I always feel silly writing about my own progress because I assume the lessons I'm learning are already common sense to everyone else. Nevertheless, I recently gained some insight into storytelling that I didn't fully understand before, so I want to celebrate it here.
Up until about a month ago, I saw a story as a progression of elements that moved from Point A to Point B. A character overcomes an obstacle. A character makes a journey. I had actions, emotions and ideas, and they all changed along the way in a linear fashion.
Take, for example, a short story I wrote called "The Wild Grass". In this piece, a woman named Kimchaa loses her husband and has to live out the rest of her life alone. The action of the story includes her aging and growing more stubborn. The emotions include her increased sadness and acceptance. The ideas include her reflections on life and what it means to grow old. I like this story of mine. I think it works. But, all of the elements move in a linear fashion, the way most of my stories do.
I'm now writing my current WIP tentatively called "Cyberlama". Without spoiling too much, this piece is also about a woman who grows old and loses the people she loves. It's slightly more extreme in that the woman here is much older than the woman in "The Wild Grass," and I think it was that extreme quality that gave me some insight.
See, it wasn't enough for me just to have my protagonist, Jacqueline, grow old and sad. She is a very curious character and is constantly trying to learn. She befriends the Dalai Lama who teaches her some things about Buddhism and the idea of reincarnation. While Kimchaa was content to wait peacefully for her death, Jacqueline is working harder, putting new ideas together. Instead of a linear progression in her thinking, there is a compounding effect, something synergistic. Her ideas--and thus the ideas in the book--add up to something greater. They go deeper.
Jacqueline reflects on aging, but thoughts of time progression get complicated by the idea of reincarnation and violence and existence and some other topics that are floating around. And, along with all of this, her emotions are getting more complex. She's not just waiting, she's having conflicts because of contradictory ideas that she's learning about. She's calculating and planning and making mistakes. While the actions are still going from Point A to Point B, the ideas and emotions go from Point A to a deeper version of Point B, which I have uncreatively called Point B'.
The key to what I'm trying to explain is that I have figured out that a writer can make a linear progression in a story, or a writer can make a more compounding progression. In other words, the steps along the way are not constantly being discarded as a new step comes along. Instead, all of the steps are adding together, becoming something messier and deeper.
Does this make any sense at all? I've been wanting to write about it, but I feel like I don't quite have the words to express myself yet. Scott told me to write about it, so blame him if this has done nothing but muddy the waters. It all reminds me of the best English teacher I ever had who would start on a topic that was very interesting and then just trail off, leaving the rest of the thought to be finished by anyone who cared enough to do so.
P.S. Buy Notes From Underground! I just got my final copies today, and they really are beautiful. Even just flipping through the pages, you can see the big variety in story structures that people employed. It's a great mix!
(Scott, was the shadow effect underneath the A and B too much?)