All right, so you’ve got this concept that’s built into our language and therefore built into our brains. That’s why there is a definition of story. So why can’t everybody just sit down and be a writer? Well you can. Just let yourself. There’s a little more to it than that, which I’ll tell you in a minute, but basically I think for most of us, our problem is when we sit down to be a writer we get this big capital `W’ in front of that word and we think we have to be Hemingway. Probably you’d all be better off if you would just stand there, tell the story to yourself in a mirror or to someone small enough that you can force them to listen.
We know what the basic unit is, now let’s expand that definition. What it was. When I say what it was what I mean is who or what are we talking about, and what is their situation. What is their status quo? Where are they? What are they doing? What’s normal? What’s going on here if nothing else happened? What happened is something occurs to disrupt that normal status quo. I used to say a problem comes up, and sometimes I used to say a conflict, and then I said, “No, it’s not always that. Sometimes it’s an opportunity.” Something happens though, to kind of rock the boat. So what effects does it have? What develops? What issues are raised? What is at stake? What conflicts arise? What forces are our opposition?
That’s all part of that second piece–what happened. I’ll give you a memory device for this in a minute. How did it come out includes what decides the things that are at stake, the conflicts and so forth. How did that resolve? Once it does resolve, what is the new situation that’s different from the original status quo? And if it isn’t, you haven’t gone anywhere so it’s not a story. Let me give you the expanded definition more simply. A story, and we’re assuming characters here, I mean it could be about a car or something but for ease of discussing this let’s assume they’re characters, a story is the following pieces: you introduce your characters, you establish the status quo, you introduce something which disrupts that status quo–a disruptive element, you develop conflicts, you build suspense, you reach a climax in which the forces in opposition one wins, and then you have a resolution and that is you explain the new status quo.
Okay, how are you going to remember all of that stuff? I’ll tell you what, it’s all in a little poem called Little Miss Muffet.
Little Miss Muffet sat on a tuffet, eating her curds and whey; along came a spider, who sat down beside her and scared poor Miss Muffet away.
It’s all there. It’s a story. Introduce the characters–Little Miss Muffet. Establish a status quo–sat on a tuffet eating her curds and whey. She’s having lunch. Introduce the element which disrupts that–along came a spider. Build suspense–sat down beside her. Now look this thing could be poisonous, you don’t know. It might bite her. Scared poor Miss Muffet–wow, that’s the moment where the situation you’ve created has reached that climax where something’s going to happen now. Scared poor Miss Muffet away. She gets away. If you can remember Little Miss Muffet, you can remember everything you need to know about the basic unit of entertainment which is a story.
Little Miss Muffet–introduce the character. Sat on a tuffet eating her curds and whey–establish the status quo. Along came a spider–introduce the disruptive element. Sat down beside her–build suspense. Scared poor Miss Muffet–climax. Away–resolution. Now you know the basic building block of entertainment. Is that all you need? No. Little Miss Muffet is a story, it fits the basic building block, it is however a lousy story. You don’t know anything about this girl, you don’t know anything about the spider. It gets old pretty quick. But we can make it better.
Tomorrow, I’m going to show you how to make it better and then we’ll discuss some of the craft of being a writer. It’s more than just knowing the building blocks.