Friday, June 10, 2016

Narrative Inevitability

There are certain, I don't know, rules of narrative. By which I mean, certain things have to happen because of, or leading to, other things. Well, they’re not really rules, more like, things that tend to happen. This is the worst explanation ever. I spend way too much time on TV Tropes, so I have to try to put these things in layman's terms. How about some examples?

Chekhov's Gun: If a gun is introduced in Chapter One, it should go off by Chapter Three. Otherwise, why is it there? Basically, if you're going to introduce some element, it should be relevant in the future. Each scene, each piece of dialogue, should be either furthering the plot or revealing something about the characters, setting, etc.

Redemption Equals Death: If a bad character turns good, they are probably going to die. And it will probably be in some valiant act of heroic sacrifice. If ever you find yourself rooting for a bad guy, you'd better pray that he doesn’t see the error of his ways.

Rule of Drama: The potential for conflict will never be passed over. Basically, if something could happen to cause drama, it will. If something can be misunderstood, it will. If someone could cheat on their significant other, they probably will.

The reason I brought all this up to begin with is that after a while, you start noticing these things. There you are, innocently watching a movie and suddenly you realize that guy's going to die, those two are going to sleep together, and that cool thing is going to be destroyed. Things become predictable.

This is true for things even as I write them. I've barely pondered the rewrites for The Midnight Circus and it occurred to me that one character is going to die. And it's not because I'm needlessly cruel. They're probably my favorite character in the story, and I'm pissed they're going to die. But they have to. That's just where the story goes, and who am I to argue?

I guess that raises the issue of fate versus free will in writing. Do we ever actually have control over the story, or are we just following a tale that already exists somewhere? Was it ever really our story?

Stay tuned for Tuesday when… something happens. I'm sure it will be great, whatever it is.


  1. I hate rules and you just conformed. You of all people! Maybe we like rules because their easy we get guidelines and everybody is happy right. WRONG ! Conventional rules of drama rite their "That just happened." A battle or conflict of some sort. Who is the boss of these rules for the gun per- say, that you ought to put it in the why by third scene. I have been taught to tie everything together myself and it is fun to do but if you want to put a gun in your story and never talk about it again go ahead and if you want not to kill people you don't have too. But killing is always fun in a story so be my guest. I said all of that to say this: The rules I think exist because we have been taught this by mass amounts of the same kind of stories or television shows we expose ourselves to. We conform as artists to be accepted in the industry like a popular kid at school. Guess what this gets you, a lot of the exact same story over and over. With nothing new. Besides if the story is good enough I am not going to say, "I am going to stop reading or watching this if I do not find out what happens with gun from the first chapter."
    I understand this story may be quite lengthy so I am going to need to know where I can get a copy of the midnight circus. I will make a deal with you MAD I have written my first television sit -com called Life before Life it is about ten thousand words and I will share it with you if you share with me. If interested let me know where to make the digital exchange or if you have a place on this blog for viewing such a story.

    1. I'm not sure if you'll see this, but in answer to your questions:
      The gun going off by the third chapter is just the way the "rule" was written. I don't think it has to be specifically the third.
      The character DOES have to die. To let them live would cheapen the whole thing. And there are some other reasons, but I don't want to spoil the story before it's written.
      The version I have of The Midnight Circus is pretty rough and lacks an ending. You'll have to wait until after July when I'll maybe have a better version.

  2. If someone coughs/sneezes in a movie, they are so dead.
    Playing With a Trope has to be one of my favorite tv tropes pages since it gives lists of how these tropes (predictability traps) can be played differently than normal.