Unleash Your Inner Aristotle

Part 1 of “The Language of Story”

I want to talk about story for a bit. And to talk to about story, we pretentious pseudointellectual types like to talk about Aristotle.

Aristotle, as most people know, was a famous bisexual dead Greek guy remembered generally as a philosopher who was the father of scientific thought. However, this reputation comes despite the unfortunate fact that most of the scientific thought Aristotle expounded in his day (the earth is the center of the universe, heavier objects fall faster than lighter objects, women have fewer teeth than men, et al) were all generally shown to be bunk once he’d died and people didn’t have to worry about hurting his feelings.

While moonlighting as a literary critic, though, Aristotle gave us a body of dramatic thought (in a slim volume called Poetics) whose application has resonated through virtually every narrative art form the western world ever produced. Most particularly, Aristotle gave us the vision of drama as being comprised of distinct parts — the beginning, the middle, and the end. And even as that distinction seems a kind of no-brainer after the fact, its somewhat limited use as a tool for creativity before the fact has created healthy careers for people whose names I routinely take in vain if you can catch me in the classroom, but which I’ll refrain from posting here for fear of getting my ass sued. But you’ve seen these people’s books, and you’ve seen their seminar promos, and their software that tells you how for one low, low price, they’ll share with you the great secret of what Aristotle really meant about story, and what he didn’t know about story, and what he left out, and what he didn’t think about, and what he would have added to Poetics with the hindsight of having written for Charles Scribner or signing a three-picture pay-or-play deal with Miramax.

But no more.

Because what all of these self-aggrandizing, cookie-cutter structuralist, follow-these-ten-simple-steps-to-literary-success assholes and their spawn don’t realize is that within the teachings of Aristotle resides the kernel of everything needed to understand — and master — the shape and structure of story in any of its varied forms.

What these people don’t realize is that all their spurious work was pre-made moot by Aristotle two thousand years before they wrote it, because all Aristotle needs in order to wholly define the scope of contemporary writing is the tiniest of teleological updates. And in the series of discussions about to unfold in Scott’s blog, you’ll explore that update — a single structural writing mechanic based on Aristotle (call it a neo-Aristotelian dramatic paradigm; your friends will be impressed). In one deceptively simple structural mechanic, you’ll discover all the tools you need to write the story you want to write, the way you want to write it. You’ll learn to break away from the endless bashing, slashing, and rehashing of ideas, scenes, acts, chapters, arcs, characters, conflicts, A-plots versus C-plots, inciting incidents, controlling ideas, and negated reversals of the protagonist’s ghost’s tangible desire that are the bane of every writer who ever stepped shamefully into the “How To Write” section of a bookstore in search of the secret that would let the ideas and the dreams come to life.

The end results of the endless human fascination with story are a catalog of idea and emotion that has no bounds. Story is everywhere; story is everything. Story is untamable, unpredictable, and wholly unknowable. But just as the most diverse fauna and flora on earth all share a common structure of cellular life at the deepest level of their uniqueness, the nucleus of every unknowable story that’s ever been told and ever will be told can be cracked open to reveal the essence of what Aristotle was all about.

(This is all the setup to something that I’ve been looking for an excuse to do for a while now. Stay tuned.)

NEXT: School’s In