“What Exactly Makes A Damned Good Story,” by Chuck Wendig on terribleminds.com is such a good article on story, y’all! Here are some quotes:
Plot is the arrow, and story is the apple that it punctures.
. . .
At the simplest level, story is a mechanism of desire and denial, of conflict and escalation and complication before resolution. I, the character, have a problem. I seek to solve my problem, but between me and the solution wait an obstacle course of other problems and other people and those people have competing desires. And I, the character, navigate that Scylla and Charybdis to either answer my desire or fail to manifest my desire. I solve my problem or I jolly well fucking don’t. That’s the story. There will be some shape to it — a rise to a mountainous peak, a slithering heavenward curve, a jagged line of fanged peaks, a rollercoaster going left and right. (See an earlier post of mine about story shapes and narrative architecture.)
I said once (“In Which I Critique Your Story That I Haven’t Read“) that story can look like:
1. HEY LOOK A PROBLEM
2. HEY LOOK A SOLUTION
3. THE END YAY
But, really, it probably ends up looking like:
1. HEY LOOK A PROBLEM
2. I’M GONNA JUST GO AHEAD AND FIX THAT PROBLEM AND –
3. OH GOD I MADE IT WORSE
4. OH FUCK SOMEBODY ELSE IS MAKING IT WORSE TOO
5. WAIT I THINK I GOT THIS –
6A. SHIT SHIT SHIT
6B. FUCK FUCK FUCK
7. IT’S NOT JUST WORSE NOW BUT DIFFERENT
8. EVERYTHING IS COMPLICATED
9. ALL IS LOST
10. WAIT, IS THAT A LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL?
11. IT IS BUT IT’S A VELOCIRAPTOR WITH A FLASHLIGHT IN ITS MOUTH
12. WAIT AN IDEA
13. I HAVE BEATEN THE VELOCIRAPTOR AND NOW I HAVE A FLASHLIGHT AND MY PROBLEMS ARE SOLVED IN PART BUT NOT TOO NEATLY BECAUSE TIDY, PAT ENDINGS MAKE STORY JESUS ANGRY, SO ANGRY THAT STORY JESUS GIVES EVERYONE MOUTH HERPES.
. . .
A story lets us see ourselves in it — and it is in that way both a unique snowflake and a universal precept. Or, more to the point, the story is the unique delivery system by which we get to talk about universal concepts and problems. We can talk about a THING WE ALL UNDERSTAND by framing it around a narrative unique to the author — every character and setting and conflict is a potential lens through which we can look upon this universal problem. Story takes this lens and it helps us to see old problems in new ways. Stories make us feel and think. Stories have power. Stories move us, shape us, and do the same to the world. It does this in the way that a song can do it. It has rhythm, like a song — slow to fast, up and down and then up again. Pause, leap, wait, then run. Stories are not a manicured garden. They’re an unruly forest –
A tangle of thorns in which we find ourselves happily ensnared.
My father was a storyteller, and he used to tell stories about his day at work or this time he got into a knife fight or that other time he and my mother jumped a ravine on his snowmobile, and often enough, his stories had the feel of a joke or a magic trick. There was the sense of a turn in there, a pivot, a punchline. A snake twisting in the margins. A sudden turn left when you thought you were going right. And you waited for that. You weren’t just interested to see what was going to happen — because, obviously, he survived — you waited to see the complications. You wanted more than just what was tied to the end of the rope, you wanted the kinks and knots in the rope itself. You want an interesting journey, not just a desirable destination.