I consider myself a student of storytelling; last summer, I even worked with my kids to teach them Freytag’s Pyramid (with mixed success).
That’s why, when I heard Mary Robinette Kowal talk about her storytelling rubric on Writing Excuses (one of my favorite podcasts), I had to sit down and blog about it, despite it being 5 AM.
(Our dog Misty wakes me up early to go for a walk, so I’m usually for a bit around 3-5 AM before I return to bed).
Mary’s insight is simple, but profound. The essence of storytelling is to show what a character wants, then deny them that goal. That’s the source of tension. The end of the story either gives the character what they wanted, or denies it to them once and for all. That’s the resolution.
Immediately, it struck me that there is a classic 2X2 matrix of story types:
1. Character gets what she wants/Is happy = Happy ending
2. Character gets what she wants/Isn’t happy = Bittersweet ending
3. Character doesn’t get what she wants/Is happy = Twist ending
4. Character doesn’t get what she wants/Isn’t happy = Tragic ending
Personally, I’m most interested in the Twist ending, because it emphasizes what the character learns about herself in the course of the story, but a Happy ending will do in a pinch!
Life has enough of the bittersweet and tragic without seeking it out in my fiction.
P.S. In the course of Googling information, I ran across this excellent worksheet, which explores these issues in greater depth, and which I intend to use with my kids!