Four Useful Lies About Writing

Most writing “experts” favor a​ particular way of​ looking at​ plot,​ and will adhere to​ it​ for years or​ an​ entire career. That’s all well and good,​ but its important to​ realize that any way of​ modeling story is​ just that—a model,​ not the​ depths and living essence of​ story itself.

Problems arise when young (or experienced!) writers mistake a​ simplified structure for some deep and eternal truth. It’s much better to​ examine several structures,​ see what their strengths and weaknesses are,​ and try to​ glimpse the​ truth they are trying to​ convey.

The actual “truth” of​ story is​ beyond any structure,​ but they all point in​ the​ same direction,​ toward that misty,​ hidden metaphorical mountain all storytellers have been climbing since the​ beginning of​ time. as​ long as​ we​ don’t mistake the​ finger for the​ mountain,​ the​ structures can be quite useful indeed.

The worst story model that is​ at​ all useful might be” “It has a​ beginning,​ middle,​ and an​ end.” Well,​ yes,​ but so does a​ piece of​ string.

More helpfully,​ try: Objective,​ Obstacle,​ Outcome. in​ other words,​ a​ character wants something,​ and something stands in​ her way. She tries various things to​ resolve the​ difficulty,​ leading to​ an​ eventual climax.

This one is​ even more useful:

Situation,​ Character,​ Objective,​ Opponent,​ Disaster. Using the​ classic James Bond film “Goldfinger” as​ an​ model (action films are good for this,​ because their structure is​ usually crystal clear):

Situation: When gold is​ being smuggled from England in​ large quantities,​
Character: Secret Agent 007 James Bond
Objective: is​ assigned to​ find out how it​ is​ being done. But little does he know that
Opponent: Industrialist billionaire Auric Goldfinger
Disaster: is​ smuggling gold to​ finance his real operation,​ the​ destruction of​ Fort Knox with an​ atom bomb!

Can you see how this model helps to​ clarify the​ different basic aspects of​ your story? the​ hero must have a​ goal,​ and there must be forces in​ opposition. Moreover,​ the​ hero’s initial goal and his ultimate goal may well change over the​ course of​ the​ story,​ as​ they grow to​ understand the​ situation more fully. a​ story structure like this one implies both internal and external motivations,​ and sets up a​ dynamic structure that almost writes itself!

The very best writing structure would be what is​ known as​ the​ “Hero’s Journey” created by Joseph Campbell,​ and explored by anthropologists and writing mavens around the​ world. There are numerous interpretations of​ it,​ but in​ essence,​ it​ can be represented as:

1)Hero Confronted With a​ Challenge.
2)The Hero rejects the​ challenge
3)The Hero accepts the​ challenge
4)Road of​ Trials
5)Meeting allies and gaining powers
6) Confront evil and defeat.
7) Dark Night of​ the​ Soul
8) Leap of​ Faith
9) Confront Evil and victory
10) Student Becomes the​ Teacher

This pattern automatically implies the​ yearnings,​ fears,​ obstacles,​ efforts,​ deep depression and exultation of​ actual human lives. This is​ the​ reason that this pattern,​ more than any other,​ is​ useful to​ writers both new and experienced. Because it​ mirrors our lives,​ a​ writer can most easily adapt her own understandings of​ life and the​ universe into her work. if​ you organize your work into this pattern,​ readers or​ viewers all over the​ world will instantly recognize your efforts as​ “story.” Whether it​ is​ a​ “good” story will depend entirely on​ the​ skill and creativity that you bring to​ the​ task—the unquantifiable quality of​ “art” that is​ beyond direct description.

There are,​ of​ course,​ many other patterns,​ and an​ ambitious writer or​ student would do well to​ list several of​ them side by side,​ and analyze what they are saying. None of​ them are “truth,​” but all are useful fingers pointing toward that mountain.

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