A Shelf of Possibility


from neatorama.com

from neatorama.com

(Rolls d20)

Eighteen. Damn.

That means I have to write this post in the first person.

What’s really important when I’m choosing which story to write is how best to tell it. Whose Point of View is most important? Is that character reliable enough or not to tell the story? Because if not, that changes everything. I usually tell tales in the past tense because I dislike present tense. Not intensely but enough that it doesn’t appeal to me.

See, for me, it’s about telling. That means one person is relating what has happened. That’s how we generally tell stories over lunch, having drinks, in any number of situations. I think that if a character is telling his reader or viewer what’s happening as it’s happening, then she’s not focused enough on the events of the story. Maybe that’s crap, I don’t know, but it’s how I feel about it.

I just don’t like limiting myself to one narrator or point of view in a story. I want the reader to either a) want more by switching POV or narrator or b) want more because they really like the narrator or POV. So I have to be as interested as possible in what I’m writing.

Random rolling of multi-sided dice isn’t how I decide these things but you probably already knew that. Rather what I do is look at the overarching story and figure out which of the seven stories told and retold it is:


  • Boy Meets Girl (Boy Loses Girl, Boy Finds Girl Again)
  • Man v. Nature
  • Man v. Machine
  • Man v. Society
  • Rags to Riches
  • Love Conquers All
  • Portrait of the Artist


(Okay, I have to ‘fess up and say that I cannot find any sort of agreement on what the Seven Basic Plots are. Everyone seems to be referring back to a particular book that I don’t agree with. For the purposes of this post, let’s say this list is it. Afterwards you can argue as much as you like about how wrong I am. This is what I remember of the talk I heard Kurt Vonnegut give in the middle ’80s. All right?)


So. Where does the story fit and who among the characters I’ve devised is best suited to tell the story? I have to look at where the character fits into the story itself then decide if I like that fit. If I don’t like it how could I expect the reader to? Next, since I don’t want to use first person (usually) I will decide who are the important characters to follow. No more than three, really, and if I can keep it to one or two I like that better. It’s fun as a reader to know what else is going on in a story that the ‘main’ character might not. Build up some suspense. Also gives ‘em a break. After all, I don’t want to waste anyone’s time.

Then it’s all about beginning to write. It may be that I’ve chosen wrongly and the character I want to follow isn’t interesting enough. That’s happened quite a bit. Happened with last year’s NaNoWriMo novel. It just does, I guess. So then I reassess if the story is worth pursuing if I change point of view or which character is the main one.

I will look at my bookshelves for a story that’s similar to the one I want to tell. I may even pull it down off the shelf and skim through it, looking for a solution to present itself.

And the process starts all over again.


Jason Arnett is a storyteller living in Kansas and writing in the plains of the fantastic. Some of his work can be found at www.jasonarnett.com

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