Jeremy Sheldon is a writer and a screenwriter - a good one. His session on strong storytelling was high on my list of 'must-go-to-this' workshops, because one of the things I've been told about my stories is that they're 'too nice'. If Jeremy could help me see how to make the stories stronger - I wanted to know how.
Now I have to admit, my notes from this session are not that easy to decipher after the event - though they all made perfect sense on the day. I can remember what hit home the most for me, so that's what I'm going to share!
Okay - so - consider the mechanics of storytelling, as opposed to writing. You can write many things, but storytelling requires controlled information delivery in order to get the reader to invest in your story. Over the course of the story, the writer (hopefully) meets the reader's expectations so they carry on reading, and by the end of the book, they will have had their investment returned with a satisfactory outcome. To achieve this, there has to be continuous movement through the story - a hook in the plot, followed by another and another.
Now, some folk talk about their stories being 'plot-based' or 'character-based'. Jeremy reckoned you can't separate the two - both are essential in a strong story. (I've already blogged about character and structure if you want to read more - they reinforce this point). This makes perfect sense, as characters are the people who experience your plot and are present throughout the story. It'd be a pretty boring story without people/dragons/talking plants.
This meshing together of plot and character was coming over loud and clear as something I needed to work on. The reader has to see the character change. 'Recognition and Reversal', Jeremy called it. Can the character recognise their weakness and reverse the effect of it on their life? If they can, the story ends up a comedy. If they can't, it becomes tragedy. So it can be a major plotting device to give the character what they need - not what they want - and see whether they can adapt to that.
This served to reinforce my dawning realisation that I am probably a 'plot-driven' writer who happens to create good characters. But for a really strong story, I have to entwine the two and show my characters changing as a result of what I put them through.
Otherwise? I'm at risk of writing 'nice' stuff for ever.