A diabolically simple answer to story structure questions.
Ever get approached by a mom, friend or relative with an offer to take handmade food off their hands? “Crap, I made too much of this dump pie / tuna casserole / hazelnut butter brownie loaf. Would you please, please take some home?”
You can give yourself the same delicious gift in your writing.
First, a disclaimer: if you know The Writer Coach paradigm, you know it’s all about the plan. We’re front-loaders around here, and that means don’t just sit down in front of blank glass and spitball at it. NO. Create your wonder-work step by step, building new work upon old. Turn an idea into a premise into a structure into an outline into a screenplay, presentation, webinar or whatever your final product is. Not only will your final draft be better for it, you’ll get multiple writer-gasms when all that early work starts to pay off in the final stages.
But to paraphrase Eisenhower (I think it was), once the first shot is fired, the war plan goes out the window. Just as you need to be structured and straited enough to build the all-important underpinnings of your project first, you need to be footloose and improvisational enough to abandon the plan when circumstances, intuition or inspiration calls for it.
A good example is writing the movie or TV scene. You’ve laid out the arc of your scene, which characters will be involved, how it begins and ends, and about how many pages it ought to run. Then you start to write, and you’re cooking. It feels good. It’s as close to something “writing itself” as you’ve experienced.
Well, don’t stop simply because the scene is over and your plan is executed. This is one of those times that you don’t drive according to the TripTik (see the Auto Club website for what the heck that is), you drive according to how much gas is left in the tank (or juice left in the Tesla). Don’t even pay attention to proper formatting. Drive! Stick a new scene heading in there if you’re writing a screenplay, or click up a blank slide for your Keynote deck if you have the presence of mind — just keep going.
You’ve just transitioned from writing to drafting.
“Drafting” is a term I use advisedly. It not only means that you’re writing off-plan; it means that you’re using the supersonic wedge of your inspiration to create a vacuum into which your stream-of-consciousness can flow. Just like the smartest drivers of race cars, you’re taking advantage of your speed and position to get farther, faster. But unlike those drivers, if you make a mistake (and you’ll make plenty), you can fix it later.
So hit the Pomodoro timer with a mallet and ignore those calls for dinner. This is no time to pace yourself. Go ahead and make too much.
You can always give the extra away later.
If you're a business writer, or even an aspiring screenwriter, the chances of your expressing your innermost self through your work -- and getting your audience to read or hear it -- are two: slim and fat.
That doesn't mean you should avoid writing passion pieces: oh, no! However, you should also endeavor to put a little piece of yourself, however small, in everything you write.
To understand the scourge we call "writer's block," consider constipation.
What, Roger? Another shit reference?
What can I say? I write from the gut, and there's a lot of poop in there. Besides, the metaphor is apt. What most people call "writers' block" is called by professional writers "another day." Regardless of what you call it, it's a constipation of the creative consciousness. Like digestive constipation, it's frustrating, painful, and ultimately paralyzing. Left untreated long enough, it can be annihilating.
The good news is, writer's block can and should be treated as any other form of constipation. Here are the simple steps.Read More
When it comes to creating character, the make-believe people in your writing say as much or more about you as they do about themselves.
Your selection of traits for your characters involves heavy judgment. Your "bad guy," through your conscious and unconscious effort, probably comprises more traits you consider negative than your "good" guy.
But what is a negative trait? One writer's "selfishness" is another writer's "healthy boundaries." My "team player" may be your "ass-smoocher." If we dial up the traits to extremes to make sure as much as the audience as possible "gets" what you're saying about your character, you may not have a character at all; you may have a caricature. That's fine for a comic book movie -- no, I take that back, it's not fine if you want it to be a good comic book movie.
If you're writing a movie that doesn't have "good" and "bad" characters -- that is, characters you want the audience rooting for and rooting against -- then this is a non-problem. What you're writing is closer to a cinematic novel than the vast majority of Hollywood movies, in which there's a clear protagonist who's either a hero or an anti-hero, and an antagonist.
Ordinary People slices life up the way it really is, where everyone's a victim to one degree or another. Not so "Sully," in which you know from the first thirty seconds (actually from the moment you see the poster) who the "good" guy is. And both are good movies, or so says this gentle writer.
But my point isn't about character creation at all. Me, I'm fascinated by how the characters we writers create reflect ourselves. They say every character in a piece could be construed as a different facet of the author. I believe that, since I subscribe to what I call the Grand Unified Theory of Selfishness (or GUTS), the soon-to-be-famous construct that says everything we do, experience and create is in one way or another about us. (Actually about me, Roger Schulman.) No matter how much I judge myself, pummel my self-esteem, tear myself down, I still know It's All About Me. I am the piece of shit around which the universe revolves.
What do your characters say about you? In particular, which of your own traits have you embedded in your "bad guy," and which made it into your "good guy?"
Your audience will never know this, but the answers say as much about how you judge yourself -- about where pride and prejudice play a part in your personality -- as about your onscreen avatars. And if your writing never does make it to the small or large screen, at least you'll have the benefit of that self-therapizing.
What do you think? Leave a comment.