“The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing which stands in the way… As a man is, so he sees.”
William Blake (November 28, 1757–August 12, 1827) – age 70
For writers, perhaps the most important element is his/her perspective or POV as we say in Hollywood. How she perceives herself and the world outside. While teaching graduate screenwriting at U.S.C in Los Angeles, I later added this in my first book, The Way of Story: the Craft & Soul of Writing. I annually told the students that if they forgot all else to hold this in their writing memory. Here it is: What matters most in a story is not what happens, ie, plot. What is matters most in any story is how what happens affects your main character: how his perception of himself and his relationship to others and to the world around him. This is how writers in any genre can release his or her message to the world.
While living for two decades in New York -my theatre years as an actor and playwright – I had the occasion to meet Jewish survivors of the WWII holocaust. What struck me most was the diverse affect this tragedy had on different individuals. There were those who never recovered and lived half-lives with a guilt complex or deep hatred which in turn affected those around them. Then there were some who deepened their own understanding of themselves and the world they lived in. Somehow they had transformed the horrific tragedy of Hitler’s camps into something good and would, in turn, affect others with that goodness and compassion.
The best stories – be they true or fiction – are those who follow this simple rule: that what matters most in any story is not what happens but rather how what happens changes your main character in some fundamental way. The best lived lives are the same.