The Heart of Good Story
June 2, 2009
So it’s been a long week. Doubtlessly you now have a whole notebook chock full of ideas and you’re well practiced getting to the heart and theme of each of these stories. What do you do with them now? Write a script? No. we’re not quite there yet. We need to understand our story more. I know you want to get into script format and just get busy cracking but believe me what we do upfront will help immensely down the line.
We have the broadest of ideas, perhaps a list of characters and the source of their conflict amongst one another. All-in-all this is a great start, but now we need to iron out the wrinkles and get a firmer grasp on our characters. Characters, after all, are the heart of any good story. Characters make the audience care. A great analogy was shared with me by a good friend and I’ll share it with you now.
Imagine your theme is a brilliantly cut massive ruby. Now place a flashlight under that gem. See how each facet of the gem throws the light in a different direction? Each character represents a certain facet of your theme. As individuals they are divergent, but they combine to make the whole theme (or the gem) evident. Your story is the flashlight, it’s what draws attention to the theme.
Nice analogy. I really want to write something though.
OK, let’s try this. In his book, “An Actor Prepares” Stanislavsky speaks about how proper understanding of the character is key to a believable performance. One of the most potent tools for understanding a character is the interview. A list of 100 character questions which cover every aspect of their life from socio-economic standing to the color of their eyes. A great example can be found here. Check it out, I’ll wait.
WHOA! WHOA! WHOA! I have to do one of these interviews for each character?
Yes. You don’t have to answer all the questions but you do need to answer some of them. I typically break it down this way: Leads (80-100 questions) supporting (30-50 questions) Set dressing (1-15 questions).
Do I really have to do all this?
Well, the answer to that all depends on whether you want to write a great story with great characters and powerful drama or just another broad strokes, cliched, comic story editors see everyday and dismiss just as quickly. It’s your choice. Like all things in life you’ll get out what you put into it. It’s go time, you have to decide between writing comics and just talking about writing comics. This is your craft and not everyone is meant to do it. Take it seriously or go home.
It’s also worth considering that all this preparatory work will typically be required of you anyway. Go ahead and do it now. Use it to write a great pitch and get cracking. That way when someone asks for all this homework you can just hand it in and keep moving.
Waitaminute! you just said two weeks ago the old way of soliciting work is broken. Why I am learning how to pitch to an editor if, like you said, they won’t see me without any previous credits?
A fair enough question and here’s the answer. What an editor will require of you is what any writer knows they should do anyway. Whether this is a pitch to an editor or a “story bible” for your comic it’s work you have to do. Even if no one but you will ever see it. Not to mention the fact that this work will enhance the quality of your final product. A product you’re producing to get the attention of said editor. Again, if it’s the same old cliches they’ll ignore it and you. Do yourself a favor and do your homework.
OK dad I guess you have a point.
Glad to see you’re coming around. It can be tough, I know, but if this was easy everyone would be doing it. We’ll get to scripts relatively soon. I want to make sure though when you get to that point you’ll write something really well that you can be proud of and put together a submission packet or do your own thing with it. I don’t want to see you invest the effort into your script which you then read and are forced to admit to yourself it’s just self indulgent drivel. I’ve done that. It’s no fun and the memory of that script haunts me in my dreams. One day I’ll go back a rewrite the whole damn thing, but for now it’ll have to wait. So will you for another seven days. In the meantime work on your character interviews. Create some great characters we’ll all love.
See you in seven!