I have gone into back to basics mode: what does it mean to tell a story? I have been reading a lot of short stories since giving up on A Game of Thrones for what must be the eightieth time. Not just fantasy or science fiction, but authors of all nationalities, genres, and styles. I have been reading Chekhov, Stephen King, Margaret Atwood, Flannery O’Connor, and others who I used to read before I got the idea that I had to give myself assignments and read stuff that was current. I’ve noticed a couple of interesting things: Continue reading “Back to Basics: compelling short stories and character motivations”
I saw The Last Jedi yesterday, and here are my thoughts:
- Plenty of interesting stuff, lots of surprising moments
- I still prefer the swashbuckling pulpy adventure of the first movie to the overstated drama of the newer films
- As much as it was a good movie, I would still rather see a totally new story.
I have three young boys who love Star Wars (thanks to me), and I am getting a little tired of it. “Star Wars” movie is now a phrase that gets used all the time, and it emphasizes the feeling I had while watching The Last Jedi that these films are more like TV shows in the way they tell a never-ending story. Each time the characters face basically the same obstacles and spend their time solving a fairly explicit puzzle. This was understated in the first trilogy, but now it’s almost like watching Law and Order.
Beyond the TV-show-ish nature of how it feels like it will never end, I felt the same as I did about Wonder Woman: cool movie, but not that new or interesting. I don’t think the never-endingness is a bad thing in itself, but I think it stretches the story-telling, and it definitely feels like something other than a movie.
Over the past few weeks I’ve recanted almost completely my thoughts on structuring a novel, and tried to “just write” as much as possible. It’s not so much the “just write” as “tell a story.” I started writing because I was thinking of stories, and telling stories to my kids, and I have always been a storyteller, but in my frenzy to perfect my novel-writing process, I completely forgot that.
I realized that I have a pretty good instinct for what constitutes a good story, that I know how to just tell people a story with a beginning, middle, and end that is comprehensible, way before I read Aristotle’s Poetics. All that structuring and breaking up the scenes and ensuring a rising action is better left for revisions (and even when I “just write” I come up with a story structure that is mostly fine).
The overall point is that taking positions and thinking I have it figured out is a mistake in itself. I’m not going to go on a rant about the merits of pantsing now because that would be a mistake too. Both overt structuring and “just writing” have their place. It is definitely better to have something to revise than to have nothing at all. With an eye for structure, and for when the reader might need a surprise, it is just fine to “just write.” Spending time explicitly structuring and planning gives the writer a better idea of how to do this, so everything has its value.
I went to a writing workshop yesterday of mostly narrative nonfiction and historical fiction writers and it is a very interesting experience. I know that I write adventure stories, and I like doing that, but one of my goals as a writer is to write a story that doesn’t require everything to blow up at the end. Seeing what other people in other genres write about is really helpful in that respect. A pretty funny moment came when I said my goal for my current book was to write 100,000 words or less, and they all said “Whoa, that’s a really long novel.” I am about three-quarters of the way through the first draft of The Last Omen, still hoping to finish it in a few weeks. Thank you to all of you who’ve said “I would totally read the **** out of your new work-in-progress.” It’s very encouraging.