Saturday, June 13, 2009

Organic Structure: Part One

What is it, why should I care--in other words, gimme a definition.

You know...I've been thinking about this and googling it, and looking everywhere for a damned definition. But I can't find one. Every time I come up with something I "think" might be organic structure, it turns into some obscure, overly academic or mystical touchie-feelie riff on finding plot in what you "see" in your head or channeling your emotions.

Three triangles in a row over a fulcrum, exploring your inner voice...? C'mon--anything with exercises is a turn-off. I don't want to light candles or get out a sketchpad.

My definition of Organic Structure:

Writing from inside your characters.

Pretty simple.

In genre fiction it's another way to say character-driven. Definitely the one-eighty of plot-driven.

Plot is what happens "to" characters. High concept. Elevator pitch. If you can explain it in ten seconds, you've got plot.

In other words, characters are interchangeable. Archetypes work well in plot-driven stories because they're a listing of character traits that tend to go together, sort of like saying, "I'm a Leo" rather than, "I'm a slightly chubby middle-aged birdwatcher with a fixation on crows and Trader Joe's chocolate-covered orange sticks."

General versus specific
. Organic writing is specific to your characters. Plot in organic structure can't be taken out and used somewhere else because "those" characters produce "this" plot.

If I take John (from my posts on Emotional Structure) out of his story, there's no way I can replace him with another guy, because if I do the story changes. A well-thought out, multi-dimensional character in an organic story can't be removed without serious damage to the story structure.

In a plot-driven story, the story events drive the characters--so if I remove John and insert Rob, a twenty year old with acne and a brand new truck, his "Rob-ness" doesn't really matter, what does matter is the "weight" of the story.

To carry Rob, the plot would have to override personal details.


First Blood.

In the first Rambo movie, Rambo is a drifter. Everything that happens builds on both his backstory and who he is because of that backstory. When he heads up into the mountains and does his whole poncho-survivalist thing, it's understandable because--yeah, well--he was Special Forces. It's concentric and circular.

All actions are based on who he is, what he did, what he became, and what's happening to him because of that. Because he was Special Forces he did "this", which produced this reaction, which is triggered by "that". Circles inside circles, unlike the more linear structure of a plot.

Organic structure is a bulls eye of concentric rings, each spreading out like ripples from a central character. An organic plot happens when the rings of one character hit the rings of another character.

The later "Rambo" movies are plot-driven. Although Rambo is still at the center of each movie, he can easily be replaced by Chuck Norris or Steven Seagal.

David Morrell, the writer of First Blood, and an excellent author, gave an interview about the last movie:

This is the first time that the tone of my novel FIRST BLOOD has been used in any of the movies. It's spot-on in terms of how I imagined the character—angry, burned-out, and filled with self-disgust because Rambo hates what he is and yet knows it's the only thing he does well.

He doesn't mention plot, because it's all about character.


Kaige said...

Any definition that doesn't require candle lighting or sketchpads is good by me!

Seriously though, "writing from inside your characters" and not writing to "interchangeable characters" makes sense and sometimes I wonder if I'm going at this thing from the wrong angle. Like I'm trying to force my characters into plots that don't work, because they're not generating them with their actions and choices.

Definite food for thought, Jodi. (hmm.. and my verword is tatersh... mmm....)

Unhinged said...

I really like how you wrote this, Jodi. As soon as I saw the title, I had a joke of a reply ready in my head--something along the lines of grain-fed cows as opposed to chemically-injected cows, or something.

But this is just great. And I love how you use characters and stories we're all familiar with to help make your point.


jodi said...

Kaige, I'm still struggling with all this. I think I write these posts because--well, you know that old chestnut about "teaching to learn what you wnt to know?" Explaining it (I think) gives it more form so I can figure out what I'm doing wrong (and sometimes, but occasionally...right)

tatersh? My word ver is warfull, which I'm kind of iffy about, lol.

*bowing* Thanks, Andi. I had all these jokes the other night when I was googling random words. Do you know organic structure brings up (as a definition) "where the legs join the trunk of the body", and I just about died laughing. :)

Alice Audrey said...

I had never before thought of First Blood in terms of character, but you're right. That's what makes it good.

I think you can have a very good plot-driven book, but only if the plot works in service of a theme.

Jeanna said...

Interesting, great definitions. The last movie wasn't very popular though, did you see it, was it any good?
BTW, only California cows are injected. I hear they do Bovine Botox.

jodi said...

Thank God I don't need Botox yet (maybe some collagen, but not Botox) *sigh*

I personally didn't like the last Rambo movie--it was a messy bloodfest, but the character was well drawn. The plot sucked kindof. It made sense in terms of--well, if you went straight from First Blood to the last movie, without taking the ones inbetween into consideration and at the same time, advancing the guy's age in real-time.

Hard to do when there's a whole culture of "Rambo" out there. I think they could have done more if there'd been a better director. Stallone wasn't the right choice. I think it'd have been better with Eastwood directing it.

Anonymous said...

hey i know it's been several years since you wrote this but i just wanted to say thanks i looked all over the internet for a decent definition and this is the first one that made any sense, this really helped with my summer work for AP lang course.

Jodi Henley said...

not a problem, Anon. I hate re-reading these old posts because it's been a long time, and I like to think I sound a little better now, lol. Sometimes, they're not so bad. If you ever get stuck and have a question, shoot it my way. These older posts are moderated and I'll find it sooner or later. Or you can just drop by my latest post. I'm pretty familiar with AP stuff. :) Thanks for dropping by.