Thursday, July 31, 2008

A Writing Process #2: Running with Aristotle

I have given my new work-in-progress the working title "Running", I always like to have a snappy title I can use to refer to things.

Although "Running" is intended to be a collaborative work I'm really liking the way it's shaping up and it'll be fine even if the company don't like the idea. (I'm all fired up and can't hang around for their response, the muse has grabbed me by the short and curlies and shoved me in front of the computer ... well, notepad in this case.)

Because of the way this story came about I'm working my way through Jeff Kitchen's writing tools from his "Writing a Great Movie" book. Yesterday I attacked with the 36 Dramatic Situations which began to give me a handle on character and relationships.

This evening I started reading through his introduction and came across his reference to Aristotle's "Unity of Action". This comes up in other guises when people talk about scenes, characters, dialogue, sequences and so on being irrelevant. The idea is that the work you create must have a "Unity of Action" every part of it must be part of the whole such that if you were to remove it it would damage the whole.

If something can be removed without affecting the whole then it's redundant and should be cut. (In "Une Nuit a Paris" I have a redundant character who's for the chop next draft.) But you can apply this rule right from the start, Jeff Kitchen expresses it as: "A Single Action; A Single Character; A Single Result".

But my conception of "Running" has two lead characters, I could break the rule but I've learned that my expertise is not yet sufficient. So I decide the protagonist will be Rebecca while her brother, John, can serve to express the next bit of plot construction.

Writing gurus often talk about things like "turning points" particularly in reference to the switch from Act 1 into Act 2. Aristotle doesn't. He has "Dilemma", the two lemmas. The best way to express it is the "damned if you do damned if you don't" situation.

Lots of screenwriting books use "Back to the Future" as a superb example of screenwriting craftsmanship. Jeff Kitchen doesn't, so I will to illustrate. If you take "turning point" as your move from Act 1 to Act 2 then most people would suggest that when Marty McFly goes back to 1955 that's the turning point, his world is upset. As Speilberg puts it his life's equilibrium is all messed up.

Of course he thinks that the Doc has been shot and he needs to get back to save him, but time is not an issue at this point, he has all the time in the world.

But that's not a dilemma. All he has to do is find the Doc and let him get the car running to send him back. Not easy, but not a huge challenge. But what happens shortly after? He screws up his own past such that though he must get back to the future, he can't until he fixes the relationship between his mother and father to be. Dilemma. Complicated by the fact that his mother wants (in the biblical sense) him.

A dilemma is also measured by its stakes: and in BttF the stakes couldn't be higher: If he fails then he ceases to exist.

So, I read through the use of Dilemma as a tool (which can be applied to an existing script as well as used when creating a new one) and applied it to Running. It's another brainstorming exercise identifying the dilemma and then working out all its ramifications.

As a result I've got a really good idea about the main character, Rebecca, and her dilemma (John will dramatise one side while she can express the other). And more plot ideas have been falling out into my lap. This is good stuff.

What's on the turntable? "Incantations Part Two" by Mike Oldfield from "Incantations". Part Two (and Part Four) feature Maddy Prior, the singer from the folk-rock band Steeleye Span (who also recently reformed - along with Pentangle - for their 40th anniversary tour).

I may have mentioned my fondness for 70s Prog Rock. This isn't really Prog Rock, it's something else. Mike Oldfield wanted to create "classical music" in a rock mode (a bit like the 70s/80s band Renaissance, only less "pop"). It's not "easy" music; he loves strange rhythmic patterns, and so do I.

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