Be wise. Be brave. Be tricky. (slithytove) wrote,
Be wise. Be brave. Be tricky.

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Tolstoy famously wrote that happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

I think the opposite may be true of fiction.

In reading fiction and thinking about why it doesn't work, I'm amazed by how often bad stories—or even just the mistakes in good stories—can be found in the venerable Turkey City Lexicon. Bad writers, and even good writers who like Homer sometimes nod, keep making the same well-defined, well-understood mistakes.

Not every story error can be found in the Turkey City Lexicon, but I'd say well over half, maybe up to 80 percent can be. Bad stories really are all alike. Or, at least, their errors can be pigeonholed into a surprisingly small number of boxes.

But there isn't a Turkey City Lexicon for good stories. That's because every good story is different.

We can try to categorize in vague, ghostly terms, why we like a story. An appealing protagonist, for example. But what makes an protagonist appealing? That's much harder. We like a strong plot, but what steps to take to make one's plot strong, which words to use, what situations to put the characters in, how to create drama without lapsing into melodrama and bathos -- we find ourselves in a brier patch with no clear guidance. How little description is too little? How much is too much? How can it be subtly woven into the texture of the story so that the reader is unaware of it? There is no simple answer, and ten different writers may do things ten different ways.

Every good story is different. Every one is an individual, with its own personality, its own colors, its own knobs and bumps, that follows its own path, not quite the same path we've ever been down before. But the story's beckoning to us, leading us on through the underbrush, and for some reason we trust it, and, crossing our fingers and hoping, we follow, and we realize we've never been this way before.
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