Monday Motivation: What happened isn’t the story
What happened isn’t the story. Events don’t make stories. So the memoirist who protests that all she wants to write is “what actually happened” is missing the point. Indeed, the novelist who focuses on the events that take place over the arc of his story also misses the point. Both risk that most diabolical mistake of all – and that is to write about one damned thing after another.
Story is about connections, and reactions, and reflections.
A young woman is murdered. We want to know the answers to a number of questions: who murdered her? Why did the murderer kill her? Will the murderer be caught? Will the murderer be punished? What do those affected by the murder think and feel about the woman’s death? What does the murderer think and feel after the act?
Each of these answers provides a link between a person and an act, and, more importantly, between person and person. They give us glimpses into the mysteries that surround people’s choices, and people’s motivations. They enable us to understand how one thing leads to another. If chemistry is the study of chemical interactions, then the novel offers us the opportunity to study the interactions between people.
So when you’re devising a story, let your focus be on dramatising why people do things to other people, rather than on the events that punctuate the action.