We all love stories. And story-telling is a uniquely human skill. It’s unlikely that a flock of birds, for example, would spend their time telling ‘sad stories of the death of kings’, as Shakespeare, a master story-teller, put it. Unless of course, these birds are descendants of Jonathan Livingstone Seagull. But then, that would be another story. You see how it goes.
Stories allow readers to understand other viewpoints in other worlds – ranging from other people’s minds to other people’s cultures. There has been a growth, for example, in novels which explain a Muslim viewpoint – Sebastian Faulks’ A week in December or A Thousand Splendid Suns by Afghan author Khaled Hosseini. These novels are best sellers because people want to understand the Muslim point of view and these novels seem to help.
Readers achieve this understanding because they engage with the novel’s story. Put simply, we as readers enter the dream world of the novel and we learn what that world and those people are all about. And, as writers, to engage them - to take them by the hand and across the threshold - we use plot and structure.
- Choose one of your favourite books
- Which character do you like best and why?
- What is the problem or conflict your hero/heroine has to deal with?
- What is the most important moment in the story for you?
- Are you happy or unhappy about the way the story ends?
If you repeat this with several novels, you’ll begin to understand why these are your favourites.