Here’s a reading of my latest Locus column, Cheap Writing Tricks, which discusses the mysterious business of why stories are satisfying, and how to make them so:
Plots are funny things. In the real world, stuff is always happening, but it’s not a plot. People live. People die. People are made glorious or miserable. Things eagerly awaited are realized, or hopes are cruelly dashed. Love is gained; love is lost. But all these things are not a plot – they lack the fundamental tidiness and orderliness that makes a story a story.
In fiction-land, stories have beginnings, middles and ends. They have dramatic tension, which rises to a climax towards the end of the story, and then roll on a while longer, into denouement. A plot is what you get when you draw a line around a set of circumstances and say, ‘‘These things are all part of one story, and they comprise its beginning, middle and end, and its arc from low tension to high. This moment here is the climax of this story.’’
That line is wholly arbitrary, of course – your personal life-story’s climax is merely a passing moment in someone else’s arc – but the really weird thing is that a story that lacks this arbitrariness feels arbitrary. A bunch of things that happen without any curation or pruning away of extraneous moments do not a story make, despite the fact that this is how the world actually works.
Mastering by John Taylor Williams: email@example.com
John Taylor Williams is a audiovisual and multimedia producer based in Washington, DC and the co-host of the Living Proof Brew Cast. Hear him wax poetic over a pint or two of beer by visiting livingproofbrewcast.com. In his free time he makes “Beer Jewelry” and “Odd Musical Furniture.” He often “meditates while reading cookbooks.”