Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Nothing But Thinking

I had arranged to have a shorter day at work today, with the hopes of getting some writing done, but it didn't work out. I need to go to bed in reasonable time on work days and that is what is screwing me up. I'm hoping to get a little extra focus time this week, though. (The next two weeks will be end of semester nightmare, so I really have to get it done this week.)

But I am zeroing in on my first chapter more. (Yeah, I know I did some work on the first chapter the other day, but that was the END of the first chapter.) When it comes to beginnings, I really like to follow Blake Snyder, the late great screenwriting guru who wrote Save The Cat. Snyder had a lot of great theories, but he had two ideas about beginnings that really strike home for me.

One of these is what he refers to in his title. Your story needs to open on something that reveals your character's true nature - particularly the part of the character that makes you want to watch a movie about him. Your character, basically, has to pause and save a cat. And though Snyder doesn't mention irony specifically in this idea, he does emphasize how important irony is to your overall story. And I think every great save the cat scene has some kind of irony to it.

So, for instance, in another novel that I will eventually get to, I already know the opening scene, and it will be a literal "save the cat" scene. A sleazy local hoodlum threatens a cat in an effort to collect some money. The owner of the cat cowers. It's the hoodlum's hulking knee-breaker who decides he's had enough of sleazeballs and cowards, and so he rescues the cat, lays out the hoodlum, collects the debt, and sends the cat's owner off to Gamblers Anonymous to maybe regain a little spine.

So that sets up some irony - the guy whose job it is to break knees on demand is the only one with a moral compass. But that also sets up the character's conflict.

George's dilemma is something quite different. He and his girlfriend are both kind of trapped in amber at the opening - which is his major problem. Events will very soon crack that amber apart, but I need an opening to introduce the conflict. And I've got to do it in a way that doesn't make either of them whiny and unlikeable. (Because trapped people ARE kind of whiny and unlikeable.)

But I may be over thinking it. Sometimes the best way to deal with an uninteresting bit is to skip it. And there is something to be said for the model of peeling away the layers of an onion. (It is especially useful in comedy.)

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