There are as many ways to tell a story as there are people telling stories. One thing common to each is change. To live is to change. As writers our challenge is to allow the change and to craft it.
Change is progress. Stories progress when people engage with their present circumstances to get what they want. Later, I’ll offer a post about crafting ‘present circumstances’. For the moment know that these circumstances include 1. what people must engage with, 2. what they must avoid, 3. what they hope and dream of and 4. what’s come before and will come after. These four parameters govern our lives and those of our story people. We craft present circumstances using sensual qualities that matter to us (trace), conditions, other people, skills/expertise, humour, ideas, and so much more. These circumstances are the playing field in which change occurs and people achieve their desires — or not. But there’s more to mine here.
To be human is to desire. Even if the desire is to have no desire, then desire/want is fuelling change — and story. Desire produces intention and willing. As people intend, they take action. Even if they sit on their hands out of unworthiness, etc., they are still taking action. They take these actions upon and within their present circumstances. As they take action on an intention, they learn. To learn is to experience recognition — an a-ha moment.
When one experiences recognition, their story progresses. And there are consequences. We literally cannot proceed in the same old way. This means that, when recognition occurs, actions taken after the ‘a-ha’ must take into account the learning that has occurred. The consequences for learning can be the use of a new skill, for instance, or even the denial of the learning. In this way, recognition becomes the motor for story progression — and the experience of change. We feel the change.
Logic blips and other traps open up when we experience people learning and experiencing a-has but their behaviour doesn’t reflect the learning. This gap can lead to confusion; lack of cohesion and of coherence. The reader, too, is denied their own a-ha.
It’s well-worth practicing.
Let your story person walk onto the street. Ask what their desire is — right now. Let them take some action towards achieving that desire. Remember: just because an action is small or banal, doesn’t mean it won’t have big story consequences. As they act, they are discovering. Choose one of the discoveries (keep in mind the small/big note above). Let that discovery compel a new action. This new action is the consequence of the recognition. Note that it’s the literary/experiential space in between recognition and action that we call event (also worth another blog post). ‘Event’ is what all this cleverness is working itself up to, to cop Carol Shields. After you do the above, repeat. And then repeat again. After constructing a series of events cohered by consequence, you’ll have what we call story.
As your readers feel this change, they will — literally — never be the same. Neither will your work.