Should stories be by the numbers...?
The concept of 'beginning, middle and end' is something that I think about a lot. It is classed as traditional storytelling. Taking the big three: Flash, Short and Novel, do we (or perhaps the better question is 'should we?') use the concept?
Within flash fiction there is little place for the concept. But it still needs to say something. I have read flash fiction that is pretty, but has no story. I believe that there is room in flash fiction (say, 500 words or less even) for conflict. (and in proofing this post, I add the word 'structure')
In fact, for me, flash can be the most gripping of all forms of fiction because it is about the moment.
So in all other forms, what are the concepts?
In their most basic of terms:
The beginning portion of the story should introduce characters, world build and introduce conflict.
The middle sees the characters learning to overcome the hurdles that are required to resolve the conflict.
The end sees the resolution of the conflict.
This is simple storytelling.
It is simple storytelling that can apply to most stories.
Frodo Baggins? Luke Skywalker? Sarah Conner?
The secret is to create believable characters with real emotions, and at the start of the story, the protagonist is a lay-person. Luke and Frodo were what... farmers? They were dragged kicking and screaming into the story, and because they see the story through virgin eyes, we are also told the story through those eyes.
But by definition, if we all create stories in this fashion of storytelling, surely that makes our writing - all writing - linear to a certain extent.
Writing by the numbers.
My recently completed novel is told using these basic steps, but with a) a non-linear time line, and b) a character who is, shall we say, a mystery. The collab novel I'm working on at the moment, has the two protagonists being, well, not the 'good guys'. The Devil's Hand is five individual stories with an over-arcing story.
But still these can all be argued to fall into traditional storytelling.
So can we break the mold? Can we break it and still tell an enriching story? My answer is, of course. Whilst each example I could give can be argued, let us look at what we can do to break the concepts of traditional storytelling.
Not starting at the beginning.
It's been done. It can be extremely effective. (Memento, anyone?) But how? Cutting the front off of your story will not work. If you write, say, 100K of novel, then go and hack off the first 20K, just to produce a non-trad novel, you're erm... cutting your nose off to spite your face. You will have created a narrative within those 20K, and you can't just cut them off. It has to be planned. Do you want to tell your story backwards? Do you want to omit a critical detail from the start? (If you do this, btw, do it right. If you screw it up, it's a sucker punch for the reader...)
Debunking the everyman protagonist.
Now this one can, and will cause problems, if not done right. The biggest problem with telling a story from the pov of a non-everyman is that the audience is either expected to understand everything that's going on (have you seen the movie Primer? I'm no slouch at physics, but jeez), or the 'experts' in the movie have to exposition so much the story will be weighed down, or just plain nonsensical and boring.
Not finishing at the end.
Ick. So easy to screw up completely. Finishing before the end (perhaps in an infamous fade to black moment) can leave the readers in as much of a quandary as the sucker punch. If done right it can leave them talking, exmining the end of your story. Done wrong and they will hate you. TO YOUR VERY SOUL. And what of the run on, after the story. Again, go on too long and the reader with be, 'well, finish it already,' or, perhaps worse, you will end up beginning something new, a a new story that will need telling somewhere.
So can we tell stories without the numbers? Can we throw away the rulebook?
With experimentation your writing will become staid. It will wither.
And you as a writer might just die...
...'Til next time.