When taking a story into consideration, unless they’re a worrywart finding themselves loathing how it may turn out, most writers may not consider the importance of the more commonplace knowledge that supports a good story.
Some may argue that it isn’t important to try and hammer out all of the little dings and dents when it comes to storytelling, especially in the midst of your own creative flow. I couldn’t agree more on this opinion, but I do believe it’s as equally important to have a thorough understanding of writing as it is to be creative while doing it.
When you have these rudimentary pieces carved into your mind, it will be easier to focus more on creativity when the new ideas take hold. Under no circumstances should this be conveyed as a requisite before writing anything at all, it’s just something to consider before tackling a lengthy piece. Your story can come to full fluidity rather than dammed every time you catch yourself overusing the term very, having bland conversations between characters, or catching your story trailing off into oblivion. Just as with any skill, whether it’s cognitive or creative, there is a learning curve involved. I would rather focus on the aspects of the actual story rather that the bits and bobs that make it up, but that doesn’t forego their importance.
Over the course of the next few weeks I’m going to talk about the pillars of what make up a work of fiction. Keep in mind that all of these things mentioned are not to bring about a more creative version of the writer in you, but rather set in place as foundations to aid in your storytelling.
The Pillar of Narrative
When you’re telling a story you’re essentially guiding someone down the path of your imagination. When a reader decides to take your story into consideration they are trusting you, as the guide, to make the journey worthwhile. You’re not giving them a lazy tour of a museum; you’re delivering them a story that stirs emotion, invokes empathy for the main character, and delivers on the fine detail that only you can deliver.
Now, all of the smaller foundations that make up a narrative can’t really be put into any specific order, but I’m going to deliver them in an order that I think would be the easiest to pick up on, for learning’s sake, before writing as well as in the midst of the first few chapters. Another thing I would like to mention is that narrative is a vast subject by itself. With enough time and research I do believe I could write an entire book, but alas, I have but only one week. I’ll touch on the more popular aspects of a narrative, helping to give you an idea of what a general narrative consists of. Rest assured, I will be touching on each of the points within the subject of the narrative in future posts.
It’s important to understand what point of view the story will be written in before you dive too deep. In my past experience, the point of view would often pick itself out. I can only assume it was the result a subconscious mimicry of other popular authors that I favored at the time. For you, the perspective may be something that needs to be taken into careful consideration before writing the first word. Always remember, once you have a perspective, it’s in your best interest to stick to it.
Some of the more popular perspectives like first-person, third-person, and third-person omniscient have some clear advantages over some of the more looked over perspectives like second-person.
With a first-person perspective you have the advantage of seeing what a single person sees rather than being inside the minds of all the characters as a collective. You’ll only see the outermost personification of other characters. When something eventful happens to our main character, it’s just as surprising to the reader as it is for the main character.
The third-person perspective allows the reader access to all of the characters actions. It acts as a looking glass to see what every character is doing, whether it be good or bad.
A third-person omniscient perspective gives the reader the opportunity to see inside the minds of all of the characters within the narrative. This is very open construct when telling a story because everyone’s thoughts as well as their intentions are out in the open for the reader; however, it doesn’t give the main character any ability over the other characters. This allows the reader to try and predict the outcome over the course of the story given the right amount evidence.
Characters & Setting
Both of these subjects go hand-in-hand when your pen meets papers (or fingers meet keys.) Having good characters that are as well-rounded or as static as they need to be in an environment that offers challenges, rewards, peril, and engage in sensory inclusion will all be factors in the final decision as to whether or not your writing is any good.
When dealing with the characters, it’s important to remember what kind of traits you feel best personify and breathe life into each one. Dynamic characters, for instance, may start off simple and not very heroic, but by the end of the book they have developed into something that piques the readers interest making them think, ‘I could do that’ or ‘I’d like to do that.’ Static characters are just as important because, although they may undergo no significant change throughout the course of the story, they will play key roles in how they interact with the dynamic characters. All the characters involved can have rich and interesting backstories or even remain mysterious until the end. It’s up to you to decide which details best suit the narrative you see in your mind.
Setting will also be of utmost importance when trying to convey the ideas you have. Can you imagine if J.K. Rowling had the exact same story of Harry Potter in a normal school rather than have the setting of Hogwarts? It wouldn’t have been nearly as appealing. The same goes for the setting in your own story. Make it bold. Have it give the characters comfort, put them in danger, teach them invaluable lessons, or a mixture of all three.
The point of well-personified characters in a very well-constructed setting is to convey something to the reader that feels so real it can be felt through every turn of the page.
We’re getting down to the grit of the story. After you’ve settled your reader into an interesting group of characters in an equally interesting place, it’s time to start thinking of where the theme of your story is headed. It’s also important to mention that you can have more than one theme, and depending on how you decide to run the story, the themes can have conflicting agendas to create conflict or work so well together that there’s nothing left to do but deliver a linear epic.
Some of the more relatable themes would be good vs. evil, coming of age, survival, love, and discovery. All of these themes, as well as the ones not mentioned, will throw the characters and the settings you’ve worked so hard to create into the forge to come out changed in the way that you see fit. Sometimes the outcome is bad, others it may be good. Whatever the case, having an understood theme while in the beginning stages of writing your story will help you make the decisions needed to achieve that theme.
Structure & Plot
Structure and plot are very similar to theme when it comes to what direction you want your story to go in. Plot is the main sequence of events to take place interrelating itself with the story. The same could be said for the structure; however, when defining structure in the sense of writing, we find that structure doesn’t seem to follow such a beaten path. Structure is defined as the arrangement of and relations between the elements of a complex whole. Plot seems to follow specific events in order to achieve the plot desired while structures seems to be a bit more open to allow for the writer to place additional elements at their own discretion.
Some examples of major plots in storytelling are overcoming the monster, rags to riches, the quest, voyage and return, comedy, tragedy, and rebirth. All of these plots follow a very specific pattern with the variations being only the finer details. Some examples of structure in a story would be a linear story, a fractured story, a framed story, or an epic.
I’ve argued in the past against plotting as a whole. Structure falls into that category as well, but it’s important to remember that at the end of the day, you are the writer of your story. Whether you choose to plot, your story falls naturally in line with a plot, or it remains abstract is up to you.
Style & Genre
Getting to the more personal aspects of storytelling, style and genre are things that should come to you as naturally as the narrative itself does. Through years of practice you will see your own style begin to develop. The genre you find yourself writing in will be the part of your imagination that shows itself the most. It’s important to note that the style, although likely derived from your favorite writers, should remain unique to you.
The genre you decide upon for the majority of your stories should also be what comes most naturally to you. If you find yourself loving the idea of a historical romance, caught in the folds of an adventure, or want to explore the darker reaches of what your mind can conjure with a horror, stick to it no matter what others may think.
Narrative as a whole is something that should be a natural to a writer as breathing. When you have a better understanding of what a narrative is and the potential it carries, you can start to better mold those ideas that you want to share with the world.
In the coming weeks we will also talk about dialogue and description portions of the story, but for now take the time and do some research of your own on the topics above and see what else you may find. Remember, knowledge is power, and having the creativity to write an original story is only half the battle.