My best friend used to badger me about the premise to my story. What is your premise? What are you trying to say with your writing? What's your character arc? Story arc? Where's Noah's Arc?
But my friend had a great point. Some of the best stories have something to say that usually involves the main character's arc: becoming the person she should be, like moving from self-hatred to having high self-worth. Or how Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet shows pure innocent love will die in the adult world, a very harsh statement, the real tragedy.
From my own experience, when I started to write Nightfall, I couldn't see what my character or story arc was. I'm not sure why, but it might have been because I was steeped in developing the plot, building the world, the characters and their traits.
One of the many great things about Harry Potter is Harry himself. His character traits seem normal: thin and not physically strong, wears glasses, has a scar, loyal to a fault and honest, isn't the greatest student. But he's special, surviving an attack from the baddest dark wizard, known as the boy who lived, a powerful wizard. In a sense, Rowling might have been saying that we are all somehow special.
My main character is the exact opposite when it comes to character traits, with a purpose, and I didn't realize this until several months ago after working with the character for eight years. Talon is tall, handsome, has luscious long locks—blonde hair—and is the commander of the most powerful military force in the provinces. Men fear him because he's never been bested in a fight. Women love him because they feel so at ease when they're in his presence. In a way, he's perfect. As the story begins, we immediately see that he has holes—faults, fears, and the same controlling issues that all parents have when it comes to his own children. As the story moves along, we see how gaping these holes are. Despite his perfectness, he, and in a sense all of us, are human.
It's a commentary that we are all equals with our own strengths and weaknesses. So it doesn't matter how special people seem to be, we have faults as well. And that perfectness that we seem to strive for, or look for in others, can vary a great deal. Kinda like saying a perfect rose has twelve petals and not thirteen because thirteen is an unlucky number, which is ridiculous. Are there certain traits that we gravitate to? Sure. When people ask me what I look for in a woman, I jokingly respond, "Four B's. Busty, blonde, big butt." It's ridiculous.
Whenever a homeless person asks me for money, I always respond in kind, whether I give them money or not. When a waitperson serves me, I always thank them. Even if I meet a CEO of a company, I'll joke with him as if he's my friend, which happened when I met the CEO of the company I work for.
He flew to various locations around the US to greet his worker bees as the newly crowned CEO. When he had arrived to our office, he was making the rounds, shaking everyone's hands in their cubicles. Then he and his entourage approached me, I introduced myself as Jimmy. Confused, he saw the placard displaying the name 'Lauren', who was absent that day. I was sitting at her desk because I don't have a desk at that particular building.
"But now I'm Lauren," I quipped, "after my sex change operation."
He and his entourage laughed and said, "You look pretty buffed for girl."
"Thanks to our health benefits, I've been taking steroids."
And no, I did not get fired.
But I do my best to live my life with that view of equality. Does that mean someone who is taller than me is better than me? Maybe in basketball (I'm not very good, so that's not saying much). Or are there people smarter than I am? Sure. But intelligence is very specific. I don't need to know how to build a computer if I'm a writer. I need to know how to structure a story, how to evoke emotions from words, what a character trait really is, etc.
As human beings, we are all the same. We love. We eat. We drink. We get hurt. We sleep. We love to laugh. We shit. It is the nature of being human.
Coming back to storytelling, I don't think you need to know everything about the story or characters from the beginning because it may be too much. We need to trust that the story will naturally come out and the technical (i.e. structure and grammar) and finer details (i.e. story and character arc) will be ironed out during the rewriting/editing process.
And yes, I'm biased as to what a good story is. Arcs anyone? But that doesn't mean that books like Twilight or Fifty Shades of Grey don't have their place. The market loves them. But will they stand the test of time? I'm not sure. There's a reason why the Bible and Shakespeare's works have lasted and still make their marks. There's meaning in them. And what is meaning? It means something. Duh. Meaning, especially in story, helps change our view of life. It's why we love going to movies. We want to be moved, to see another viewpoint of the human condition, ultimately to help understand ourselves. Do Twilight or Fifty Shades of Grey do that? I can't say. I've yet to read them. Even if they don't, is that important? Time will tell.