This is a real question. I know my style of writing, and I know what most of the experts say. I like what I write, but an honest appraisal of the work by any decent developmental editor would tell me in a few seconds that I’m not doing it right. So, in this, I’m kind of like the person who knows that smoking isn’t good for you but smokes anyway, because maybe it’ll be different for me, I won’t die wheezing in a bed of horrible complications of lung cancer and COPD. I’ll be different.
“I’m so Hipster When I Write: I Only Use Obscure Techniques Which I Immediately Reject When They Become Vogue.”
In Robert McKee’s book Story, he addresses the new filmmaker’s idea that they need to make their mark and create the movie that no one expects/thought of/ever made before. It must be avante-garde! The problem is that they never learn the classic forms and jump off into the deep end and make something that sounds arrogant and pretentious and flops. They didn’t do their work in the trenches making the normal wallpaper we know and love to consume. They had to think outside the box and it fails because they don’t understand how to think inside the box. And the box is what we are all buying.
Back to what I do and what I should do.
What I do:
- What needs to happen for the story to advance?
- Write that scene any old way I want with the advancing part happening.
What I’m supposed to do:
- Character in scene has goal.
- Conflict prevents that goal.
- Disaster ends that scene with no goal attained.
1. Reaction to the disaster. Emotionally reeling character, etc.
2. Dilemma. Two not good decisions offered up. Either one sucks.
3. Decision – Character picks the best of the two.
If you’ve been reading anything here, you know that I am conflicted with conflict. No, actually, I’m conflicted by outlining. I hates it. I don’t like it. I try to outline, but I get bored and wander off to see if there’s any Ding Dongs left in the freezer. [There were, by the way.]
That’s a discipline problem, first and foremost. But once I get into the nuts and bolts of outlining a scene, I’m all, “well, I dunno, I want this character to accomplish this point.” Boom! Okay! Good. That’s the goal.
BUT WAIT! They can’t have the goal.
So… what you’re really saying here is, “the result of the scene has to be the 2nd best decision the character makes because the first decision will be thwarted.” Right? Am I wrong?
Maybe I write the scene and I say, “the character wants a million dollars by robbing the bank, but will settle for finding a twenty on the ground,” which is maybe what the character wanted in the first place, say he just wanted money for a nice lunch. “Finding a twenty on the ground is not the character making proactive choices, you dolt!” say the critics. They’re right.
Change that to, the character wants a million bucks, but he’ll settle for beating up a customer on his way out of the bank and taking his twenty. It seems stilted to have to write a scene with a fake goal (they’ll never get it), conflict over the fake goal, disaster when they don’t get the fake goal, and then a dilemma in which you present the REAL goal/decision.
So Scene is really:
- Character has fake pie-in-the-sky goal that they think they’re going to get. Rob bank, profit.
- Stuff happens that the PITS goal ain’t happening. Bank guards, forgot note, forgot gun, forgot nylon stocking to put on head. Bank is having toaster giveaway that attracts lots of extra customers. Car won’t start reliably.
- Disaster. Bank sets off alarm, car won’t start, robber must get away on foot.
- Reaction. What can’t I even rob a bank properly?
- Dilemma. Run away from police or rob someone and take their coat/wallet to put police off on description.
- Decision: Rob nearby old lady for her coat and purse. (Hilarity ensues.)
Next scene could be that goal is to take ladies coat and purse, but she’s a champion in jujitsu, so she puts him in a hold. He needs to escape. Etc. Except that would be too simple, so maybe someone who is just learning jujitsu is nearby and comes to the aid of the woman while he’s struggling to take her coat, and they tussle. The REAL goal of the scene will be to escape.
The secret is: FAKE UNOBTAINABLE GOAL THAT LOOKS REAL.
I guess that I’m not good at pre-planning the fake-unobtainable-goal (FUG), and therein is my constant conflict, which is there is no conflict, no goal thwarting going on on a major scale.
Thinking it through this way, however, is helpful to me. Maybe if I consider each scene with the FUG in mind, and then map out the dilemma (which of the two bad choices the character will take), then the scenes will practically write themselves. And… maybe pigs will fly.
How do you do it? What’s your secret? Do you just write scenes, or do you carefully pre-plan each FUG and so on? This seems like a lot of work, planning three outcomes for every scene/sequel. Or do you use a different metric to build each scene that rejects Randy’s method, above? Do you ever write scenes that have an obtainable goal?