Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Plot, Character and Emotional Arc

Working on my Character Workout mini-ebook for subscribers to my creative writing site (as well as trying to meet the deadline on my current screenplay). Of all the aspects of the manuscripts and film scripts I get to assess, Character is something writers get stuck on. But any guidance on Character has to include flagging up the need to approach the work with all the elements in mind because everything in a story has to be completely interrelated.

That's why so many How To Books can mislead. Focusing on the elements of writing as if each is a separate entity not only fatally dooms the success of the work, it almost always smothers the creative source of your unique vision.

And that's why I don't like the word 'Plot'. I use the term 'Emotional Plot', because this phrase implies simultaneous human feeling-and-action. The origin of the word 'drama' applies as much to novels as plays and screenplays. It comes from the Greek word meaning 'something done', and the ancient Greek playwrights thought of their stories as 'people doing things'.

The emotional plot is what drives the story - it makes characters 'do things'. So, focusing on the outward action or plot isn't going to get a writer very far in creating a compelling story. Instead of making the first question: What is my story about? A better question is Who is my story about? If you're not asking: 'Why are my character's emotional needs not being meet?' you get stuck. This question alone should be enough to start to generate the story. Creating character will lead automatically to dialogue, setting, structure, pace - every element of story-telling.

Approaching a novel or script through thinking about the emotional arc of the character is, for me, the most fruitful way to write stories.

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