Wednesday, April 3

Chuck Wendig On Straight Lines, Story Structure And Why Storytellers Need To Be Unconventional

Chuck Wendig On Stright Lines, Story Structure And Why Storytellers Need To Be Unconventional

I know, in the past, I've said, "You've GOT to read this blog post, it's amazing!" I try not to say that too often because not every good post is going to be oh-my-gosh-you've-got-to-drop-everything-right-now-and-read-this amazing.

This one is (article contains adult language): How Story Rebels Against Expectation, by Chuck Wendig.

Here are some highlights.

The Heart Of Story: Avoid The Straight, The Predictable: Be Rebellious

In his most recent post on story structure Chuck Wendig writes about what lies at the heart of storytelling, it's essence.

Straight lines, he says, are predictable and boring.

The straight path is what a protagonist is on before a story begins. Chuck writes:
It is the life everyone expects of her. Or, perhaps, the life that everyone demands. The line is situation normal. The line is plain vanilla frosting. The line is office parties and yearbook photos.

The line is conservative and afraid.
But a line doesn't have to be straight. We are creators, gods, in the world of story.
A line can be any shape we want it to be. A gentle curve suggests a slow build and a slide downward. A sharp peak is a knife’s blade, a mountain’s peak, a fast rise and a quick fall.
Sometimes lines go wild.
One line falls when you think it should rise.

One line ends when you think it’s just beginning.

Some lines are the snake that bites its own tail, a spiral, a circle, looping back on itself and becoming that thing and that place it was trying to flee all along.

Some lines detonate — a plunger pressed, a dynamite choom, an unexpected gunshot in the dark of the night, a sudden collapse of an old life, a death that is life that is rebirth that is death all over again, a massive avalanche, a soot-choked cave-in, a heart rupture, a giddy explosion.

The lines of our stories and our lives should not be safe, straight walking paths.

They should be electric eels that squirm and shock. They should be the lines in Escher prints, the peaks and valleys of mountains and volcanoes, the sloppily painted strokes of a drunken chimpanzee. The right line, the interesting line, is a line that defies, ... that is shaped like a middle finger aimed squarely at the expectations of others.
The line should not be safe, it should not be predictable, it should not be normal.

This is what the emotional energy of Chuck's post was leading up to:
Storytelling is an act of rebellion. Story is a violation of the status quo.

Everything the straight line tells you to do is how you know to do differently.

When you think you have the answer, defy it with a new question.

When the path seems well-lit, kill the lights and wander into darkness.

When the way is straight, kick a hole in the wall to make a new door.

When everything seems so obvious, close your eyes and look for what remains hidden.

Seek the wild lines.

The straight line is our anti-guide.
. . . .
The status quo is a known quantity and so it does not demand the attention of our description — we know what a chair looks like, a bed, a wall, the sky, that tree. The straight line is as plain and obvious as a pair of ugly thumbs. We know to describe instead the things that break our expectation, that stand out as texture, that are the bumps and divots and scratches and shatterpoints of that straight line. We describe those things that must be known, that the audience cannot otherwise describe themselves, that contribute to the violation of their expectations. We don’t illuminate every tree in the forest: just that one tree that looks like a dead man’s hand reaching toward the sky, pulling clouds down into its boughs, the tree from whence men have hanged and in which strange birds have slept. We describe the different tree. The tree that matters. The crooked tree that doesn’t belong.
I think the best bit comes right at the end when Chuck likens storytellers to shamans, but I'll let you head over to Chuck's blog and read that for yourself. I don't like quoting extensively from another writer's article, but in this case it was just so good I couldn't resist!

Please do head over to Chuck's Website and read: How Story Rebels Against Expectation, but be aware that it does contain adult language.
What shapes are your stories? Straight lines? Triangles? Zany, death-defying, roller-coasters?

Other articles you might like:

- A Pantser Turned Plotter
- Is Writing Your Brightest Fire? Guest Post By Max W. Miller
- 6 Ways To Write Every Day

Photo credit: "red snapper" by paul bica under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.


  1. If Chuck is going to write like he does, especially in this case, I don't think he can have any complaints about it getting quoted :D

    Didn't I read somewhere that Chuck is going to do some children's books? That should be interesting with his potty mouth...!

    1. "If Chuck is going to write like he does, especially in this case, I don't think he can have any complaints about it getting quoted."

      Great point! ;)


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