Something is brewing…
By George Kingsnorth
You know, I can feel it in my bones, and it's not just the Arctic wind ripping through my cabin. Something else is welling up inside me. I want to tell a story. I want to write and produce a script or a book.
Now starting a story is not just a case of scripting away, there has to be a structure. A plan of action in which the journey will be taken. There has to be a process of mapping out where we will go and end up. Any road journey starts with a map so that the roads can be trace-out from the starting point to the end point. Decisions can be made at least in the planning of the journey. As with all journeys where we intended to go may not be realised as a range of obstructions block our progress and diversions are imposed. Yet, with sufficient alterations our final destination can be reached. The only problem then is will our ideal expectations be met by the reality of what we find or will there be a massive gap, or in some cases a sink hole – but that's another story.
So where do we start with a story? Perhaps we need to consider the genre. Will it be science-fiction? A western? A thriller? A mystery? Romantic comedy? Horror? War? Period drama? Or a mix of everything?
With a genre in mind we can determine what needs to be included. In science-fiction our story could be told in space, on another planet with exotic aliens. Humans have arrived and want to suppress to local inhabitants, evict them from their harmonious primitive lives. Sound familiar?
This could also be the setting of any war on Earth between two nations, a historical piece: American and Vietnam, World War Two, Yugoslavian civil war, the English Civil War, the Syrian Civil War. In science fiction we can explore themes that may be too close to home if told in contemporary times. Star Trek in the late 1960s explored inter-racial relationships when Captain Kirk kissed Lieutenant Uhura. The key issue here is conflict.
A story isn't a story without conflict. So there has to be some kind of obstruction to the main character's purpose. And quite often it can be someone else going along the same journey and the protagonist (main character) just so happens to be constantly getting in their way. Our protagonist maybe trying to escape the mayhem of everyday life, wishing to just take a day out to relax and visit a place he/she enjoyed as a youngster, a nostalgic journey. The rival, the antagonist, could be an engineer working on erecting a new wind turbine that is planned for the site our protagonist is visiting.
Lets use John Truby's (2007) Seven Key Steps of Story Structure to analyse this story further. Truby suggests that the seven steps are:
Going back to our protagonist, let's call him John. What are his weakness and need? He is under pressure from work and needs a day away from everything. His desire is to visit a place he is nostalgic about. His opponent is the engineer who is trying to get to the same place to erect a wind turbine, though John may not know this until later when he arrives. John plans out his journey to his desired location, some green valley perhaps, lets say the Vale of Glamorgon in Wales (could be Cumbria, the Vale of Leven in Scotland or even the Glens of Antrim in Northern Ireland). The battle on the way could be the transporter taking parts of the wind turbine, forcing John to take alternative routes, each one blocked by another element of the turbine. Once John reaches the Glen he discovers protester trying to stop the wind turbine being erected and the engineer struggling to keep his cool under that same pressure John was the day before. John is torn between siding with the protesters and appreciating what the engineer is trying to do, effectively bringing clean energy to the area instead of having coal and nuclear power plants. John's self-revelation comes when he realises the benefits to others that would come from the wind turbine and manages to convince the protesters in a big speech. All watch as the turbine propellors are installed. John is given the opportunity to climb to the top of the turbine to see a view he had never seen before. Peace is restored – until the engineer discovers a part is missing and the turbine will not work….
And so the story continues. A lot more could be explored. What is the relationship between John and his partner? Is his partner a man or a woman? Could John be Joan? How would that change the dynamics of the story. If Joan, what are the chances that the engineer, lets call him Ted, is an ex-boyfriend. What if John, and the engineer is an ex-girlfriend? What if it was Joan and Susan was the engineer ex-girlfiend? Where else could we take this?
At this point we have enough to start explore a range of avenues that will allow us to do some research and add more to the story. In each case, we can explore what the inner conflicts each character has, what physical issues cause them problems, what other environmental issues affect them and how do other people cause conflict?
Then the fun begins in mapping the story out across a timeline from start to finish, working out the key points and hooks that turn the story in different unexpected directions. Yet when we know the genre we have clues we expect will take us a certain way to keep us satisfied with known conventions.
So have you got an itch yet, something bubbling up inside to seek out a story of your own? Why not tell me about it and lets see where it takes us?
Truby J. (2007) The Anatomy of Story, Faber & Faber: New York.