“What’s your story about?” (Or why I don’t talk about the stories I’m working on)

There is one question I dread in interviews, and even casual conversations when people find out I am a writer. And no, it is not “where do you get your ideas?” Take casual conversations as an example, especially with people who I haven’t spoken with before, or who have heard I am a writer. They typically go something like this:

“So you’re a writer?”

“Guilty as charged.”

“Have you been published.”

“Sure.”

“I don’t mean self-published.”

“Neither do I. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.1

“Are you working on something now?”

“Yes, I’m working on a story.” At this point I begin to tense up. Here it comes. I know it. Here it comes.

“What’s your story about?”

Okay, I have worked out a standard answer, although it’s probably unsatisfactory to both me and my questioner. Usually, I’ll say something like, “I’m not sure yet. I’ll let you know when I finish it.” But that is a white lie. Because I almost always know what the story is about, or at least, what I think it going to be about.

Over the years I’ve learned something: if I talk about my stories when I’m writing them, I find that it takes the life out of the story for me. When I return to the keyboard after spilling my guts, I find I just don’t have the same enthusiasm for the story that I did before I talked about it. So for a quite a while now, I just don’t talk about them much, beyond mentioning a title, and perhaps a very brief description, like, “It’s a baseball alternate history novella.”

The problem is, I sometimes get the feeling that “I’m not sure, I’ll let you know when I finish,” comes across as a little disingenuous. So in interviews, I’ve started being more straight-forward about it. If I’m asked about what I’m currently working on, I’ll say that I’m working on the second draft of a novel, or a short story for a theme anthology. I’ll add that I don’t like talking about the stories while I work on them, not to maintain an aura of mystery, but because I find that the story loses life for me when I talk about it.

If an editor asks me about a story, I’ll try to be more explicit without popping the bubble, but usually, I don’t talk about the stories even with editors until they are finished.

A few writers I know don’t seem to have this problem. They will describe in ten minutes a story that would take five minutes to read. They will go into extraordinary detail. And I wonder if they are immune to this allergy of mine.

I’m curious about other writers. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been published or not, but I’d be interested to know if you can talk about stories you are working on without those stories losing their verve. And if not, how do you deal with it? Let me know in the comments.

  1. There is an occasional diversion from the main branch of the conversation here, with my questioner asking, “When’s the movie coming out?” in mock-serious tones. “Friday,” I’ll usually say without missing a beat.

3 thoughts on ““What’s your story about?” (Or why I don’t talk about the stories I’m working on)

  1. I have no problem talking about my current WIP. I realize though that what I tell people (especially early on in the process) will most likely change by the time the final product is published. Sometimes, talking about it will point out a plot flaw or highlight an area I need to work on some more.

  2. At the moment I am at best a prospective writer, but I find that when it comes to talking about my story, it can go one of two ways. It can either run down my motivation, as I air ideas that don’t seem quite as refined as I had hoped, or it gets me excited about what I was writing, the world I was creating, and I go back to it with renewed gusto.
    The most annoying part is that I don’t this is really reflective of the strength of the stories themselves, but more how confident I feel in them at the time. Maybe I am at a lull point in the story, and so if I tell people where I am at, rather than thinking about the awesome world I have my characters in, or the lovable individuals I have fleshed out, I instead focus on some clunky dialogue I just don’t think sounds right, or lament the fact that I haven’t found the right believable motivation for my hero.
    I guess this is why I generally only got ‘in depth’ when I talk with my wife. If it is a friend, or some other unfortunate person who started a conversation with me, I usually just focus on a very broad stroke explanation; “Oh its about a detective on mars”, or “A post-apocalyptic thing where people live underground”. So hopefully informative enough to sate their needs, but not too much information as to invite unwarranted reflection.
    MM
    Oh, and you have a mistake up there^^^
    “What’s you’re about?”

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