The Promised Land

I talk to the books I’m reading, or more specifically the characters in them.

If you put ten writers in a room and asked them what the key was to any story, you would probably get ten different answers.  I personally think there is no definitive answer to this question, there a great number of things that make a good story.  Whether it be a coherent narrative, likeable characters or any other of the dozens of things that make great stories when put together.

Any good story must be able to catch the writer’s imagination however, it must be able to make them laugh, cry or cringe.  We’ve all read books that have had this effect on us, we’ve cringed at a gory scene or laughed when our favourite character has done something only to then be driven to tears when they’re killed off in the next chapter.  We then sit there cursing the writer because they have cruelly murdered our favourite character, despite knowing that in a narrative sense it was the correct thing to do.

It never ceases to amaze me how the written word can fire our imagination in a way that no other medium can.  I personally think it’s because we feel a sense of ownership, we imprint our own idea of how things look onto these imaginary worlds and people.  How many of us have sat there decrying casting director’s choices of people to play certain roles in screen adaptations of stories; this guy right here for one.

This is not a bad thing.

Being passionate about fiction is a good thing, no, a great thing.  I talk to the characters like they’re real and that’s when I know a story has really got me.  If you need to remind yourself that it’s a work of fiction, well, you’ve reached the promised land of reading in my opinion.

Weaving a narrative…

I like a good, well woven narrative.  You know the sort I mean, the type that keeps you guessing and coming up with all sorts of new theories as to where it’s going.

I mention this because I’ve just finished watching the first season of Westworld and the last episode blew my socks off.  It was, as you might expect from the last episode of any season jam packed full of surprises of all sorts.  As it was tying up all the plots from the season, all the bits and pieces that seemed a little weird to me at the time were explained in exquisite detail.  It was an expert piece of story-telling of a sort that I can only hope to achieve one day.

So, that’s what this post is about; narrative.

Though I wrote few of them, I have been making up stories all my life.  I would imagine all sorts of people doing all sorts of things, I would make the stories increasingly complex until I couldn’t remember where they started or indeed what they were about by the time I awoke from my day dreams.  However, all this daydreaming did teach me the importance of a good narrative.

It’s important you see to understand the difference between a story and a narrative.  When you look at the definition of the two words there appears little difference, however as with most things, the devil is in the detail.  A story is described as an account of imaginary or real people and events told for entertainment.  Whilst a narrative is described as a spoken or written account of connected events; a story.

Any fiction writer can create a story, containing rich and interesting characters with deep and immersive back stories.  A narrative is another thing, the narrative of any story is the mechanism by which we drive the story along and take it from the start, to its conclusion.  The narrative is like the links of a chain, a series of set pieces that when linked together form the story.

Coming up with a good narrative requires planning, I’m speaking from experience here.  When writing Brogan and the Bandit King I did some planning, it’s only now as I look back I realise that it wasn’t nearly enough.  I had all sorts of ideas, different characters to fit into the story and set pieces I wanted to write.  I had a rough idea of how I wanted the story the go, where I wanted the titular hero to be by the end of it and so in my mind I had my story, all I needed to do was write it.

What a tremendous muppet I was.

Including the editing stage, it took me somewhere in the region of two years to write and get it to the point that it was ready to release.  Whilst some of that was down to spelling and grammatical errors, the largest amount of time came from moving chapters about, deleting bits and adding others.  There were several bits near the start of the book that I wrote in intending to do something with later, before promptly forgetting about them.  Then there was the town that had one name at the beginning of the book and another at the end.  Thinking about it I was a fool, a little planning at the start could have saved me a lot of work later.

So, that’s my advice to anyone setting out to write a story, do some planning at the start.  Make some notes, write down your story ideas and plot a good, coherent narrative.  Then hopefully you won’t do what I did and forget about the box hidden under the wheel arch of the cart.