Friday, August 26, 2011

Setting, Situation, Scene… Part Three – The Conclusion

Once, as a child, I read a very forgettable book with a memorable bit in it. I don’t remember the book at all, but I remember this: one of the child heroes (it was a kid’s book, after all) was in the middle of a Lassie movie when the call to action came. When he whined about missing the end of his movies, one of his friends pointed out that we all knew how it ended. Lassie saves the day.

Yeah, the first kid replies, but I wanted to see how.

In my previous two posts, I pulled together the elements of a story. We have an interesting setting, some character interaction, an intriguing situation, and even some nice conflict.

Will our heroes risk their jobs and possibly even their position in time and space in order to expose their employer’s dangerous experiments? And how will the odd, one-sided romance angle play out?

If you think about it, gentle reader, you probably already know the answers to those questions. I mean, it’s not like you haven’t been exposed to stories before. Of course our heroes will pursue both the dangerous truth and the romance. Wouldn’t be much of a story if they didn’t.

But, if I write it all up well, hopefully you will want to stick around to see how they reach those answers.  To be a story, to be a good and satisfying story, beguiling the reader or viewer or audience with all the fun bits isn’t enough. It’s just a start.

But the story has to resolve. To reach a conclusion. To reach a good conclusion consistent with and worthy of what has gone before. And your audience has to care enough to follow you there.

And if I knew all the secrets to making that happen I’d be rich and famous. But I tell you this: it can be done.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Setting, Situation, Scene, Story (Part Two)

Today’s entry will make more sense if you’ve read Part One, which should still be available for review. Fair warning, and all.

So we have lots of samples of settings and situations, and even the start of a scene, but no story. But these are elements used in stories – so can we make a viable story from them?

I’d start with the scene because it has a pair of characters in it. Stories always involve characters. Always. Sure, I could tell the story of Olympic National Park, and I could tell it with conflict and excitement, but only if I can make you care about the park.  Make its successes and failures important to you.  At which point, it is a character. Never said they had to be human.

Our two characters from the previous blog are Frank and Angie. They’ve only just met, but she is madly in love with him. Awkward.  I need a place (possibly more, but let’s start with one) for their scene, and ultimately their story, to take place. Looking at the various settings I proposed before, I think I’ll take the weird office with the clones in the Mail Room.

I note that the reception staff are telepathic. So if I make Angie a receptionist, it starts to explain her falling for Frank before being introduced. But I also want something else going on, so they can explore their one-sided relationship in the midst of dealing with the crisis du jour.  From my list of situations, I choose the intriguing Charlie Brown lunch box on Mars.

But that’s a mystery, not a conflict. I need something that involves the characters and impels them into action.

How’s this? The weird office – let’s call it Mad Science Inc. – found the lunch box while doing commission work for NASA, processing Mars Rover data. Unfortunately, the lunch box got there due to an illegal and dangerous time/space distortion experiment conducted by, you guessed it, Mad Science Inc.

Frank is a low pay scale data guy who notices that the info being fed to NASA has been tinkered with. He gets to discover what’s going on, become involved in a cover up, and make a moral choice whether to risk his job by blowing the whistle (or maybe risk his life – there’s some strange and scary stuff behind the doors of our Mad Science company), and he gets to do it all while being trailed by a love-sick, telepathic receptionist.

That’s better. Conflict, character, moral decisions, action. Much better. Still not a story, though. We’ve got all the pieces, we’ve started assembling the puzzle, what’s still missing?

Join us next time for part three, the conclusion.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Setting, Situation, Scene, Story (Part One)

There are a lot of entertainments I concoct in the idle fancies of my delirious mind. I’m a fantasy guy, no question.

Sometimes I dream a world like our own, but somewhat askew. What would the world be like, I wonder, if there were licensed, professional wizards? How would they dress? What would we hire them for? Or, I ask myself, what would the world be like after some great, unexpected transformative event? And sometimes I work on a smaller scale, my wonders to create. What would be the weirdest job office I can think of? Where the mail room staff are all clones of the same person and the receptionists are telepathic.

And sometimes I’m more amused by setting up a mystery, or a puzzle. An unmanned Mars probe finds a Charlie Brown lunch box.  A homeless man in Detroit stumbles across a corpse that is not entirely human.

And, probably because I have script-writing experience, I spin out encounters and moments of dialogue.

   ANGIE: I just what you to know… I’m madly in love with you.

   FRANK: Uh, okay. Hi, I’m Frank, by the way.

  ANGIE: Angie. Pleased to meet you.

I could spin that into a full-blow sequence of events, with humor and clever interactions. I could easily waste an afternoon on it, if I had one to spare.

The  problem, from a writer’s perspective, is that none of these things are stories. They are, in order, settings, situations, and scenes. That they all suggest stories is wonderful. They are starters, if you will, story seeds.

But your audience, be they readers or viewers or listeners, didn’t come for the tease. They didn’t come for anything less than the full show.

So next time we’ll discuss how to give it to them.