I was reading an article recently by Sherrinda Ketchersid on The Writers Alley Blog, where she introduces the concept of The Lie. Sherrinda wrote:
“Character development hinges on The Lie. You see, your hero needs to overcome something in his life. There needs to be some lie he believes that taints every part of his belief system, every action, and every thought process.”
This article is a great introduction to this important concept, and I agree with its value wholeheartedly. Yet it got me thinking: is it possible to place too much attention on the mechanics of story-building and lose the story in the process?
During a writer’s group workshop, I read a story from a writer who was still fairly new to his craft (new being qualified in my terms by his having written less than 100,000 words). It appeared to me that this writer was attempting to use every word he knew, every grammatical rule he’d ever learned, and pour them all into this 5,000 word piece. It was so chockabock with grammatical clutter you couldn’t see the story for the trees.
There is a magic to good storytelling, and like most artistic forms, practice makes it powerful. I wonder if a writer can truly know his craft without having produced half a million words or more in pursuit of it—much of which will land in the shred bin if they ever even make it off the screen. But the benefit of all of this wasted creation is the experience gained in using the rules of writing until they become second-nature, until the writer no longer thinks about them. Like the Adepts in Cephrael’s Hand, the rules form the patterns with which the writer thinks, laying a framework upon which to build.
In my fantasy novel, Cephrael’s Hand, the young Prince Ean is struggling with The Lie mentioned above. I didn’t build his story arc with this concept in mind, yet I knew a good story needs to have a conflict. Similar to game theory, there must be barriers in your story, and the happiness the reader derives from the story (game) is in overcoming those barriers along with the protagonist, not necessarily in gaining the goal. An intriguing story centers around this element of conflict-resolution (and creating believable, compelling characters certainly helps it along as well). So while The Lie is central to Ean’s tale, I didn’t set out to craft the story around this concept; rather, the story unfolded along its own logical path, wherein its existence was revealed.
When I see new writers placing so much importance on the mechanics of world-building and character development, I worry that they’ll lose sight of what seems to me to be the most vital element of all: conveying a story worth telling.
What’s your take on this idea? Do you think we can get lost in the mechanics of writing?
The form or the substance? What a fabulous question! In short, of course one may drown within the mechanics of writing. LOL!
The lie – an idea so fixed within the mind of an individual – that to even consider that it is not true is an immediate lie! This truly describes that which we most enjoy witnessing – in life, movies, books, stories – the triumphant step beyond that “know truth” to find it was but a lie – resulting in heightened awareness and expanded freedom to function in their environment.
How often do we attempt to persuade the fellow next to us that the food we find delicious is delicious? How we turn our nose and twist our face when he disagrees – he must be mad! After all my tastes ARE true! His tastes are, well flawed, of course! For those reading this and are amused – well done – you are already free of a very limiting “truth” – that your opinion is fact! Lol! For those offended by this, my deepest apologies – there is hope for you still! 😉
Those convinced that form is senior to substance will, like young Ean – rush toward that which they are driven to pursue… They are pawns in their own game of creation – one where the master is the self, but the rules of “their” game prohibits deviation from a structure…
One is not able to see past a lie. It alters perceptions terribly.
An intriguing viewpoint that takes my question of mechanics to a new sphere of thought altogether. Thanks for giving us an elevated view of the mechanics of a lie itself.