Story building

I was going through old school papers from elementary school, and one assignment that I saw more than once was a break down of cause and effect in whatever book we were reading in class.

Thinking about it now, I’m not sure if it ever really sunk into me that the way we broke down books (or rather, stories) in class was actually a method I could use to understand how to write a story. Such as the idea that there is a staging to stories and that events have a progression and effect on those that come after, as well as a build up of events that have come before.

Stirred with the advice I’ve been reading on tumblr and the books I’ve been reading (critiquing?) recently, the mixture of thoughts has led me to realize that there are very basic aspects of storytelling I didn’t get.

Take Charlotte’s Web. The story is about a spider who saves the life of a pig by weaving words into her web. But when you add: because they were friends, it gives emotion and motivation to the story.

And by adding the character traits of Charlotte and Wilbur, plus their animal nature, it sharpens their friendship even more because Charlotte, as a spider, would be considered unlovable by most other animals (humans included). It makes Wilbur’s love and friendship for her distinctly more valuable.

There’s nothing in there that says Charlotte has to die, but if she didn’t, Wilbur wouldn’t have grown or changed from where he was at the start. Wilbur is dependent on Charlotte through most of the book.

It’s not until the end, when Charlotte’s dying that he finally makes an self-autonomous (and altruistic) choice. And that’s something I’ve read here; if a character doesn’t have to grow by the end of the story to get what they wanted, then what would stop them from having it at the beginning?

With Charlotte’s Web it’s a little different. Wilbur doesn’t change so he can get what he wants (to live and not be eaten), he does so for his friendship. Which is why that additional reason (because they’re friends) gives so much narrative and emotional weight to the story.

And it’s all these little pieces and how it all manifests in my own writing that is on my mind.

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