Monday, August 04, 2008

A Writing Process #3: Making Drama out of Crisis

Last Friday I was on the train back home. I'd found a "standard" class seat that allowed me to use my computer (I usually have a problem where my portly form doesn't allow enough room) however, as it turned out I didn't use it. I was still at notebook level.

I'm working my way through some of the tools provided in Jeff Kitchen's screenwriting book "Writing a Great Movie", illustrating as I go. My new work-in-progress has the working title of "Running" and it may be set in Canada but the city is not too important at this stage.

In the last blog on this subject I looked at Aristotle's first principle of Dilemma. After that he observed that the situation becomes steadily worse until you reach Crisis where the Dilemma reaches breaking point, at roughly 2/3 to 3/4 of the way through - the Second Turning Point of some gurus.

Looking at Back to the Future, the dilemma is that Marty must get back to the future (and now he's on a time limit) but he can't go back until he's fixed his parent's relationship. So where's the crisis? No idea, I'm making this up as I go along. Clearly it's at the "Enchantment under the Sea" dance. He kisses his mother ... that's not it ... Biff pulls her from the car ... his dad gets some backbone and floors Biff ... none of these things are Marty's Crisis. He must make them kiss, if they don't kiss he disappears in a puff of unsmoke. This is the Crisis, he's out of time and out of choices.

After Crisis, says Aristotle, comes Decision & Action. The protagonist has been squeezed by the dilemma and must make a decision and take action to deal with the crisis. Marty makes the band play by taking the place of their injured guitarist. They play and just as Marty is fading out his parents-to-be kiss.

At this point I have to mention a film that Jeff Kitchen mentions in passing on the subject of Crisis, Decision & Action: The Firm. The dilemma is that the protagonist is working for a firm of lawyers who work for the Mob. But the only way out is to betray client/lawyer confidence for which the protagonist would be disbarred (and the Mob would chase him down and kill him). Yet he can't stay. As you expect with a John Grisham story, the Decision and Action are tense and exciting while the final resolution is brilliant.

Finally there is Resolution. The Decision & Action don't completely solve the Crisis, they just handle the situation, the Resolution finishes off the Crisis for good.

So I went through my ideas for "Running" and applied these concepts to my protagonist, Rebecca. I had already analysed the dilemma so, using Jeff Kitchen's suggestions, I followed this through amplifying the dilemma, imagining ways that it could get worse and worse until it reached that Crisis point. Events that make the dilemma worse are the ways you fill up the second act while staying on track.

So I created a Crisis using these ideas, plus the earlier ideas I'd had, and from the Crisis comes Rebecca's Decision & Action and the final resolution of the whole situation.

The end result is that I now have a story, end to end. Some of my ideas have disappeared in the mix, while new ones have arisen. And there's a coherence to all the concepts which means that I won't be wandering off all over the place.

I have to say that I find a lot of this planning very tedious because I really want to get on with the writing, but all my experience tells me, and so does David Mamet, that the time and energy spent in re-writes is more usefully expended in planning. The more you prepare, the less rewriting you have to do.

What's on the turntable? "The Kids are Alright" by The Who from "The Ultimate Collection". It's all the fault of the CSI programmes, 40 Who tracks, lovely.

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