Thursday, May 5, 2011

Bring the pain!


I’ve started reading Story Engineering by Larry Brooks, and he has a refreshing take on how to craft your stories. One of his main tenants is you have to have a Theme. The theme is the thing you’re trying to evoke or to relate to real life, something to hang the structure of your story on. It’s really crucial to keep this in mind, especially if you’re a pantser like I am. What is a pantser? It means you write by the seat of your pants. The phrase developed as a reference to pilots at the turn of the century, as flying by the seat of their pants. There were no instruments in those days so they had to rely on their own senses for a lot of navigating and maneuvering, which could be very tricky. It relates well to writing without a strong outline, letting your characters dictate a lot of what happens.  There can be a lot of pitfalls with this approach if you aren't careful.



I had a very illuminating moment a while back in my current work in progress, where my character was going down a path that was making him question a lot of his feelings and motives and it was making him extremely uncomfortable. He wanted to change the direction of the story on me; it was that uncomfortable for him. Luckily, I realized the ramifications of taking that fork and I didn’t get too far afield before having to backtrack and force my character to man-up! I knew where the story needed to go because I had a strong theme and it kept me on course with only a minor deviation. If I hadn’t had the theme in mind I could have followed that fork to its logical conclusion and my story would have lost a lot of potency. I would likely have had to revise the entire end of the book, and it wouldn’t have been as rich a story in my opinion. We fall in love with our protagonists and sometimes we really want to listen to them and get them out of pain or trouble, but that is the path to a weak story with no Theme, not to mention boring. Theme is the lifeblood to an interesting and perhaps tragic tale, but also allows for those heroic moments that really bring the power to your story.


Good luck with your writing!


Clear Ether!

13 comments:

  1. Yep, I totally agree. I feel bad sometimes for my characters and want to end their suffering but I know I can't. Great post!

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  2. Pain is good. Although, I was kind of afraid (hoping?) you were going to talk more about whips and chains...
    Anyway, I know that throwing the things that your character fears most in their faces makes for the best fiction!

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  3. Yes, our characters need pain for tension. No tension = no interest for the reader. There is no easy way out!

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  4. You're Killing me Teri! LOL. Not my style I'm afraid. =)

    I agree Princesstilly, sometimes we have to force our characters to go places they don't want to. =)

    Thanks for stopping by and posting!

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  5. Great point! Yes, I'm not quite a pantser or plotter, but I have a general idea of the end point a scene/story needs to have. Keeping theme in mind can help us know where that end point is.

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  6. Yes, having a theme or purpose in mind really helps. One WiP turned horrific and dark in a way that changed the point of the book. I noticed a few scenes into the turn, tracked it back, then made a list of who had to be in the scene that went off-track and who could be in the scene. Made a few changes, ended up back on-track.

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  7. I loved story engineering, and am a dedicated plotter now that I get those concepts, but theme definitely makes decision making easier.

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  8. Once again, Todd. A stellar blog. I'm always interested in everything you write. Great job!

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  9. @Jami, I am trying to do more plotting, but without theme it's perilous write as a pantser! Thanks for stopping by!

    @Carradee Thanks for validating my premise! I'm glad you took teh time to comment! =)

    @Patrick I haven't finished it yet, and hadn't started read any of it when i started my WIP, I'm just thankful I was doing some things right and will have it read before I start the editing and rewriting phase, I know it will be helpful! Thanks for coming by and commenting!

    @Lisette Thanks so much Lisette! I'm so happy you liked it! =)

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  10. I was really attached to one of my characters, and then she had to die for the sake of the overall story. Knowing what the story was about helped with that, but I was still reluctant. It's hard not to get overprotective of your characters.

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  11. PS: Thanks for stopping by and commenting, and thanks for following me.

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  12. @Elizabeth I've toyed with the idea of killing one of my main characters, but my wife got really mad at me, so I chickened out. I would do it if the story demanded it, but I was using it the wrong way, to add some emotional drama. I hate stories with crappy endings, so I didn't want to write one. =) Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting!

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