A story is the result of a central idea, the moral of the story, that has been turned into powerful and visible action and projected on the page or screen.
The story’s events arise out of a mixture of character action motivated by outer challenges. It is the means by which the writer first expresses, then probes an idea.
Another way to put it is that character action must be driven by a moral premise – a guiding principle that traces the consequences of the action of characters in the story, as they try to achieve their goal. We can also think of this as the theme of the story.
Think about the crime genre. What idea, or moral premise lies at the core of genre? How about: Crime does not pay?
But how does the writer embed this theme? Hopefully not through trite, on-the-nose dialogue, such as:
“You see, Frankie, my boy? It’s as I always said. Crime does not pay!”
This is too direct.
Rather, show a character committing a crime, then expose the character to the consequences of her actions.
“Every tale needs a clearly defined moral of the story to drive it. Its absence leaves the story rudderless.”
The television series, Breaking Bad is an example of powerful storytelling that exposes how the crime of manufacturing meth, pushes those involved to lie, betray and murder.
Additionally, great storytelling explores the theme or moral idea from differing perspectives. The protagonist represents one perspective. The antagonist another. The supporting cast of characters still more. The author’s judgment, arguably the defining perspective, is revealed only at the end of the story when the theme is proven – when the protagonist, representing a specific moral view, wins or loses the fight with the antagonist.
In The Land Below, for example, the judgement of whether Paulie’s decision to leave his apparently safe existence in a converted underground mine to reach the surface, can only be established at the end of the story.
If things go well for Paulie and his followers, then the theme of the story might be: Courage, imagination and steadfastness lead to freedom. If things go badly, then the theme might be: daydreams and stubbornness lead to defeat.
As with all stories, the outcome can only be established at the end of the story. It is only then that the reader or audience can understand what the story is really about.
Narrative events describing character action in pursuit of a goal culminate in yielding the moral of the story.