In writing a true story, the writer needs to unite the essential parts of the story and nothing else. This is called “unity.” The action that a writer reveals in his story is only a small part of the action that really took place.
Selection is key
His selection shows his skill; almost any event makes a good story if the writer tells the proper parts of it. A skilled writer knows that he can accidentally spoil a good story if he makes bad selections. A common problem is to tell too much, to wander from the subject.
Suppose you are telling the story of two middle-aged men robbing a bank and the subsequent pursuit, which lasted three days before the police arrested the robbers. Seventy-two hours have elapsed during the event. The police might have spent only a half an hour each day related to the theft and pursuit.
During the other 71 plus hours, they were eating, sleeping, going to the bathroom, and other things unrelated to the bank robbery. The inexperienced writer tries to tell the reader everything that the police did during the entire seventy-two hours; he may, in fact, bring in other events entirely outside that time. The experienced writer, realizing that only the 1-1/2 hours contain “action” for his story, skims over the rest or omits it entirely. The same fault is evident in narrations overflowing with unnecessary description and explanation.
Don’t discard essential action
Another common fault is the opposite: to tell too little. The inexperienced writer is so familiar with the story that he discards some of the essential action. He might forget to mention that the police retrieved fingerprints off of a dropped piece of chewed bubble gum in the bank vault.
Later when the writer mentions the fingerprints used in tracing the bank robbers, the reader feels that the story does not make sense. A primary skill in storytelling is planning the story beforehand so you can predict how much or how little you need to write to reveal all the details of the story.
Condensing or expanding action
Unity in narration involves condensing or expanding essential action. Any writer can write a detailed story if he has freedom of length. And any writer can tell the same story as an anecdote, a short story, or a blog post. These other forms of expressing the story does not mean the writer omitted the essential action. It concerns the amount of space the writer devoted to each essential stage in the action.
We can illustrate the idea by comparing the difference between a full-length story and the synopsis of a serial story in a literary magazine. Both have the same amount of action, but one occupies twenty times as much space as the other.
The synopsis covers part of the action by saying, “Sergeant Johnson refused the bribe,” whereas in the story the writer devotes four pages to that bit of action, with dialogue and details to enrich it. We can make a similar distinction by the scenario of a screenplay; the scenario that summarizes the entire action of the movie may fill four pages; the full-length movie may take 150 pages.
These two distinctions show how skilled writers fit all the essential action of a story in a short space and consider the greater interest in detailed full-length narrative. They divide the action into a series of scenes or stages; they then select three or four of the most interesting and vital scenes. They narrate in detail these three or four scenes at full length, including all the action and conversation. They condense other scenes into synopsis form. The final story is interesting because the writer composed it almost of dialogue and action.
By Bill Hadle