In my recent article, I wrote about three act structure. How and what should be there we covered some basic and some unusual stuff you can read that here. And while I was doing the third act I started talking about more than plot and characters. I wanted to elaborate there, but I thought this need to be done separately and the article was already getting too long.
Just like my other articles we are going to take it slow and go little deep. So, what do I mean when I say more than a plot and characters. Two things without a story cannot be written is plot or characters. This is the unshakable truth, but I think to become a better writer we need more than just a plot and characters.
Now, some of you might say that okay I am talking about theme. What is the theme of the story or maybe I am talking about the genre? You are right but partially right. Yes, genre gives us the arsenal and theme is the backbone of the story. Especially in science fiction, the genre defines the story giving us the prop to use, e.g., black hole, alien, high technology, time travel. These all are a prop for us to use. The more skilled writer uses them more properly. In the case of interstellar, the use of black hole is pitch perfect. It’s not there just because it has to be there. It has got some purpose contributing to the story. The whole mystery is dependent on it.
The other thing is a theme is more extensive. The theme of my first book in Rare women series Sarah is hope. Sarah who is living in a post- Taliban era in Afghanistan gets obsessed with Hollywood and hopes to conquer it one day with her wits. That is the gist of the story. The theme here is hope. Sarah hopes eloping her god forsaken place and conquering the Hollywood with her wits. Just like the character who hopes for something but as I am gaining experience I have realized that this is not enough.
Yes, if you join certain writing class or mentor there will be some mention of it but just to understand for the sake of understanding is a different thing. And slowly realizing with your experience is a different thing. Realizing that there is more, that hope we are talking about will raise more question. It will ask what is hope for you? What do you hope for? In my story, it’s not only about Sarah’s hope, but in her journey, through hope, she acknowledges the rigid ways of her society where child marriage is no big deal. Where girls of her age commit suicide because they are being forced to marry someone twice her age. She also brings to question that does it worth it to go to the foreign land when something so wrong is happening to her friends in her own native land. the story doesn’t remain a story accumulation of plot and characters but it has grown now.
The evoke of right and wrong, moral vs immoral and sometimes moral vs moral. Light vs light the questions of what if and who is wrong when there is a thin line between them. But most importantly how it affects us suppose if you have to do something terrible for your love would you do it. If you have to choose between wrong and extreme wrong what would you do? You see if you look through these lenses then your plot doesn’t remain just a plot, and your character doesn’t remain just a character. They can be the manifestation of our society and ourselves, our conflict with each other and our conflict with inner self.
Your questions can be political or moral or question of existence and faith. The greatest fiction also shows a mirror to the society to see the ugly reflection of their own.
Now, we are dangerously close to crossing borders and moving to non-fiction zone, but the skill of the writer is tested when he brings all these things together. The screenplay of taxi driver if you read that it misses one thing and that is a plot, but it’s one of the greatest movies of all time. It spoke to the people living in that society, and it more efficiently does now. I would say it’s more inclined towards character rather than having a plot but it works.
This brings me to another point and that is the rigidness of our learning towards writing. We have become obsessed with the systematic way and more technical. In the history of writing, there is no period which can compare the number, of course, available for the writers and number of an expert. Sometimes I feel like we are taking art just like any other course. You have to have a strong female character who can be sexualized; there has to be this number of words, publish this many books, a story is this and that. Which is good and I agree that modern writers are becoming much more sophisticated, but I also believe that somehow we are losing that essence. Your art is not a school project or your college thesis it way more than that.
Try to remember any great story you liked and try to analysis was it only about the plot and characters or through those tools the writer was telling something more. something which connects to your heart and evokes certain questions and emotions.
We have compartmentalized fiction so much and in so many categories with unlimited course and guides that we have forgotten that it’s art. It’s the only expression of our soul the only language. A good example would be movies nowadays. They rely so much on CGI and all that stuff; minimal emphasis is given to the story and journey of the character. Forget about evoking emotions and deeper questions. Now I agree not every story has to be like that sometimes it’s easy you just have to catch a killer, and that’s it. But I believe there is still a lot of opportunities that we are missing. And I can only hope that slowly we become self-aware of our art and not bogged down unnecessary technicalities. Great art is simple but yet subtle.