Backtracking to the Second Level of Craft

I want to say something more about the story level of writing, especially since I claim (over and over 😉 ) that story trumps all. I’ve written about the subject before, but in glancing over those posts, I realized I never brought out one of the major requirements for a good story.

Yes, I addressed creating conflict on every page, having an engaging character, making the story unpredictable and surprising, and I alluded to upping the stakes and creating tension and suspense. I even mentioned the importance of setting. So what have I left off?

I can think of at least two things, actually.

One is motivation. Yes, this is usually something mentioned in a discussion about characters, but “story” encompasses characters since characters are the players of the action. They are integral to the story. And motivation is integral to them.

In order for a story to read smoothly, each plot point must make sense, must feel as if it belongs. That means it must be necessary, must move the story forward, and must fit with the other elements. In other words, a plot point can’t spring from nothing. A mild-mannered character, for instance, can’t turn out to be the murderer. Not unless the author has laid the ground work of foreshadowing. Otherwise the character’s actions seem unmotivated or poorly motivated, at best.

Along these lines, an author should eliminate plot points that depend on coincidence. If an author wants to show the hand of God superseding the normal course of events, this is harder to adhere to, but even more important, I believe. Otherwise, “the hand of God” will come across to the reader as nothing more than the manipulation of the author.

Equally important, in my view, is finishing off all the plot and sub-plot points in a satisfactory manner. Notice, this does not mean in a happily-ever-after manner or even an all-i‘s-dotted manner. I think there can be some questions left for the reader to wonder about, but those should not come across like the author just forgot to complete that part of the story.

Having said that, I want to mention that trilogies such as Lord of the Rings (and The Lore of Efrathah), and even some series, like Harry Potter, make no attempt to tie up all the plot points in each book. Rather, they must be tied up by the end of the final book.

It’s harder to do because the books, written over a span of years, can be read in weeks, once the entire series is available. Readers will see the plot holes or inconsistencies or lack of motivation or coincidences. To give attention to the story—characters, plot, setting, and theme—in order to insure that “good story” qualities are in place … well, it seems to me, that takes time, attention to detail, and good editing.

Published in: on March 3, 2008 at 5:02 pm  Comments Off on Backtracking to the Second Level of Craft  
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