Friday, December 2, 2011

The Dramatic Genome

You had pretty good luck doing the first few drafts of The Fiction Lovers’ Companion here.  Discussions with your publisher about the next projects has triggered the inevitable sifting process, looking for a place to begin, knowing from experience that beginnings are not always where you expect to find them, nor are they above the trickery of hiding, sometimes even masquerading behind explanations, history, and background, from which they must be extricated if they are to have any chance in the world.

All too often, beginnings like to hide; they are in many ways the equivalent of a shy youngster who is diffident, unwilling to be the first, unwilling to speak up, wanting more time to dwell in the fuzzy state of speculation, daydream, and fantastic movement of emotional furniture.

 The provisional title for the nonfiction project is The Dramatic Genome:  What Dramatic Writing Is, How It Works, and How to Write It.  You have a clear—if incomplete—picture of how this will work, clear enough to have allowed you to set down a seven-page proposal with a fifteen-chapter table of contents, and topics for at least one appendix, possibly as many as three.

Within a week of your literary agent sending it forth, the editor you wanted to take it telephoned you to say she was planning on announcing it for January or February of 2013, which means it ought to be in her hands mid-September latest.  You’d already produced one chapter to go along with the proposal.  Of course it was not the beginning.  Beginnings are likely to be found anywhere.  Beginnings are surprises.

Now, all you have to do is write the book you wanted to write, which is of itself as much of a problem as discovering where the beginning is.  Of course you want to talk about story and its strands of emotional triggers as analog to the concept of the genome, but you have to find your way into the material in a conversational rather then argumentive way, because what reader—least of all you—wants to sit through three hundred pages of argument?

At the moment, the proposal calls for a Preface describing what the book is, what it will do for the reader, and why you and your choice for a collaborator are the appropriate individuals to approach this subject. Once again, the proposal.  “The closest useful approach resides in [your] “The Fiction Lovers’ Companion.  The Dramatic Genome significantly adds [your collaborator] and the synergy of collaboration between [them]; it demonstrates individuality as the basis of originality in every aspect of storytelling.”

It would be useful to make the comparison between the biological genome and the dramatic genome with as much dispatch and emphasis as possible.  Under those circumstances, how about:

Every organism has a container called a genome, filled with all the biological data needed to build and maintain itself and define individual traits.  Story represents an integral part of the human condition, resident in all the senses.  It also has a bookshelf, filled with dramatic information needed to build and maintain a living story container.

Our purpose here is to help you recognize the dramatic genome pulsing within you, access it whenever you wish, and use it to tell the stories you create as only you can.



Every organism, including humans, has a genome that contains all of the biological information needed to build and maintain a living example of that organism. The biological information contained in a genome is encoded in its deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and is divided into discrete units called genes. Genes code for proteins that attach to the genome at the appropriate positions and switch on a series of reactions called gene expression.


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