Sunday, March 11, 2007

Building a coherent story.

Writers write because they feel something deeply. There's an assumption that if you feel something deeply, it must be coherent, strong, unified -- a masterpiece just waiting for you to reveal it. There's something to this, of course. If you feel a pull to write, there's a core there that speaks to you. But I've found that the subconscious is a lot less demanding audience than moviegoers. To communicate to them, you need several kinds of unity.

THEMATIC UNITY means that you stay with your core issue.

PLOT UNITY means that the struggle you set up at the beginning builds and develops consistently throughout the piece, and that the ending is appropriate to the ending. If you don't satisfy this requirement, it almost doesn't matter what you do to please the audience. The piece will feel incomplete.

From previous exercises, we have:

The opening.

The ending.

The ONE WORD theme.


The ONE SENTENCE description.

Got it? For the next step, pull out your original description of your story. For today, just do one thing. Break it down into small paragraphs that each cover approximately ten minutes each.

When you have these ten minute plot beats, measure them against your one word theme and your one sentence description. Does this beat sound like a story about "manhood" in which "A young Mexican husband fights for his wife's honor"? Does it sound like a story about "love" in which "a young computer programmer finds the man of her dreams in a cafe"?

Now, the discipline is important here. If you look at a beat and say, well, no, I don't really see my theme or story, but I need this long to get Karen out of the factory job and into the drug-fueled gambling binge in Monaco." Or maybe, well, no, it doesn't fit my theme or description, but if I don't explain the intricacies of hedge fund trading here nobody's gonna get my story. Guess what. You don't have that much time. Film audiences demand unity. They demand entertainment. They demand you move the plot forward. Every ten pages. Period.

EVERY TEN MINUTES must move the story forward, and reinforce the unity.
This is frickin' hard. Do what you can with the piece now. If you just don't know how to get through a particular beat (part) of your story, just mark it with an X, and we'll talk about it next time.

And feel free to leave comments or ask questions below!

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