

  23. Tricia Harsley - author of Bad Billy and his Buccaneer Buddies

    February 29, 2012 at 6:30 pm

    I enjoyed reading the article. I always wondered why editors did not like what my family thought was great. Haha. I will certainly check out this book and continue to improve my writing.

  24. Vanessa K. Eccles

    March 1, 2012 at 2:36 pm

    I can relate to this article. I love my characters and stories, but the fear that someone else won’t sometimes consumes me. I know what my family and friends say when they read it, but unfortunately, they are not agents or publishers. I will check out the book. I’m a firm believer in studying the art of writing.

  25. Cara Wilson-Granat

    March 1, 2012 at 7:24 pm

    Oh you write so well, Neal! I love your perspective and suggestions and your sense of humor! Laughed out loud at your “Hung Jury” and actually think it’s a great idea. As far as editing goes, I have the worst time do just that on my own work. I have great admiration for fiction writers. I’m very much a conversational, non-fictionalist. I know. That’s not a word and probably doesn’t make sense. Whatever. Can’t wait to read your “Returnity” which is a brilliant title. But you already know that. Thanks again!

  26. Rebecca Fronzaglio

    March 1, 2012 at 9:03 pm

    I love your articles Neal and thanks for all the great advice.

    Just some food for thought. Hopefully it won’t cause gastritis.
    Just because I read alot of Green Eggs and Ham to my children doesn’t mean I’d feed it to them. Being a third time victum of food poisoning, you can trust me on that. I always believed a books success takes alot of talent, patience, and luck. Lately though, I’m rethinking things. Maybe a catchy title is what mines missing. Because when a book’s title is: Go the **** to Bed or something like that, and it becomes more popular than My children’s book, I have one question…Why? Maybe it’s a great book. Maybe it’s selling well. Can I take a joke? Yes. Would I personally buy it. Probubly not. But still I’m curious. Should I reconsider my title? A catchy title may be more important than I think. Many of you may not agree. I could be terribly wrong. But thinking gets me writing and writing gets my audience thinking. Then we all learn something. I will tell you one thing that I know is true and that is Neal Wooten’s book Reternity is as good as his Uncle says. It was also the best book I ever read. Just because I like to write doesn’t necessarily mean I love to read. Yet, the amazing thing was…I could not put Reternity down. This book should be introduced to school age children to start their love affair with reading…then give it to their parents as a Christmas gift. Yes, it’s that good. In this case, I love the title Reternity. Great play on words. But just for fun, I’d like to change my title from Mommy and Me Let Insects Free to Squash and Poison them Freakin’Bugs..just to see the reaction. Maybe Reternity’s sells would soar through the roof if the title was changed to : Here I am…The Best Book You’ll Ever Read..You Freakin’Idiot! Well, you never can tell, and that’s my opinion. If not anything else. I hope I got you thinking. After all, surviving strong-willed children, the question still remains…Did my opinion ever matter?

  27. Ruth McVeigh

    March 14, 2012 at 4:37 am

    I shuddered at the thought of “Self-Editing for Fiction Writers” (or any other writer). The problem is that we all tend to see what we expect to see, so editing one’s own material can be a disaster.
    An editor for many decades, I’ve been presented with manuscripts that were full of promise from a topic or plot point of view, but which a publisher would reject after the first few paragraphs.
    They don’t have time to spend on material rife with grammatical or spelling errors. They won’t spend the time to note that your heroine is wearing one outfit in one scene and something entirely different a sentence later. Good editors do far more than put the submission through a spell-check.
    Having your manuscript professionally edited before submitting it is a worthwhile expense.

  28. Ray Tapia

    March 19, 2012 at 1:38 am

    Neal, your comments about “learn to do it well” touched my inadequacy. With only a fifty-year-old course in English Composition I penned (not to be confused with “authored”) an auto-biography (a story of personal history at its worst). I am belatedly convinced I should have purchased a copy of “Self-Editing for NON-fiction Writers.” I have not sold a copy. However, the story has been preserved by the Nebraska State Historical Society, has been featured as a 15-minute documentary on Nebraska Educational Television, and has been adapted to a screenplay by Young Films. To underscore your point: adequate subject matter; lousy writing!

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    June 19, 2012 at 6:39 pm

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