Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Branching Aspects of Core Events

…or why it is that I can’t seem to get away from academic titles.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking—not just about the workshop I’m currently writing, but core events. Someone—who if I could remember who it was, I’d give credit to—once said that the problem with “building” characters, creating spreadsheets and doing character interviews is that it makes you feel like you’ve accomplished something but all you have is a character.

Just because you know the character says, “sugar” every second word doesn’t mean a whole hell of a lot to your story—and what is the story about anyway? Is it about his favorite childhood toy, or his first day on the job, or his fondness for purple?

There’s a disconnect, because as that forgotten guy (does anyone know who I’m talking about?) said, then you just sit there, feeling all accomplished and blocked—like everyone else is racing ahead and you’re a loser or something.

Uhm, you can tell I’m paraphrasing. I don’t think it was a blogger. Most non-bloggers are painfully edited and don’t say things like “loser.” But you know what I mean.

Where’s the missing piece that shows you to connect the character to the plot? And I don’t mean in a turning points, why the hell isn’t my character doing what I want kind of way. I mean in the “what happens next” kind of way. There are many probable core events for a story, but only a handful work for what you want to do with the story, and if that sounds like the end of my last video, yes—it is. I wanted to do a third video to explain it better, but video is hard when the words are tumbling out.

Take two core events. Both important to a character because of some kind of self-realization.

A good example would be work and school.

If you’ve had a good, solid work career and one of your key memories is the day you walked into your “new” corner office—the one with the windows and polished mahogany desk—and realize you are that good. And you’re not just “that good”, but the best, all the thoughts associated with work—how you view yourself as a worker, your abilities. How you walk, talk and conduct yourself in connection with work and your personal life flow out of the fact that you “know” you’re good. And not just good, but the best.

You walk straight and tall, you dress well. You look people in the eye and when you interact, confidence makes you so attractive it doesn’t matter how you really look.
Fast forward to the day you realize you have enough money. The topper on your cake would be that English degree you always wanted. You go to school at night.

The last time you were in school, Regan was president. People don’t know you. When they look at you they don’t see “successful businessman” they see old. Why “don’t” you have that English degree? Could it be that you didn’t sync with formal learning? Maybe you didn’t get along with the teachers. It could be a lot of things, but all of a sudden things are coming back and you remember the day you argued with your freshman English teacher and he told you in no uncertain terms that you couldn’t write.

It could have been that the teacher was having an off day, or something else was going on, but—it hit you in the most vulnerable part of your psyche and you dropped out a short time later.

Going back to school triggers that core event. And for the purposes of this story, you hear, “You can’t write.” Over and over again. It doesn’t matter that you’ve reached the top in your chosen field. The minute you walk into that classroom, you’re back in that teacher’s office, re-living the heat, smelling the chalk—remembering exactly how it felt to get the legs kicked out from under you.

Your shoulders start to round, you don’t look people in the eye. You can’t think. You start to feel self-conscious. Maybe people are right, maybe you are old, maybe that English degree is stupid. Maybe you were wrong to think you could be successful at anything.

It’s self-talk.

And it’s a core event.

The psychological reason you react to things in your story in a certain way. Core events aren’t just one thing, they are the one thing you picked out of many things to focus your character in the story you’re working on.

If you want a strong action hero type, who are you going to pick? The guy with the office, or the guy hunched over, chewing his pencil in the back of class?


deanna said...

You have that ability to put your character in a spot that pushes that kind of button and brings about a crisis. If I could do that, I could write fiction. Anyway, I know your workshop-goers are getting the essence of good storytelling. Just be God and make people suffer (not randomly, though; for a reason). ;o)

jodi said...

lol, Deanna...sometimes I wonder if I was speaking the truth when I said I was creating the Theory and Practice of Pantsing in 2000 easy lessons. If nothing else, they're getting a way to understand what creates writer's block in a character-driven story. *sigh* Only another 1993 posts to go.