When I first began thinking seriously about how stories are told I came up with a metaphor that helped me see plot and character as a functional model. My idea what that a character is like a pressure cooker. With no heat under it a pressure cooker is static, stable, unmoved. But add heat and the pressure begins to build. Subject the cooker to enough energy and at some point the release valve is going to be triggered or the cooker will explode.
Granted that’s a bit dramatic, but it worked for me because it had all the necessary parts. A vessel (character), energy affecting the vessel (plot), and a predictable, inevitable outcome (change/revelation) determined by mixing the two.
Because I was writing literary fiction at the time I knew any movement of character resulting from the build up of pressure might be subtle or slight, and preferably ought to be. In practice I fumbled the ball plenty, variously understating to the point of uncertainty and overstating to the point of melodrama, but in general I felt the model held up.
When I first read Writing in General and the Short Story in Particular I was pleased how my own model fit with Hills’ belief that tension is the best method of creating suspense. The pressure-cooker metaphor says nothing about surprising revelations or twists or formulaic models, but simply posits an inevitable progression. Take a character as they are when the story begins and subject them to stress. At some point any character, no matter how resolute or stoic, is going to show the effects of that stress. [ Read more ]