Monday, January 31, 2011

What It's All About

There's a poster in my third-grader's class: "Give a seed of a story, not the whole watermelon."

I teach this to my community college composition students.

And I try to do it in my own writing.

It's the very essence of a story: the content.

How do we cover it though, and how do we cover it well?

Author/editor Nancy Lamb shared this tip at the Big Sur Writing Workshop: "If it doesn't move the story forward, it goes."

Okay, relevance. We move the plot forward. But how?


How is one of the two (hard) questions that bring us deeper in content. The other is why. Both deal with character motivation, conflict, backstory,and meaning/significance.

We do it by showing character action/reaction to dialogue/scene.

We all have the who, what, where, when down, right? So taking these elements further, with why and how, is really the heart of the story.

It's tricky, yes. But that's what makes the story good. Because the things that happen to the character (the plot) and how they affect him is what the reader cares about.

At the end of the story, the reader has to be able to say, "So...the character lives happily ever after with his true love, because he deserves that." Instead of the reader thinking, "So... what?" Which is empty, unsettling.

Content is everything.


Shannon O'Donnell said...

As always, you're right on, Jennie. I used to think I knew how to do that. I'm not so sure anymore.

Bethany Mattingly said...

The last part of this post really resonated with me. I obsess over the ending of a story, it really does make it or break it. AND, you put into words my thoughts :)

anjie said...

Sooooo.... am I to guess that YOU wouldn't end an essay with "I gave up"? (I can't remember where that question mark goes. I give up.)