I was sure he would be back and, lo and behold, there he was, shaking me out of slumber like he had no respect for my basic human right to a sound night’s sleep.
“Now listen good,” he said. “If you don’t get it this time, then fuck you, and you can live with the consequences, because this is your last chance. I’ve got better things to do with my time than …”
“Alright, alright,” I said. “You don’t have to shout. I’m awake and I’m sober. And I’ll write it down when you’ve finished.”
He then delivered a short lecture on story structure. I had heard it all before, from other sources, but I jotted down the main points anyway. We tell stories to find meaning and impose order on the world. (Yawn.) All good stories contain a protagonist, an antagonistic force, an inciting incident, a crisis, a climax and a resolution. (Formula for the Hollywood dreck cocktail, without the alcohol.) The universal narrative pattern consists of thesis, antithesis and synthesis. Or flaw, challenge, resolution. (Ho-hum.) He prattled on about the basic elements of a good story.
“Where’s this going?” I said, interrupting him.
“Going? It’s probably going nowhere on account of your mulish nature,” he said. “Listen, Sonny-boy, I’m trying to advise you on how to write something that will actually sell.”
“I’ve got no problem with the formula,” I said. “Who says I’m trying to find a new formula?”
“Look,” he said, “I was about to tell you that although the formula is essential, there is more to it than that. A satisfactory story must also fit into a certain moral scheme.”
“Oh, like good triumphs over evil?” I said.
“Exactly,” he said. “But that needn’t confine you to happy-ever-after endings.”
“Huh!” I said. “Just so long as I put in some shit about the indomitable human spirit?”
“Right. People don’t want to be told they belong to a despicable species of animal and there is no purpose to their sordid existence. They want to be reassured that all will be well,” he said. “And they want to be entertained.”
“Ah, man!” I said. “Basically, what you’re telling me is that I should write what the vast majority of readers want, and that is genre kak.”
“And what’s wrong with genre kak?” he said. “If you’ve got a good plot, like I have just outlined, and you create interesting, three-dimensional characters, you can do a lot with genre kak. And it sells.”
“Okay,” I said, getting back into bed. “Thanks for the great advice, but now I must be getting my shut-eye. Please let yourself out the way you let yourself in.” And I turned over and went back to sleep.