Saturday, January 7, 2012

Story - a Crafty Sequel

I started this blog as an effort to explain writing to myself - it was to be a journey of discovery and, like all journeys, I've occasionally wandered off the intended path. It has produced a number of interesting conversations and the discovery that other writers share my confusion.  On the other hand, I have learned that there is a level below which I lack even the faintest glimmer of understanding and when I try to grasp the answer I find my hand full of mist.  Is there something about writing that can be quantified or is there really magic in what we writers do?

A couple of weeks ago I spoke about the role of story in writing and said "... telling a good tale isn't about simply writing properly; it's being able to craft a story."   That comment, in turn, started me thinking in  about what I meant by craft.

The obvious first step in crafting a story is to have a plot - an engine that moves the reader from point A to point B and eventually to the ending.  Crafting that plot means deciding on some overriding purpose - that which motivates the characters or causes the story's wheels to keep turning. The craft of composing the plot is to divide the story into intervals - building a series of scenes that comprise an arc.  These scenes do not necessarily need to be contiguous or continual but should in some way support the overall arc.  Some writers get away with digressing from the action but it is generally not a good idea, especially in short stories.

Crafting the right details for the story is also important.  A writer should provide sufficient sensual detail (sight, smell, sounds tastes, etc.)  to allow the reader's suspension of belief, but not go so far as to challenge their sensibilities. Less is often better than more.  This not only applies to what is physically happening in the tale, but also should be applied to whatever imagery or metaphors that might come into play.

But the bare bones of plot, characters, actions, and all do not a story make.  Quite apart from the driving purpose of the story a writer usually has a different purpose in mind when crafting the story, perhaps to make a political, social, or scientific point.  Often as not, the writer's purpose is never explicitly stated but comes across in their word choices.  The placement of trigger words in the text often betrays the writer's intent.

I doubt that I've accomplished what I set out to do in this short essay to explain the craft of story telling.  Maybe I'll come back to it some day in the future after some of these thoughts coalesce.  Until then, I have to get some writing done.

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