Will Storr is a journalist and bestselling ghost-writer. He also runs workshops on how to write narrative, and has written a book based on these workshops – The Science of Storytelling. His theory is that the key to a good narrative is not the plot or structure, but character, preferably flawed. He isn’t the first to be fascinated by this (Aristotle was also keen on ‘tragic flaws’). But Storr believes that our evolution has depended on our ability to ‘read’ other people. Hence a misreading – or unexpected changes – in character is, in his words, ‘the single secret in storytelling.’
He offers a helpful process to achieve this to the aspiring writer:
- Locate your character’s ‘sacred flaw.’
- Imagine what might have caused this.
- Keep the two in play as your story progresses (as, e.g. Shakespeare does in King Lear).
Like Susan Hill (see my blog last Sunday), he sees the role of the storyteller as giving us ‘hope that we might not be quite so alone, in that dark bone vault, after all.’
Some critics feel his book has a lot to offer the tyro writer. Others feel his process is over-simplified. Where, for instance, is the scope in his model for irony; for the reader’s ability to laugh at a character’s lack of self-knowledge? In looking to free the aspiring writer from formulaic plot-based writing, has he instead set up different constraints with his concentration on the tragically flawed character and his / her damaging back-story?
I think we can all agree that character IS important in any story. But the aspiring writer still needs to look at the full range of human behaviour and create characters (and plots) accordingly. It is still a lot of hard graft and there is no magic bullet – even if some of the great story-tellers make it seem simple!
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