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Writing Lecture/Objective Two
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Discovering the Real Problem

In Buzz McLaughlin's book, The Playwright's Process, he interviews Patrick Shanley, a well known playwright, who explains:

". . . as fast as I can, I put what's at stake in the beginning . . . I am saying, 'Brother's and sisters I have brought you to this place because I am in terrible trouble and don't know what to do . . . And this is the situation and now I'm going to try and work (the problem) it out in front of you.' "1

What this problem entails will ultimately become the Dramatic Premise of the story.  In working it out in front of the reader, you have to bring the consumer to the realization . . . You know what I'm seeing on the surface is not the real problem. The text provides some clues, however Joe Bazat's (hypothetical CC) has some subtext issues that go well beyond what he is demonstrating and the writer is revealing.

In the screen play Real Steel2, which I often refer to, the CC thinks the problem is reversing the downward spiral of his luck, when the real problem is his guilt over the dissipated life he's led, walking out on his pregnant girlfriend, and a quest for redemption. This is playing out beneath the surface in the bigger back story and represents what the CC's problem really is.  This is often referred to as the Dramatic Premise (DP).  It is an invisible undercurrent.  In Real Steel the DP could be stated as, The single minded pursuit of self interest leads to an unfulfilled life.

The audience or reader loves to encounter this situation.  As a matter of fact a writer is well advised to . . . lay out what is at stake in the beginning.  Maybe not paint it on the wall but provide hints, like clues in a mystery novel.  A reader is constantly mulling over what is really going on, and wondering what the rest of the story is.

Now, this is not to be confused with a Want-Need-Desire which certainly connects to the DP but is something entirely different—I will be talking about that more later.  No, this is the backbone of the story.  It is when a character flashes back and cringes, when he/she utters the explicative, "Oh Shucks!" as a recollection from the past suddenly returns to haunt his or her awareness.  On the surface, it's all the politically correct stuff the CC is using to justify the direction his or her life took, but the problem really is the delta between the truth and the best possible light we cast upon our shortcomings and failures.  It is this tension between truth and facade that readers and audiences love to see. It is the spice that makes life fascinating and they seek it in their everyday lives as well as in the literature and media they consume.

The reason I start out with character rather than story line development is because I think the story usually flows from the characters and not the other way around.  Once the characters begin to emerge, they start telling the story from their perspectives.  This is why it's important to keep things fluid in the developmental phase of your novel to see who is going to emerge as the CC and in the context of the evolving story he or she is sharing with the author.  Trying to appoint the CC at the git-go can be like pounding the square peg into the proverbial round hole.  As an author, don't become so blinded in your preconceptions you fail to see the real CC and story handed to you on a silver platter.

Percy Goodfellow - Workshop Instructor
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1  The Playwright's Process by Buzz McLaughlin - https://www.amazon.com/Playwrights-Process-Learning-Leading-Dramatists/dp/082308...
2  Real Steel Screenplay by Jeremy Leven - https://www.scribd.com/doc/75695186/REAL-STEEL-by-Jeremy-Leven-Rewrites-by-Bohem...

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