Tag Archives: storytelling

Isolation: A Vital Element of Story

Your main character, the hero of the story no matter the genre, must be isolated to make a logical, powerful story.

I don’t mean stranded on a desert island isolated, but cut-of-from-help isolated.

It’s amazing how many pictures of “alone” and “isolated” are negative. Am I the only one who likes to be alone?

Consider, your hero encounters a problem in the first act of the story. We learn who the hero is, what their normal is, and then something happens… this is the inciting incident. What happens next is the isolation of your hero. It isn’t enough for the problem to be solvable, it must only be solvable by the hero.

Such isolation takes on many forms. It could be they (the hero and the merry band of support characters, or the ensemble) are literally cut off. Their plane crashes in the dinosaur-infested jungle and there are no other humans for miles.

Or it could be a matter of skill set. The president is dying on Air Force One and the hero is the only doctor. It all on the hero.

It could be relational. The hero estranged from his dying father is the only one who can fulfill his last request. Or a terrorist will only deal with the hero, no one else.

This is vitally important because, hey, if there is someone better suited to save the day, why is your character the hero?

This is particularly difficult in today’s society where everyone has a cellphone. You either need to get rid of the phone, out of range, broken, or dead battery, or isolate through time; there are others more suited, but they don’t have time to get there, or are unmotivated, or in league with the villain.

How is your character isolated? Make sure it’s clear and strong or your story will be unbelievable.

The Invisible Character

Every story has it. Fiction and non-fiction, blogs, even your journal has the Invisible Character. Who is this hard to see person?

See the source image
The Where’s Waldo Character

Your narrator.

Who’s telling the story? The answer to this question can radically impact your manuscript.

Let’s first look at the “levels.”

There’s:

  • First Person, meaning one of the characters is telling the story—“I watched Hortense move like a snake.”
  • Second Person is rare and reserved for short fiction—“You walk into the room. You see her…”.
  • Third Person means someone outside the characters is telling the story—“He watched Hortense walk into the room…” This may eventually be revealed to be first person, if the narrator appears later in the story as a character.

There is also:

  • Past tense: The narrator tells a story that has already happened.
  • Present tense: The reader discovers things as the narrator and characters to do (not a fan of present tense, but it has its place).

We haven’t spoken to the power of narration yet. The question is: Who is your narrator? When is your narrator?

Imagine how different a story would be if told by someone else? To Kill a Mockingbird would be very different if Atticus was the narrator rather than Scout. Scout is effective because she is a very limited omniscient character. She’s young, naïve, and learning as we do. What a different book it could be if the Scout telling the story was an old lady, interjecting her wisdom in the place of young Scout’s innocence.

An educated narrator uses different words than an unlettered storyteller.

Ask yourself, if using past tense, how far removed is the narrator? Is she five seconds away from the action or five decades? Does the narrator offer her view and opinions of events, even subtly, in the way the story is told?

How reliable is the narrator? Is he telling the truth only to surprise you later with broken trust? Is the narrator making personal discoveries in the retelling of the story?

Who you choose as narrator can broaden or limit the story scope. Characters are limited to what they know, unless they are far removed in time. Detached narrators simply tell the story, no frills, but word choice still enters in.

In non-fiction, YOU are the narrator, but you are a multitude of worlds, which do you narrate from? Are you informal? Humorous? Clinical? Just how much of “you” do you put into your manuscript?

Pro Top: If you get stalled in the first couple chapters of your book, or if readers say your voice is uneven, you have narrator problems.