A job is not a story

One thing a reporter really has to focus on (and which certainly applies to writing novels) is how to write a coherent story from the chaos that is life. Basically you have to discard 99% of reality and focus on the 1% that makes a story. For an event to be considered a story, it must be what is called newsworthy.

When people think newsworthy, they think it's the same thing as important, but there are many very important things going on that are not, in fact, news. For example, it is extremely important to life on this planet that the Sun continues to shine. But you do not see headlines every day saying, "SUN STILL SHINING," because that's what it regularly does.

I covered health care for a publication in New York City, and one of the things that happened on a fairly routine basis was that some random doctor would decide that he needed to become famous. Of course, if you want that, there are scores of extremely-reputable public-relations professionals who are more than happy to assist you by vacuuming all the money out of your wallet. These fine public-relations professionals would call me to tell me that they were representing, say, a cardiologist, and that this cardiologist SAVED LIVES EVERY DAY by providing cardiologic care to patients. He took people with sick hearts, this cardiologist did, and he made them better and SAVED LIVES EVERY DAY. Shouldn't I write a story about this cardiologist who SAVED LIVES EVERY DAY, because he SAVED LIVES EVERY DAY?

I never quite had the nerve to inform one of these outstanding public-relations professionals that they should call me once their cardiologist started RUTHLESSLY MURDERING PATIENTS, because that would be news (considering the personalities involved, they would probably have offered my words up as serious advice, and their client would have taken it). I did, however, point out that what their client was doing was not, in fact, news. Medicine is of course a noble and important profession, and I appreciate everyone out there who saves lives, no less than I appreciate the fact that the Sun continues to shine. But news? Someone doing their job is not news. It is not a story.

When I read a novel about a person learning a job and eventually coming to perform it competently, or simply performing a job competently without ever learning it, I feel toward the author some of those same warm feelings I once felt for those lovely, honest, capable public-relations professionals who made such valuable and pleasant use of my time. A person learning a job--gaining confidence and finding a place for themselves in society--is a premise and a character arc, but it is not a story. Someone consistently doing their job well is not even an arc. It does not matter if the job is a sci-fi job or a magical job or a spy job or even a cardiology job; you also need a plot. Harry Potter does not simply learn how to perform magic--he learns how to perform magic AND KILLS VOLDEMORT. That last bit is rather important.