Saturday, May 21, 2011

Four Story Forms

My son, who is also named Platte, wants to be a writer, and I think this is a good idea. First, since we share the same name I can accuse him of writing any of my books that bomb. Second, if he writes something successful I can take credit for it. It's a win / win.

His dilemma, like many writers, is where to start. Sure, "It was a dark and stormy night," has some potential, but sometimes facing that blinking cursor feels overwhelming. I often think back to something I learned when I was writing screenplays: almost all stories come down to only one of four forms...four! Four doesn't seem very overwhelming.

So, the four story forms for nearly all stories:

- To retrieve
- To stop
- To win
- To escape

Try a little thesaurus exercise with each of the above words. I'll just start with "retrieve".

Retrieve: Bring back, recapture, redeem, repair, rescue, salvage.

How many stories do we know about bringing something back (stolen items); or recapturing something (on a battlefield, an escaped convict); redemption (of fallen hero or a sinner); repair (being stranded somewhere, drifting in a space capsule); rescue (hostages, those trapped in a disaster) get the idea. All derivations from the basic "to retrieve" story form.

So if you're stuck on where to start that novel you're itching to write, narrow the field down to one of the four forms. And from there, with a little help of a thesaurus, dive deeper into variations that pose interesting, unique, or compelling dilemmas. Of course we're only talking about the outer journey here, the external action. But hey, it's a good place to start and hopefully get the creative juices flowing (also, just what are creative juices and where do they flow to?)

Thursday, May 19, 2011

On Story and Spectacle

If T.S. Elliot were a blogger, I suppose he'd start by writing "This is how this blog will start, this is how this blog will start, this is how this blog will start, with a whimper and not a bang."

Now, I don't want to presume to know the mind of T.S. Elliot, but I also don't want to presume my blog will begin with any kind of 'bang' -- for that you need some combination of celebrity, crazy, and paparazzi.

I got a call from a producer friend of mine today who is out in L.A. with Relativity, receiving various and sundry pitches for a movie concept I wrote the first draft for, called "The Legend of Santa Claus". The premise was simple: Santa Claus is a kind of hero without a hero's journey, so lets create something that draws on the various mythologies and lore of Christmas and construct an adventure neither blasphemous or ridiculous. And, heaven forbid, let's try to get some good old fashioned Christmas Spirit in there as well.

What my friend and I failed to realize is that Hollywood has become less about the story and more about the spectacle. So much in fact, that part of the pitch session included two seasoned screenwriters talking about a Nazi-styled blimp that is carrying a weapon of mass destruction that Santa and his elves must stop. Now, if you could promise me some kind of dirigible-based chase scene at the end, they might of had me. But seriously, I suppose Santa would be leaping from his flying sled to the blimp, climbing down ropes and jumping into the cockpit (I assume it's called a cockpit), wielding, I don't know, a candy cane or something, and knocking SS dressed soldiers out the windows to their deaths. Yep, this is how Hollywood constructs a story about Santa Claus.

It is also why I have shifted my attention from screenwriting to novel writing. Frankly, I'm getting tired of the spectacle and I want to spend more time in the story. Not that big, climatic kinds of scenes are bad, I just don't want them to be front and center and the rest just kind of shoe-horned in as an after thought.

So, I'll be blogging about my adventures writing, trying to get published, and how to work a dirigible into my next story.