Conflict and character growth — the story in its essence

When you start in fanfic completely blind as I did all those years ago, a lot of terms catch you off guard. Some stories were stories and some were character studies and some were vignettes. I had to realize character studies and vignettes were parts of a story without a source of conflict in a study or without the conflict moving forward in a vignette.

I’ve met far more underpublished writers who will critique underpublished writers by pumping up their already amazing world-building skills. But if the protagonist remains unchanged and unchallenged, that critique assumes that the author will find an audience for work that doesn’t read for plot or character. (Or theme. Or emotional resonance.)

There’s only one commercial work known for its amazing scene work: Avatar. It’s a setting without a character or a plot the average audience has to care about. “Look at the beautiful scenery” only worked because it was rendered beautifully in 3D. If James Cameron squanders character or plot-driven narrative, he’ll bend the field in some way.

Most people are not James Cameron.

Literary work is not the absence of character or plot-driven story. It’s not just “nice prose” stacked up in chapters. Character growth in literary work is predominately internally motivated. Literary work must have beautiful language over emotional resonance that needs more than nice prose to create. Non-literary commercial work doesn’t even need nice prose to sell.

I asked multiple instructors when their grads were going to learn the story-building skills that were being taught as unnecessary. Silence. It is up to the student to understand UBC is wrong about craft to even see the need to improve structurally.

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