As a musician, I will often work on "tools" instead of whole pieces of music. I'll practice arpeggios, scales or chords, the building blocks of music so that when I dive into a song it's easier, I just use the tools I have already developed to help me put the song together.
The same is true of storytelling.
Earlier today I was practicing depicting personal martial combat - it's not that easy.
There's an iconic scene in King Kong where Kong wrestles a T. Rex while Ann Darrow watches. The scene is so iconic that Peter Jackson recreated Willis O'brien's original stop-motion scene move-for-move. I wanted to depict the same action, the violence and power of two giant monsters grappling.
Remember Jurassic Park? When the T. Rex was walking the ground shook so hard that water rippled in a puddle, imagine the same Rex locked in combat with an equally massive gorilla and the two beasts fall to the ground.
Describing action like that - the wrestling moves, the grabs and throws, punching and biting with so much speed, violence and size is difficult to convey to the audience clearly and still keep that wild frenetic feeling.
And that's why I practice telling fight scenes.
This week I'm presenting my summer reading program: Land of the Giants, one of the stories I'm going to tell is The Goblin Spider, from Robert Sans Souci's Short and Shivery. The story contains no less than two epic sword battles, the Samurais Raiko and Tsuna battle an army of demons, back to back, in the pouring rain, from dusk to dawn, each one wielding a pair of flashing swords, slashing down demons and goblins with all the style of a Hong-Kong wuxia film, all the while throwing out action movie one-liners: "The sun will be leaving us soon." "Then we shall have to kill this monster in the dark!"
It's good to practice this kind of thing without the context of a story. Just imagine two gladiators thrown into a pit with various weapons, and/or an acid spitting giant cobra. And describe the action, what happens? How does it happen? How do you describe all the detail with a fast enough pace to convey the savagery of combat?
This of course applies to all sorts of tools.
I have trouble portraying love scenes in a manner that doesn't feel corny to me. At heart I'm a ten-year-old boy who likes action and adventure, but a big part of that is rescuing fair maidens, ghostly wives forever watching for their sea-captain husbands, and lantern-jawed lugs confessing their love to starlets with heart of gold.
And so I practice these too.
There're so many tools to work on if you just think about it a little: fight scenes, love scenes, funny voices (what does a talking pig sound like?), describing objects, and settings.
Just like music, if you practice all of your tools separately, as part of a regimen, then when the time comes to play a new concerto, or tell a story about samurais battling a giant spider, you'll already have the tools to play all the parts, or tell every scene, so you can simply concentrate on the making the whole greater than the sum of its parts