Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Story Part I: What Is It?

Story is what sells the book and attracts readers, Donald Maass, a top agent and novelist, says in Writing the Breakout Novel. An author can have exciting characters, unique setting, tremendous dialogue, but if he doesn’t have a good story, he has nothing.

Story is taking an idea and bringing it to life by transporting the reader from one world to another through the experiences of a character on a mission—striving to reach a goal with a purpose. A story has the power to capture readers and allow them to experience the journey.

What makes story are the elements of characters, plot, setting, tone, and theme—also called purpose or message. But what brings the story to life is the journey toward the goal wrought with conflict. Without conflict, the story fails. In the story world, conflicts are those things that get in the way of the main characters reaching their goal(s). This means the character works, struggles, overcomes, fails, recovers, strives, and finally conquers. . .or fails to reach the goal, depending on the story’s genre.

While these elements make up a story, the authors uses a variety of techniques to deliver the story to the reader, including action, dialogue, introspection, narration, conflict and emotion. These techniques weave through the story while balancing the pacing of the plot. Using these techniques allows the reader to learn about the characters in a variety of ways.

The story will also be delivered to the reader in different ways:
• POV (point of view) refers to through which character’s eyes the reader is experiencing the story. First person is most intimate while third person is most common in popular fiction, and easiest to write. POV is therefore the focus person in the scene, and the character reveals himself to the reader through the elements above. Introspection only comes from a POV character because it is his thoughts and emotional reactions that can only be reveal by that kind of intimacy.

• Tense is another factor where an author has choices. The most popular is past tense. Bill walked outside or I walked outside. It is almost as if the story is being relayed to the reader by the character who experienced it, yet it gives the feeling of happening in the moment. Present tense is another option— Bill walks outside—but not as popular and is often less effective in certain genres such as romance where it is important for the reader to know both the hero and heroine intimately. Present tense is as if the story is happening now. Women’s fiction and some detective stories often use present tense.

• Approach refers to the way in which the author connects with the reader by
1. using a narrator who fills in the blanks because he knows everything (omniscient),
2. following the story in chronological order as things happen or moving back and forth in time sequence (flashbacks, time travel, two era saga),
3.literal, meaning what is happening is what’s important to the story or allegory which means what is important is a symbol to something greater such as a moral or lesson.
Each of these methods of presentation give the story a different feel and readers react to the approach either with a positive or negative feeling. The most popular method is chronological.

• Duration refers to the amount of time this story lasts. The TV show 24 covers one day with details of each underlying subplot spreading the story over months of time. Some novels last a week in the characters’ lives, others are a few months or a year, and family sagas will often cover generations. Some stories are more effective over a short period of time while some need the years to develop the story.

• Character’s Story World refers to the stage on which you place the story—era, country, planet, small town, rural countryside, urban city, fantasy kingdom, or in the future. The story world affects the character’s way of life, the social and political climate, morals and values, and accepted behaviors.

As you plan your novel and develop your story, realize that these techniques and elements offer you choices to create the best story you can and also offers challenges. You can give your good story a twist by trying a different duration, story world, POV or tense to make your story unique. Give careful thought to what you will use to deliver your story to the reader. You have choices.

4 comments:

LaTawnia said...

Great article. I found it most helpful! Thanks Gail!

Gail Gaymer Martin said...

Thanks, LaTawnia. I appreciate your letting me know.

Blessings,
Gail

Carla Gade said...

Another helpful article, Gail. I really liked you going over all the aspects of story. One thing I get caught up on is my timeline. My current wip spans about 6 - 8 weeks. There is the inciting incident, the h & h spend some time together during about a week's time, then there are several weeks where they are primarily just thinking about each other. The last 3 weeks or so they spend much time together on an expedition getting to spend much time together. I'm concerned that this is too short a time span for a historical romance novel. But this is my story - preparation for the expedition, and expedition. Will it work?

sanjeet said...

I found it most helpful! Thanks Gail!
free classified india