Wednesday, 27 March 2013

What's Your Story?

I attended a really interesting writers’ group meeting last night where we discussed what constitutes story, as opposed to an anecdote or a character sketch.

Mark Twain’s first rule of writing was: “that a story should accomplish something and arrive somewhere.”

Steven Spielberg said: "People have forgotten how to tell a story. Stories don't have a middle or an end any more. They usually have a beginning that never stops beginning."

Personally, I think stories need two things. They have to have a reason for being told and they have to deliver an ending that satisfies the reader. Otherwise why should readers invest their time? What’s in it for them? I always ask myself when writing, whether novel, short story or flash fiction, how would a reader view this story?

Basically, for me, a story should follow one or more characters through a series of events, presenting lots of conflict and challenges for them to overcome, before arriving at the conclusion. In the process, something or someone has to grow or change. It’s the growth and/or change that makes the story satisfying to the reader (I think).

Conflict is essential. Without it, there is no story as nothing would happen to the characters. They would go along their way with no reason to be on the page. They wouldn't be forced to grow or change.

There are different types of conflict you can use in storytelling and I’ve briefly outlined them below.

External - A struggle with an outside force

Character against character. One character (or group) sets out to achieve certain goals, but others stand in the way.

Man against nature would pit a character against the forces of the elements. The character has to overcome the challenges of the natural world – typhoon, shipwreck, earthquake, floods, avalanche and so on.

Man against society puts the character on the wrong side of what society expects of him or her. The character has to overcome prejudice to win through.

Internal – An inner struggle over the character’s own nature

This type of conflict is when a character confronts personal fears and weaknesses, addictions, insecurities, and even inabilities. For example, a man cannot swim, is terrified of water, but his daughter falls into an unattended swimming pool. The man overcomes his fear, grabs a life belt and jumps in. He has battled with inner conflict and won. He has grown as a person.

Of course, you could have a mix of more than one type of conflict, depending on the story you want to tell.

What’s your view? Do you have a different concept on what constitutes story in its most basic form?

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