People telling stories has been a form of meaningful communication for us since the cave paintings of Lascaux Caves in the Pyrenees Mountains in southern France were discovered by a group of children in the 1940s.
The paintings depict animals interacting with humans. This is a narrative idea, that could lead to a solid story.
Narrative is the breadcrumbs of a tale, a yarn that draws us along a set path that the storyteller wants us to focus on.
The story is the plot and its parts. Plot is the type of communication that we use to tell our friends the basis of a story. We can give the plot and leave important parts out to avoid giving away the whole narrative thread of the story. We avoid spoilers, but explain the feeling of the story with plot parts.
Narrative is the thread, normally more than one, that lead us along an intricate path of thoughts, we interpret the path according to our understanding and the storyteller’s ability to stay on track.
Staying on track with an array of story threads can be difficult, but if the storyteller has skilfully figured out a plot, she knows when the narrative is driving into the next plot point.
The plot point should be known beforehand, or at best be the result of a skilled storyteller’s backlog of experience in telling a tale.
The phrase “plot-driven” story can be deceptive to writers trying to figure out their own story points. You can’t have a story without a character who drives the plot forwards through their actions; all stories are character driven.
A great character will help you to develop a driving plot that will keep readers turning pages and on the edge of their seats.
Writers know that when they are stuck for an idea about how to move forwards with the narrative, they should look at the character again. Maybe the writer has spent too much energy looking at the details in a particular chapter or section of a story. This can lead to working on connections between plot points, and forgetting that the character is one who causes all the action in the first place. Character will always put spark into the story again when things seem to lag.
Traditional Storytelling Techniques
Tradition has it that stories are told verbally. Long before paper became a commodity storytellers would travel from village to village, or just sit at a roadside and wait for people to stop and ask for a story, then they would begin with a well-worn story that they’d told a thousand times.
The chances are that when they told the story for the thousandth-and-one time, it would be told slightly differently than the previous times. Stories develop as authors gain a deeper understanding of their own stories.
If you’re writing a story and want to know if it’s a good idea, or what happens, or who the character really is, then there is only one way to do it. Apart from planning the story as if it was a scientific project the best way to find out if your story will work is to commit to writing it.
Story writing is a little like drawing a map of the land when you are standing on location. There are many aspects of the landscape to consider, to measure, and to inspect in order to avoid the mistake of falling for an optical illusion that new landscapes can cause.
Like the topographer who gauges and measures landscapes, the storyteller must also go into the landscape of the story to find out what really works, and what was just an illusion that won’t fit the plot of the land.
When you feel that you have a few good ideas about who your character is, and what they are doing, and how what they are doing will create a big enough conflict in their lives to create a storyline, then you can begin to write the first words.
These first words may spring quickly from the well of thought that you have created through studying your story from the outside, or the initial excursion into this new story land may be heavy foot work at first. Either way, it’ll be worth ploughing on until the moment comes and you throw your hands up with a realization about exactly what it is that you’re trying to say.
Story telling is hard work, and it’s exciting, fun, enlightening, and challenging. That’s why so many people start then stop, then remember the work they did on a book five years ago. Some people keep going. They knew from the start that anything worth achieving is will present a challenge that will be a mixture of all the things that are good and bad.
How to Know if Your Story Idea is Worth Pursuing
The only way to know if it’s worth starting to write is to ask yourself a few questions, and then either begin or stop — and look for a better idea.
How excited are you by the idea you have come up with? Does it bother you, do you think about it and try and figure out the problems involved?
If your character is facing hardship, do you care enough to do anything to get them out of it? If they are going to be in a very tough place, will you care enough to figure out and write the scenes that show readers how smart and intelligent the main character is at overcoming obstacles?
Is your character someone who sticks in your mind? Do you constantly think about them, and come up with the fine adjustments that carves them into an even better character than they were when you first thought of them?
Your character should begin the story in context of what’s important to telling the story.
A character driven novel is not a character study, it’s a story with a strong personality who shows what happens through their actions. The start of your story should be as close to action as possible.
It’s important to allow a few lines to introduce the character, to show them doing what they do, and how those moments become disrupted by an outside force — a demand from outside that they try to push away, or avoid.
But that outside force won’t give up, so your character is forced to deal with it, then go deeper and face up to it as if it’s the most important thing in their lives. It was never their plan to do this, but life is full of surprises.
It depends on what your story is about, but the action, the conflict, and the ups and downs of the storyline should reveal to the reader who your character really is.
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