Writing Lecture/Objective Five
The Before Snapshot
One of the things a reader or audience is looking for is growth and change in the central character. (CC) In order to gauge this evolutionary process, it is necessary to establish an initial image.
The diet and exercise industry accepts this as a central axiom. How many times do we have to see it before and after shots of people who lost weight or decided to start lifting weights?
In character development, you have to convey early on what the fundamental problem is that the CC faces, the Want-Need-Desire, then provide some visualization of physical appearance and clues as to the sort of person he or she is. As the story progresses, the reader gets to see the effect the change is having based upon the initial look they received.
There are several ways to do this. The first is through exposition and narrative. The writer describes the CC's physical appearance and tells a little about his or her past and shows and tells a little about what he or she stands for. There was a popular country song several years ago with a line You gotta stand for something, or you'll fall for anything . . . You gotta be a man and not a puppet on a string.1 Well, this is what the audience is trying to assess as they watch the central character in action and do their initial assessment.
A good story is supposed to begin at the good part. A person leads a life that is not particularly exceptional except for a moment or two where they stand out. For the most part, that life is rather uneventful and not terribly exciting. However, there are moments in most everybody's life where he or she faces a life changing event. The story needs to show this event early on and at the same time the type of person the CC was when he or she faces that event.
The screen play, Real Steel2, starts out where the CC is transitioning into middle age and it looks like his prime is on the verge of setting. He has led a dissipated, self centered, and selfish life. The writers of this screen play (novel) did a good job of showing a before snapshot. He is seen driving a dilapidated old cargo semi, sleeping in the cab, and his spaced is littered with empty beer cans. He awakens with a hang-over. We get to see him in need of a shave as he goes about his daily routine of going from county fair to county fair with his fighting robot. Then we get to see his gambling nature, his need to impress the ladies, and how he hustles to make enough money to put some gas in the truck and travel expenses in his pocket. The writers of this movie knew the art of story telling because the picture they initially paint is classical and provides a good baseline for the measuring and comparison of what is coming.
In a screenplay, the motion picture camera and recording devices are superb for doing this. There is not a huge requirement for exposition or dialogue. The audience just sits back and watches this CC in action, the way he moves about his space, the modus operendi he uses in his vocation, what it is that catches his eye and the things that motivate him from day to day.
In a stage play, this character would be less visual and language would be used to a greater extent to paint his character. This is the big difference between the two genres. In a movie the visual aspects dominate and in a stage play the words dominate. However, both use a combination of sight and sound.
In a novel there is no physical sight or sound. There is only imaginative sight and sound and instead of playing on the video and audio of a consumer's awareness, the symbols inscribed on a page feed into and illuminate the reader's imagination.
So the way the story is displayed in each format is different but regardless of media, a story is still a story. It has a certain structure, plot, and ingredients that are amazingly consistent and unchanging. When you are developing the story line, characters, and dramatic ingredients, it is the same regardless of what genre you ultimately use to spin the yarn. This is why a development process is so important when writing a longer work.
You must focus on giving your reader a before snapshot of the CC as he or she approaches a life changing event.
Percy Goodfellow - Workshop Instructor
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