It's All About the Story

>> Wednesday, August 22, 2012

I've talked before about the importance of story, of everything bowing down to the importance of the story. Admittedly, I've given far more time and effort to characterization than storytelling, but that's because it's my favorite aspect, not that it's more important. For me, it's a crucial element to telling a story, because a story, without someone at the center, someone having events happen to them and reacting to them isn't a story. I say this because I was reminded yesterday, of what makes a great story.

I have read lots of things over the years, and learned from almost all of it, every genre, forms of prose and poetry. Movies, shows, drivel, classics, I devoured them all, leaching out experience, what I wanted to emulate, what I wanted to avoid and, once in a while, becoming inspired.

I can remember when I first really became interested in writing short stories, earnestly and fantasy in particular, reading a singular compelling story called "Spoils of War" by Jennifer Roberson in Sword and Sorceress V (edited by Marion Zimmer Bradley). The prose read almost like poetry with cadence and power, each word exactly right, almost like a musical composition, building to a crescendo and a surprise denouement. Great stuff.

And it doesn't matter the genre, a great story is a great story. It doesn't have to have action or magic or even humor. It's story is a recitation of some experience that changes one or more lives (real or fictional), which can include reactions from the characters or just how they change and grow as a result. And, growth, boys and girls, means the character(s) learn something.

But sometimes I get so caught up in doing something clever or complex or imaginative, make it entertaining but meaningful and original that I forget that there are lots of things that make a story great. And sometimes, what it is is simplicity, with no more words than required to tell the reader everything they need to get the maximum impact from the story.

It's no secret that, at least recently, I've really found myself fascinated, even obsessed, with manga and anime. It's not just "foreign" comics; it's storytelling and I think part of me is fascinated because so much of the story is pictured not said. And some of its very powerful.

Yesterday, I stumbled across this story, one of four from Garden Dreams by Yoshinaga Fumi and the only one of the chapters I found on-line. (Note, not yaoi or with any gay overtones, no overt sex or violence). Yet, it was perfectly complete standing on its own. Again, I was caught up in the cadence, the pacing, revealing and hiding things in perfect time like an excellent musical composition. For me, it was a masterpiece in storytelling, not only in the tiny pittance of words used and the expressive and powerful artwork, but in the wealth of concepts, emotions and power that were never expressed and yet clearly communicated.


I'd forgotten how very powerful simplicity could be.

No bells whistles. No action. No fighting. No clever schemes. No sex. No world to save. No thigh-slapping humor. Just a man shaped by and shaping his fate. Set in a time theoretically like the Crusades, but easily identifiable here and now. At least for me.

And having found it, I'm pointing it out to others who might appreciate it (note that I bought the book quite inexpensively on 'cause that's how I roll.).

Note: For those of you who feel like complaining because I mentioned a manga here and I have a blog just for that. I do have a blog for that and I intend to write at considerable length about the mangaka, Yoshinaga Fumi there. But this was about storytelling and very appropriate, in my opinion, right here.

And it's my blog so I get to decide.

Update: I did write about Yoshinaga Fumi on my otaku blog here  and here.


  • Relax Max

    You do get to decide. But you're right about the story, anyway.

  • Stephanie Barr

    Good, wasnt' it?

    I've only written two short stories where I've captured anything approaching that.


    But we all need goals.

  • Shakespeare

    Story matters. It's why I don't like a lot of indy films about five guys who get together and whine about their problems.

    I want stuff to happen. And what happens matters a lot to me. I am far more plot driven than you are, and the scene is where I want to be.

  • goatman

    I am not sure that it is the story, as you propose. Some of the best, short stories' at least, writing I have seen expanded on a relatively small story line. A fellow I read recently (Poe Ballantine by name) managed a wonderful short story about riding a Greyhound bus from LA to a town in Kansas. The story was background and secondary to the descriptions, recalls, and wonderings.

  • Stephanie Barr

    goatman, I have read some fantastic writing that had little or nothing to do with story, but it was more essay than a story. On the other hand, the boundary isn't sharp.

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