by Quentin Long
©2006 Quentin Long
Storytelling really isnt all that complicated: You start at the beginning, continue until you come to the end, and then stop. Simple, right? Alas, simple is not a synonym for easy! And in this case, the most difficult part of that three-step protocol is the last one. Typus interruptus, or TI, a condition in which an author stops typing before they reach the end of their story, is not at all uncommon. The opposite errorcontinuing on past the end of the storyis thankfully rare, but TI damn near warrants its own telethon.
So: What are the causes of TI, and how can it be cured? Having dealt with a number of TI victims, I can state with some assurance that its got nothing to do with intelligence (or lack thereof). Likewise, TI is not associated with a deficit in linguistic skill; TI-afflicted authors can and do write very well indeed. No, the real cause of TI is this: An authors failure to recognize what his own story is really about.
At this point, some of you may be muttering to yourselves, Come on, Quentin. How can an author not know what their own story is about? Everything thats in the thing, they put it in there! Well, thats true as far as it goesbut it doesnt go far enough.
There are authors whose approach to telling a story is to envision a situation, record the events which occur in that situation, and thats it. In effect, these authors see themselves as cameramen for a reality show. And theyre even correct, to a certain extent. But while a reality show does need cameramen, it also needs editorspeople who pore over the raw, uncut footage and decide which scenes to show in what order. If you doubt that editors are needed, I invite you to consider what a reality show would be like without them: If nobody decided what footage to use, what would you see? Randomly-selected snippets from all the film that was taken? Unless the random scene-choices were very lucky indeed, such a production would likely be confusing, if not incoherent or even incomprehensible. Alternately, they could just show all the footage, in chronological order but that would be excruciatingly dull.
The point is, getting the raw footage is not enough! In addition, a reality show needs to be selective about which bits of that footage it actually uses. For authors, similarly, it is not enough to merely record a series of events; you also need to have some idea of which events to include in the story, and which events to gloss over or even ignore.
How do you know which events are, or arent, worth including in a story? Fundamentally, this is a question of whats really going on on the narrative. And this means not just being satisfied with a superficial, face value understanding of the events youre writing about. Specific example: Lets say youve got a character whos carrying a bouquet of roses down the street. Is this important? Maybe, maybe not. It all depends on why theyre carrying the damn flowers.
Is the character on their way to their Significant Other with a floral peace offering, after a big fight? If so, the true significance of the flowers is not the simple fact that your character is hauling them around, but, rather, that theyre a major part of your characters attempt to shore up an uncertain relationship. Alternatively, the character might be carrying the flowers because hes a botanist, and these particular blooms are of a unique species Unknown To Modern Science, and your character wants to examine them in a lab. Again, the important bit is not the mere fact that those flowers are getting carried around; in this case, what really matters is that the character has a chance to advance human knowledge by studying a previously-unknown specimen.
Its all about means and ends. The bare facts, the raw sequence of events, thats the means; why those events are happening is the ends. And as an author, you have to give your readers both the means and the ends, on pain of losing your readers interest.