Thursday, March 5, 2009

Take Me Along

How does a story come into being? Quite a few of my peers start with an image—an old woman trundles down the street pushing a baby carriage full of aluminum cans. How did she get there? A dirty child sits in a corner sucking his thumb. Why isn’t he playing with the other children? A man snaps at a woman, and she runs away, crying. Are they married? Why are they fighting? These are writers’ questions. Fair questions. Good questions.

They are also a trap. These questions create great back story. They give the character a history and bring the protagonist to life. But these kinds of questions lead to a bad ending. While we tell the story of all the things the man did to the woman that caused her to end up crying and fleeing him, we as writers are likely to miss the key elements that make stories most intriguing to readers. Examine satisfying stories, and you’re likely to find protagonists making decisions that affect their life. Writers often run like terrified rabbits from the responsibility of making decisions for their characters. Yet that is what readers want most to participate in, even if the protagonist makes the wrong decision.

Part of the fun of watching B-rated horror flicks is cringing, biting our nails, and muttering under our breath, “Don’t, don’t, don’t open that door…” We can’t believe how stupid the blonde girl is when she reaches for the doorknob, but we are totally engaged in Blondie’s decision-making process. The best stories invoke an emotional response in the reader, and that reaction hinges on the decisions made by the protagonist, right or wrong, we want to go along.

No comments:

Post a Comment