Earlier this week, my dad asked me for feedback on a story he wrote. The story is about a father figure who turned out to be something of a con man. Memoir is often boring, but this story was amazing, stranger than fiction.
You could also tell the story was written by an amateur. My dad is a good storyteller, but telling a story to a few people at a party and writing professionally are two very different things.
What’s the difference between pro and amateur writing? How can you write a story as good as any professional writer?
The Secret to Writing Like a Pro
Of course, there are thousands of little lessons you need to learn before you can really write like a pro. But here’s the mistake I see most amateur writers making:
They don’t get close enough to their story.
It’s not enough to tell us what happened. You have to embed your readers within your narrative. You have to get close enough that your readers can hear what you heard, see what you saw, and experience the emotions you felt.
You can call this showing instead of telling or being more specific, but it all comes down to how close you are to your story.
Getting closer can be difficult, especially if you’re writing about your own life. It’s hard to remember specific details when something happened thirty years ago. However, this is what separates amateur writing from pro writing, this distance.
How close can you get?
Challenge yourself to get closer.
Don’t give us the gist, the “Reader’s Digest” version. Instead, show us the color of her skin when she blushed while she laughed, describe the sound of the rain as it fell on the grass in the warm, summer evening, and tell us about the feeling of the worn wood on the stock of the gun as you pull the trigger.
In narrative, details don’t distract from the story. They become the story. (Tweet that?)
Be Professional AND Interesting
Just as my dad’s story was interesting but poorly written, there are plenty of stories that are well written and completely boring. I’m not saying you will be a bestseller if you learn to write close. You still have to do the hard work of learning to tell a story that captivates your reader.
Here are a few books I’ve read recently do this particularly well (affiliate links):
What do you think separates professional writing from amateur writing?
Tell a story about a father figure of yours. Write as close to the story as you can.
Write for fifteen minutes. When you’re finished, post your practice in the comments section. And if you post, please be sure to comment on a few practices by other writers.