Tuesday, May 10, 2011
Narrative - Decide What Story You're Telling
Whenever I speak at writing or blogging events, my subject is almost always "Narrative Arc and the Writer's Voice." I love helping writers tell the story they want to tell, and giving permission to just go for it to anyone hoping to write.
Over the next few days, I'm going to lay out a very basic tutorial in storytelling. Make no mistake, however: there are dozens of ways to tell a story. This is just one framework to use.
Decide What Story You're Telling
This may seem obvious, but often a story is really multiple stories, with multiple protagonists and antagonists, and multiple endings. One evening, after a six-hour drive, my son became car-sick just as we pulled into the driveway of our destination. We had arrived, but he couldn't contain his nausea one second longer! As if that weren't enough, he vomited on the one person in the car who was not a member of the family. That's right; he threw up on my son's friend, Tim.
Seems like a pretty simple (if not disgusting) story, right? But everyone in that car experienced it differently. There were seven of us, plus the parents of the victim, who came out to greet their son only to find him, er, somewhat befouled. This means there were at least nine different ways to tell that story. And nine different endings.
The victim, while taking the initial brunt of the assault, was able to walk away from the car, clean up, and essentially be finished with the experience. His mother, however, had to decide what to do with those clothes (he was a teenage boy; he would have opted for 'barbecue.')
The rest of us were left in the car for a week of traveling. I won't go into detail, but suffice to say, we all had a story to tell.
So in preparing to write your story, make sure you know what story you're telling. Choose your main characters. Outline a few essential details, including the who, what, where, when, how, and why of your story. Get your chronology straight. And decide where you think the story will end. (Hint: One of the joys of writing is having a story take you some place you didn't expect, so don't be surprised if it ends differently than you anticipated.)
Tomorrow, we'll talk about heroes and journeys. Journeys that, hopefully, end more cleanly than Tim's.