This week, I read The Science of Storytelling by Will Storr.
Without a smidgen of doubt, this is one of the best books I’ve read throughout 2020. (The 3.3 pages of notes in my Google folders lends some proof to that claim.)
What I’d really like to do is just share that Google doc with you. . . because Storr provides so many illuminating insights that it’s one of those books you just want to keep in your back pocket and cozy up to for the next five months.
But because I know time is short and attention spans are even shorter, I’m just going to share ONE note from my Google doc, and it’s this: “The job of the plot is to plot against the protagonist.”
Story’s job is to work against the protagonist?
I know I’ve talked a lot about story’s overemphasis on conflict (eg., The Hero’s Journey), and while Storr’s quote may make it seem like he is all in with the Hero’s Journey, don’t be fooled.
For Storr, everything about story centers on CHANGE within the character. And he says that the main job for all stories is to center on one central question for the main character → Who am I?
Throughout the nearly 300 pages of Storr’s book, he makes it clear that if you want to help your character answer this question (without resorting to the cliche formulas so often seen in storytelling), then as a writer, you need to embrace the struggle and admit that answering that question is going to require hard work.
His words made me reflect on my 2020.
I’ve spent a fair amount of time stepping into the collective frustration shared over everything 2020 has (and has not) delivered. In many ways, it feels like 2020 has shown up in full armor, totally equipped to work against me. And when I think about that. . . and then think about Storr’s words, I’m stopped cold in my feet.
The job of the plot is to plot against the protagonist.
Is it possible that I’ve spent too much time trying to escape the plot and not enough time stepping into it, embracing it, acknowledging it for what it is?
Is it possible that because I’ve not surrendered to the plot, I’m missing out on the opportunity to change and shift and grow?
“Problems in stories happen when the plot and the protagonist are disconnected,” Storr says.
I think a lot of us have spent large swaths of this year disconnected from our plot.
And I don’t know how that disconnect looks like for you, but I know that for me, there have been seasons of frustration and resentment, wedged in between seasons of thankfulness and surrender.
The end result has sometimes left me feeling like I’ve spent the last 9 months in the middle of a tornado, only to be thrown back into the same place that I began.
But Storr’s words remind me that story really isn’t about the plot (or the conflict) at all.
It’s really about the protagonist, the character. . . ME.
And perhaps, if I’m feeling like my current story has a problem, then it’s because I’m spending all my time trying to DISCONNECT from my plot, rather than investing in understanding how WHERE I AM RIGHT NOW is playing a ginormous role into WHERE I WANT TO BE TOMORROW.
Am I the only one who gets a little scared by this thought?
My NOW is here for a reason?
All the gunk. All the hard moments. All the heaviness of it all.
Apparently the answer is a big fat YES.
And your NOW is here for a reason, too.
So it’s my hope for you (and for all of us) that we can spend less time trying to escape it and more time inviting it in – so we can grow and learn and change.