Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Who Did What When?

Inception was Storytelling 101 for me.
As a reader, what matters most to me in a story, any given story, are the characters. Without interesting characters, a plot is merely entertaining. An interesting plot with interesting characters is revealing of a truth and that's what I look for. (Don't get me wrong - I love tentpolepopcornsplode as much as anyone, but interesting characters make them soooo much better.)

As a storyteller, I tend to focus more on the Who doing What and When. At least in my Zero to First Drafts. I want characters to fill the plot and help drive it to the end (though it's just as often the case that the What and When (essentially the plot) are in control). I don't worry so much about How things get done or Why and Where is even less of a concern. It's only in the last six months I've been beginning to figure out how I structure my stories and it's confusing the hell out of me. I suppose that's the bane of being a largely self-taught writer and why I think of myself more as a storyteller than an author.

So taking each of the essential questions of Story one by one and putting them in order, this is what interests me most in any story, even one of my own:

  1. WHO are these people and will I be able to identify on some level with them? Without that, my interest will fade pretty quickly.
  2. WHAT, exactly, are these potentially interesting characters doing that makes me want to know more?
  3. WHEN are they doing it? Yesterday? Tomorrow? I'm not especially picky, but the time period the characters are functioning in has to make some kind of sense to the story. Anachronism is jarring sometimes. Other times, though...
  4. WHERE are they? My backyard? Metropolis? New York? Paris? Some place off-planet or out of this dimension?
  5. WHY concerns me more as When and Where are more established in the story. Sometimes it'll leapfrog ahead of them depending on what genre I'm reading. For instance crime stories will cause me to wonder Why sooner after Who.
  6. HOW almost always interests me the least. I'm not a big procedural person and that's where my own writing bogs down the most. I need to work on this a little more as I flesh out ideas.

Accepting a story, any story, requires suspension of disbelief in some form or fashion. I want to ensure that I'm putting down only what's essential to telling the story, and for me it's less than what others might need. As I explore How I build my stories, I will eventually find the balance of What to leave in What to leave out. Details are the bits that hang me up the most. For instance, I don't think it's important to most of my stories that I identify what race my characters are. I like to leave that to the reader's imagination.

Unless, of course, it's important to the story.