I went through a period, not long ago, where I was getting major headaches on a regular basis. Because I couldn’t find the cause, I went looking for any advice I could to get rid of them. A friend happened to ask if I’d changed anything about my environment recently and I told her I’d rearranged my desk, which made my old chair unusable, and I needed a new chair.
“Have you ever cracked your back before?” she asked.
Uncertain, I requested clarification and she insisted it was normal. She sent me to a page for a foam roller, which I immediately ordered. As soon as it arrived, I put it to use and I will never forget that first crack.
The crack of alignment.
Aligning my back every day ended up making my headaches go away, until I could get a new chair that would fit my office. The lack of alignment in my back had caused pain that could not be fixed in any other way. Meds only dulled it. They did not take away the problem.
Stories are like bodies in this way. One wrong thing can put the story out of alignment… make it feel unsatisfying. I’ve seen many different ways to align story, and the one we’re the most familiar with is structure. (There are others, of course, and my favorite one to use is personality, because of the work I do with authors. But trope is probably the easiest.)
When we think we have to follow a trope in a boring way, though, we lose the sense of power that trope has. Tropes resonate not because they are predictable, but because they are aligned. There is some loop that is opened in the beginning that the elements of story fulfill in a certain way. Alignment is about feeling just right. Again, it’s not predictability. It’s structure.
Just like when wheels or spines or architecture are perfectly aligned. Everything works just the way it’s supposed to and it feels resonant. When a great story fulfills a trope, it can be completely invisible (like good posture). But it always feels like that crack.
I would encourage you, if your story feels “off” somehow, look for that click. It might not be what you would call a “trope” (because you might not write to trope–I talked about that last year, here), but it will be some promise you made, early on, where the characters’ actions support a particular kind of journey. And that journey, once we’ve reached the climax, is fulfilled. It’s a pattern. It doesn’t have to be “boring” because when tropes are at their best, they are invisible to the naked eye. But it does need to feel that crack of alignment.
It needs to feel #chefskiss complete.
I hope you’ll join me, in October, to talk more about tropes in the Anatomy of Trope class. We’re going to dissect and discuss tropes and how we can use them before, during, or after our writing process to make our stories into that #chefskiss resonance.
Becca Syme is a USA Today bestselling author of romance and mystery. She holds a master’s degree (psychology of leadership) and is a Gallup-Certified CliftonStrengths Coach, where she's coached 5000+ individual writers in success systems. Becca is the host of the YouTube QuitCast channel and a mystery author. She lives in the mountains of Montana where it is always winter and never Christmas.
You can find her website at http://rlsyme.com
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