Tag Archives: writingprompt

How to X-Ray your Story

X-ray of a hand

How to X-Ray Your Story

In his book, The Art of Dramatic Writing, Lagos Egri provides us with a succinct way of x-raying our tales prior to commencing the writing of our story, in order to expose its essence, its genetic code. We do this by seeking to identify the story premise (or, what I call the theme, or moral premise—moral because it is the moral of the story and judges behaviour according to a higher justice).

Here are some examples of the (moral) premise:

King Lear: Blind trust leads to destruction.

Ghosts: The sins of the fathers are visited on the children.

Romeo and Juliet: Great love defies even death.

Macbeth: Ruthless ambition leads to its own destruction.

Othello : Jealousy destroys itself and the object of its love.

Tartuffe: He who digs a pit for others falls into it himself.

We can see from the above that the moral premise/theme reveals a character’s inner motivation and is intimately linked to his inner journey. The protagonist is relentlessly driven by this motivation to complete that journey. It’s important to note that the moral premise contains a direction and momentum, emerging from the conflict between the character’s emotions, other characters, and the world.

With that in mind, we can say that the premise = Character’s emotion + Conflict (or direction) + Results (the end).

If we plug in the premise/theme of The Matrix into this formula, for example, we may come up with: Self-belief leads to victory over the enemy.

With the theme/moral premise firmly in place, we can generate the log-line (the one-line synopsis of the plot, as opposed to the moral of the story), before moving to the synopsis itself, the treatment, and the fist draft of our screenplay, or novel.

But these latter topics are the subject of a future article.

Summary

The moral premise, or theme, is the force that drives the protagonist to complete his inner journey.

Image: Jess
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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

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