Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Backwards into the future

You may (or may not) notice that, at the time of writing, the Unit X progress bar has not advanced. I wrote no pages yesterday, though I did fiddle a bit.

This is because I had come to a point in the story where I had an extremely complicated action sequence involving 5-6 viewpoints and that is not something it's easy to write off the top of one's head. I also had a number of key scenes to be included and the ending had to be quite specific.

So I spent much of yesterday afternoon planning, using a spreadsheet to create a kind of step outline, but just for the action. One column per main character and time as rows.

The obvious way to do it is to start at the beginning and work through placing each character's actions as you go along. In fact this is wrong, especially for complicated stuff, and I know better.

I am told there is a tribe in South America that believes we are travelling into the future backwards - because we can only see what has passed us, not what is to come. Luckily, as writers, we have the opportunity to know the future so don't have to write backwards (though I know some writers do).

Hm, that paragraph didn't quite come out right - but you know what I mean.

The best way to plan things it is to work backwards from the ending you want to see. This technique is covered in Jeff Kitchen's book "Writing a Great Movie" (as I've said before, it's a bad title, the book sounds cheesy, it really isn't). In the book this method is used for plotting everything from individual scenes up to the entire work. It's a method you can use to ensure that you have a logical cause/effect going on through the entire story.

I applied it to this long and complex sequence to ensure it: (a) makes sense; (b) says what I want it to say; and (c) stays focussed. Now I just have to write the damn thing.

Bill Martell writes action movies so he's another person you can learn a lot from, his take on revealing character in action sequences is very valuable - you might like to read his analysis of why Die Hard is the quintessential action movie. It's down to character.

What's on the turntable? "Fading Away" by Vangelis from "Bladerunner CD2"

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