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Creating an Imperfect World

I hope that you can see that perfect worlds and perfect characters are the bane of good stories. Devise a paradise in which all desires are instantly fulfilled and you will have no plot; create a character who embodies all required qualities and has everything that he or she needs and you will garner zero reader interest.

Having said that, if you want to devise a story from scratch — really from scratch, with no preconceived ideas — you could do worse than projecting the largest and most perfect scenario you can, like for example an ideal universe in which all is well. Think of your creativity as a lighthouse beam, sending its illumination outward onto a vast canvas.

The stronger the light it projects, the more ideal the scene it imagines, then the larger, darker and deeper the shadows and holes can be.

A universe might be utterly and sublimely flawless in its primal state, but in order to introduce action, interest, motion and meaning that relates to readers, at least one flaw must appear — the faultlessness must crack, and, on an elemental scale, the bigger, the better.

This is the groundwork of your theme: forces of a grand magnitude, containing deep-rooted friction, pervading every part of a created world. If you can then take the breadth of that theme and embody it in a metaphor — as, for example, E. M. Forster puts his theme of the meaning of Life into the metaphor of British/Indian relations in the early twentieth century in his novel A Passage to India — then you have the beginnings of a narrative that will be recognisable — and interesting — to readers.

If you can then make some original use of the seven character archetypes, each of whom represents some part of a spectrum of action or meaning, to personify different parts of your metaphor, you have the foundations of a literary classic.

Understanding all of these things means that great writing comes within your grasp: not just acceptable or entertaining writing, but writing that will exhilarate you in the creating of it, and which will grip, guide and move your readers and then live on through generations to enthral more and more people.

Read more about all of this in my books How Stories Really Work and Myth & the ‘Now’.


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