What is a book? A collection of letters, words and sentences on pages with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Seems simple enough right? With the right burst of inspiration there is nothing to stop anyone from writing one. But then, everyone isn’t a writer, and even among writers, not every book or story has the ability to hold us to ransom demanding our complete attention. So what is it that makes some stories more equal than others if I may so subtly steal the lines of George Orwell? The Quad-Rule. Below I have tried to outline four aspects of writing that come together to make up a book and determine how in love with it your readers will be.
1. 1. The Plot
The plot represents the aspect of a story that covers how events are connected to each other. In common story-telling, this often includes some kind of resolution from conflicts based on external circumstances like a war or the classic unaccepting parents that set the tone for most forbidden love stories. The resolution of conflict can also be internal like a protagonist trying to find the meaning of life. While it is common for stories to follow some kind of plot arc, it is also possible for stories to exist without the classic plot arc. One of my favorites of such stories is the trilogy Before Sunrise, Before Sunset and Before Midnight. Anyone that has read my collection of short stories 30/30 will be able to spot similarities in how the stories are told with no real plot line. These stories rely instead on dialogues that express social and philosophical themes that can be just as engaging as events in a plot arc.
The key thing to remember when thinking of plot can be split in two, mystery and suspense (what happened and what will happen). Whether you are writing with a typical plot format or choosing to drive the story with the characters, the reader has to want to know what happens next or be wondering what happened to get the characters where they are in the first place.
2. 2. The Philosophy
This is the part of the story that is likely to win you some fancy award. Of course, you will still require a good story and other factors, but it isn’t in the habit of critics to hand out awards to books that haven’t said more than the letters on the pages. In essence, the philosophic element of a story represents the deeper idea the writer is trying to transmit. For example, Chimamanda’s Half of a Yellow Sun might have told the story of two lovers caught in the middle of a civil war, but the book went on to address issues like tribalism, the notion of national identity, the need for intellectual life and other such themes. Nobel Prize winner Wole Soyinka is probably the master when it comes to embedding philosophical concepts in literature, my personal favorite being Mad Men and Specialist where he portrayed the absurdity of existence and how all communication eventually breaks down in the face of a rational immoral universe while addressing how the selfish will of two men plunged Nigeria into a needless civil war.
While some writers like Chinua Achebe will argue that writers, especially African writers, have a responsibility towards the reader to educate the society, others will argue that there is no such obligation and art can be simply for art’s sake. It is important to note that Chinua has expressed nothing to be wrong for art for art’s sake, but states that educating through art takes it to a higher form. The argument on whether such statement is elitist is subject for another post. Anyways, the good news is that there is no pressure. You are free to just write for entertainment and the love of it. Whatever you write for, just make sure you write well.
In part two of this post, I will discuss Character and Mechanics. Let me know what you think so far.