Pre-telling stories

One thing I have been really trying to get away from is what I call “pre-telling” stories. I think that all writers do this to some extent, and there is a reason that professional writers don’t do this.

What is “pre-telling” a story? If you know a writer, have hung around writers, have gone to a writer’s convention then you’ve probably seen it a million times. Pre-telling a story is when a writer corners you and then tells you the idea for the story on which they are currently working, often times in such great detail that you wonder why they don’t make things easier and hand you the manuscript. After all, you would expect it to read better than the jumbled telling often sounds.

Some people look at this as part of the writer’s ego, trying to make themselves sound cool by spouting out all of their cool ideas. As a writer myself, I like to give writers the benefit of the doubt. For me, pre-telling a story allow me, as a writer, to figure out how the story will work. It’s kind of like talking through the story out loud, explaining the idea and why you think it will work. Sometimes, you can get some useful feedback. But more recently, I’ve come to think of it as a bane then a boon.

Somewhere–I think it was on a convention panel–I heard someone talk about this. Possibly it was Scott Edelman, I don’t really remember. Whoever it was made a point that I initially disputed–at least in my head. They said that they reason they didn’t talk about the stories they were writing was that it took all of the novelty of the story away by the time you sat down to write it. I think I thought that this was something that wouldn’t happen to me, but over the years, I’ve noticed this is exactly what happens to me when I “pre=tell” a story.

I never pre-tell my stories at conventions. But sometimes, I would talk about what I’m working on with close friends and coworkers. And especially other writers, like those in my writer’s group. I’ve started to back away from all of this because I now do believe–for me, at least–that pre-telling a story takes away from the novelty of writing it. And after I’ve pre-told a story, sitting down to write it is more difficult because the novelty has worn off. What I have been doing lately is experimenting. I’m working on two stories right now, one of which I’ve done a great deal of pre-telling on, the other of which I haven’t whispered a word on, not even so much as a title, to anyone, not even Kelly. It will be interesting to see how these two stories do. Will the pre-told story come out with less of a gloss (in my eyes) because it has been pre-told? Will the other story seem somehow fresher? I guess I’m going to find out.

Going forward, though, please don’t be disappointed or offended if I don’t pre-tell my stories to you. It’s not because I’m afraid of my ideas being stolen or that I might come off sounding like one of those people who can’t stop talking about their own stories (although that is part of it). It is mostly because I want my stories to stay fresh, I want to start writing them when they are ripe, and I don’t want to wear them out before they are written.

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