Sunday, October 19, 2008

...skill-sets, mythic structure and GMC

I've been writing a lot, and working on my workshop pages. I think--although the writing is going well, the workshop pages are like scratching the middle of my back. It's accessible, but trying to get my arm over my shoulder and squirm like a contortionist? Yeah, well...the target is just "that" far from my nails.

Some things aren't easy to teach, not because they're unteachable. But because of skill sets. When I started out, I had a handful of tools, none of which meant anything to me because nobody had interpreted them in a way that made sense.

I used to go around asking published writers, and back then--published meant NY, because Ellora was just a twinkle--what advice can you give me? What one technique can you tell me that will improve my writing? (note the key word "tell"?)Everyone recommended Dwight Swain's Techniques of the Selling Writer. Which, sorta kinda made sense, but not really since it was a forerunner to Debra Dixon's GMC, and I've never been a GMC fan.

Brief segue...

I know some people swear by it, but--OCD as I am--I don't like it. I didn't know it at the time, but I worked on a macro level, and for true aficionados, GMC needs to be in place for every scene.

..brief example?

The return of John. Remember how he started community college to improve himself? I used him as an example of pov depth for emotional emphasis, but say I want to GMC him. Back to that scene where he's sitting on the bench and the girl sits down next to him. "Why" is he sitting there? (uhm...he's tired, or depressed? Maybe he's just feeling overwhelmed...) "what" does he want out of sitting on that bench? (I dunno...maybe his feet hurt? Maybe he wants to get out of Dodge and can't muster the courage. I dunno. Sometime in the course of the day, I wanted him to meet the heroine. It's my goal) and "what" stops him from achieving his goal?

He's sitting on a bench. He's got some turmoil. He's got no goal, no plan, he's just sitting. Over the greater arc of the story--John's character arc--meeting the girl is the first step of his journey to self-awareness. At the end, when we ride out into the sunset, "who" John becomes will be a person who can love and accept someone who loves and accepts him.

This isn't a conscious goal. His external motivation is re-training so he can become the person people tell him he should be. His goal is to go to school. His conflict is that he doesn't fit into college. But--that's not what the story is about.

GMC is external motivation. Unconscious desires or needs are not GMC friendly unless you create a series of GMC flow charts layered like a cake, that chart not just external motivation but internal, unconscious, desires and needs. Which is--right, a GMC slanted take on emotional structure.

It's good for hashing out plot issues but so are 3 act structure and turning points. there I was, asking people what to do--and everyone tells me the "current" hot thing. Like a couple of years ago everyone went to the StoryMagic workshops, or insisted Vogler's take on Joseph Campbell's studies into the structure of myths was the only way to do things.

lol--Jodi on Vogler.

I'm widely read in mythologies. What can I say? I was a bookworm. I enjoy them for what they are...good stories with lots of blood and swashbuckling. Campbell interpreted certain similarities in a wide variety of myth as belonging to a type of over-arching universal story structure AKA the commonality of mythologies. Which is true. I'm a big fan of Joseph Campbell. He's an easy read.

However, in the Writer's Journey, Vogler takes Campbell's study of monomyth, or the Hero's Journey, and in Campbell's words, "universal truths about one's personal self-discovery and self-transcendence, one's role in society, and the relationship between the two." And tried to apply them to movie structure, and through movie examples--to fiction.


Number four on the NY Times Bestseller list today is Lora Leigh's Mercury's War. It's about genetically altered Cat-guys and the women who "awaken their desire". I'm sure somebody can squeeze it into Vogler, but it's pretty much hot sex, and sex sells--I don't think Lora Leigh wondered whether bulging muscles symbolized some greater universal human truth.

Every time I hear the words, "the mentor" "the ally" and "the shadow"--I roll my eyes. In the latest edition of his best selling book, there's a chapter devoted--I kid you not--to "the wisdom of the body", detailing how the organs of the body are involved in creating the dramatic experience, and how writers can tap their power.


skill-sets are the current knowledge base of the person interpreting a given lesson, and if I'm sounding like a textbook here, it's just the way I'm thinking--when I get into craft discussions, I seem to be growing a little more formal. Basically--it's whats in your head when you try to learn a new skill.

If the hardware isn't a good match for the software, you're going to have issues running the program.

In order to teach a skill, you have to assume a certain skill level. Some people can simply "jump" from level to level. Some people need a little remedial work, and a band-aid fix just covers the problem. This lecture thing is hard.


Alice Audrey said...

The lecture thing is hard because the material is so hard. You have to decide which slice you want to disect and pretend all the organs that flow beyond it aren't of interest.

As to GMC, I'm a big fan - but not of the book. I learned GMC first from a CP who did GMC diagrams on all my work until I started working it out for myself before hand. It was the first step on a major growth curve. The second step was the discovery of emotional arcs.

jodi said...

you Alice--have an incisive mind. Yeah, I was coming to that realization and you just confirmed it. I need to narrow my focus.

And again--you're right. GMC is a building block. For what it does, it does well--but it's only one tool in the arsenal. :)

Jennifer McKenzie said...

I don't know what I do, frankly. I remember when Julia over at Mind Over Matter (the blog) reviewed "Resisting Command" and stripped back the layers of that story. I had no idea I'd even done it.
I had someone recently deplore some of the sex I had in "Edge of the Storm" as "unnecessary to the story", yet, I really had a purpose for all of it. Once I thought of it.
I don't think about what I'm doing.
My characters don't always share what they're motives are, or what they want or even their darn names.
Somehow, the process seems to be flashes of insight, scenes that flow without rhyme or reason.
I've realized that I like my books to unfold for me the way they do for the reader. It definitely causes problems and I need to polish the technique, but if I think about it too much, I'm screwed.
Example (since I'm blathering): I began a short story for the Liquid Silver Books anthology. It was for the new Sterling line which is NOT erotic. No problem, right? Except my heroine is a kick ass and take names chick who doesn't have any hang ups or guilt about having sex whenever and whereever.
So, I tried to reign her in.
I tried to hold her back.
And she kicked my ass from here to Sunday.
Yeah. I had to go back and rewrite whole sections because I wimped her out and she didn't make sense.
Loribelle laughs her butt off when she hears me talk about my characters. She tries to remind me that I'M in control.
That's a laugh.
Okay. That didn't have much to do with your post did it?
I need to read some Joseph Campbell. It's been years since I have.

jodi said...

y'know, you're just subconsciously (says Jodi the shrink) building characters to be true to themselves, right? It's not that you can't "make" them do what you want--it's that you created them to "do what they have to do" as people. Unless you uncreate that person, they are fully fleshed. They will act true to themselves.