Friday, 27 June 2014

The Shape of a Story - keeping it simple

How we shape our stories is a vital part of our ability to connect with readers. In this humorous presentation, Kurt Vonnegut reduces the story arc to a few strokes. What I love about this is its simplicity. As a novelist I often get embroiled in over complicated plots, multiple timelines and different points of view.

What the video taught me was to look at  my main characters' tension arcs through the novel. Even with a not very exact representation of this (see below) I could see where the 'dead' points might be for the reader, and where there was too much going on.

The timeline runs left to right and the peaks represent crux points for that character. It took less than three minutes to do, but was nevertheless very informative. As I often work with historical characters, sometimes their peaks and troughs are determined by the history I'm dealing with. In my last novel it was real events in WWII. This can lead to imbalance in story structure which needs to be addressed, but it can be invisible unless you take a quick overview.

As you can see, Character No.3 particularly has a lot of action near the beginning, but not much through most of the middle of the book, reappearing at the end but not with enough impact to compete with the other two major characters. I had to either lose this character altogether or strengthen his role in the novel.

My four hundred page novel reduced to a few squiggly lines might seem laughable, but as Kurt Vonnegut points out, if it works for the New Testament, why not for me?!

What deceptively simple writers techniques do you use when writing?

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