A seed planted, nurtured, grown, and enjoyed – It’s called by many names: narrative, fable, parable, tale, biography, novels… etc., A story. It can be about a person. It can be about an event. It can be about a phenomenon. It can simply be a series of linked events.
The essence of a story is in being told. Like any other fruit, it must be shared to be enjoyed. And there comes the StoryTeller.
I love everything about writing a story: right from forming an idea to telling the story. And here in this one, I’m thinking aloud.
This is a story of a story. Er… Part 1.
#1: The Idea Cometh
A story idea is an interesting thing. It seems to occur when something out of the ordinary happens.
A laid back person is thrust into adventure.
A boy meets girl and falls in love.
A stern minister inadvertently switches places with a father of seven kids on a vacation.
A man loses everything but holds onto a coin given by his grandfather and the memories thereof.
A tragedy occurs when trains collide and many lives are changed forever.
Ah! The story idea arrives.
Once it arrives, it must be looked at. Sometimes, it must be stared at for hours, days, weeks before any cracks appear on that egg. There have been times, when it is years before a hatchling makes an appearance.
And then the writer’s journey begins. Things look like an accident, but they are pre-planned by the one who is holding the pen (or the keyboard :)). Why? How? That’s what the Aim or objective decides.
#2: The Aim
Me 1: Ok, so it hatched. Now what?
Me 2: Make it fly!?
Me 1: How?
Me 2: Does it not depend on the bird where and how it flies?
Me 1: Ah I see what you mean: If it doesn’t fly, it’s an emu!
Me 2: Or if it does, it’s an eagle?
Me 1: I guess! No?
Me 2: Well, you could have a story about a non-flying emu!
Me 1: Yeah, all stories need not be about a flying eagle.
The thing is, a story idea flies or not flies depending on whether it is meant to.
Even a flying idea may not take off, if it didn’t have a target and a direction attached to it.
You may have the stern minister who becomes a reluctant dad of seven kids, but — Then what? Does he love it? Does he hate it? Does he eye their fortune and control them by tricks? Does he pity their situation and decide to put up with them till another help arrives?
How does it proceed depends on what aim does the writer have for the minister.
Is it purposed that the minister learns a lesson in love? Or see a side of life different than what he is used to? Or perhaps, show how the minister chose a way of life not meant for him – to have him discover that he is a better dad than a minister, and happier too?
Any aim chosen, would direct the minister on a predefined path that would help him achieve the aim of the story.
Ah — something like a Yellow Brick Road leading to Oz.
But if we look closer, Oz is not the destination, neither is the wizard. The aim of that story was for Dorothy to return to Kansas with Toto, back to Uncle Henry and Aunt Em.
She yearned for bright colors and exciting surroundings, but when she found it, she yearned for the dull, gray Kansas praries. She discovered her family meant more!
Neither Wizard nor Oz is able to keep Dorothy there. She goes on with her journey till she gets back to dull, gray but loving Uncle and Aunt – until she is back home.
#3 Bends (on the road)
A story is full of choices – a choice that the writer must make at every step. What choices the writer makes depends on what they want to achieve out of the story. If at any given point, the writer makes a choice that was or wasn’t obvious – it is called a twist, and sometimes, an anti-climax.
The choices that are made along the way, determine how the story progresses, what route it takes, how the story’s environment (people, situations, events) reacts to the choice – and eventually it leads to an outcome that the writer had intended when the story idea was birthed.
In a way, the story is a collection of a lot of – what I like to call – bends: ‘ifs’, ‘buts’, ‘what-ifs’, ‘or elses’, ‘maybes’, and the like – you get my drift!
Each decision taken on any of these bends can change the direction and outcome of the story. It can change the way characters may behave. It can change cliches to unexpecteds. It adds to the elements or characters in the story or take away from it.
It can change the purpose or objective of the story, and as a result – it can change the very audience who’d read it.
These bends are fun, if used well; they ensure the reader meets the unexpected and keeps glued to the story. They can also ruin the story if the handling is way too risky for audience’s general digestion.
For example: Let’s run a case of What-ifs –
* What if: Dorothy decided she loved Oz and now that the wicked witch was dead, she could live there and be merry.
Does the story end? Oh no!
It’s simply no longer about Dorothy’s journey home. Now, it’s about her adjustment to Oz and her new lifestyle, her dreams of a colorful and adventurous life coming true.
* What if: the minister decides that he loves being the dad of seven kids, but it’s too much work and he’s much too lazy.
Does the story end? Nope!
Now, it’s not about minister learning any lessons. It’s probably about a pathetic man too lazy to enjoy what he loves most.
* What if: Thakur hired Jai and Veeru as Reformation Counselors to Gabbar Singh.
Would the story end? Probably not!
But then it would not be Sholay – not even a spark! There might be lot less gunshots and lot more couches. And, Jai might live and marry the girl in white.
* What if: ASR found out about Khushi’s engagement before it happened and blocked it out of jealous possessiveness?
Would the story end? Nope!
It might lead to either a pre-mature discovery of Shyam or alert him to Arnav’s interest in Khushi and cause further issues between them. In either scenario, it’s initial aim of freeing them from their past would be lost and it would become a normal run-of-the-mill love story.
So, what do bends or choices achieve? They achieve conflict. They give the story some bumps that must be sorted out. They give the characters challenges that must be met and won.
They provide a sense of purpose and direction if used well.
If bends are used just for the sake of using them – it dilutes the storyline and the aim is missed or delayed.
In the next parts, I’ll think aloud about characters, elements, and tastes.