Stories: Up, Down and Sideways


When seeking advice on the craft of writing a story, whether screenplay, novel or other form, most experts will tell you that you must write the back story of your characters. These back stories are pages of descriptive narrative, detailing where the character came from, what happened prior to the actual story’s beginning. It’s an exercise intended to deepen the writer’s understanding of who their characters are, what makes them tick. At some point, a back story with enough detail and plot structure becomes a prequel.

I wrote back stories for all my characters in Blind Tasting, but I found myself even more interested in what they would do next, where their actions and choices in the current story would lead them. The set of forward stories is nearly a sequel at this point.

The ease of editing an e-book, especially a self-published one, leads to the possibility that the story is never completely finished, the concept of an edition can become blurred when an author can upload hundreds of such adjusted renderings of the tale. Does such activity dampen the dramatic force of the story? Even fictional writing from decades ago experimented with versions of non-linear story-telling, offering readers different orderings of chapters and pages in which to read the story, such as Julio Cortázar’s novel Rayuela (Hopscotch).

Today, story-tellers have the full force of multimedia resources at hand; this isn’t limited to selling merchandise related to a successful movie or novel, but includes expanding the original story through additional media. Successful computer games lead to creating journals and novels about the characters in the game which provide information about the characters and world not explained elsewhere. This strategy is also used with certain popular films and novels.

Great stories create whole worlds for a reader/listener/watcher/player to explore and buy into. At some point in our past, the state of technology provided storytellers with only a spoken performance channel in which to deliver their story to an audience. That imposed a linearity to the telling, but also lent itself to a clear dramatic arc in the structure of the story. The technology of writing expanded the structural possibilities of storytellers beyond immediate performance. Today,  the structural choices available to a storyteller are enormous due to the diversity of digital technologies now in existence. It seems natural to use all of these to deepen a story, to give an appreciative audience more ways to dwell in the author’s fictional universe.

But, will the interesting and central structural pieces of stories survive this much fluidity and unboundedness? How do the notions of inciting incident, conflict and resolution work in the new settings.  Are they as relevant as before with a single channel? Will the film or the novel (or computer game) as we currently know and experience these art forms survive, or will they evolve beyond recognition to new venues of entertaining communication? Will we always want stories?

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