Jacquelyn Mitchard: On Storytelling and Writing

Every writer aims to be an effective storyteller with their novels. That goal in itself is a lofty challenge.

To come across as an effective storyteller in person is a whole new game, especially for those who fit the stereotype of the introvert writer.

Bestselling author Jacquelyn Mitchard has the written and verbal craft of storytelling mastered.

Readers of Mitchard’s work know that she has the skill to make you late for work when you can’t help picking up where you left off in her novel in the morning (not saying that happened to me or anything…). Her latest book, Two If by Sea, is wonderfully crafted into a suspenseful story that when forced to put down is like pulling teeth. With rich vocabulary and sensory images, intriguing characters and deep, personal themes, Mitchard pulls from years of well-developed writing skills to tell a compelling story.

When I saw her in person, I was amazed to find that she is just as incredibly talented at telling stories verbally.

One of the major reasons I write is because it’s harder for me to verbalize my thoughts. I can get my message across much clearer in writing than speaking. Classic introverted writer.

To see Mitchard captivate an audience the same way her book had captivated me personally was inspiring.

Mitchard presented at the Des Moines Public Library‘s Authors Visiting in Des Moines (AViD) series earlier this month. She is the author of 11 novels for adults as well as seven books for young adults. Her book, The Deep End of the Ocean, was the first book picked to start Oprah’s Book Club. Her latest novel, Two if by Sea, is receiving great reviews.

With those credentials, it’s no surprise she is an incredible storyteller.

Bestselling author Jacquelyn Mitchard captivates talks about her new book, Two If by Sea, at the Des Moines Public Library's AViD series.
Bestselling author Jacquelyn Mitchard captivates talks about her new book, Two If by Sea, at the Des Moines Public Library’s AViD series.

She told three stories of her own to the audience at the Downtown library, each one revealing her charming personality and clear sense of story structure. If you heard her speak but hadn’t read her work yet, the natural storytelling that lifted from her presentation would have made you begin reading that night.

Authors have to gain readers’ trust early in their novels with a captivating narrator. The way Mitchard presents herself is smart, because she hooks her audience with her voice. They know they can trust her before even opening her book.

Writers like Mitchard remind us how prominent stories are in our lives. She uses story to teach her nine children the ways of life. During an election year, we’re choosing whose story to believe. When you call a friend, you hook them with a story to keep the conversation going.

“When everything seems too much to bare in life, we can open the door to a story and be taken away.”

Jacquelyn Mitchard

We writers all know that the craft doesn’t come easy, so how did this author get so skilled at storytelling and become so successful? Mitchard had a few tips to share:

3 Tips on Writing from Jacquelyn Mitchard

  1. There’s no such thing as writer’s block.

Her argument is that writing is your job, and just as electrician’s don’t get “electrician’s block”, writers don’t get to use that excuse either.

“We don’t get a special pass from our jobs. We get permission to do our job badly the first time, but we get to go back and fix it.”

2. Read everything.

“When you find an author who you think does it right, try to copy their goodness.”

In the past year I’ve latched onto this practice of copying down passages that stand out to me. Of course, you don’t copy this work for your own, but writing out an author’s passage word for word and breaking it down allows you to see what she does that makes the words grasp the reader. Doing this makes your own writing so much better.

3. Sit down and write every day.

Mitchard has a no nonsense attitude with this rule. Just sit down and do it. Whether it’s 10 minutes or several hours, the act of writing every day only makes it come more naturally to you.

Have you read Jacquelyn Mitchard or do you have another storyteller you admire? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

For more advice from bestselling authors, check out my posts on Karen Abbott (Liar, Temptress, Solider, Spy) and Christina Baker Kline (Orphan Train).


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