Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A Theory of Story Drivers

Writing Wednesday

I've often heard that readers' worries drive the story. I take "worry" to mean the degree to which a reader thinks about the story and is anxious to get back to the book when they aren't reading, and are reluctant to stop when they are reading. You might also call it, "getting pulled into a book."

Stories are a mix of character, plot, and setting. Each of these is compelling to the degree that they are vivid, necessary, and purposeful. While I'm sure we can think of examples of compelling stories driven by a single element, I suspect the best books are compelling on a number of levels. To that end, I propose definitions for vivid, necessary, and purposeful for each of character, plot, and setting

Character
  • Vivid--Are the characters distinct, interesting, and memorable?
  • Necessary--Does each character have a reason for being part of the story? (i.e., no red-shirts or Mary-Sues)
  • Purposeful--Does each character go somewhere (i.e. grow or change) in the story? Are they affected by the events?

Plot
  • Vivid--Is it clear what's going on? and why?
  • Necessary--Do the plot points make sense? Do they matter? (i.e., it's not a plot point if the character could clear up a misunderstanding with a five minute conversation.)
  • Purposeful--Does the plot go somewhere that rewards the reader for the time they've invested? Does it end in a place that feels both surprising and inevitable?

Setting
  • Vivid--Can you see it? Do you want to be there?
  • Necessary--Is it clear that the story couldn't happen anywhere else?
  • Purposeful--Does the setting feel natural and not contrived?

What do you think? Does this framework help clarify your story drivers?


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