Friday, August 3, 2012

Matthew Kirby on Narrative Structure: Form, Not Formula

Matthew Kirby, who appears
in color in real life
Matthew Kirby is the award-winning author of THE CLOCKWORK THREE, ICE FALL, and the fifth book in the forthcoming INFINITY RING series. You can learn more about him at his website.

The former school psychologist talked to a packed and exuberant room about ways to "tap the universal" in storytelling.

He started by saying that Lin asked him to do a presentation on “plot.”

"Plot has a negative connotation in some circles," he said. "So I kind of was switching from thinking of plot to thinking of form. “That somehow feels a little more respectable when you’re talking about literary qualities in fiction.”

What is form in story? 

He showed us a photo of a winding road, and the structure holding up a house. In the images, you see what’s in place, but you’re aware of what’s missing.

“When I think of form, structure, plot, this is what I think of it," he said. "It’s the armature, the structure to give your story a shape and a direction. It communicates to the reader what kind of space they’re going to inhabit, but it’s not a story until you’ve put somebody in that structure, on that road.”

What gives a story meaning to Matthew?
  • It has to resonate with me. I can read something about it and I identify with it. I find something familiar in it.
  • It illuminates, challenges, and expands our understanding of the world around us.
  • It helps us to ask questions, and maybe arrive at the answers to our questions.
He reminded us what Richard Peck has said: The story should be the QUESTION, not the ANSWER.

To understand story structure is to have talent. 

Matthew quoted the science fiction writer Samuel R. Delaney: Talent for writing is the ability to:
  • Perceive
  • Internalize
  • And submit to models.
What he means by that: Whatever it is you’re trying to write, there are models of that thing. Talent begins when we perceive these models. That means we have to read a lot and then perceive the core of that. You have to internalize it to such a degree that you no longer think of it in specifics. You might run into trouble if you violate the terms of the contract (veer from the model too much).

A few great quotes:
  • "Create a character people love, and then make life as hard for them as you possibly can."
  • “There are only so many [plot models] but there's no limit to the..stories that can be told within those models.”
  • “Story is an act of meaning-making in all of its forms. It's an attempt to contain some aspect of life."
  • "Trust the characters and events you've set in motion."
  • "It all comes back to characters. Without them, you have an empty building, an empty road."

1 comment:

  1. I love the quote about making life hard for your characters. That's great advice! My characters won't know what hit them. :)

    Kathryn @ Clean Teen Fiction