What is a Story?
a story is about how what happens affect someone who's in pursuit of a deceptively difficult goal, meaning it doesn't seem that difficult in the beginning and how that person changes internally. As a result. Let's say that again. Ah, story is about how what happens affect someone who's in pursuit of a deceptively difficult goal and how that person changes internally as a result. Okay, now let's break that down. In familiar writing parlance, a story is about how what happens that what happens is merely the surface of the story. Yes, it is the plot. It is not. If I leave you with nothing else, it is not what the story is about. Your story is not about the plot. In fact, the plot is just the surface. It comes second. That is why very often those story structure books will lead you a stray because they talk about the external structure of the plot, as if that's what your stories about and it's not. So it's about how what happens. That's the plot. Merely the surface of the story affect some...
one that someone is your protagonist. Your protagonist is your readers avatar. Within the story, they literally are doing that Vulcan mind meld with your protagonist. Think of your protagonist brain as as your novels command center, and to make the point about the plot. Everything's gonna happen over there in the plot on the surface of your story is going to get its meaning and emotional weight based on one thing and one thing only. And that is how it's affecting your protagonist and not affecting your protagonist. In general, like my protagonist really hates cold weather. And over here in the plot, it's snowing. So she's going to stay home and have cocoa. And she's gonna join those people binge watching, breaking bad on her IPhone. But how the plot affection protagonist in pursuit of a deceptively difficult goal. And that is what's known as the plot or story problem. Sometimes you'll hear refer to as the story question I'm gonna from here on out. I'm going to call it your plot problem. So and that plot problem is both external and internal, and it is that difficult thing that your protagonist is going to be struggling with again, externally and internally, and there's got to be that struggle. There's got to be that hard thing because story is about change and all change is hard. Good change is this hard as bad change because it catapults us out of the familiar and we don't really know what to do. It can be. It's hard to leave home to get married as it is to leave home to get divorced. In fact, it could be easier to leave hope to get divorced than it is to get married. So your protagonist is going to be sweating. They're going to be going through something difficult. If you have a protagonist who is, is either solving problems without breaking a sweat or actually doesn't have any. It is just going from kind of one lovely fun party scene to with the next great for them really bad for the reader. So it's about how what happens that your plot affect someone that's your protagonist in pursuit of a deceptively difficult goal that is going to force a change and how that person changes internally as a result. And that my friends, that is what your story is actually about. Another words. Your story is not about the plot. Your story is about how the plot affects your protagonist story is not about the external change that happens in the plot. Story is about had internal change that that change in the plot puts your protagonists through. And if you're thinking Well, wait a minute. What do you mean? My protagonist has to change Change? From what? To what? Why would my protagonists need to change? Uh huh. All protagonists enter the story when I say enter the start. Maybe doing this all the way through, we'll talk about it next. If this is if this is the line Page one of your story is over here. I am talking about your protagonist on this side of the line. They haven't stepped onto page one yet. Every protagonist enters the story with two things already firmly in place. And that is a longstanding desire, something they enter wanting very badly and as equally a longstanding miss belief, something that has kept them from getting it. And is we will go into the concept of miss belief throughout this course. So this is just the overview of it. But this is something that that came into being early in their lives, probably in late childhood, early teen years, and It is something about human nature and has been keeping them from getting what they want. And this desire and this miss belief have ricocheted through their lives. It has been driving their stories, specific action, the choices they've made up until you get to Page one and your plot is going to force them to go after that thing they want. But in order to get it scene by scene, by scene by scene, they're going to have to confront and struggle with this miss belief. And it is this internal struggle that your novel is actually about, and it's what I call your novels. Third Rail. You'll often hear writers talking about the narrative threat like what is the narrative thread of your novel? And it's really easy to mistake that for the plot, that means what's happening in the plot is a narrative thread. Not true. We're gonna be busting a lot of misses, a myth to bust. Not true. The narrative thread is this internal struggle that your protagonist goes through. That is what we are wired to connect to. As we are reading forward. Everything that happens in the plot will get its meaning by touching on this third rail it is. What brings it to life is what gives it meaning. It is where the electricity from the story comes from. It's what creates it. And just toe was first teaching this concept at U. C. L. A. Which of course, is in Los Angeles. And I had a student who raised her hand and she said, I think I think I get what the third rail is. But what are the other two rails? And I realized I had to explain it to, you know, places where you actually don't have a subway. The third rail is the electrified rail in a subway. It's what makes the cars go forward. The third rail in your story is what your reader is hooked onto. It is what your reader comes for. So you might think, OK, well, what actually powers it and it is the struggle with this miss belief and you might go okay, Miss Belief, I think I've heard of that is a miss belief. Is that like a fatal flaw? I've heard that, you know, protagonists come in with a fatal flaw. Is that what you're talking about? And the answer is No, that is not what I'm talking about. That is not what I'm talking about. Um, fatal flaw is an expression I admit I have used before. And I am everything that I would never use it again because fatal flaw. Let's just think about that for a minute. Doesn't that sound really judgmental? Doesn't that sound really finger Waguih like you have a flaw and, you know, maybe you'll get over it. Maybe not. It kind of sounds like you're doing it on purpose. Like, you know, you're doing this bad thing and is kind of maybe even ah, moral failing. And so it's like you've got this flaw and maybe my plot is gonna help you overcome that. Flawed? Maybe not. We'll see. So I don't think it's a flaw. The other term you may have heard is wound and Wound is closer to what we're talking about. I don't like using that term as a catch all either because wound. Now, make sure Protagonist sounds like a victim. You know, there are reprobate with a fatal flaw and they're a victim with a wound. And, you know, the world has hurt them. And hopefully your plot is gonna help them heal. And they have a coup by ah, moment at the end, and then everything will be OK. And I don't think either of those things really grab. We're talking about. What we're talking about is ah, miss belief. A miss belief, as I said, is something that comes into being in childhood, maybe early teen years at the latest. And it happens in a moment of, like, normal childhood trauma. So when I say trauma, I don't need trauma like and then they go put a spaceship or someone throws him in the trunk of a car and they get taken out into the desert. But just normal childhood trauma where they go in wanting something, believing they're gonna get something. Believing something about the world because of miss belief is a miss. Belief about human nature is on a factual miss belief, and something happens during that moment that teaches them that they were wrong. And now they have a small ah ha moment, and they read the world differently. They've got a new belief. Something was probably very adaptive in the moment that it came into being, but that's maladaptive. Once they get out of that situation, but they don't know it because your protagonist doesn't think of that Miss belief as a miss belief. They think of it is a hard one piece of inside intel that's gonna help me navigate the world. And now that is what has moved them forward. And you're the job of your plot is to disabuse them of that fact. Miss Belief might be something like the nicer someone is to me, the more they're trying to use me. And you can see that that might be something would come in early in life. Now they're gonna believe that. And obviously that becomes part of the lens through which they see everything. And if you have that belief, you're gonna miss, Read a lot of people throughout your life. You're gonna make a lot of mistakes. You do a lot of things that go against your self interest. Because of this miss belief, this is what we come to story for. We don't come to story for the plot because the plot again is the surface of this story. And we understand the surface world. We live in the surface world. I can say that all of us, you and you guys at home as well. We all have probably many things in common. But here's something I'm pretty sure we all have in common. All of us from birth up until this moment have navigated the surface world. And we've done a pretty good job of it because we're here. But we don't come for the surface world. We come for what goes on beneath the surface. I often think of story as the difference between what we say out loud and what we're really thinking when we say it. Because ask yourselves when you're talking to someone, how often is what you're saying and what you're thinking the same thing and which one is more interesting and which one is juicier and which one is more revealing? What you're thinking, right? And that's what we want to know about everybody else. We want people to like us. So we are constantly wondering how my coming off. How does this sound? Do you like me? You really understanding what I'm saying? I really understanding you. We wanted people. The barista at Starbucks. We want everybody toe like us. So it's like when someone comes up to you and says, Matilda, I'll love you forever. What's your first thought? After my name's know Matilda, It's really Can I trust you? Are you punking me or you're just looking to get lucky? What? Will you still love me tomorrow? That's what we come to story for. That's what we want to know. That internal stuff it's interesting talking about there is being the surface and what we come to story for. Here's an expression that I bet all of you counting you guys out there have heard. So raise your hand And, you know, if you've heard this, you guys can raise your hand to because we can actually see you. I'm just kidding. Just kidding. We haven't gotten that far yet, So if you've heard this expression, raise your hand. Never let him see a sweat. You guys heard that expression. Never let him see a sweat. Almost everyone has heard that expression. Think about what that means. What does that imply? It implies that inside we are sweating buckets and we're trying to keep everybody else from seeing it. Story is about the sweating story is about what's going on inside. I had a student at U. C. L. A who once said, she said, I know on the surface I look really put together, but inside I'm a raging mess and I'm trying to keep all of you from seeing it. That's what stories about. It's about that raging mess inside. That's what we come to story for. The vulnerability that we don't show to the world, that is. What you need is just by being a writer means having courage, because you have to show people what you think and what you believe. But watch when you're reading we come. Two story for those me to moments. Oh my God, I've been through that, too. Oh, my God. I thought I was the only one. That thing that I thought made me weird and odd and strange, actually, is what endears me to other people who knew that is what we come to story for. That is what story is about the internal struggle. So the question is in order to get that onto the page, order to create a story that brings that toe life, where do we start