Writing Lecture/Objective Six
Something Unique and Drawing a Diagram
I love to use examples of things I have read. Recently in the class I had a student who wanted to use the Workshop as an opportunity to develop a sequel to a novel he had already written. There were some problems with this because while he didn't realize it the characters and story line had already hardened in his mind.
As I read his initial vignettes it became clear that while he was struggling to adapt his material to the requirements of the lesson his story was no longer fluid and his characters were no longer plastic. After reading the third vignette I shook my head and told him this approach he had chosen was not working. Since he was my best friend at WDC I hated to be the bearer of bad news but I couldn't just let him continue on with a novel that seemed to be lifeless and stereotypical.
The story he was telling was a mystery and it reminded me very much of the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, minus the girl. It was well written but ponderous and boring. After reading about a third of the book my student came back to me and asked, when is this going to get good? I clapped my hands in delight because this was exactly the way I felt about his first three vignettes. They were stereotypical pulp detective, stuff I had read over and over again. I told him the book gets good when the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo shows up . . . that the author must have realized his story was going nowhere and backtracked into his novel to begin developing this enigmatic female character. I suggested he start over and begin developing such a character in his novel. This was not something he wanted to hear because he was already so mentally vested in his story line that changing it was very painful.
I strongly recommend that you read Girl with the Dragon Tattoo so you understand how a well written novel can be boring until an enigmatic character appears that steals the show from the Central Character.
When drawing a diagram let a stable of interesting characters reveal how the story line can best be expanded. If a writer were to analyze it, he or she might chart the story line on a piece of paper. I will use the Real Steel1 screen play example to explain.
1. Synopsis of Story - A down and out reprobate, who fights robots, is on the skids and reaches the bottom of his profession. At this point, he winds up with custody of his son for the summer. He is forced to examine his past and decide what's really important: his dissipated lifestyle or the love, respect, and esteem of his son.
2. Sketch of Central Character - A conman in his late forties is leading a dissipated life in an exciting world of fighting robots. He's an ex-boxer who has compromised everything in order to gratify his selfish needs and fuel his self esteem. He hustles, deceives, cons, lies, and finds no behavior too despicable if it will get him the money to pursue his dream of being a top tier Robot Fighting manager and promoter.
3. Wants Needs and Desires - Wants to be at the top tier of the Robot Fighting world. Desires the love of his girlfriend and needs the support shop she runs in order to repair his fighting robots. Needs money to support his professional addiction and is constantly scheming ways to get it.
4. Life Changing Event - His EX-girlfriend dies and he winds up with his son for the summer. When his son arrives, the CC must reassess his values. He sees in his son a mirror image of himself as a younger man. They share the same devotion to the sport of Robot Fighting. The event forces him to choose between the love, esteem, and respect in their father-son relationship or to continue his traditional character and behavior. The CC has totally compromised any values he might of had. His son, however, still has a sense of innocence, decency, and fair play. A conflict between the two begins to develop over principle and the question of the ends justifying the means.
At this point in the writing process, we begin to see the synergism between the components of a good story. It isn’t just one thing or an array of things but the synergism that is taking place between the parts that makes the story captivating. Using a diagrammatic technique such as shown above is a good way to see if the thread of the story has the components that will lead to its success.
Percy Goodfellow - Workshop Instructor
Links to The Exploratory Writing Workshop
Welcome Letter - "Exploratory Writing Workshop Welcome"
Introduction - "Intro - Exploratory Writing Workshop "
Assignment Overview - "The Weekly Assignment Overview Page"
Assignment Forum - "Classroom (Assignment Forum) of EWW"
Dictionary of Writing Terms "Dictionary of Terms"
Ms. Katz - Head Administrator