Saturday, July 30, 2011

How Concept Becomes Story

 That's a great idea for a story, you often tell yourself when you see or hear something that strikes sparks within you, even though you know at the moment that the idea is not yet a story; it is only a concept.

In your Mind's Eye, you see sperm cells racing toward the egg.  Or you get more elaborate and imagine those stalwarts, Lewis and Clark, setting forth at President Jefferson's commission, to find The Northwest Passage.

For the concept to become a story, one of those sperm cells has to make it to the egg ahead of the others.  For the Lewis and Clark Expedition to become a story, matters have to become yet more sophisticated.  There has to no discovery of the Northwest Passage, because there wasn't any such thing.  There has to be and was the remarkable trail of discovery along the way, as recorded in the journals of the two men and of the implications for untold millions who were affected and still are, after their journey.

Story is outreach.  Someone strives for--reaches toward--a goal.  Story is reversal or frustration.  A writer is sitting in the outdoor patio of a coffee shop, her latte growing cold while she is typing away on her laptop, her narrative growing to the point where she is quite concentrated, her latte grown cold.  Enter a bottle fly, buzzing about her, sensing a profitable landing spot, somewhere on her head.

Irritated, she swats at the fly.  The fly avoids her swat with ease, then buzzes her from another direction.  The irritation of the writer grows.
But this is still not a story; the writer is not n invested character yet.  When the fly makes another pass at her, and she stops, roots about in her briefcase, withdraws a copy of The Atlantic Monthly,  then rolls it into a bat, we have the beginnings of outreach.  Depending on the type of story this narrative will eventually become, its writer meets potentials for scenario.

If, for instance, the story is to become a romance, the writer uses her rolled-up magazine to swat the fly, misses the fly, hits her table in such a way that her remaining latte splatters all over the jacket of a nearby young man who, even now, is awaiting his fiancee.

Were the story to be of the speculative fiction alternate universe genre, the writer would once again miss the fly, but this time, she would strike the table top in such a way that the resonant frequency would cause her to be shifted into a parallel universe, where she would find herself in a landscape where it became within her immediate means of preventing some person from being persecuted, perhaps even killed, creating a bond between her and that person, and further enlisting her in a series of chores, trials, or tests to be performed.  For some period of time, the protagonist could reenter her own world and return to this one by striking the table top.

Story is now well under way; the protagonist has a task or a quest.  the story develops as she attempts against opposition to perform the designated task or encounter the object of her quest, be it an actual person, a particular document, or a token that is valuable to someone.

Story is the pursuit of a goal, the discharge of a duty, and the release of unanticipated energy.  This last is of particular importance to the author.  The unanticipated energy is the reverberation of insight or knowledge that has come in the writing of the story. This insight is expressed through the actions and perhaps the interior monologue of one or more of the characters.

The closing moments of story are achieved when the characters, their motives, the effect on them of reversals and frustrations, and the need to achieve a compromise with Reality are, metaphorically, tossed into a crucible, then heated to combustion.  Now the characters are left to clean up the residue and the readers remain to each in his or her own way, to take some sides and take some meaning from the events.

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