Sunday, September 1, 2013

Unity in fiction. (Aristotle's idea!)

A brief post for the Labor Day weekend. I had nothing better to do than work today (heavy lifting around the house, cooking, and writing a few pages here and there) because I don't watch pseudo-thons without my beloved Jerry Lewis, so I thought I'd blather here a bit. About writing, I suppose, because not very many people here have asked for posts on classical piano playing or my other specialty, number theory and superstition. AND WHY NOT, I MIGHT ASK?! But anyhow, that's what I know.

You think you have finished your novel? Great! It's wonderful! You're going to let it lie for a week or two, preferably even longer, before you go back to read it over and start editing and polishing.

When you do, think about your theme.

Figure out your theme or message, and then work back to front to make sure every scene illustrates that message. This means cutting or editing anything that doesn't show the pros and cons of embracing the story message (theme). Scenes that illuminate character should also show how the character arc intersects with the graph of the function plotted for the theme of the tale and how the character comes to know or believe whatever it is he/she was supposed to learn with this episode in life.

First you take the desired result of the events in the story (how your character ends up feeling, thinking, believing, acting). Then work backwards to find out which of the major choices or changes resulting from the inciting incident and following string of cause/effect events has brought about the character change. Especially look at the climax, dark moment, and turning points. Observe how every scene illustrates some aspect of this theme, if possible.

Let's say that our theme is: LOVE comes to us when we stop looking for it in such a desperate and clawing fashion.

A story with this theme begins with someone who feels unloved and lives inside herself. Perhaps her before worldview is something like, "When I am worthy, I will be loved. I will be worthy when I am famous for my sculpting."

You can see what a mess this is and will continue to be unless she lets go of this. She could be the best sculptor around and have all sorts of hangers-on who want to profit from her successes, but she won't necessarily be loved for herself. The events of the story will reveal this to her, and the resulting pressures and insights will lead her to choose or accept what she really NEEDS, which is often the opposite of what she starts out thinking she wants. What is her heart's desire? Does it change over the story arc? Then we're doing it right.

I tend to write episodically sometimes. Today's trend/rule is to have cause leading to effect1 which leads to effect2 which is the immediate and direct cause of effect3. I often set up dominoes and let them build to a higher level before they all begin to topple and we see the way that this has all come about. So I have to fight all the time to prove I am not writing a picaresque. But anyhow, if you don't define your theme and fulfill the promise of your premise, you can end up without a meaningful character arc with change and also without UNITY. This means reader confusion and anger. This leads to books being thrown against the wall.

So go look at your theme and how it builds a character arc for each of your main characters. Everyone has a character arc--anyone who has more than a bit part, at least.

But that's a rant for another day.

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