July 27, 2009

Character Development is Difficult

You've got this great character, right? She's spunky, a recent law school graduate, and she loves her Friday night writing engagements. Her only hope in life? That she'll meet the man of her dreams (preferrably, a firefighter), and live happily ever after.

Cool, interesting character. Now what? She has to grow, right?

Growth, in its most realistic state, is something that happens over fairly long periods of time. We have to experience life, react to it, process it, and then learn from it. Someone doesn't go from spoiled schoolgirl to serious, intentional scholar overnight. That's where the writer steps in. Our job is to tell the most compelling moments in a character's life. Compelling moments that build up to growth (whether positive or negative).

Sounds easy, right? Not particularly. We're suddenly called to be psychologists, in a way. We draw up characters so rich that they must behave as real people might when facing a similar situation. That means that we're required to analyze behaviors, motivations, and even thought processes.

It's not easy, but it's what we do. At least it's fun, right?

July 16, 2009

A Good Premise?

I'm working on a comic book with Nathan. We're just in the conceptual stages. He's working out what the illustrations will look like, and I'm playing with ideas for the story. Grabbing Mr. Egri's work (The Art of Dramatic Writing), I'm trying to come up with a premise for the story.

Where do I start? It's got to be something I'm passionate about. Makes sense, right? Writing about something I'm not passionate about is likely to come out dull. Characters need to come alive. I need to care about their struggles. I need to either root for them or against them. What's the point of writing about people that I don't care about, right?

I started my journey by looking at lists of virtues and emotions. To start, I'm not interested in creating a story in which the lead character tears himself apart. There is certainly merit in those types of stories, but I'd rather stay on the positive side of things. I want to showcase someone dragging themselves out of the gutter to succeed.

I started to hone in on some of the following virtues that resonate strongly with me: "Faithfulness," "Honor," "Honesty," "Integrity," "Justice," "Diligence," "Discipline," etc., etc. What next then? I need some sort of conflict and then a resolution.

Here's what I came up with:

Diligent pursuit of the truth leads to freedom.

What do you think?

July 15, 2009

"The Premise" is not just a theme!

Just had a great discussion with another writer regarding "theme." I had been using the term "theme" to describe what Egri calls "the premise." My fellow writer was quick to point out that a "theme" in and of itself cannot stand as a good story. Character and plot must be worked out first. Only then can the theme work in context.

Her point is excellent, which is why I believe Egri chose to call it "the premise." Why? Because the premise is made up of character, conflict, and resolution. Better said, theme, the characters, and the plot are all intertwined in what Egri would call the premise.

A writer writing about "love" as a general theme won't get very far without a solid plot and good characters. A properly formulated premise, however, will capture all of those things:

Love, unrequited, results in heartache.

The premise reveals what the characters must embody while it also reveals how the plot must be driven to its finish: heartache (which, you'll note, is the resolution of the premise!).

Man #1 loves Woman #1, but she loves Man #2. We can now hone in on our characters knowing that we have the basis of our framework. We also know the conflict (namely, that love will be unrequited), and how we wish to resolve the conflict (heartache).

What other examples might you think of?

July 08, 2009

What are you passionate about?

That's one key question for someone seeking to develop what Lajos Egri calls "the premise." It's that undergirding message that flows through your work. It's not something you stand on a soapbox and preach to your audience, but it is something that reflects the science of human nature.

Why is it essential? For one, because people naturally gravitate toward works that say something. Maybe it's simple, like "Good triumphs over evil," but at least it's something. The premise allows you to set characters in motion and watch them play out exactly what it is you're trying to get across.

So, how do you create one? Egri gives us a simple formula: character + conflict + resolution = the premise (all right, so that's my interpretation of his work). Start with something that you're passionate about. I like to slog through a huge list of virtues or emotions, things like: diligence, faithfulness, honesty, ruthlessness, jealousy, etc. Select the most meaningful one you can.

Now consider that virtue (or emotion). What result would that have if played out in a certain scenario? Let's take jealousy. Okay. What's the result of jealousy? It blindly destroys love! It festers until it destorys the jealous person and sometimes even his or her lover...

Guess what, you've just defined the premise of Othello: "Jealousy destroys itself and the object of its desire."

I think Mr. Egri is onto something, don't you?

July 01, 2009

Breaking Down a Writer's Task

I mentioned in the last post that I'm reading a book by Lajos Egri. I know what most of you (if not all of you) are thinking...who is Lajos Egri? I didn't know, either. In fact, honestly, the only reason I own the book is because a college professor made me buy it for a class (thank you, Dr. Esselstrom - the book is awesome!).

The book? The Art of Dramatic Writing. Mr. Egri focuses in on playwriting, for the most part, but the principles of this book are rooted in storytelling, which is what makes it so compelling. It's a look into human nature. An examination of life. Sounds like reading a psychology book, right? It's not far off.

As a writer, it is critical that we understand human nature. That we identify those things that make up life. Behaviors, emotions, connections. Those may be identified in some intense melodrama (e.g. Shakespeare) or they may be hinted at in action-adventure (e.g. Die Hard). Either way, you must identify those things.

I highly recommend Egri's book. It breaks down how a writer must behave in order to tell a compelling story. And, if we don't intend to tell a compelling story...why are we writing?

I'll be exploring my learnings more in the next few weeks as Nathan and I struggle through some of these questions in relation to all the Timeslingers items that we're working on. Stay tuned!