HOW YOU CAN GET AS MUCH OUT OF YOUR NARRATIVE AS YOU CAN
So there’s action and thrills and world-building and plot progression and character development and all kinds of -ers, -ings, and -ments that go along with writing.
There are dozens of rules and just as many ways to break those rules, and then there are punctuation patterns and story enders and finishers. It seriously can become as daunting as Santa’s Christmas list.
But in the end, there’s one thing that remains…the story.
From reading great authors like Stephen King, Robin Cook, George Martin, and Terry Goodkind, the story is the one thing that matters above it all.
Stephen King will take grammar rules, bend them against his knee and snap them in half – intentionally! Robin Cook spends very little time developing his world, because he writes medical thrillers where the reader is compelled to believe the logic of his statements based on medical facts alone.
Then there’s George Martin. We command writers “to show and not tell,” but there are many times when Martin’s characters “tell” us something about the land.
Terry Goodkind has literally, chapter after chapter, done what many people shake a scolding finger at. He explains deep histories and foreign affairs. His main character asks question after question, and the dialogue almost never ceases.
Here’s what I gathered. Nothing beats a well-told story. The authors who I’ve mentioned break the rules because “story is king.” Whenever I’m writing, I think about the elements that would bring the story to life.
Even something as simple as taking out the trash can become a written snapshot — something worthy to be lodged into a narrative.
A man went outside and chucked his garbage in the bin.
There’s nothing too exciting about that. We read that line, and our minds tell us that it’s insignificant. It’s like we’re longing for more story, not that we should extrapolate on everything, but how we can make this a bit more engaging — something that we’d want to listen to if our friends were telling us this story over dinner.
Give the story a voice.
I watched old rusty haired Hank hobble his way to the bin with a bag of trash in his hand. Something about the old man gave me the chills. It wasn’t his walk or that four-toothed grin he gave after telling one of his jokes that never seemed to have a punchline. No. It was the way that he stared at me, that awkward washed-over gaze that he offered between his words, like he was touching some tender place of my soul. And I wanted him out.
He chucked the garbage in the bin and threw me a quick head nod as a neighborly courtesy, then he turned and wobbled back into the house. I suppose old Hank had his reasons for being who he was…just like I had mine.
See how the event has just gotten narrated. It’s no longer about a man chucking trash. It’s an entire scene, vivid and pensive.
Let’s try it again. This time we’ll take a different approach.
James struggled out the front door with two little hands firmly gripping the trash bag. He had that steep arch in his back, the one that people get when they are carrying something that’s way too heavy, but somehow he was almost there.
I sat on my porch across the street, knuckles under my chin just watching. I could have helped, but the determined look on his face and the on-time grunts told me that this meant more to him than just taking out the garbage. This was a proof of his power. I guess we all need to show off every now and then, and even at thirty-five, I wasn’t much different than he was.
Once again the trash has become the backdrop for the narrative. The story is king. It’s what’s most important. No matter what else happens: TELL THE STORY first. Then you can break as many rules as you need to!
If you need a character to go from here to there, think of ways to make that venture colorful and full of character.