Monthly Archives: April 2014

Big Story Ideas

Tree with lights and man picking

Big Ideas:

Ideas. The fuel that powers civilizations and progress—social, political, economic, scientific, technological. Great ideas are innovative, lead to success, generate excitement.

And so it is with stories too. Hollywood calls such ideas High Concept. Pitch a truly big idea in Hollywood and producers and executives sit up and take notice. Suddenly, you are doing lunch with all sorts of people who want to hitch a ride on your wagon.

So, how do you get that big story idea? And just what is it, actually?

The truth is that ideas, or seeds of ideas, can come at you anywhere, anytime— from smells, sights, sounds, touch, distant memories. But is there a way to force-generate a truly big idea, cold, so to speak?

Here again, there are many prompts, many paths to the land of big ideas. News and documentary programs, magazines, websites, books.

As a science fiction writer, I tend to sniff around in places were great scientific ideas are already in the boiling pot. I recently purchased a magazine published by Media24, aptly titled: 20 Big Ideas. The magazine identifies 20 huge scientific topics that are currently in vogue:

The ongoing search for a Theory of Everything, Dark Energy, the Gaia Theory, Quantum Entanglement, Catastrophism, Chaos Theory, Consciousness, Artificial Intelligence—to name but a few.

These are the topics currently causing a stir in the scientific and related communities, through journals, magazines, television programs, radio stations, Internet forums, and the like.

Find a topic that fascinates you, explore the unanswered question surrounding it, and create your premise or log-line around that. If you are interested in the search for a Theory of Everything, for example, you should probably know that it has to do with trying to explain the entire spectrum of physical existence, from the very small-the quantum world, to the very large—cosmology. You should know that trying to incorporate gravity into the former is the crux of the problem.

The question is: what would the Theory of Everything be like? From there, you might think along the following lines:

What if a young theoretician working under the guidance of a supervising professor makes a startling mathematical discovery that will change the face of theoretical physics forever? What obstacles could you place in his way, and what would be the motives of the antagonist in trying to prevent him from achieving his goal?

The same initial process can be applied to the topics of Consciousness, Artificial Intelligence, and the other big ideas doing the rounds.

The next step is to develop the log-line, the structural skeleton of the story, and the one page synopsis along the lines suggested in numerous articles on this website, or others like it, before starting the actual writing of your story itself.

Summary

Big ideas make for big stories. Begin by tracking down big ideas through studying relevant journals, newspapers, conference papers, television programs, and the like, and create your log-line or premise based on one of them.

Invitation

If you enjoyed this post, kindly share it with others. If you have a suggestion for a future one, please 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.

Image: Andrés Nieto Porras
License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode

Three Acts, Many Stories

Three stories

Three Act Structure:

In his book, The Screen Writer’s Workbook, Syd Field contextualises the three acts of a story by reminding us that each act performs a specific function and answers a specific dramatic question.

The function of the first act is to set up the world of the main characters and to foreshadow their conflicts, as well as to establish the protagonist’s goal. The dramatic question of the first act is: What is the protagonist’s initial situation that compels him to embark on the story goal?

The second act is defined by the dramatic context of conflict. This act pits the protagonist against the antagonist by placing both in a situation of mounting attrition, forcing the protagonist to adapt his skills, and face his inner weakness, in order to achieve his goal.

The second act is typically double the length of the first act, and is orchestrated by a midpoint: the moment in which the protagonist decides on whether to give up on his goal, or press on against mounting opposition. To do so, he has to dig deep to uncover his inner strength and, perhaps, defeat hidden demons.

Paradoxically, his renewed determination inevitably results in an increase in the amount of deadly opposition he encounters along the way. The dramatic question of the second act is: How does the protagonist keep his head above water in the face of mounting obstacles and conflict.

The third act is defined by the dramatic context of climax and resolution. It contains the so-called must-have scene: the final and deadliest clash between the protagonist and antagonist. The act unswervingly builds up to this must-have scene, the outcome of which yields the theme: if the hero loses then that which defeats him becomes the theme.

In Othello, for example, jealousy leads the Moor to murder his wife, thinking that she was unfaithful to him. The theme here is: Jealousy leads to destruction. The dramatic question of this final act is: will the protagonist, and all that he stands for, carry the day, or will he be defeated by the antagonist and his world?

A story, then, breaks down into three acts, which correspond to the beginning, middle and end of the tale, each of which has a specific function to perform.

Summary

A story typically comprises of three acts. Each act answers a specific dramatic question.

Invitation

If you enjoyed this post, kindly share it with others. If you have a suggestion for a future one, please 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.

Image: Ian Sane
License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode

How to Manage Character Conflict

Boy with raised fists

Transitioning Conflict:

Staying with the work of Lagos Egri, and still on the subject of character conflict, this post examines this most powerful force that exists between characters. Egri informs us that there are four types of conflict in writing:

1. Foreshadowing (good)
2. Static (bad)
3. Jumping (bad)
4. Slowly rising (good)

Foreshadowed conflict should occur near the beginning of the story and should point to the forthcoming crisis. In Romeo and Juliet, the warring families are already such bitter enemies that they ready to kill each other from the get-go.

Static conflict remains even, spiking for only the briefest of moments and occurs only in bad writing. Arguments and quarrels create static conflict, unless the characters grow and change during these arguments. Every line of dialogue, every event must push towards the final goal.

In jumping conflict, the characters hop from one emotional level to another, eliminating the necessary transitional steps. This is also bad writing.

Avoid static and jumping conflict at all costs, by knowing, in advance, what road your characters must travel:

Fidelity to infidelity
Drunkenness to sobriety
Brazenness to timidity
Simplicity to pretentiousness

The above represent two extremes—start and destination.

Transition

You must have transitions between states. Supposing a character goes from love to hate. Let’s imagine there are seven steps between the two states:

1. Love
2. Disappointment
3. Annoyance
4. Irritation
5. Disillusionment
6. Indifference
7. Disgust
8. Anger
9. Hate

If a character goes from 1 to 5 at once, this constitutes jumping conflict, neglecting the necessary transition. In fiction, every step must be clearly shown. When your character goes through steps 1 to 9, you have slowly building conflict. Each level is more intense than the previous one, with each scene gathering momentum until the final climax.

Summary

Foreshadowed, slow-rising conflict, which transitions from level to level, is the best way to orchestrate opposition amongst your story’s characters.

Invitation

If you enjoyed this post, kindly share it with others. If you have a suggestion for a future one, please 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.

Image: Philippe Put
License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode

Story and the Dimensions of Character

Stone engravings

Character Dimensions:

In his book, The Art of Dramatic Writing, Lajos Egri points out that every object has three dimensions: Height, Width, Depth. Characters, on the other hand, have three extra dimensions.

Egri begins with the most simple of the three: Physiology. To illustrate how physiology affects character, he provides examples of a sick man seeking health above all else, whereas a normal person may rarely give health any thought at all. He suggests that physiology affects a character’s decisions, emotions, and outlook.

The second dimension is Sociology. This deals with not only a character’s physical surroundings, but his or her interactions with society. He asks questions like: Who were your friends? Were your parents rich? Were they sick or well? Did you go to church? Egri constantly explores how sociological factors affected the character, and vice versa.

The most complex of the three is Psychology, and is the product of the other two.

In an industry obsessed with high concept and plot, it is important to restore the balance by placing equal focus on character. According to Egri, it is character, not plot, that ought to determine the direction of the story.

The Bone Structure of Character

Egri provides categories for developing character. Collectively, he calls these categories the character’s bone structure. Filling out the specific details of each serves as a good start in creating a three dimensional character.

Physiology

Sex
Age
Height and weight
Color of hair, eyes, skin
Posture
Appearance
Heredity

Sociology

Class
Occupation
Education
Home life
Religion
Race, nationality
Place in community: leader among friends, clubs, sports
Political affiliations
Amusements, hobbies: books, newspapers, magazines

Psychology

Sex Life, moral standards
Personal premise, ambition
Frustrations, chief disappointments
Temperament
Attitude toward life
Complexes
Abilities

Summary

This post looks at Lagos Egri’s three dimensions that must be addressed in order to craft well-rounded characters: physiology, psychology, and sociology.

Invitation

If you enjoyed this post, kindly share it with others. If you have a suggestion for a future one, please 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.

Image: Ryan Baumann
License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode