Monthly Archives: January 2014

Scene Checklist

Checklist

Scene Checklist:

As one of the larger units of story construction, effective scenes make for effective tales. In his book, Writing Screenplays that Sell, Michael Hauge, provides us with a concise list of what to look out for in your scenes.

1. How does your scene contribute to your protagonist’s outer and inner journey? Remember the outer goal is extremely important in a story. Rumination (inner journey) is not sufficient to drive the visual thrust of your story. We need to see the protagonist engaged in outer struggles, if we are to understand his inner conflict too.

2. Does your scene, like your story, typically have a beginning, middle and end? Your scene ought to establish, build and resolve a situation. There are, of course, exceptions to this. Some scenes are short and are transitional in nature, intended solely to bridge other more important scenes, but as a general rule, this piece of advice holds true.

3. Does your scene propel the reader into the next? Causally linking one scene to the next at the level of the inner or outer journeys makes for compelling tales. In Outrageous Fortune, the scene of two women in the morgue is resolved only when they realise that the body is not that of their lover. But the end of the scene results in their decision to find him, which, in turn, drives the scenes that follow.

4. What is each character’s objective in the scene? Without an objective the scene is rudderless.

5. What is each character’s attitude in the scene? Each character wants something, overtly or covertly. (How does this want tally with that character’s need? ‘Big’ scenes ought to explore and reiterate the tension between want and need.) This want, together with that character’s personality traits, creates an attitude, a motivation. Additionally, characters bleed feelings: they are sad, nostalgic, angry, bored, scared, or turned on, etc. These feelings are revealed directly through dialogue or more subtly, through subtext and action. In Moulin Rouge Satin’s declaration that she does not love Christian, a lie she utters in order to save his life by having him leave, is shot through with irony, sadness and a sense of tragedy.

6. Do many of your scenes contain action, not just dialogue? Talking heads are best left to television soapies and past masters such as Ingmar Bergman. Of course, dialogue is perfectly acceptable in scenes, but stories benefit from the injection of telling action, from small acts such as the lifting of an eyebrow, to the landing of a punch. Imagine your screenplay with the sound off. Is the meaning of a scene still apparent through the action of your characters? If the answer is ‘yes’ then you’d be better off culling as much dialogue as possible. Unless you are Woody Allen, or Quentin Tarantino, your screenplay should not be talk-heavy.

7. Does your scene serve multiple purposes? Does your scene achieve as much as possible to keep your audience or readers emotionally involved with your protagonist and her journey to her goal? Does it reveal character background, motivation, conflict, anticipation, curiosity, credibility and identification or empathy? Does it contain foreshadowing, premonitions and the like? Again, not every scene can be cramp-packed with the above, but pivotal scenes clustered around and including your turning points, pinches, and midpoint, certainly can.

Summary

A scene checklist focuses our attention on the important elements your scene ought to contain in order to be affective.

Invitation

If you enjoyed this post, or have a suggestion for a future one, kindly leave a comment and let’s get chatting. You may subscribe to this blog by clicking on the “subscribe” or “profile” link on the right-hand side of this article. I post new material every Monday.

Pic by AJ Cann http://farm8.staticflickr.com/7454/9568156463_86087625dd_m_d.jpg
License: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode

The Future of Writing

Shades pic

Bright Future

There has never been a better time to be a writer. After years of concern that reading might be on the wane, especially for our attention-challenged teenagers forever bent over their smart phones and computer keyboards, reading is once again becoming cool, supported by the gadget revolution and the e-readers that it has spawned—Kindle, Nook, Kobo and the like.

Additionally, the virtual side of stores such as Amazon and Barnes and Noble have provided a shopfront where authors can sell their work directly to the public and let it decide on its merit.

No longer need we plaster our walls with rejection slips from reluctant publishers, nor struggle to find reputable agents willing to take us on. Had that been my only option, I’d probably have fallen by the wayside, never having had the stomach to pursue that route in the first place. My first novel, Scarab, completed some 14 years ago, shelved and quietly forgotten about, might never have reached the No. 1 spot in the science fiction/hard-tech category on amazon.com and amazon.co.uk, nor would its follow up, Scarab II: Reawakening, have seen the light of day.

Luckily, I entered the market at a time when Amazon had already provided an alternative to the traditional publishing route through their kindle reader. For me it was a no-brainer. The reading public is, after all, our ultimate judge: It is the public we have to please if we are to succeed as authors—in an economic sense, at least. Of course, now that one’s work rides the best seller lists, traditional publishers no longer seem as reluctant.

Another factor fueling the writing resurgence is the number of new authors the changed landscape had allowed to emerge. People who would never considered trying their hand at writing are now doing so. Although an exponential increase in the democracy of writing has allowed the birth of material that seems below par, it has also allowed amazing new talent to be discovered. Hugh Howey, whose series, Wool has put him on the map, has admitted in a recent interview, that the traditional route would never had garnered him the success his indie status has.

Last, but not least, as indie writing grows into a giant industry, a number of services are springing up to support it. The number of how-to-write and market-yourself books, websites, and story doctors is growing by the day. Editors married to traditional publishing houses are realising that their services have coin with indie writers too—perhaps even more so. Inevitably, this will impact the quality of indie writing, driving it ever upward. Not only will this benefit the reading public, it will also affect the quality of movies that are increasingly drawing from this pool of new talent.

So, my fellow indie writers, put on your shades, for, whichever way we look, the future of writing seems bright indeed.

Summary

The positive outlook for reading and writing seems set to continue, supported by a growing number of hardware innovations and trends.

Invitation

If you enjoyed this post, or have a suggestion for a future one, kindly leave a comment and let’s get chatting. You may subscribe to this blog by clicking on the “subscribe” or “profile” link on the right-hand side of this article. I post new material every Monday.

Photo: M Vegas. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode

How Conflict Leads to Character Growth

In order for the characters in your story to grow, Lagos Egri informs us, you must lead them into situations of increasing conflict.

Conflict emanates from contradiction. Contradiction results from the clash of two powerful wills, pitted against each other. Animosity, fear, jealousy, covetousness, hate, and overbearing ambition pitted against their opposites are some of the the ingredients that make for a powerful conflict.

Conflict will not thrive without heaping trouble and misery upon our characters. To rectify a wrong decision, they make another, then another, and a third to fix the second, and so on. This provides the causality that drives the story forward like a stack of falling dominos.

Some characters will eventually concede defeat. Others who are stubborn will never give up.

As a writer, your interest lies in characters who, by their physical and psychological make-up, are predestined to defy the odds and never give up. They are reckless. They try to achieve their goal, no matter what.

Such driven people, however, become desperate only after dire necessity forces them to a decision, and any delay in acting might cost them their lives, loves, wealth, health, or honour. Desperate necessity propels these characters toward their ultimate goal, which is clearly stated in the story’s premise.

The greater the conflict in the characters’ lives, therefore, the greater their growth. End-to-end growth, such as from jealousy to trust, or from hatred to love, and how it happens, makes for the most exciting and successful stories.

Summary

Conflict promotes growth by causing contradictory traits to collide and resolve themselves into an outcome, where one trait gains prominence over the other.

How to Write Your Moral Premise

Child writing

The Moral Premise:

Although I’ve blogged about this subject before, it’s such an important one that it warrants revisiting. Coming up with a good premise, after all, is the first step you take in creating your story. It is the seed from which your tale will sprout. Or, if you will, the essential core or meaning of the story you wish to write. It is also the chief theme of your tale. It is, therefore, as Lagos Egri informs us, wise to formulate your premise first, before you begin writing, because you must first know exactly what you want to say, why you want to say it, and how far you want to go in saying it.

Egri goes on to mention that if you intend to write a story about greed, for example, you need to know precisely what it is that you want to explore about it and what direction the story will take. Condensing your story to its premise, you have:

Greed leads to destruction, or greed leads to humiliation, or greed leads to isolation, or greed leads to loss of love.

Use the words that express your idea perfectly, knowing that it is the essence of your story. It may be brief and concise, or slightly more descriptive. Your premise should include the basic facts about the character, the conflict and its resolution.

It takes the form: Character/Subject + Conflict/Verb + Resolution/Object.

The first part of the premise should represent the dominant character trait. For example: honesty, dishonesty, selfishness, ruthlessness, false pride, etc.

The second and third parts should represent the conflict and its resolution: dishonesty leads to exposure, or, ruthless ambition leads to destruction, etc.

The premise entails a result. You, therefore, need to know the end of your story before you start to write it. This is because your premise depends on the outcome of the final conflict, typically between the protagonist and antagonist. Only then will you know if greed does indeed lead to destruction, humiliation, isolation, or loss of love in your specific story.

Finally, note that the premise encapsulates a moral aspect, which tends to dictate the kind of ending your story resolves into. In stories that resolve in an “up ending” good triumphs over evil. In a “down ending” evil tends to trump good. In the latter, your premise might well be: Greed can lead to a successful life devoid of suffering. You should be aware, however, that down endings tend to do less well in the realm of popular fiction, although there are always exceptions.

Summary

A premise contains the mortal essence or meaning of your story. It is the blueprint that informs the writing of your tale.