Why the Small Story Matters

On Wednesdays, I share posts, fables, songs, poems, quotations, TEDx Talks, cartoons, and books that have inspired and motivated me on my writing journey. I hope these posts will give writers, artists, and other creatives a mid-week boost.

Chuck Wendig’s informative guide, Damn Fine Story, contains a mix of personal stories, pop fiction examples, and excellent advice about storytelling. Here’s one of my favorite excerpts:

We don’t really care about the big story. We think we do. We think we care about the Empire versus the Rebel Alliance, we think we care about Spider-Man versus the Vulture, we think we care about Buffy versus the Vampires.

But we don’t. Not really. Not deeply.

What we care about is the small story embedded in there, the small story that’s the beating heart of the larger one. We care about the characters and their personal drama. We care about their families, their loved ones, their struggles to feel normal, their attempts to do right in the face of wrong. We care about Buffy wanting to fall in love and hang out with her friends and not fail out of school. We care that the villains fighting Spider-Man are often connected to him personally, and that they reflect some aspect of his troubled journey from a geeky high school student to a city-saving mutant. We care about the friendships that form between Luke, Leia, and Han.

We care because they care.

We care because their story is our story. Our story is one of friendships and family, of love lost and jealousy made, of birth and death and everything in-between.

A big story without a small story has all the substance of a laser light show. It’s pretty. It’s dazzling. And it’s very, very empty.

Look for the little story.

Look for the story about people.

Source: Damn Fine Story, pp. 79-80.

10 Excellent Tips from Chuck Wendig

On Wednesdays, I share posts, fables, songs, poems, quotations, TEDx Talks, cartoons, and books that have inspired and motivated me on my writing journey. I hope these posts will give writers, artists, and other creatives a mid-week boost.

In his informative guide, Damn Fine Story, New York Times best-selling author Chuck Wendig shares 50 storytelling tips in the Appendix. Here are ten excellent tips about character development:

1. Characters are not role models, and stories are not lectures.

2. We care about characters we understand, so it’s your job to make us understand your characters.

3. Characters must earn their victories.

4. Characters also earn their failures and losses.

5. If your characters are getting in the way of your plot, good. Let them. They are the plot. They are the subject, so let the tale unfold in their wake, not in their absence.

6. Likeability is less important a factor in your characters than relatability. It’s not about wanting to sit down and have a beer with them; it’s about being able to live with them for the breadth of a whole novel. Forget liking them, but do remember that we have to live with them. If all else fails: Just make them interesting.

7. Characters must make mistakes. But they cannot only make mistakes. They must have triumphs, too. A story isn’t an endless array of failure and disaster—we must have some sense of success to understand why success must, above all else (and against all odds), not be lost. Further, characters who only make mistakes become intolerable to us. We start to actively root for their failure if we cannot see in them the potential for success.

8. The best villains are the ones we adore despite how much we hate and fear them. We should adore them, and we should understand them.

9. Characters don’t know what the plot is. So don’t ever expect them to follow it. We can feel when characters are forced from their own program because authors are overwriting them with the Plot Program. It feels gross. Characters only know what they want and what they’re willing to do or lose to get it.

10. Characters are more interesting when they are smart and capable instead of dumb and pliable.

Source: Damn Fine Story pp. 218-225.