Storytelling Sunday

“It’s what the story required.”  “It’s what the character had to do.”  “It’s the only way it could have gone.”  “It needed to happen.”

If you’re experiences are like mine then you are likely familiar with these types of answers from authors/creators when you ask them about elements in their stories, be it about events, outcomes, or, most often, what the story is about or is trying to say.  I’ve asked numerous authors on numerous occasions these types of questions, and responses in this vein, have always puzzled me.

Because… aren’t you the author?  How is it that it must go his way?  That this is the only way?

As the author, you’re the creator of everything!  From the most basic premise to the context in which things unfurl to the impetus that starts the action to the characters that inhabit the story, and so forth.  It’s all invented.  Tweak one little thing and everything beyond cascades and unfurls in a whole other way (or ways).

Corey Doctorow recently wrote an article about this, and regardless of whether one fully likes where he takes it or the examples he gives the main useful takeaway for me remains shining the spotlight on those seemingly inviolable constraints that force a story down a particular path to a particular ending to see that they are inherently part of the creation.  There is no “must” there.  It’s all (a) setup.

Now, every story contains a series of constraints and contrivances.  I’m not arguing against that.  (Though, and this is in a completely different vein than our main conversation here, but if your story uses a whole flock of vast contrivances and coincidences to move things along then I humbly suggest your story still needs a lot of work.)  What irks me about this type of response is not the mundane or pure logic about things, but rather that the author most likely has made these choices to set up the “inevitable” for a reason, and even if those reasons are hidden from their view by not answering the question they are not taking, or willing to take, ownership of the reasons.

Out of that I begin to wonder if they are trying to hide behind the supposed “objectivity” of things.  That is, they know what their story is conveying or is trying to say, but they are not willing to proudly stand behind it to hold aloft the concepts and explain why they set things up that way (and, by extension, declare what they’re trying to say).

Natch, it is also possible that they don’t know or didn’t think about it, in which case, fine, but still I’d invite that the better answer is “Huh, I don’t know!  That’s interesting, let’s talk about it and see what comes up…”

This is starting to sound a bit rant-y, so let me wrangle things back to say what I myself am trying to create here:  an invitation to look at and engage with your work more fully and recognize there is no inevitable, and to not hide behind feigned neutrality and pure calculus.  If your story conjures something up and you are asked about it, see if it was your intention.  If so, stand behind it and say what your story is saying.  If not, how fascinating!  And use that to further develop your craft.