Wednesday, December 14, 2011

story ideas

Ideas might come directly from character. A lot of writers start with a character and make that character move forward. What that character wants and what gets in the way of that want is what powers the story.

So let’s say you have a little girl, a tomboy, and she’s got a very distinct Southern voice. She lives in a little town. She has a strange neighbor next door.

Now what? Seems a little generic. If the voice of the girl is strong, though, maybe this will help the writer find her way. Let’s say she has a brother and maybe a friend. They have some adventures.

Things begin to happen but if this story is just about the little girl and her friends, it might be good but it won’t be great. A Southern town during the time of segregation and the Depression and a social structure that creates inequality and promotes prejudice though adds another dimension. The setting is another idea of the author and the development of that setting broadens the story. But now we need some kind of inciting event. A black man is accused of raping a white woman. The girl’s father defends the black man.

I don’t really know how Harper Lee began her story, but somehow many, many ideas bloomed in what could have been the simple story of a girl growing up in a small town. Harper Lee found her way to this larger story situation and then was able to write it so vividly she created a great novel.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

narrative current

Narrative current helps hold a story together. So many stories do a lot of things well and struggle with just one or two major things and these make the manuscript lose its power.

One of those things that is often the culprit is narrative current. Say a writer writes well and has interesting characters andmany wonderful scenes BUT somehow they don’t fit together. There aren’t connections between these scenes. There isn’t a sense of story arc. The writer feels that it isn't quite right but doesn't know how to fix it. The story needs a coherent narrative, a current that will carry it to the right conclusion.

Usually when a writer says something like my story is about love or my story is about loss, they’re talking about theme. These are big, often general or abstract ideas and while the story may very well be about these larger issues they don’t, by themselves, hold the novel together. Theme or the big ideas behind your work are necessary and important but they aren’t what is pulling the story along—at least not by themselves.

Narrative current demands a sense that the whole narrative is taking the reader someplace. The scenes in the story have to be constructed in such a way that the reader feels compelled to find out where this current is carrying them and not just what the scene is about. Connections are essential. The writer chooses the right details because he or she finds this current and so it puts them in the right place.

This might all sound like plot and it certainly is plot but plot is too narrow. It’s not just about what happens in each scene but how these scenes fit together and the interior life of characters and their development etc… Without a narrative current the story strays off or it feels stagnant in places even if it does eventually move to a conclusion.

Or so I think today