Friday, October 30, 2009

Is writing democratic, autocratic, or fugeddaboudit?

The answer to the important question in story, What comes next? is more often than not associated with something one of the major characters wants.  The true decision is whether that something comes now, in the immediate moment or triggered something in the past.  You begin by setting up a scene in which one or more of your principals meet, preferably in some venue that poses maximal discomfort if not threat to each (thus even if it has nothing to do with the story, you'd consider setting a scene in a butcher shop or deli if one of the characters were a vegan).

Remember that each character is coming into the scene having just been somewhere else, the somewhere causing a dandruff of some sort or other to have spread over the shoulders of said character.  Individuals do not merely appear in places, they appear with emotional baggage of having just experienced something that will effect the resident mood.  Characters come into scenes also bearing expectations.  I've got this meeting to attend and I expect to be bored.  My supervisor wants a brief word with me.  I am already under the gun of a deadline and I know that the brief word of my superior never lasts less than an hour.  I have just come from that brief-word meeting to my encounter with you.  How do you expect me to behave?

One of the major purposes of a scene is to advance the story.  

All right, you say, advance it toward what, closure?  Perhaps complication.  Perhaps merely a demonstration that the characters cannot be expected under the best of circumstances to get along well.

They have just come from doing X, where they have experienced Y.  They expect this meeting to produce Z.  Now start writing.  With all these things in mind, do you follow a prearranged script--or do you let them go at it?

Your own take is that working from a script pulls you away from the spontaneous potential for discovery and detail, for the equivalent of Dustin Hoffman pounding on the hood of the car while crossing the street in Midnight Cowboy. Following the script while composing forces you to think, as in making sure you've got everything in you'd hoped.  

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