Okay, it’s not what you’re thinking. I’m not talking about a manuscript and some rabbit food on a sesame seed bun. What I’m referring to are the basic building blocks of any good story, whether it’s fiction or non-fiction. The acronym for this magic formula is MAC, and it stands for Motive, Action, and Consequence.
Think about it. Good stories hold a reader’s attention through action–things happen, they happen for a reason, and there’s some sort of outcome, good or bad. (Indifferent outcomes don’t generate any appeal, so they aren’t a good option.) How is any of this different from life experiences?
Little Lord Fahrquar wanted to join the swim team (motive). He begged Lord and Lady Fahrquar to let him participate (action). They gave in; he attended his first competition and was not just beaten but humiliated (consequence). This could be fiction or biography, couldn’t it? Of course. Now, how does little Lord Loser react? Does he man up, attend practice, work hard, maybe even learn how to swim and dive, then enter another race? Maybe. That would provide an easy application of the MAC formula. Or perhaps Lord and Lady Fahrquar pay off the judges to disqualify the other competitors so that their little lamb won’t have his widdle ego bruised anymore. Of course, that only leads to the little Lordling morphing into a whiny, toad-like approximation of a human, one who can’t stand up for himself. OR, maybe LLF takes an even lower road–maybe he uses his wealth to sabotage the efforts of those he must compete against? There’s another motive-action-consequence wheel a’ spinnin’….
Obviously, it’s easier to spin the MAC wheel when writing fiction; it’s all made up! Sticking to a script dictated by life and circumstance requires a different approach, one that examines the underpinnings of our past to find the motives. Sometimes it isn’t easy.
That’s all well and good you say, but *my* life just didn’t work that way. See, I had to work from the time I was, oh I dunno, sixteen maybe, until I turned 65. And….
I get it; I really do. *Your* life was different! There weren’t any motivations at all. You got up, presumably because you had to; you went to work, every day for about fifty years, presumably because there weren’t any other options (friends, hobbies, vacations, love affairs, illnesses, accidents–good and bad–birthdays, weddings, celebrations, or anything else). And now you’ve reached a point in your life where you want to talk about it. Right?
Okay, let me get this straight, ’cause it’s at the heart of this whole business. You want to write about your life even though there were no motivations, no resultant actions, and no consequences to speak of. Is that about it?
If the answer is “Yes,” then I hate to be the bearer of bad news, Bubba, but you don’t have much to write about. In fact, I covered it all–in depth–just a couple paragraphs back. My guess, however, is that if you give it a little more thought, you might just find a motivation or two in there somewhere. Dig for it!
You had to go to work at 16? Why? Because you wanted to, or because you had to? Because you needed money for a guitar, or a car, or college tuition? C’mon! If it weren’t for a near-constant stream of motivations none of us would survive infancy. Things happen for a reason–it’s simple cause and effect. Whether or not the reason is readily apparent doesn’t matter. What does matter, profoundly, is how we respond to the consequences.
I’m tempted to sign this rant “Captain Obvious,” except that I know some folks who can’t or won’t assign motives–real ones, anyway–to some of the most profound actions they take. The thing is, once you make the decision to ferret out those hidden or perhaps repressed motives, the real story appears, and those are the ones that probably need telling more than all the rest.