For the last month, I’ve been working on a sixth speech for Toastmasters. Then, at a competition the other night, I listened to a speech titled, ‘What is a Story?’ which focused solely on the endings. I like a good finish; I marshalled a few thoughts on the subject here a few weeks ago in a post called, The True End.
However, as my nephew sagely said, ‘A story has to have a good beginning, or I’d never read past the first pages!’
Excellent beginnings, it could be argued, are nearly more important than good endings.
I decided to change the subject of my speech and scrapped what I had been working on in favour of this question, ‘what is a story?’
My challenge was to write a speech about this vast subject and make it fit within 5-7 minutes. Talk about editing! I delivered my riposte at Toastmasters this week.
‘What is a story? 2’
Madam President, fellow members and guests,
I went along to the International Speech Contest last week. One of the speakers I’ll never forget – John LeRoy – because of his choice of subject matter: his speech was titled, ‘What is a story?’
I thought, Great. Can’t wait to hear this.
John’s presentation was very interesting; he delivered it with action sequences. He also had that all-important swagger. Therefore, he deserved second place. John was technically brilliant, except he focused solely on the endings.
“Mr. LeRoy, what a great speech,” I said, shaking his hand. When what I really wanted to do was grab John by his neatly-pressed lapels and say, “Stories are about more than just the endings!”
If I may, I’d like to answer the question posed.
There’s far more to a story than the ending. For a start, it also has a beginning… and middle! And, it’s more than the sum of its parts.
In this talk I’d like to start with the some of the obvious traits and move onto the not-so obvious elements of fiction.
Best-selling Kiwi author, Brian Falkner said story stands for:
S – setting
T – the characters
O – obstacles
R – reach
Y – your goal
Setting provides flavour, whether it be a deserted island or on the moon. The setting gives readers framework for the adventure, and a sense of place.
The Characters. We are social animals, we like to believe in and relate to the characters.
Obstacles. No conflict, no story, or so they say. It has to have tension.
Reach. Reaching is something brave people do. Heroes. We like to read about extraordinary people doing extraordinary things. We’ve been talking about heroes since the first proto-humans told tales around the fire in their caves.
Your goal. The goal set up for the characters in the beginning must be won or resolved in some fashion by the end. Anton Chekhov said the gun that hangs over the fireplace in the first scene has to be fired by the last. The questions raised must be answered. Or as David Farland put it, Pay off! Pay off! Pay off!
Yes, the mechanics of story, the beginning, the middle, the end, the characters, the obstacles – all these elements need to be there.
And yet, it is about far more than mere mechanics!
Here’s where we move onto the not-so obvious aspects of story.
A book can be technically brilliant and yet fail to capture the imagination of the reader. Readers are seeking something else. There’s a universal need to seek an experience, an escape, a deliverance from the ordinary and every day.
Authors have addressed this in many ways.
‘A good story should alter you in some way; it should change your thinking, your feeling, your psyche, or the way you look at things,’ wrote Allen Say.
Frances Buffet once described fiction as, ‘The Hope that Books Built.’
‘Interesting anecdotes are not fiction by themselves. They need the sandpaper touch of art,’ wrote Jane Yolen.
Because good fiction takes us beyond the mechanics of beginnings and endings, obstacles and setting, although they need those as well.
Stories tell us that our lives transcend possibilities. Which is after all, what art does.
As acclaimed Kiwi author Kate de Goldi said, ‘we remember readings that acted like transformations.’
What is a story? I have given you one answer and yet, this is still only the beginning of the story!
“How to do it” will never create an Art. It will never shake the old skin, it will never get us out of here.” ~ Charles Bukowski.
Tell me, I’d love to know your view, what is a story?
Talk to you later.
Keep on Creating!
Yvette K. Carol
See my dress rehearsal video on YouTube. https://youtu.be/5BPNX2PZi9o
The confidence that comes from speaking in front of an audience is magical – it permeates our whole being. ~ George Yen
After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world. ~ Philip Pullman
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