“Never trust a storyteller,” Jonathan Gottschall says in The Story Paradox.
There are a number of reasons he says this but primary among them is that we’re always manipulating the story for maximum effect. We think about what details to emphasize and which to downplay. We spend a lot of time deciding which rock will hurt the most when we throw it at the protagonist. We dive deep in what motivates our characters to do what they do – and then we tinker with that motivation to make it more powerful or more persuasive. We’re gods, only meaner.
We’re never just about an ordinary person on an ordinary day. That’s not a story! That’s a sell-out, that’s a word cloud. It’s not a story. Why? Because the author hasn’t been treacherous enough!
When I was working on The Wanderer, I started off with an idea of how Lucinda, the protagonist, was what the Anglo-Saxons would call an eardstapa, an earth-walker, and that she would be trying to find a home.
I think anyone can understand that. But it wasn’t enough. As I worked on the story, I made it harder and harder for Lucinda to get what she wants. By the end of the process, she was no longer a naive girl going the way the wind blows but an experienced young woman compelled to sacrifice one life to save another.
That (in my opinion, anyway) is a lot more gripping. But I do sometimes wonder what Lucinda thought of the process . . . .