Story Movement

As the plot develops, the story must move. That is, it must progress from the beginning, through the middle, to the end. In order for the story to move forward, the protagonist must learn things, grow and change. The reader must discover something new and, one hopes, something delightfully interesting or fiendishly frightening on every page.

Many new writers (and even some old hands, alas) confuse motion with movement. They whiz the protagonist out of his office, down a conveyer-belt slidewalk, into a jet helicopter, out to the spaceport, onto a shuttle rocket, and from there to the space station and finally to the antagonist's antigravity-driven starship — all in the name of movement. But if nothing is happening except a recitation of various modes of transportation, the story is not moving at all!

The characters can run breathlessly in circles page after page while the story stands still. The reader watches, bemused, as doors open and slam, engines roar, seatbelts get fastened—and nothing happens. If there is too much of this in a story, the reader will put it down and go off to the medicine chest for some Dramamine. Just as physical action is not necessarily conflict, physical motion is not necessarily movement.

A story moves forward when the protagonist (and consequently the reader) makes a new discovery. All the rest is busywork, no matter how much physical action or movement a writer includes in a story.

A good writer convinces the reader that the protagonist had a rich and busy life before the story began and will continue to do so after the last page of the story has been finished. In other words, the plot should be arranged so that the reader gets the feeling that this character is really alive; her life did not begin on page one and end on page last. She encompasses much more than merely the events of this one short story. Perhaps we shall meet her again, someday.

Of course, if the protagonist dies at the end of the story, the reader cannot expect to find him again. But there should be some character who will live on after the story's end, mourning for the protagonist. This provides a sense of continuity, which is a subtle but extremely powerful method for convincing the reader that the story is true.

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