Monday, 3 October 2011

Three little words that will save your story


Like all the hardest things, stories are simple at their core. Most non-writers think that ideas are the most difficult thing about writing - we've all heard people say that they've got a great idea for a novel as if that's the hard work done - but the truth is, ideas are cheap. They lie around for the taking; they can be borrowed, stolen or simply observed – failing that, they can even be made up.

A child makes up story events with infinite ease – this happened, then this happened, then this happened. It's a piece of cake. What's really hard is tying up those things together to make an enthralling story - relating those easy-to-come-up-with story elements into something meaningful.

The good news is, while the story elements can be infinitely various, the relationships between them can be distilled into three words.

And

Not to be confused with 'and then' which puts us in the realm of childlike plotting and simply tells us what happens next. 'And' defines a relationship between story elements and is used to supply background to the story. Plenty of story elements related by 'and' will provide fertile ground from which a story can grow.

For example – Mitch is desperate to have children AND he is frustrated in his work AND he is being inattentive to his wife AND had an affair many years ago AND he has a son he doesn't know about.

Plenty of scope for a story to unfold here – we could continue to add all sorts of complications to Mitch's life to give us further scope for development.

Therefore

This is what will ensure story elements (or events) are consequential i.e. that one will naturally (and inevitably) be the consequence of what has happened before. It is usually a result of characters' needs or wants driving them to achieve their aims.

For example – Mitch wants to be rich THEREFORE he robs a bank. Mitch wants to cross the river THEREFORE he builds a bridge. Mitch wants to seduce the girl THEREFORE he buys some flowers.

'Therefore' supposes a forward driven plot evolution – but you may have a great ending but you're not sure how to get there – this is when 'because' comes in handy. So you want your heroine to be emotionally desolate and stranded in the jungle? Why did she get there? BECAUSE she followed her explorer lover out there who left her for an iguana. BECAUSE is simply THEREFORE reversed.

But

This is how to add complications to your story. Mitch wants to cross the river THEREFORE he builds a bridge BUT it falls down as he's halfway across it BECAUSE he used cheap materials. See what I did there?

Remembering that these three relationships are what tie story events together means we can take all those ideas we've begged, borrowed or stolen and start stringing them together into coherent plots, or we can take one idea and start driving a plot forwards (or backwards) from it using these three magic words.

Give it a go.

3 comments:

  1. Found this by following a tweet - awesome advice!
    Thanks, Jennifer

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  2. I'm working on a query right now and am using your three words to strip down my story to the basics. Brilliant. Thanks.

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  3. @Jennifer - thanks for reading and commenting, Jen

    @Bonnie - glad you found it useful and thanks you for sharing

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