Monday, 5 August 2013
Tolstoy on tall stories
I'm Martin Lee, and I've been writing the part of Solomon White, the long suffering husband of Iris, or perhaps insufferable husband, if you listen to the opinion of other characters in the book, including Iris.
It's been an enthralling process, this collective novel writing business. I spend quite a bit of time in my day job thinking about the relevance of storytelling for businesses, and in the act of researching and reading around what august and learned people have said about the art of telling stories, I've ended up believing that the two most profound quotes I've come across are from John Le Carré and Leo Tolstoy. Le Carré said, "The cat sat on the mat is not the beginning of a story, but the cat sat on the dog's mat is." Beautifully, and succinctly, put. Without the 15 of us ever having overtly had a conversation about this, we instinctively all knew that conflict was at the heart of our story. And indeed you sense it in pretty much every page. Conflict between characters, and almost invariably conflict inside characters. I won't give away any resolutions, except to say that everyone is craving them.
Tolstoy's great quote goes like this: 'All great literature is one of two stories; a man goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town.' I love the simplicity of this. Over the years, I've heard arguments for there being any number of basic plots. 3, 5, 7, 12, 36. Pick a number. But I have a sneaking feeling that Tolstoy was right. Any conflict involves a journey towards its resolution, even if it's not a physical one. Although we wouldn't presume to think of our book as great literature, it abounds with physical and emotional journeys. And strangers abound too. Characters are continually in places where they shouldn't be, but shush...