Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Write Order: Week 3

Orson Welles once said, "If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story."

You probably all know that a story has a beginning, middle, and an end, but as you get further and further into telling your stories, you will probably want to finesse your telling a little.

The basic order of a story is exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution.
  • Exposition:  The background--Many people suggest that this exposition should start just before things are going to happen.
  • Rising action:  The rising action begins with the conflict and works up to (or down to--many people refer to this stage of the novel as one disaster after another) the climax.
  • Climax:  The most intense moment of the story--Originally, the climax was the moment at which the outcome of the story was decided.  Historically, it occurred directly in the middle of the story--or play as the case may be.  Playwrights commonly placed this moment precisely in the center of the play.  In more modern times, the climax occurs at the end of the story.  It may actually begin halfway through the book as far as pages go, but it is often just one whirlwind until the end.
  • Falling Action:  Watching the conflicts resolve as a result of the climax.  Historically, this took a long time--half the book.  Currently, many authors skip this almost entirely or stuff it in the epilogue.
  • Resolution:  The conclusion and tying up of loose ends.
What does this have to do with your story?

Well, you're not making up your story, so you're constrained by what really happened.  But that doesn't mean that you can't frame it according to a well known plot line (see The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing, which does a terrific job of outlining basic genres), classic conflict, or a common archetype (here is a list of Jungian archetypes which are specialized but give you an idea).

How do you do that?  Simply, it's the order in which you tell your story.
  1. Create conflict.  You can start by highlighting an existing conflict or by simply leaving your reader in the dark a bit.  The quest for the unknown information can become our conflict.
  2. Allow personalities to prevail.  Oftentimes in memoir, you are telling stories of relationships.  Use the concepts of romance (maybe not necessarily the lovey-dovey feelings, but any story about the relationship of two people can be construed as a romance if written correctly).  Allow your characters to meet--it doesn't need to be their initial meeting as long as it's a meeting that gets them interested in one another.  Show their spark.  In subsequent scenes, show how they care what the other thinks.  Show how they attempt to get along but the things that stand in the way.  Show a resolution--good or bad--but end it.
  3. Keep secrets.  Use mystery strategies--suspense, foreshadowing, the red herring--to create tension (and occasionally humor) in your stories.
  4. Don't be afraid to play small.  Your story doesn't need to be epic to have a plot.  A mystery could simply be how a child finds his Christmas present or discovers his mother's real name.  A romance could be the story of finding your true love or winning over the respect of a new pet. 

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