posted on Apr, 18 2010 @ 10:27 AM
This thread isn't a story, just a few HARD-won lessons and observations on literary theory and process. I'm an artist (I'm in the middle of making
my first comic book, writing and illustrating), but I always wanted to learn how to write. Most stories just left me bored and I thought I could make
a better story. And that still remains to be seen...
Of course, everything is difficult for beginners and if I can spare the newbies out there some of my pain, then it'll be worth sharing some of my
observations. My apologies if I state the obvious, I'm not sure that I think like other people and my approach to things may be only useful to me,
but let's find out, shall we? Also, I would appreciate your insights into the writing process as well, I don't pretend to be a master at this.
Firstly, I have read so many how to write books, it is not even funny. I have asked writer friends how to write. None of them EVER gave me a
satisfactory answer. It is very frustrating listening to writers say that the process is mysterious, mainly intuitive, and if you use "a formula",
well, that's just not good writing (not that they could even give you a formula when pressed). I say BS. I'm tired of writers saying that there is
no formula, when intuitively, I KNOW there is a formula, I just didn't know the how's and why's of it.
This is a formula, my formula, that I have spent years of my life trying to understand. I think of it like training wheels.
Freedom in formula. Just like life.
Let's get to it. I'm just going to describe a simple story, like a comic book or script for a TV show.
There are 5 plot characters (and yes, I'm coining the term "contragonist", don't worry I'll define it): the protagonist, antagonist (A),
contragonist (C), antagonist's contragonist (AC), and contragonist's antagonist (CA). These correspond to 2 ideas.
The contragonist is that part of an idea that the protagonist is initially sympathetic to. The antagonist is that part of an idea that the
protagonist is initially antipathetic to. The protagonist IS NOT stable and enduring, but flits from being sympathetic to antipathetic during the
course of the story. The protagonist doesn't really exist in plot terms, but exists to witness the actions of the contragonist and antagonists. He/
she may react and act upon the C and the A but the C and the A are the important points. The real plot of the story is the action of the C of the
first idea turning into the A of the first idea and the initial A of the 2nd idea turning into the C of the 2nd idea.
Let's use War and Peace (if anybody wants to suggest a story to dissect with this method, let me know). Loosely, the contragonist is "good" (but
don't get sucked into this approach as it can be very limiting) and the antagonist is "bad". So, "good" war and "bad" war. "Good" peace and
"bad" peace. There are 2 A's and 2 C's. The good war turns into bad war, or vice versa. Same for peace.
Ok, there are 3 acts traditionally. The first and third are sort of book ends. The 2nd act is where the story is. The blurb on the back of the
jacket describes the 2nd act. I like to take an 11x17 piece of paper and make 2 thin columns on either side of landscaped oriented paper. The first
thin column is the 1st act, the large middle section is the 2nd act, last thin column is the 3rd act. Make a grid of 4 levels and in the 2nd act
section divide this into 4 sections, which should give you a 4x4 grid in the 2nd act. In the 1st act column, pick an arrangement you'd like, but
bookend the same idea and write say, good war, good peace, bad peace, bad war one over the other. In the 3rd act, write the reverse - because a story
is about change and each thing is turning into its opposite. So, in this case, in the 3rd act column, write bad war, bad peace, good peace, good war.
Now in the top portion of the 2nd act section each column should have a heading. The heading will be the order of the 3rd act descriptions: thus we
have in the 1st section of the 2nd act we'll put bad war, 2nd section bad peace, 3rd section good peace, 4th section of 2nd act - good war. This
will be a sort of filter for the events of this section (it could just be a single scene). So, in our 4x4 grid you'll get Bad war/ good war in the
1st square and the reverse in the last square. in the 2nd square going down, we get Bad war/ good peace. 3rd square going down - Bad war/ bad peace
Assign a character to each aspect of war and peace - 4 characters : character tied to good peace, character tied to bad peace, char. tied to bad war,
char. tied to good war. So let's say good peace is exemplified by prosperity, so maybe its a good businessman who is very successful (it could
literally be anything), bad peace maybe is constant fear- an abused wife too afraid to leave her abusive husband, she accepts peace at any price.
Good war just for simplicity's sake, WWII and bad war is Iraq war. Maybe the characters are veterans of each. (It's important to note that this
is a simple version - one might just have two characters, in this instance the protagonist would give voice to the contragonist POV.)
Create a protagonist, let's say a little girl, daughter to the abusive wife. It is her interactions with the the plot characters which make the
story. In this instance, the plot demands good peace turns to bad peace and good war turns to bad war. This is hard to get across, it is a
meditation on the plot structure, the good peace successful business man must turn into the abused wife, bad peace character. You know like in old
movies, the bad guy says, "You and I, Captain vigilant, ...we are not so different after all!" Also, the good war, WWII vet must turn into the bad
war, Iraq war vet . Please note, this doesn't make the Iraq vet "evil" and it doesn't make the WWII vet "good". It can if you want to play it
that way, but I think it makes it more interesting and human to just not think in those terms. Also note, the WWII vet could be the successful
business person and the Iraq war vet could be the abused wife! Or any combination thereof. All that needs to happen is that the initial C of the
first idea turns into an A and the initial A of the second idea turns into a C. This gives you one antagonist and contragonist at a time in the
story. The initial bad (antagonistic) war is by the end a contragonistic "good" war, and the initial good peace has become bad (A) peace.
[edit on 18-4-2010 by jcrash]