A story should have an excitement graph something like this:
**Time goes along the bottom, excitement is on the y-axis.
How many peaks there are before the climax will depend on how long the book is. Even a picture book of 300 words benefits from at least one peak before the big one. A book of 500 pages will need a good many peaks, and probably have this pattern repeated within each peak. The general shape of the story is shown by the red line here:
Underneath that, it can fractalise as much as necessary to hold the reader's interest. Keeping excitement at a very high pitch for a long time, as some films do, is tiring for the reader and can exhaust their sympathy. There needs to be a breathing space now and then.
Essentially, a story can be reduced to any of these:
First...then...and - this is quite boring. If it gets progressively more miserable, it's a misery memoir. Or Black Beauty. It's really a re-phrasing of the And then... and then... and then... structure that children themselves use in their very first attempts at narrative.
First... then... so - this at least has causation. Progress.
First... then... but... so...- ah, conflict!
As soon as we start getting some 'but's there is conflict/challenge and excitement. Each incident has this shape, and the 'so' should lead naturally to the next incident.
First... then... but... so... then... but... so... then... but... so
It's the 'so's I'm having trouble with.I have all the little mountain shapes but they aren't sticking together. It could almost be Black Beauty. No, quite that unconnected - the incidents are held together with more than string. But they need to grow out of each other in an order that looks inevitable and then looks set in stone - like mountains growing from their foothillls.
-- * --
* The Utilitarianism and so on is for The Story of Philosophy, published in August/September this year.
** With thanks to Descartes for use of the X/Y axes, appropriated for this non-mathematical use
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