Most people think it’s easy to tell a story, and most people are right. But just because you can use your imagination and tell a quick little story doesn’t guarantee that you can write good short stories or a good screenplay or novel. It takes commitment and hard work, not to mention lots of thought and research, to write good stories. I’ve mentioned this in previous posts several times.
Imagination is important. But so is listening to how people talk to each other, so you can write good dialogue. It’s also important to observe people, to see how they treat each other, to notice what hurts them and what heals them.
Good stories also require good plots. And the thing is, finding a good a plot isn’t that difficult. First you have know what a plot is. And the important thing is knowing what a plot is versus what a story is. I’ve mentioned before that the story is what happens to your characters, how they treat each other, what they experience. The plot is where the story is going, what happens along the way, and how it ends up.
For instance, if you meet a publisher or a literary agent, they usually what to know what your story is in two short and concise sentences. If you ramble on, they’ll know you’re an amateur and ignore you. However, the two-sentence story-line has to include the plot.
Here’s a good example: “There are two feuding families: the son from one family and the daughter from another fall in love and want to get married. The families forbid it; tragedy ensues.”
If don’t recognize it, that’s Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet”. Or the musical “West Side Story.”
A more simple way to describe that story is like this, “Boy meets girl. They fall in love. Girl dies. Boy kills himself.” Eleven words, short and sweet.
That’s the plot. The story fills in with who they are, they are like, what are their friends like, what are their families like, where do they live, when do they live, who’s responsible for her death, how did it happen, why did it happen, why did he kill himself, what happened after they died?
The last part, “What happened after they died?” is the resolution. Keep that short, but not too short. The aftermath should show the friends and families reaction, but not much more. A few lines, maybe a few paragraphs, a couple of pages, but not much more. Not if you don’t want to make the end overly melodramatic and ruin the story.
A good example of a short and sweet resolution is the end of the 1930s “King Kong” when a crowd gathers around King Kong’s corpse. One of the main characters says, “It was love that killed the beast.” That sums up the whole movie. Impossible love.
Another part concerning a good story is what it says about the human condition. Love, for instance, is an important part of the human condition. Even if you’re not writing a love story, love should still be present. You love your sweetheart, you love your friends, you love yourself, you love your family, your pets, nature, your life, your privacy. Maybe you love your job. Maybe you love your church or your home or your community.
Maybe you love chocolate, or reading comics. Maybe you love music. Maybe you love Star Wars. Maybe you love helping people. Maybe you love writing. Maybe you love money. Or your car.
A good story should help the reader process his or her life and experiences. So, some sort of small truth should be there for the reader to relate to, to help the through his or her life.
You might think that’s bull crap, but its true. But don’t try to approach and define big truths, for stories about that tend to do so get too big and boring for the reader and to fail. Try to keep your personal beliefs out of stories, including your personal prejudices and hatreds. You want your readers to be entertained and to learn, but putting your anger into stories can backfire and you writing career can fail. You want your readers to love your stories and love your writing, not to despise or hate you.
So, what are small truths? Love, friendship, faith, family, respect for others, respect for yourself, self-confidence, self-sacrifice, redemption, courage, loyalty, honor.
Of course, there are opposites to all these things, too, such as loss. Loss of love, loss of companionship, loss of self-confidence or self-respect, loss of others respect or trust or confidence. But opposites are the challenges your characters need to overcome. If your characters go into darkness and stay there, your readers won’t find any hope and examples for them to overcome the darknesses they feel they’re trapped in, whether real or imagined.
It’s dangerous to write about good and evil, but if you don’t, you won’t have any stories to tell. Your characters need to overcome evil in their lives in order to grow. If they don’t grow, your story may fail. And if your characters don’t grow, don’t overcome evil, your readers won’t either.
There’s a responsibility when writing, just like there’s a responsibility when driving. Bad judgements in either can lead to personal disaster.
No one is innately evil. All babies are born pure and innocent. People are pulled to the darkness or the light by the fear they experience in their lives and their ability to overcome it, or their failure to do so. Psychologists say there are only two basic human emotions, love and fear. And I would say that fear is painful.
In my next post, I’ll talk about where to find good story examples. Shakespeare is always a good place to start.
See you out there.