“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.” – Mark Twain
This series of articles assumes you want to write stories and find an audience of loyal readers, who then influence new readers, who then themselves become loyal readers.
You can do that in your sleep, right?
In order for us to tackle this, we have to answer a couple of key questions:
1. Why would a reader choose your story over the competition?
2. What is really at the root of a satisfactory story?
Swain feels there is no single definition of story. Every person who reads and/or writes is different and defines story to fit his own tastes and prejudices.
The first step to writing successfully requires us to stop thinking of story as a thing, and more of something you do to a specific reader.
It makes more sense to think of it as a combination of function and process.
Function: To create a desired reaction in a given reader.
Process: The devices you use to fulfill that function.
I may not know what you’re thinking, but I can hazard a guess. If story can’t be defined as one thing, then why all these “rules” we’ve discussed in previous pieces? Remember, these aren’t rules; they’re tools and therefore part of the process. They’re proven methods on how to manipulate the reader into feeling what you want them to feel.
Knowing this, what’s your next step?
Looking back at our first question, why a reader would choose your story over another, you must think about your audience. Who are they? Most beginning writers never think of this, because the answer seems obvious – everyone!
But trying to please all the people on this Earth is not a good idea, least of all because it’s impossible. Instead, it makes more sense to reach out to those that share your tastes and interests, the ones that see the world as you do. That’s who you want to write for because that will keep you engaged in your writing and provide forward momentum.
Okay, fair enough. You’ve decided to pinpoint a select group. Now how do you give them a first-rate reading experience?
Wow, you’re full of great questions!
I know we said that you can’t define story, but a rule-of-thumb is useful here:
“A story is the record of how somebody deals with danger.”
It can be nitpicked whether or not that’s a definition, but the fact is, its a useful statement that can be adapted to almost any intriguing story out there.
To break this idea down some more, think about what holds your attention when reading a book. Pages and pages describing a chair that has no relevance to the plot? Dialogue that is simple small-talk and goes nowhere?
If we really think about it, the path to immersion is tension.
What causes tension? Fear.
What creates fear? Danger.
What is danger? Change.
“Anything endangering survival or happiness creates fear.”
There you are on a lovely Saturday afternoon, enjoying the chattering birds during a brisk hike when a mountain lion saunters out of the bushes.
What happened? Things changed. Your environment. Your frame of mind. Your adrenaline levels.
That’s an obviously fearful situation, but why? There are two important factors involved when fearing something:
1. Perception – You must be aware a change is taking place.
2. Experience – You must understand that this particular change may expose you to injury, loss, pain, or any other such negative thing.
“Fear is contagious. When you live through a properly written story with a character, his experiences and tensions become yours.”
Let’s also step back and look at the 30,000 foot view of story, seeing how tension works there:
|Tension is created.||Tension is built up and intensified.||Tension is focused sharply.||Tension is released.|
That’s really all there is to it. It sounds so simple, but we all know it’s easier said than done.
Try to remember these ideas when you’re planning and writing your story. Figure out how you can best implement these devices. I think you’ll be surprised how useful they really are.
Have you thought about such things when writing your stories? Were you successful? Or did you hit a roadblock somewhere?
I hope you found this entry useful, and as always, I really appreciate your feedback.
Now that we understand a need for strategy, let’s take a deeper look at what planning really entails.