The very first story written by one of my children (I’m not telling which one) was a single sentence covering three entire pages—phrases and sentences joined by the word and until the final period. This happened, and then this happened, and then that happened and then....
Obviously, authors want readers to ask, “What happens next?” We want them to keep turning pages. But the story isn’t the plot—or at least it isn’t only the plot.
In Wired for Story: The Writer’s Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence (Ten Speed Press, 2012), author Lisa Cron says, “Contrary to what many people think, a story is not just something that happens. If that were true, we could all cancel the cable, lug our Barcaloungers onto the front lawn, and be utterly entertained, 24/7, just watching the world go by.”
So true. Stories are not really about what happens next but about why that event happens, who it happens to, and how it affects and changes the characters who populate the story world. And that’s not all. The links between events are seldom linear. Complications ensue. Faulty evidence leads to dead ends. Errors in judgment create disasters. Lies send the protagonist off in the wrong direction.
This month I’ve been thinking about a new story, a book I hope I will be writing this year. The bare bones of plot is only a beginning, a framework. The real story happens when things go wrong—when people get it wrong and must pay the price.
Complications, confusion, complexity, change. Tools of the trade.
As my new story takes shape over the next few months, the questions I need to be asking aren’t so much what or even what happens next but who and why?
Why do you read books? Plot? Characters? Themes? A combination?