Happy mid-week folks! Today I’d like to talk about story.
sto•ry 1 (stôr , st r )
n. pl. sto•ries
1. An account or recital of an event or a series of events, either true or fictitious, as:
a. An account or report regarding the facts of an event or group of events: The witness changed her story under questioning.
b. An anecdote: came back from the trip with some good stories.
c. A lie: told us a story about the dog eating the cookies.
Now the above are definitions of story. What happened to whom. Usually where and why are tossed in, but not always. If I run into a friend whom I haven’t seen in a very long time, we may share stories of what’s being going on in our lives lately. They will be truthful (mostly) and linear (hopefully) but they most likely won’t be something someone would want to pay money to read. Their point is to convey information between people. Now, humor may be added to stir things up, a bit of exaggeration (directly related to how long it’s been since one has seen said old friend) may also arise.
Example: “So good to see you, Jane. What have I been up to since High School you ask? Well, I went to college in Hawaii, married a doctor, had two amazing children (one of whom is a Rhodes Scholar, the other in medical school), we retired early and have three homes in Europe.”
Now does this hit all the marks of a story? Yes. Is it a story as we writers view story? No.
Sometimes when writers, especially newer ones, are trying to get their story out, they create things about as interesting as the paragraph above. They just throw everything at the reader -this happened, then this happened, then this happened. They aren't looking at anything else- they think their story is great, so why shouldn't others?
At a recent writer’s conference I met a very wise man (Jack Grapes- if you get a chance to hear him speak- do so). His first instruction to all writers? Print out, “My story is boring” and stick it over our computer monitor. Not other people’s stories are boring, but MY story is boring.
And he’s right.
Story by itself, without emotional ties to the characters living it, has little to no impact on the reader. In effect, it’s boring (this doesn’t mean you can write a boring story however). If I don’t know and love (or at least like) your main character, I really don’t have any vested interest in whether or not their life is in danger.
The WHO is vital for the where, why, what, and when to have meaning. When writers lose sight of that (or haven’t realized it yet) they create works that lack power. I think sometimes writers, especially those of us in the genre markets, get so caught up in the amazing story (or back story of the world, customs, etc) that they fail to give the reader that all so important link to their world- the amazing and empathy evoking character.
So before you start thinking story, start thinking WHO. Just don’t go overboard (really, even for extreme plotters a character sheet of a few pages is enough- more than that and you are in “writing avoidance mode” ;)).
Next week we’ll talk about what else makes a story work and go beyond boring (even though it is…).