For a story to work well, it needs to have five basic elements:
-A Situation (location, setting)
-A lead character (hero, protagonist)
-An objective for that lead character
-An opponent (antagonist, ‘baddie’)
-A potential disaster for the protagonist (what’s the worst thing that could happen?)
On top of that, most stories, when broken down, can also be seen to contain a three-act structure, as well as a narrative arc.
What effect does it have on you to read that?
As wild writers we’re training to notice our embodied experience, so this is a good time to be aware of the responses of your whole organism. Were you excited to be offered some theory? Did your body relax because you know all the theory already? Or, conversely, did it freeze with information overload? Perhaps you rushed to put it into your notebook?
Actually, you don’t need to write anything down, or do anything with this theoretical knowledge. You already know it all. It’s in your DNA. How does your body respond upon hearing that?
The Wild Writer
As human beings we are naturally great storytellers. Ever sat riveted by a story being told at the next-door table in a restaurant? Or by the events of the day re-told to you by your children? Or by the tales of your best friend’s love life? Ever found yourself listening, despite your best intentions, to an inebriated person in a pub as they hold forth? Or held your breath waiting for the punch line of a joke? Try if you can, in this moment, to remember a time when you listened to a story, and felt the flow of it. Feel again that sense of flow, the movement of energy through your body…
In the above examples, none of the tellers checked their story structure before they spoke. Yet, despite this, if you were able to record and transcribe their stories, and then compare them to the above structural guidelines (which I’ve only described briefly here, but which I’ll go into in more detail in another blog), you’d see that they’d got it ‘right’. Our stories come out alive and kicking, fully formed, with much less intervention from the thinking mind than we would expect.
This is how we want to tell stories and record them on the page. Naturally, and with ease.
In the first draft stage of writing prose, a poem, a song, or a blog, we don’t want to be caught up in thoughts about what’s working. When we do this we set up problems for ourselves. Instead, our ability to make contact with every aspect of our experience, and to move flexibly between them, forms the basis of how we need to work. We focus solely on connection with the emotional journey of our characters or narrator.
Ray Bradbury, in his inspiring book ‘Zen In The Art of Writing’ puts structure in its correct place when he says,
…plot is no more than footprints left in the snow after your characters have run by on their way to incredible destinations.
Ideally, in the first draft, your characters come to life. They live, grow and thrive as if they were autonomous agents. Your job is to observe them, and to record what happens.
At that stage, the ink marks on the page are the footprints of the wild words, that we spy after they’ve passed by. When the words work well it’s that our instinctual storyteller-animal spoke, from a profound, depth place.
The time will come when your characters will write your stories for you, when your emotions, free of literary cant and commercial bias, will blast the page and tell the truth
-‘Zen In the Art of Writing’ Ray Bradbury
Ideas about ‘improving’ and ‘fixing’ our work come into a later stage of writing, that of editing and reviewing. This is the second draft stage. That’s when we think consciously about what would help our storytelling, and utilise tools and techniques. When we do that well it’s like giving a nudge to the instinct to set it off and running in a slightly different direction.
In summary, the important thing to remember is this: The editing stage must be completely distinct and separated from the initial act of the outpouring of ideas. A confusion of these stages is fatal.
The Wild Words roaming free. This is what we’re aiming for. You know how to get there. It just takes a decision to remember. A hero’s choice.