Does anyone bother to wonder why on earth we keep reading stories if they are, in fact, all the same?
Here’s the thing: they are and they’re not. Shall I explain?
Plot and story are two distinct things
I’m currently reading a rather enjoyable book on the craft of writing, Monkeys with Typewriters, by Scarlett Thomas. Thomas, an author herself, is a lecturer in Creative Writing at Kent University in the UK. I was also lucky enough to see her speak at the recent Sydney Writers’ Festival.
So, some points in this blog post will mirror her thoughts in the chapter called, ‘Inside Plato’s Cave’ if you’re interested in picking up the book (I’d recommend it).
Essentially, Thomas tells us to think of the story as a (well-used) frame. Something that gives us boundaries around our writing.
Only today someone was telling me they were yet to read 50 Shades of Gray and my response was, “It’s been done before – young, virginal girl meets handsome, mysterious man who has a dark past he has to overcome so they can be together. The difference is the S&M elements thrown in…”
And this is it, isn’t it? 50 Shades was successful not because E.L. James came up with a new story idea, it was the way she chose to tell that story…
Plot is your opportunity to be different
It’s how you make things happen as an author that will make someone want to keep turning the page. Chances are your reader will have a pretty good idea before they open your book what the story is going to be – they will have read the book blurb, done some research or read some reviews – what they are interested in is how you are going to tell the story.
Plot is central to this. It’s when and how things happen and, in many cases, it’s what you choose to conceal or what information you reveal about the story. Timing is everything!
Get individual – characters matter
Another aspect where you can shine and create interest for your readers is in the development of your characters. It’s unlikely that you’re the first author to write about a lead female who is young, innocent and has a lot to learn, but the fact that she’s an up and coming comedian who wants to make us laugh out loud on every page, matters. And your male love interest? If you find yourself overusing words like dark and handsome, it might be time to think further about how you can make him unique. But steer clear of the preoccupation with S&M because it’s been done…
Once upon a time: the love we have for stories
Do you now think slightly less of the story component of fiction writing? Almost as if it’s a necessary evil and the plot is where all the action happens?
Please don’t disrespect the story! It’s important, even if it has been done before. The best example of this is a description from Thomas’ book, which states, “The relationship between the story and the plot in narrative is similar to the relationship between the material and the pattern in sewing, the ingredients and the recipe in cooking, and the construction materials and the architectural drawings in house-construction.” p. 28.
Doesn’t this just nail it? We can appreciate the originality in a unique house design, a new fashion label or in Nanna’s renowned apple pie that she makes like no one else.
Story is a comfort; plot adds drama
I don’t know about you, but when I sit down to a rom com movie, I already know the two leads are going to end up together. What I’m really interested in is what they are like and how that will happen.
Story acts as a comfort for your readers, whereas the plot and characters are the unknown, the wild card that they’re taking a risk on.
So, the good news? You can definitely become an original writer. Just don’t expect to come up with a new story that’s never been told before.