Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Pulling Narrative Thread

How can you take a small idea and turn it into an entire story? 

When I was in college, I had a writing instructor that said "you can write anything if you know how to pull the proper thread." It took me years of writing bad stories to understand what she meant.

We are constantly inundated with narrative in our culture, actually every culture, and because of that most of us have access to an intuitive sense of story. For example, if I tell you that I'm working on a love story about a man and a woman who reunite after five years you will immediately assume that in the end of the story those two will wind up together. Did you also assume that they would be separated at some point in the story? What about difficulties between them, do you think they had them or did they get along splendid from the get go?

These assumptions are the "thread" that you as a writer can pull to reveal more about your story and how it wants to be constructed. Yes, stories have a life of their own and I am a believer that the concept behind the story has a way that it naturally wants to be expressed. (Michelangelo talked of how he never actually sculpted anything, he simply revealed the sculpture that was within the stone to begin with.)

By pulling threads, or rather asking questions about your concept, you can quickly and easily work through the entire structure of the piece. Questions lead to other questions and eventually you will have followed enough thread to find the entire yarn (hyuck hyuck hyuck.)

Going back to the example of the love story, lets ask ourselves why the couple was separated in the first place. Remember that there's no wrong answers, only decisions that feel more right than others. Lets say it was because of a sailing accident and the woman thought that her love had been lost at sea. Ok, kind of cheesy, but lets run with it. If a sailing accident happened, then we know that the man sails. Does the woman also sail? Yes. Okay! Is that how they met? Yes! Okay, then we know that we can have a scene early in the story where the two love birds meet over sailing. Perhaps the man teaches the woman how to sail. She was a sheltered upper class woman after all and he was a ruffian from the docks. 

See where I'm going? I'm having too much fun so let's take this all the way. If he taught her how to sail then that becomes her "superpower." Most protagonists have something about them that makes them special so that they can overcome their challenges. Luke had his light-saber while captain Kirk had his infallible gambling skill/decision making. So this woman learned how to sail. Her friends and family all told her that her love had died at sea. The coast guard had given up the search. No one thought that he had survived. No one, except our heroine. Her connection to this man told her that he was still alive. So she uses the skills that he taught her to sail out to sea and find her lost love. And, after years of searching, the man never giving up hope, who is it that sails to his rescue? The love of his life of course!

And save, print, submit. All we need is a title . . . How about Love Tide . . . Maybe we'll save title creation for another post . . .

What kind of stories can you come up with?
What kind of stories will you create?
How about asking your children for ideas? They tend to find the best threads . . .

All my love,
A. J. Cosmo

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