Thanks to everyone who liked my article on dialogue last week. It's good to know my thoughts on these things seem to help you.
This week, I'm still hard at work on my new novel and am now up to over 52,000 words. The first draft should be finished in couple of weeks.
During some sleepless-night downtime, I was thinking about stories and what made them work, and what made them satisfying to read.
I mean, pretty much anyone can sit down and write - but it takes a little extra thought to write a story that other people will care about. And I wondered what that was. Was there a secret ingredient?
And if so, is there one word that could sum up what makes a good story?
I believe there is.
It's not form or content. It's not characterisation or plotting. It's not even talent.
I believe you can sum up what makes a story compelling in one word:
It's clear to anyone that studies short stories and novels, even autobiographies and other literary forms that good stories are made up of characters overcoming obstacles. Without obstacles, there's no point in telling a character's story. Without something to fight or yearn for, or dream about, the reader can't identify with and / or get involved in a hero's plight.
Think about it. If you're introduced to a static character, you know that something is probably going to happen TO them. But if you're introduced to a dynamic, thinking character with an agenda and something to overcome, you pretty much know that something is going to be done BY them.
And we like characters that take action or respond positively to adversity. It's human nature.
Whether the characters are beset by natural disasters, personal tragedy or is simply being pursued by bad guys, we want the heroes to triumph, to survive...
Because I think survival, in whatever form, is at the heart of the human condition. We are programmed, as a species, to carry on, to keep seeking wisdom, truth and enlightenment. And unless you include these elements in your stories, you're not creating writing that readers will enjoy reading.
I remember having trouble writing when I was young. I still wrote, sometimes a lot, but I couldn't quite understand what was wrong with my writing. It seemed disatisfying. I wrote about real people, fictional people, antiheroes mainly who were perceptive and challenged - but my stories never seemed to go anywhere - and when they did, left my readers cold.
But I realised after a while that my early attempts at writing weren't really ABOUT anything.
There was little for readers to enjoy because I hadn't grasped that readers want purpose and resolution to stories. They want characters that are more than ordinary, more than real.
Simply observing and recording reality, then tinkering with it to make fictional stories isn't quite enough. That's only half of the writer's job. The other half requires that you show, through your insight, that there is a POINT to your tales. That not only do they explore themes, you try to make sense of them too.
Readers, writers, every human wants to feel as though there is meaning out there. And that, whatever happens to us, we will continue to grow, learn and gain wisdom.
Because a life with no meaning, no hope, no purpose, is no real life at all.
And to survive is not just to carry on living, it is to overcome whatever life throws at us. To partake in the game...