I am reading Benjamin Percy’s Thrill Me: Essays on Fiction. In the second chapter, Percy lays out his list of the foundational elements of story. Revisiting a list like this now and again is important. It keeps writers grounded in our craft, it keeps us from getting carried away on the crests of the sentences and missing the rising tide of the story.
Over the next six posts, we’ll ruminate on each of them.
Establish a Clear Narrative Goal
In Moby Dick it’s “kill the whale.” In Frankenstein it’s “define the true monster.” In Mrs. Bridge it’s “find purpose and meaning in the mundane.”
The narrative goal is why the story exists. It’s why there is ink on pulp. This is the story’s purpose for being and the one element that, once revealed, will call the narrative to an end.
From a writer’s perspective this is the foundation, the starting point. Until it is known, work cannot begin. This is the story’s destination. Like a road trip, we know where we’re going, even as how we’ll get there and what we’ll encounter along the way remain mysteries. The narrative goal is first in Percy’s list, and for good reason. Without it we don’t have a story.