Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Notes From A Storyeditor - Where to start

This is the first in my series of notes about what I learned from my friend and professional story editor Hannah Kodicek. This was first published on the Indie Exchange website. 

The starting point for any story-making is the relationship with the audience. Although we writers may be sitting alone in front of our computer in a garret somewhere, the story exists only in that relationship, otherwise you’re not telling anything.
We start by understanding what we all have in common (audience and writer):
  • Curiosity – this is inherent to human nature, it’s the reason we do so many things, one being picking up a book.
  • The need to find context – what is it like, how does it fit with what I know/feel, how does it feel like to be someone else
  • Need for pattern – again part of our nature, we will look for patterns and order even if they are not there, and there are a load of patterns which we will expect in stories
  • Need for balance (equilibrium) – we feel disturbed if things aren’t fair, we want to put it right.
  • And conversely the need to upset equilibrium – the need for the unknown, the thrill of risk.
  • The need to think ahead causally – this is an extension of our need for pattern,
  • But there is also the thrill of the unknown.
  • Common cultural context – myths, history, fairytales, belief-systems etc.
  • Archetypes – which Hannah described as “deep subconscious forces shared by all” and which are the subjects of numerous books
  • The need to relate to others, which for me is the most important.
These commonalities are what we as writers build our stories on, for example every story starts with an imbalance which propels the story forward. We may play with them e.g. encouraging the reader to detect a pattern that isn’t there and so think ahead incorrectly. But the single most important thing is to access people’s emotions. Everything we write will stir some sort of emotional response in the reader. They will be gratified if their curiosity is satisfied or they feel they see a pattern or context. They will be thrilled and scared when we take them to somewhere unknown. But they will be dissatisfied if we promise and do not deliver.
Which brings me to us the writers. There are a number of questions we need to ask ourselves as we approach a story:
  • Why am I telling this story? – Why me? Why now? Why do I care? (If you don’t the reader certainly won’t).
  • How does the story fit with or challenge the context familiar to my reader?
  • What is the emotional key to the story? What touches me most deeply? How will it resonate with the reader?
  • What will I and the reader take from the story?
  • What tools do I have to do the job?
These then are the fundamentals from which all storytelling flows and I always go back to them when I am working on a story. I find them particularly useful when I am working on the second draft. 

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