Steve is a friend of mine. He is also an improv and stand-up comic. A couple of weeks ago we were having lunch at a local Mexican joint. We do this once a month and talk about the mechanics of telling people stories. This is something we both care about, a lot.
As we were covering some common ground, Steve made a point that is simply fundamental to story-telling of all kinds. He mentioned the thing that ensures your story will keep moving and your audience will stay tuned. It struck me that I hadn’t mentioned this point here, and it would be irresponsible for me to allow you to go any further without knowing.
One of the books nominated for the National Book Award this year is called “Wolf in White Van” by John Darnielle. It is the story of a troubled teen who attempts suicide, shooting himself in the face. He survives but is horribly deformed and so becomes a recluse, retreating to the world of pre-Internet computer gaming.
[Now I’m going to hook these two together.]
Steve reminded me that one of the keys to great story telling is to take your protagonist(s) and follow these three “easy” steps:
1. Imagine: what is the absolute worst thing that could happen to him/her/them. Don’t go with your first idea. It is not awful enough. Don’t go with your second either. Take your third idea. Don’t worry in fiction there is nothing that is too horrible. Horrible = better. More horrible = more better.
2. Once you have that in hand, start writing and make that happen to your protagonist ASAP. Don’t get cold feet. Go ahead, write that ugliness down.
3. When the dust starts to settle, when your protagonist seems to be regaining their footing: repeat. Once your protagonist is permanently and eternally changed such that the truth of humanity is on display, write the ending.
Mr. Darnielle made the move of an expert.
Now you can too.