Jasmine's pond of dreams

Jasmine's pond of dreams

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The second step in mapping a story. Storyteller's Log 1-9-2013

We start by introducing a problem into our imaginary world of characters. This problem leads to our character taking acting and starting the story. 

This could be the infamous "inciting incident"? Doesn't the inciting incident just mean that it starts the story in motion? After you start your story, an inciting incident doesn't help you write any more. Does it? It's served its job as a signpost.

Therefore, "the inciting incident" doesn't help with one of my final puzzle pieces. It doesn't lead to causality. Now if there's a problem, that problem acts as a CAUSE which leads to the EFFECT. The character takes action to start to solve it in direct respond to the cause.

Stories are different than life for this very reason. Events in life have so many causes and effects that it can become so complex that you can't understand it. Stories allow us to see how things are connected in life, in a very simplified way of course.

The other side of a problem is that the character wants something. It might be that they just want to get rid of the problem, but usually they want something more. The problem might be getting in their way of what they want.

{Meta note: I don't feel this is very clear yet. I'm exploring this subject and I don't have all the answers yet. However, so far, it has proven extremely fruitful so far so I'm following my hunches. The following are more areas about "problems and wants" that I hope will allow me to penetrate the secrets of what characters want and how to use that information during the writing process.}

If you had three wishes, what would you wish for?
(Development artwork from Disney's Aladdin)

There's a problem with characters wanting something. Believe it or not, most people do not know what they want. Ask your friends what they want. Most of then will tell you what they don't want. Try it. Do you know what you want? Write it down. Now examine it carefully to see if it's really disguising what you don't want. It could be covering a fear. "I want to be employed." might be covering a fear of being unemployed. Compare that to, "I want to storyboard on great movies!" That is positive and specific.

Acting out of fear is not a place of power. (This is something that you can use in developing your characters.)

Now the classic hero's journey says that we meet a mentor. So what? I don't think that is the key point. What's more important is that our character, that we identify with, is offered a lesson. Don't focus on the mentor. Focus on the message. It can be abstract or literal, covert or overt, on the nose or cryptic like a zen koan. It can even be nonsense that hides greater truths. This lesson can come from any character or even a fortune cookie. Or like in LA Stories, it could be the billboard that speaks to Steve Martin. If you want a mentor that's fine, but it's the lesson that the character needs to hear.

And what happens, as in all good stories, irony rules supreme and the character ignore the lesson. You get to invent why they ignore the lesson, and the reason should come out of character. They might be too proud to accept help or they might be a know-it-all who really doesn't. It's up to you and your imagination.

Create your lesson for the character very carefully. We're setting it up for later use. Remember we're weaving strands of causality together. I am being LITERAL here not METAPHORIC when I speak of story weaving.

Let's look at what's happened on our chart. So far we have mapped a character who encounter a problem and things start to look bad. We're dipping into the -Y axis. We become afraid for the character. But when the lesson is offered we start to go back up to 0 or neutral.

During this time the character, and vicariously we the audience, need to SEE what can happen if the character fails and what could happen if they succeed. This shows how high they can go or how far they can fall. This helps us invest in the story and really root for our characters. It gives the story a meaningful resonance.

In the next blog, we'll see what happens in our story when the character sets out to solve their problem and achieve their goal. Here's a sneak preview. In this illustration, Iggy has decided he wants to make it big in Hollywood so he sets out to achieve his fame and glory. (Illustration from Iggy's Incredibly Easy Way to Write a Story, the primer on this subject.)

Before I go, I left a previous question unanswered. I asked how I could see the structure when no other writer could. (Remember, stories present a hierarchy of narrative questions, which need to be answered in order to move on to next bigger question.) I told you the answer was in the sentence itself. I could "see" it.

Why could I see it? When I grew up, I had a difficult time with language. I still vividly remember struggling to tell the difference between "the" and "then". So for a multitude of reasons, I turned to art and became a very visually oriented person. Language was second for me. What's ironic about this, is now I've written three books, and am writing a blog. Actually, I'm writing/drawing a blog.

The second reason was that when I was in a college painting class, I suffered painter's block. My professor suggested that I read Gregory Bateson's Steps to an Ecology of Mind. Now this 300 plus page book was a real challenge for me, particularly because every page had new words like schizogenesis and duero-learning. I kept at it until I finished and in retrospect, this book taught me how to think. I wish I could remember the name of my professor to thank him. The book changed my life.

You might be wondering what it was about. It began with what Bateson called metalogues. These were conversations with his daughter, conversations of a very special sort.

According to Wikipedia,
DEFINITION: A metalogue is a conversation about some problematic subject. This conversation should be such that not only do the participants discuss the problem but the structure of the conversation as a whole is also relevant to the same subject. 
Notably, the history of evolutionary theory is inevitably a metalogue between man and nature, in which the creation and interaction of ideas must necessarily exemplify evolutionary process.

The book covered a cornucopia of subjects including style and grace in primitive art, dolphin play, a double bind theory of schizophrenia, logical categories of communication, cybernetics, a theory of play and fantasy, duero-learning and criteria of mind. But what was absolutely amazing what that it all fit together just like his metalogues. He had taught me about "the patterns that connect." He had taught me about structural awareness. It blew my mind.

I cannot recommend this highly enough. However, it is not for the faint of heart. It will blow your mind, in a good way. 

So armed with my background of being visual, with a strong structural awareness and over 30 years of studying story, I saw it. And now, as we journey through these blogposts, you will too.

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