Picture yourself in the middle of a primeval forest of tall, thickly growing trees with a canopy that excludes most light and any sign of the daily path of the sun. The ground is relatively uncluttered with underbrush, but the few trails that are there, wind around the many tree trunks and crisscross each other, offering no clear way out. Everywhere that you look, trees sprout from the earth as thick as the hair on a dog’s back. Try as you might, you cannot find your way to open country.
As a writer, you can easily get yourself stranded in the middle of a primeval novel with multiple storylines, characters, conflicts with no clear path to open country. There are five essential elements to a story: Character, Setting, Plot, Conflict-Tension-Drama, and Resolution. I have found that although they are all important, they may not all play equally into your story. In some way, you should include enough of each to make your story interesting, inspiring, and enticing. It should be just long enough to keep you engaged but not so long as to make it a chore to finish.
You are blocked, unable to see where you are going and not seeing the path to your goal you sit on the ground amid the trees. You try to craft a plan to get out of this mess. Ideas flicker through your brain, you test everyone one to determine the right way to move. Then you leap to your feet, you have seen the right way to go. You look up—the path is clear. You must find your way to the top of the trees in able to clear the view. You climb a likely tree, you struggle your way up through the foliage, grunting with the effort, scratching your arms on the thick branches. Suddenly you burst through the canopy into the bright sunshine and look across acres and acres of trees. On the horizon you see the verge of the forest, beyond it is a rolling meadow. The goal.
A good tale follows a pattern of “chasing a man up a tree, then finding a way to get him down”. In other words, you begin a story, you create tension, then resolve it somehow. It doesn’t have to be in that order, but the elements should be in there. Your reader should be able to follow along, even if the flow of the story isn’t logically crafted. If your story follows the beginning, middle, end template the reader can follow the story but may become bored because it is too simple and predictable. Conversely, if the story elements are too chaotic you will lose readers because it is too complicated.
So where is the balance? Your story should be just long enough to keep you engaged but not so long as to make it a chore to finish. Haiku poetry can tell an amazing story in just three lines of text. An Icelandic Saga may roll on for days. Each form is appropriate in its own time and place.
Over the wintry
Forest, winds howl in rage
With no leaves to blow. Natsume Soseki.
So, as a writer, what is next? The characters, setting, plot, conflict and resolution, all the elements of a story, are the tree trunks of your story/forest. I wish that I could tell you that the climb out of that primeval novel is as simple as finding the right tree with enough branches to lead you to the light. That you will find the view of the whole forest before you, that you might see beyond the forest and not just the blocking view of tree trunks. You could look at my hard drive and see the stories lined up for their time in the sun and know that it isn’t as simple as all that.
How do you craft that story so that you as the writer and me as the reader are not lost amid the dark, thick trees with no hope of seeing of seeing the complete forest? You as the writer must not blind yourself with the minutiae of setting and multiple plot lines, characters, and conflicts. Stephen King, well known for his many horror stories, has written a memoir/how-to book On Writing that includes 7 great tips/insights into the process. You can see a synopsis of these tips at the Positivity Blog.
Remember, it isn’t easy to see the forest when all you focus on are the trees. Forests are much more complex than a field full of trees. A forest is a multi-layered ecosystem of flora and fauna that rely on each other to thrive. Your stories should model that ecosystem. You can craft that kind of story; your readers will be able to see it from a bird’s eye view that encompasses the whole picture not just the limited view of the trees.
Michael, “Mike” to his friends, is a writer, striving to be an Author. He has been a spinner of tales since elementary school and garnered a slew of rejections from even that early age. Mike graduated from a small high school on the edge of Utah’s West Desert with more than a passing knowledge of how to read and write. Mike has an undergraduate degree from the University of Hard Knocks also sports a collection of writing and literature classes from traditional institutions. From the Dictionary to Louis L’Amour, religion and philosophy, political science, Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, Mike boasts an extensive and diverse reading repertoire. The journey has been and continues to be enlightening to say the least. Author of Ghost of the Black Bull found at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Mike has been married for 40 years and is the parent to one daughter and “poppa” to three grandsons. You can see more of his writing here at Everyday Author.com and at http://skullvalleytales.wordpress.com/