In this video, D.D. Johnston discusses a classroom exercise that he uses to illustrate an important difference between short stories and novels.
Michael Scott has written novels, films, and plays in a variety of genres for adults and children and teens. He’s learned that it doesn’t much matter what sort of story you’re writing, or for whom your writing it: “A good story is always a journey. It is about the people the hero meets along the way and how they change him or her.” Now that we’re thinking about the themes of stories, it becomes apparent that a character’s journey is inextricably bound with a story’s theme. And since the theme has to be something general and powerful, something universal and impactful, it’s not surprising that there aren’t that many journeys that really matter.
Have a look at this list of fundamental human journeys, and let me know in the comments whether there are any that I’ve missed:
Fundamental human journeys
(simple transitions based on external changes – these are more likely to work in, say, a young adult genre novel than in a literary short story, but often in genre fiction a material transition will be made possible by a psychological transition)
Peril <-> Safety
Single <-> Married
Powerless <-> Powerful
Poor <-> Rich
Obscure <-> Famous
Picked on <-> Popular
Not seizing the day <-> Seizing the day
Isolation <-> Human connection
Love <-> Loss
Despair <-> Hope
Obliviousness <-> Awareness of mortality
Innocence <-> Loss of innocence
Inhibition <-> Boldness
Desire <-> Contentment
Self-doubt <-> Self-acceptance
No sense of sublime <-> Sense of the sublime
Search for meaning <-> Accepting meaninglessness
Fear <-> Acceptance of death
Faith <-> Lack of faith
Here’s a great game to practice thinking metaphorically – it also works well as a drinking game!
In this video we look at two descriptions of the same place, which appear at different stages of Zadie Smith’s On Beauty. Although the place is the same, Smith is able to advance the story just by changing the sensory details on which she and her characters focus. Being able to do this, to show rather than tell, to use concrete description as an essential part of the story rather than a background, is central to how most writers work. But do remember that mimesis is not the only way to tell the story: there are many alternatives to the cinematic mode of narration.