Misbeliefs as Story Momentum

  • by Gitabushi

I’m still struggling with the implications of “Story Genius”, as detailed here, here, and here.

brown haired female anime character figure
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

For instance, blog proprietor PC Bushi responded to the last post with:

You had me until you said entertainment should not be the goal of a story. Strikes me that this is like saying enjoyment should not be the goal of a meal. Different meals and types of food aim at fulfilling different goals, just as different stories and types of writing do.

I wasn’t trying to say a story should not be entertaining, or even that a good story cannot just be nothing more than entertaining. My point was that if you are going to go to all the trouble to write an entertaining story, why not *also* make it compelling by adding in emotiona and character development?  If you are going to read a story, won’t you be more entertained if you are more deeply invested in the protagonist’s struggles?  Story Genius shows you how to get that.

The only thing is, the more I consider the book, the less certain I am that this is the only way to make a story more compelling.

I mean, I’m fully converted to the idea. It works. I can tell that it works by analyzing a bunch of successful movies, books, and television shows.  I have also discovered there are a bunch of other successful movies, books, and television shows that are not centered on the crisis of a protagonist’s misbeliefs.

For instance, Star Wars is undeniably a great story. Luke *does* start out with a misbelief that adventure is a grand, fun thing, and preferable to boredom on a backwater planet.

This is a misbelief. In short order, he is nearly killed by Tusken Raiders, his adopted parents are brutally murdered, and his new mentor that promised to teach him a whole new set of skills, is cut down while he watches.

But that misbelief doesn’t come to a crisis. He isn’t forced to abandon his misbelief or face destruction.  He just grows through it.

However, his emotional state *is* important to us throughout.

I think Die Hard is a great movie because as McClane is working things out with the terrorists, he’s also sort of working things out with his wife.  Maybe his misbelief is that his wife no longer loves him.  Or perhaps the misbelief that drives the story is his wife’s, in that she mistakenly believes he loves his job more than her.  But it doesn’t drive the story to a crisis, the bad guys do.  And the resolution of their relationship is more that he goes through all sorts of pain and danger to save her life, and that has a profound impact on both of them…but they don’t exactly work through it together.

However, their emotional state *is* important to us throughout.

All this being said, as I type this out, I don’t remember the author of “Story Genius” saying this is what you *must* use to write a compelling story.  I don’t remember her saying this is the way every story should be written.

And now that I think of it in those terms, I can still fully recommend the book. In fact, I urge you to buy it. I think it still is the best $10 an aspiring-but-struggling writer can spend.

Because my final judgment is:

Writing a short story can be hard. It is too easy to start with enthusiasm and excitement, and still hit a snag that blocks you. It is too easy to paint yourself into a corner.  It is too easy to struggle with developing the plot and not being sure your protagonist’s actions make sense.

Writing a novel is even more difficult. You have all the same problems as above, plus you have to layer in subplots.  You have to escalate the stakes to maintain interest. You have to develop deeper characters than in a short story. You have to handle more characters, and make them all realistic.  All this is too complicated: I can’t hold a novel in my mind. With this book, you don’t have to.  It teaches you how to add compelling aspects to your story that grab the reader from the beginning and never lets go, how to develop and mine the protagonists’ backstory for realistic developments, how to layer in complex and interesting subplots, and how to make the reader see through the protagonists’ eyes instead of through the writer’s eyes.

It all works, even if you don’t want to write a story based on misbelief.

But if you want to get a story written and have it be compelling, it’s a great place start.

The implication (mentioned indirectly at least once) of the book is that this process will become second nature as you grow more familiar with it. You could adapt it to other types of stories, but this book intends to tell you about the easiest way to craft an entertaining, compeling, memorable novel.  I think it does that.

For example, while Luke *does* have a misbelief about adventure, it doesn’t drive the story. If anything, the story of Star Wars says that Luke’s misbelief was only partial: it *was* fun, exciting, and enjoyable to fight his way off of the most secure enemy station in the history of the galaxy, join with other advanced pilots and, without any training, save the rebels from complete destruction.  He is rewarded with fame and gratitude, and might even earn the love of a beautiful princess.  Sure, his Aunt & Uncle and Old Ben had to die as part of the process, but they were going to die, eventualy, anyway, right?

The point is, Luke isn’t confronting the conflict his misbelief has created in what he wants and who he thinks he is.  It just ends up not being quite so carefree as he hoped.

But we still care about Luke’s emotional reactions to what happens, and *that* drives the story.  So what we learn in “Story Genius” still applies. It’s just writing a story in which an apparent misbelief actually turns out to be true.

There are plenty of other exceptions.  But these can be your advanced attempts, after you have a few novels under your belt.

Why am I pushing this so hard? Well, I think better when I talk or write. But more importantly, if y’all write more enjoyable, gripping novels, I have better stuff to read.  Buy the book, and write great novels!

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