A Long Road DownhillYou’re driving into town and you pass two cars in a lay-bye, parked nose to nose, two shadowy figures in the front seats of one of them…. and, in a poetic impulse (V.S.Pritchett) you have the foundation of the story –  in my case ‘Rat Run’ translated into American and performed by Liars League in New York City (and in performance on their website – and in print in Ambiguous Encounters and soon to be in Not A Matter of Choice,Sentinel).

Or perhaps, out of the corner of your eye while at the traffic lights, you notice someone leaning against a lamppost further along the street who suddenly draws himself up to full height, throws down into the gutter his cigarette, and strides purposefully off in the direction of the town centre. Almost every journey you make will throw up some image, some snatch of conversation, some place in which something is about to happen, or may just have finished happening: somebody out of place, somebody behaving inappropriately, saying something ambiguous, a car parked oddly, a door left open that surely ought to be closed.

Stories fall out of places in time, of times in places. They grow out of situations in which what has been normal has become, or is about to become distorted, changed, perhaps permanently. They follow inevitably from the hopes and fears of people who find themselves in places, and situations at the wrong time.

Location (in time & place), Situation, and Character – the three drivers of story, are what we have been focussing on in a series of small workshops (Facets of Fiction) over the last couple of months. We’ve tackled the first two, and in November we’ll look at the third. The task has got progressively more complex. Finding stories in places and times is relatively easy; imagining situations is a little more tricky….Characters? Watch this space..

It’s not that any one of the trio is unknown to us, but rather that they are so well known we take them for granted, create and recognise them instinctively, and unconsciously. Making ourselves aware of what we do automatically is a large part of the difficulty. Yet for every story we will ever write, and for all the stories we’ve ever written, consciously or unconsciously one of these three Facet of Fiction will almost certainly have been the starting point for the story.

If a character has caught our interest – through the way he or she moved, or remained motionless, through the way they spoke, or dressed – we find a location, and situation, in which we can observe them in behaviour, in which their story can take place. If we perceive a situation, in which any character might be caught – a wrong turn taking them out of their comfort zone, a partner disturbing something from the past thought to have been safely buried – we imagine a place in which it could happen, and characters who it would affect. If we see a place, like a stage set, we provide actors to step out onto it, and devise a plot (which is a situation) for them to cope with. Whichever of the three angles we come into the story, which isn’t to say we begin writing with that element, we create the other two to make the triangle of story. What interests me, among other things, is the way that whichever facet ‘sparks’ the story it can be supplied with endless variations of the other two: we can examine the same characters in different situations (and places/times). We can show the same situation with different characters caught up in it (and again, in different locations of time and place). We can show the same location (in time & place) creating different situations and affecting different characters. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Far from limiting our options, the triangle of facets opens out the possibilities of story whichever point of the triangle has prompted our impulse to write the story…..

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