Have you ever wondered how authors accomplish the near Herculean labor of putting together a great story? If my conversations with non-writers provide any insight, they assume we sit down with a cup of coffee and an inkling of an idea, draft a few dozen pages of tight dialogue and gripping action, finish our day’s work by the time our mug is empty, and then spend the remaining hours of sunlight playing video games and taking up pottery, all the while mocking the poor stiff working a nine-to-five.
Oh, the fantasies our imaginative brains can dream up.
The truth, unfortunately, is significantly more mundane, yet infinitely more rewarding (how much pride can you really take in your work if it’s as difficult as scrolling through the latest news on buzzfeed?). Storycraft, the discipline of putting together a story well told and a story worth telling, is much like any other noble pursuit. If you wish to become an expert carpenter, you first learn the tools of the woodworking trade, the basic principles of sound building, and the types of materials to use. Then, you apprentice under a teacher, a more skilled co-worker, or for the entrepreneurial soul, a well written book or blog, and over time, hone your craft. Engineers spends years studying the foundational principles of math and structural design, slowly creating more intricate wonders for the world to enjoy. A writer, at least a one hoping to produce something of value for the rest of the world, develops through a very similar process.
While there is no universal method for creating a quality tale, there are principles that under gird all our stories. Conflict drives our scenes forward. Empathy for characters creates an emotional investment for our reader. Readers expect (in fact demand) the unexpected.
Story craft is about learning the nuts and bolts behind our favorite movies, books, and even songs. As one author puts it, ‘understanding what’s behind the curtain of a magic show.’ If through discipline and understanding we master these tools, our ability to create and explore new worlds and scenarios is literally limitless. Without them, no one will want to explore the worlds we create, regardless of how fantastical or inspiring we make them.