Saturday, May 11, 2013

Telling stories that matter

Any storyteller worth her or his salt knows that a good tale is only partly about what happens.

At an early reading for Little Greed Men, an audience member commented that this Silverville story held multiple surprises that made the book a fun read. Then that person asked us if we’d always intended to make the ending ironic.

It’s a great question, but we didn’t have time to explain that actually, no, that wasn’t what we envisioned at all when we first started writing the project.

It didn’t take us all that long to outline the main ingredients for Book One of the Silverville Saga, and the outer story knitted together around Billy Noble, a drifter who comes to town and tries to cash in on Silverville’s self-generated UFO notoriety.

We twisted the plot to keep readers guessing and, hopefully, chuckling at the series of events and antics that propel the story toward the conclusion. But despite the laughs and unexpected complications we devised, the story didn’t feel that memorable to us.

 What was missing in the first draft was a reason for readers to care about what happens.

That missing part is what’s known in the trade as an inner story arc – not what happens *to* characters but rather how events change characters, making them more (and sometimes less) sympathetic. In other words, the inner story is about giving readers a reason to care about how story events affect and maybe even change characters. The brain follows the outer arc, but the heart responds to the inner one.

Our first draft lacked heart.

We decided Billy needed to be a bit broken when he comes to town. He’s clever but cynical, a charmer but also a con artist. And we gave him a backstory that makes readers want him to succeed – not in the scam so much as in life.

And we raise the stakes when we revised the relationship he develops with Skippy. In the first draft, Skippy had a minor bit part, but we soon realized she had the potential to help Billy discover that Silverville is more than just a grafter’s score; we decided to make her a bit broken herself, which let us develop them both in ways where they could help heal each other.

In the end, Silverville is about redemption – for the characters as well as for the town. But it’s also about learning that we don’t always get what we want. Sometimes we get what we need.

It was still important to us that the book be funny. But we wanted the book to delve into things that matter. Humor became a way to tell the outer arc, but we decided the inner arc should make readers care about the other issues the story raises.

Sure, the story holds its share of surprises, but the biggest one for us was when we realized we hadn’t understood what our own story was really about until we developed why we, too, cared about our characters.

To us, that was the greatest irony of all.

(Little Greed Men, Book One of the Silverville Saga, is available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble, as well as select independent bookstores. Check out our Website to point you to ways to pick up the book.)