Your Bones Are Showing: Too Little Story, Too Many Problems

The last season of Game of Thrones has given me much to consider. Don’t turn away. This isn’t a spoiler, or a defense or an attack on the series, but an analysis of a key component of stories and why it can tear your darling to the ground.

If story is a body then narrative is the flesh, characters are the organs, and theme is the mind, and so on. What keeps all of this up and in good form is the plot, the functional skeleton. There are only so many plots one can chose from, only so many skeletons, but authors turn out so many books you’d forget this fact.

Until the bones show.

When the narrative runs thin, when it is malnourished and weak, the bones will peak out. The reader will turn away, unsettled and disgruntled, as they are reminded the living thing they wanted is just a collection of pieces, lifeless. Some become angry and name the plots for the function they serve, all but forgetting the promise of the story so carelessly treated.

Readers want an upright, healthy story. They want to interact, give it their time, and in return breath in the life you so lovingly created.

Love is a difficult concept wrought with pain and tears. Yes, at the end, it’s worth the pain, but you’ll have to sacrifice something to earn love. As an author, you’ll have to earn the right to bring to life your story.

Feedback

I’m sure there are a few magical people who can put together a story without help. I’m also certain most, you and I included, are not one of them. You will need to submit your work for feedback. Whether it’s through this site (check out the critique section), some other online platform, or a writing group, seek out feedback. Be brave. People will hate what you wrote. Some may even like it. The point is to get a sampling of opinions to see if what you’ve created works.

This is different from an alpha or beta reading. Feedback while you put your manuscript together will help you forge the right tools to bring your darling to life. Yes, you’ll get burned, but you’ll survive with an arsenal and the understanding to piece together what has been trapped in your mind for such a long time.

Flesh, and other bits

Plots are the easiest part of story creation. Like I said, there are only so many. You can collect all the bones and try to make a masterpiece, but when the art is applied, you’re left with some monstrosity. Stories require all of their components to be healthy. They need the flesh to hide the inner workings, the organs to keep the story alive, and the mind to give it a special identity.

We live in a culture of haste. We want things to be completed, consumed and enjoyed. In our haste to provide this, we forget about the art, the thing that makes a story special, and focus on the process. We become lifeless in our pursuit. How, then, an we create anything but lifeless stories?

Slow down. Behind every successful author there is a history of failures and growth. Focus on the craft. Learn how to create meaningful characters. Yes, more than one. Create a whole cast, create more than you’ll ever need just to master the process. Understand all the components and then layer the flesh so that the reader is greeted with something truly breathtaking. Something they can cry with, or laugh, or rage, or any emotion one would share with the living.

Yes, plot is important, without plot we would have a shapeless mass, but dedicate your skill to covering up the bones of your story. Give your reader something complete and alive.