We writers need to keep our readers awake and engaged. And guess what? In fiction as in life, nothing wakes us up like a ringing clock!
Speaking as someone who recently had a birthday, I can tell you that the passage of time is always a powerful tool for focusing our attention.
If there aren’t some high-stakes deadlines lending urgency to your story, maybe it’s time (see what I did?) to add some.
Today we talk about the ways time plays out in a narrative, and the ways time can be an invaluable tool for us writers to raise stakes, add urgency, and put ever more pressure on our hero.
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Whew! Sometimes life just feels RELENTLESS, am I right?
It’s what so many are experiencing in 2020, a year that keeps trying to top itself in terms of plot twists. We’re all the heroes of our own life stories, and this year has been a long, long, LONG second act.
Each day, we choose how to respond. We face challenges we may never have imagined. We soul-search and find the bedrock our true values. We take action, care for and console one another, grieve, fight, lead, make sacrifices, and (perhaps hardest of all), extend a hand of peace.
We make tough choices daily, under escalating pressure. And guess what? It’s exhausting.
It’s not easy being a hero, even a fictional one. The hero of your story is going through tough stuff, page after page. Your reader is along for the ride, and frankly they’re both going to want a break now and then.
Within your fictional hero’s journey, there must be...
I like baseball. It has a storytelling rhythm to it.
There’s one test after another, as the role of hero is passed from batter to batter. There’s a mentor in the dugout yelling instructions and encouragement. Back when there were crowds in the stands, the trickster mascot would trot around between innings, shooting t-shirts from a cannon.
The pitcher is the hero of his own tale, facing down that club-wielding shadow with the help of his faithful ally, the catcher. The promised scene may be hours away, but the ninth inning is always out there, waiting.
What can baseball teach us about writing? Two things come to mind:
“Stories are about conflict.” Did someone teach you that in a high school English class? I think we’ve all heard it. Rising conflict, falling conflict, sideways conflict...
The problem with this statement is that writers can take it to mean stories are about arguments. I say yes, you say no. That's conflict, sure. But where’s the story?
You’ve already heard me say that stories are about transformation. Something’s got to change. And change is not easy. People and systems resist change. Call it Newton’s first law of storytelling: Objects in motion tend to stay at motion, objects at rest tend to stay at rest.
To overcome this inertia takes a ton of energy. Your hero’s deep need for change is the source, but your hero’s goal (or mission) is what focuses that diffuse glow into the laser beam of story.
What do I mean by mission? If you're Meg Murry, your mission is...