How To Own Your Story

How To Own Your Story


One of the first things we do on a Writers Write course is ask you to list the last five books that you have read. The rule (of the very big thumb) being that you will probably write what you like to read.

I always smile when people list all these wonderful literary works, Pulitzer Prize winners, and Man Booker Prize winners, and then somewhere, usually around number four, they add something like a good old bodice-ripping romp. This is always done with a lot of blushing and explanations like, ‘It’s a fun read’ and ‘It’s for when I really need to relax’.

Why are we embarrassed by these books?

I like reading and writing romance, but it is frowned upon. The books are supposedly badly written, with unrealistic plots and flat characters. And I agree, some of them are atrocious, but it has nothing to do with the genre. I have come across the same problems in all genres, including the literary ones. Bad writing is bad writing in any genre.

“I have spent a good many years since―too many, I think―being ashamed about what I write. I think I was forty before I realized that almost every writer of fiction or poetry who has ever published a line has been accused by someone of wasting his or her God-given talent. If you write (or paint or dance or sculpt or sing, I suppose), someone will try to make you feel lousy about it, that’s all.”

Well said, Stephen, but it is easier said than done. 

Try this exercise:

  1. List the last five books that you have read.
  2. Write down the genre of each.
  3. Write down what viewpoint it was written in.
  4. What timeframe was it set in? Past, present, future?
  5. Gender of the protagonist.
  6. What did you like or dislike about them?
  7. Gender of the antagonist.
  8. What did you like or dislike about them?
  9. Description: Too much, too little.
  10. Dialogue: Good, bad, too much, too little.
  11. Setting: Was the setting integral to the plot?
  12. What was the inciting moment?
  13. Identify the three surprises or twists.
  14. Identify the friend and love interest.
  15. What did you like and dislike about the book?

Spot the similarity.

Even if every book was written in a different genre or if they seem completely random you will find similarities that will echo in your writing. Maybe three had female protagonists and two were male, but what was a commonality between them? Were they all
detectives? Were they all strong leaders? Did they refuse to give up?

Pull the books you read apart. Dissect them. What did you love about them? What kept you turning the page?

Life is too short to write stories that don’t excite us.

Write what you love, not what you think your mother, your professor, your spouse or your friends expect you to write. Forget about the opinions of others. Silencing your internal critic is hard enough. Don’t let them take the joy out of your writing (or reading).

If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course.

by Mia Botha

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  1. Kelly Blackwell

    This post is full of jewels. You had me pinning and taking notes. Especially once I thought about the last five books I read. I can’t wait to dig deeper. Thank you!

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