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Puerto Vallarta News NetworkEntertainment | Books | May 2009 

Components of a Story
email this pageprint this pageemail usDavid Lyons - PVNN

R.D. Lyons has written 3 novels, which can be purchased in Puerto Vallarta bookstores and at
'How To' books on writing constitute of themselves a distinct, and lucrative, segment of the publishing trade. I've read my share and though many offered worthwhile suggestions, retaining even a small portion of that advice proves more difficult for me with each novel I write. What helps me are shortcuts, the 'ABC's' reduced to brief phrases.

Note I refer above to 'story.' A novel is a story; as is a play or movie script. The format of each may vary dramatically, but the common link is story, the telling of a tale.

So, what is story? Look it up in the dictionary and you won't find much there to help you if you want to write one. One of the 'how-to' books I once read offered the following equation. Conflict + action + resolution = story. I find this simple enough to commit to memory (though I keep a 3x5 card next to my keyboard to remind me as my work is in progress.)

It's a good starting point, but I think it needs some amplification, especially if you're writing a novel. The term conflict for example, can be broken down into an equation of its own; want + obstacle = conflict.

Look at those words defining conflict carefully and you will come to realize they also constitute another most basic component of story, character. For what is a character in fiction but someone who wants something, tries to achieve or obtain it while facing obstacles, perhaps overcoming them, perhaps not

If I were to propose that the above equations constitute the sum total of fiction, I am sure there those who would ask, 'Hey, what about plot, pacing, point-of-view; a half-dozen other things. They're important too, aren't they?' Indeed they are, but I consider those elements as sub-texts, and remember, I'm looking for a basic formula that won't confuse me while I'm writing my original draft.

When I have an idea for a novel, the beginning comes easily to me, and I usually have a pretty fair idea of the ending. That leaves about 200 - 250 pages to fill in between points A and B. I try to remind myself of what it is that the character wants, and then think up problems to place in his path. Those problems, that's plot. How he overcomes them, that's character

Read anything about writing fiction and you'll come across expositions on character development. Have your own work critiqued and you may find it stands or falls depending on how you developed your characters.

I've certainly had my share of criticism on this point, and often asked myself how I could do better. How could I improve my character development; make my protagonist more eccentric? He likes popsicles and Bob Marley's music? Make him a recovering drug addict? Insert the tragic loss of a loved one in his distant past? Maybe give him a moustache, a scar, or a unique physique. These things and their like are descriptive attributes, maybe adding color; they are not character development.

Character development is showing the emotional reaction of your character to the events befalling him (or her). Emotion is shown by action, I've often read, but beware. Action without a show of emotion, or feeling, can fall flat, even in a fast-paced thriller.

I'll never forget an early rejection letter (now that's a topic I could draw on for a future column, I've got hundreds of 'em) in which the agent said my protagonist didn't have "enough fire in the belly" to do what he did, which was to pursue the murderer of his former client.

In my re-write, I took pains to give him a moral and emotional rationale for the actions he took. It's important to get it just right, too much rationale bogs down the pace of the story, which should move quickly, but your character's action should be grounded in reason with which the reader can identify.

Noting the absence of the mention of character in the equation defining story, I have come up with a synthesis of my own - so simple, I don't even need the 3x5 card. I use character as the first element. Regardless of genre, the reader has to respond to your character, liking or disliking him, which means the reader likes or dislikes the manner in which the character responds to the events happening to him (or her); i.e. the heroine is witty and clever in the way she wins the heart of her love interest; the aimless drifter is resourceful in the way he absolves himself of the crime with which he's been charged; and so on and so on. Also, action, the second element in the original equation, is inherent in character development, as it's the character's choice of action which drives the story, and contributes to character development.

The third element in the first equation, resolution, is of course essential. Every story must have an ending, or conclusion. So, I use this synonym and come up with my "Three C's." To wit: character + conflict + conclusion = story.

It's simple and works for me. Make your character likeable, put stones in his path, and conjure up a satisfying ending. That's story. That's fiction. Nothing to it.

Till next time, enjoy your writing. Peace and love.

A long-time resident of Puerto Vallarta, R.D. (David) Lyons is an accomplished author who has published 3 novels and contributes educational and entertaining articles to several local publications. When not writing, he can be found singing jazz standards to his own guitar accompaniment at several of the town's most popular venues.

Click HERE for more articles by David Lyons.

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