Peggy Bechko: If You Can Tell Stories

by Peggy Bechko

Here’s an interesting quote I came across:

“If you can tell stories, create characters, devise incidents, and have sincerity and passion, it doesn’t matter a damn how you write.” ~ W. Somerset Maugham

Hmm, really?


I think I’m going to have to disagree very firmly with Somerset – it may have had the ring of truth in his day, but it certainly is no longer true now.

I certainly agree with his list that if “you can tell stories, create character, devise incidents and have sincerity and passion” you’re a long way there. But that’s not all she wrote – so to speak.

You read, probably a lot. Haven’t you come across books that may have some good elements as mentioned above, but are simply boring, flat, stale? Haven’t you wondered how the writer could have such a good idea, great premise, fascinating incidents and still come up uninspired? That the book leaves you adrift and uninterested in finishing it so that you put it aside.

Of course you have. So, from that we deduce a writer’s style is crucial to the momentum and the readability of the book. It’s an intangible that’s hard to put a finger on, but the reality is the writer must have a fresh writing style unique to his or herself. It’s imperative that the writer write like no one else but himself.

The skill and craft of writing are continually evolving. Read some of the old classics. Great books. Great stories, but some of them can be gawdawfullyhard to read. That was the writer’s style for the time.

The times have changed.

Writing, in addition to being an art and a craft is also a business. To see your work read and appreciated you need to captivate the reader. And today’s readers want to be swept into the world you’ve created, suspend their disbelief, and be carried along by the story. If your readers have to fight their way through a delivery that’s stale and a poor imitation of another well known writer they’re going to give up on the boring second tier writer (you) pretty quickly. That means it’s doubtful they’ll finish your book and they certainly won’t look for another with your name.

So, sorry Mr. Maugham, the times have changed considerably and it’s time to step up your game.

I think he’d understand.