Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Variations on a Theme of All Writing

Your interest in the possible variations to be found within stories is generational, reaching back before you began to have those conversations with yourself in which you decided on the path you wished to follow for your life's work.

You were aware early on of tolerating stories in which there were strands of romantic interest, if that was what it took to get to some serious action, say the British and Spanish navies locked in territorial squabble, or some aspect of American military against the likes of Geronimo or Cochise.  

You might from this argue you were zeroing in on genres, but you were drawn to some mysteries, in particular the so-called hardboiled ones, and wished nothing to do with the so-called cozy mysteries, named, you understood, for the English tea-warming device, the cozy, which was in effect an overcoat for a tea pot.  You snorted at the idea.

After you'd taken the early steps down the writer's road, you found yourself confronting books offering the hundred basic plots, and, later, devices built on slide-rule principals, that would help the aspiring writer contrive a plot.  

You had a veritable collection of such things, along with stacks of magazine articles and one-off magazine publications aimed at the sort of writer you thought you wished to be.  Truth to tell, the future for writers such as yourself were, at the time, based on well-plotted stories where you were expected to present the equivalent of constructions by such current writers as Lee Child and Harlan Coben.

This was a difficult time for you because you were not that kind of a plotter, your devices and storehouses of plot outlines doing you more a negative than positive service.  You dissected, studied, outlined, compared.  Still, you could not plot, and yet there you were, stranded down a road with prospects of hitching a ride to a significant destination.

"Oh well,"  your mother once said, after listening to the progress report you gave her or, rather, that she extracted from you, painful detail and rejection slip by painful detail and rejection slip.  "Oh, well,"  she said, "you can always turn to literature."

You turned instead to additional study and dissection, whereupon you determined for your own use that there were two or three basic stories, to which, in the spirit of adventure and inventiveness, you added a few more, which brought the sum total to about six basic types of story.  

These days, you stand by your earlier research to the point where you feel comfortable announcing the limited number of basic story DNAs.  In the interim,between those and these days, you've come to some terms with plots, figured a way to produce them and, thus, orderly, consequential outcomes with endings that have, from time to time, won you the accolade, "Well plotted."  You have even, at times of financial need, sought and achieved "for-hire" contracts to contribute a volume or two to series already in publication.

Story has evolved in a particular way, but that way has to do with narrative filter or point of view rather than any significant change in story design.  A new genre, steam punk, which you much admire has gathered a significant readership, but the format of the stories remains rooted in the basic types you and hundreds of other writers have isolated from all the apparent possibilities.

The particular way of evolution has the story being told from the perspective of one or more of the characters, the author barely allowed to ride in the same vehicle.  The way of narrative reminds you of the time in the teen ager's life when she or he is less than pleased to be seen out in public with parents.  The modern story is the kids night out, parents, or authorial figures, stay home.

This is prologue to the discovery you've encountered, because you didn't flat out make it or design it for yourself so much as it came to you when nothing else did.  Not only does story begin for you with some biography-level familiarity with your characters and their needs or desired, the personality of the story, the narrative voice, if you will, of the story is determined by the characters, who they are, and what they become in pursuit of their goals.

No comments: