There’s a distinct difference between storytelling, in the traditional sense, and telling your story, especially if you haven’t yet written it down. Novelists are storytellers; there’s no question about that. Some are better than others, certainly, but the job description couldn’t be more simple: construct stories that instruct or entertain, preferably both. So what’s the big deal with talking about a story while it’s in development?
It’s possible nothing bad will happen because you bent someone’s ear about your percolating tale. It’s more likely, however, that the more you tell your story to others, the less interested in it you’ll become. When it’s all fresh and new, when the ideas are popping like flashbulbs at a paparazzi convention, you’ll be tempted to spill the beans to anyone who’ll listen. The sad truth is, most of those folks are only listening to be polite. You can’t help but notice them checking their watches or glancing anxiously out the window for someone to come save them.
It’s not that I have great sympathy for those folks. If they can’t man up and tell you they’d rather wait for the finished product, that’s their problem. My concern is for the poor schlub who’s trying to be entertaining by relating all the ins and outs of the next Great American Novel. You needn’t worry that someone will steal your idea; it’s highly unlikely. What is likely, is that the more you blab about it, the less fresh and new it becomes, and the less likely you are to commit the time and energy needed to turn that fragile and ever-so-intangible idea into something real.
So, how do you maintain your cool when such temptations occur? Do you assume you’re so superior to the average story “teller” that you can get away with it when others can’t? Do you tell yourself that by going over the plot points with disinterested parties that you’ll be better able to trot them out on paper when the time comes? Can I interest you in a New York City cross-river landmark?
Just hush now, y’hear?
Why take the chance? Why allow yourself to possibly become bored with your story before it’s reached first draft stage, otherwise known as the story’s birthday. You’d risk aborting a perfectly good yarn on the off chance that someone would be impressed enough to buy you a drink or pat you on the back?
They’re more likely to try and sneak away. And worse, if and when they actually do see your book for sale, they’ll back away as if it’s radioactive.
Trust me on this. If you’ve got an idea for a story, keep it close. Wrap your arms around it. Share it with no one, not even your writer’s group, until you’ve got at least some of it written down. You want to test a scene or two, maybe run ’em by a couple first readers? Fine. But for the love of God, write them down, first! Completely. No partial scenes; no snippets of dialog; no nascent descriptions. Hide them like the family jewels, for that is what they are.
I’m not kidding about this. If I hear you “talking” your story to someone, I’ll treat you badly. [note patented fierce look] Don’t test me!