Today I welcome guest blogger Aramis Barron. He's originally from Michigan just like me, and claims the very bookish city of Ann Arbor as his hometown. He's the author of Roaming Cadenza and Dustland Requiem. He's obviously put a lot of thought into the craft of storytelling and he shares his insights today.
The Art of Shaping a Story
by Aramis Barron
Many authors I’ve spoken to over the years talk about how hard it is to put a good story together (though I doubt they’d openly admit it).
They have these brilliant ideas in their head that just don’t seem to translate well to paper.
Sure enough, if you look through the number of one-star and two-star books on Amazon, for example, you’ll see a number of stories with great teasers but poor ratings. Why is that?
I think Patrick Rothfuss (New York Times bestseller and author of “The Name of the Wind”) described it best when he talked about “the shape of a story.”
It isn’t just having a great idea, or premise, or whatever else that gets the job done, but how it’s packaged and presented—stories are, after all, art.
To illustrate this point, I’ll be discussing Neil Gaiman’s “The Ocean at the End of the Lane,” so if you haven’t read it yet, you may want to stop here (and pick up a copy of the book—it’s wonderful).
Without giving too much away, the book explores the recounting of a man’s unusual (and traumatic) childhood experiences. We learn almost nothing about him before he tells us of the people he’s come to visit, and begins to backtrack to what he considers “the beginning.” The story progresses, at times with after-the-fact notes from the narrator (which become particularly important near the end), and finally concludes with him going about his life.
At first read this sounds pretty generic, and to an extent it is in order to avoid spoilers, but the takeaway is how Neil chose to shape his story. For example, why have the main character remember the events rather than just experience them first-hand, like most stories? In this case, it’s because the protagonist’s memory itself is a plot device, and that alone changes the entire dynamic of the story. This also allows Neil to jump around a bit, and provide an adult’s commentary for a child’s perspective (since the protagonist is recalling his childhood). Were this story written from a contemporary perspective rather than past experiences, much of the storytelling—the atmosphere—would be lost.
So to anyone having trouble putting a story together, I offer this: look at the shape of the story. The characters and plot are important, but just as much so is how they’re shared with your audience.
Other than that, I’ll offer one other piece of advice (from Neil Gaiman, no less):
Write. Finish things. Keep writing.
Aramis Barron is the author of the Bard’s Folktale series, the most recent of which, “Dustland Requiem,” was published June 2013 and is available now on Kindle and Smashwords.