Seeing the Forest Helps Finish a Story

CornwallCoastlineOrienteering can be a challenge on long distance hikes.  Of the half dozen or more rambles I did in the UK, fell (hill) walking were my favorite hikes. We never got lost on the Cornwall coastline. Keeping the sea on our left kept us on our northbound course. We were always lost in the forest. It is nearly impossible to find your way when surrounded by trees.

About the only way you can fight your way through the forest and remain on track is to use a compass. My compass when writing is to keep the Big Picture before me at all times. This helps me know where to start and stay on track to reach the end. Seeing the whole forest helps me traverse that long stretch of middle territory. All trees, my friends, but filled with adventure and discovery.

I just finished a novelette about a storyteller who lost her gift of telling stories after spending years in research. The story here being the forest or the Big Picture and research being the trees. The storyteller had forgotten what an audience needed to hear. Finding that need was her compass for finding the story.

So you want to write a story about vampires? You’re looking at trees: all scenes and no story. You want to write about a girl who slays vampires? Still a bunch of trees. How about a girl who slays vampires with the help of a watcher and two friends? Better, but still a mess of scenes, no through-line, and no way to The End. How about a girl who slays vampires with friends and falls in love with a vampire? Hello. Now you can see the whole picture. Yes, it can end in a couple of ways but it still has an ending.

Back to what the audience needs to hear … A story that is all about slaying isn’t a story. A story about a girl with friends isn’t a story. The compass for any story is about conflict. Buffy’s calling as a vampire slayer reaches a crisis when she falls in love with a vampire named Angel. That’s what an audience wants to hear. Two disparate things in conflict. And they want to find out how it’s resolved. That’s what a writer needs to see. Can love conquer all and they live together happily ever after? Or will one love enough to sacrifice for the other? The writer’s choice will be the Big Picture and give the audience a truth it needs to hear.

What forests have you seen lately?

About mlknowlden

In 2011, I left engineering to write full-time. Between the years 1992 and 2011, I’ve published 14 stories with Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine that have featured the hypochondriac detective Micky Cardex and two stories that did not. The 1998 story “No, Thank You, John” was nominated for a Shamus award. Many of these stories have been included in anthologies and translated in multiple languages. With Neal Shusterman, I’ve also published a science fiction story for the More Amazing Stories anthology (Tor) published in 1998 and co-authored with Neal Shusterman an X-Files Young Adult novel (DARK MATTER) for HarperCollins in 1999 under the name Easton Royce. For Simon & Schuster in July 2012, we published an e-novella UNSTRUNG in Neal's UNWIND world. I have graduate degrees in English and Electrical Engineering.
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2 Responses to Seeing the Forest Helps Finish a Story

  1. Rebecca Lang says:

    Nicely put. I really like the metaphor of forest versus coast and how you applied it to writing.

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