Week Five: Style, Archetype, Symbol.
Style comes from word-choice: strong verbs and concrete nouns. Archetypes link your characters to their mythic ancestors. Symbols come from concrete nouns canonized by repetition, need, emotion, sweat, and careful placement. Whether your writing is plain or florid, your work lives or dies on its words. If you are a writer, you’ll spend every waking hour conjuring new ways to say the same things – I am here, I am alive, Who am I, What is betrayal, Where is the path, Why should I, What is that light at the, I am not dead – and your style will shift, stutter, soar, roar, rise, fall, crawl, weep, laugh, sing, cling. On a lucky day, you’ll run nose-first into an archetypal structure like King-Queen-Stranger, which opens the door to a Sexual Triad, heretofore buried in the muck of your prose, that could make you famous.
- Scene Performance.
- Homework that links to Week Six.
A bright sunny day inSeattle. Cars jam the tiny parking lot at Hugo House. Who are these interlopers? I grab a chunk of curb on the hill up the street from the Argento, where six rewriters gather before class for coffee.
Consults: Advice on minimizing exposition – how to squeeze it down – by using the Ken Follett ping-pong structure, which milks dramatic irony to ratchet up suspense. At the Argento consults, and again in the room at Hugo House, I suggest that all novelists cram a minimum of three scenes into the film script format. (There’s a substantial section on the ping-pong structure in The Weekend Novelist Rewrites the Novel.)
Reminder, why we are here: To rewrite in the long form (novel, a script, or a stage play), you work subplots. Subplot, the secondary story running under the plot, has two functions:
- to create subtext through layering;
- to hide secrets.
I use Jane Eyre, the example ofRochester’s bad marriage to nutty Bertha, to talk about the power of the buried secret.Rochester is the antagonist; his connection to Bertha is buried way back in time. His secret is buried in his subplot. Sweet Mrs. Fairfax knows – in fact, she keeps the secret from Jane, lets her walk into that chapel thinking she’ll soon emerge transformed by the marriage ritual into Mrs. Edward Fairfax Rochester.
Because Bronte knows her craft, she keeps Jane ignorant of the Bertha-connection until Plot Point Two, in the chapel, when the exposure of Rochester’s filthy Queen Replacement secret sets up a sequence of five scenes: Wedding, Revelation, Meeting Bertha, Rochester’s Confession (where he tries to make Jane his mistress), and Jane’s Exit from Thornfield. An excellent model for your work – thickening Plot Point Two with a scene sequence that meshes the plot with multiple subplots.
Our warm-up writing on Day 5 is based on the resource base for your story: What do your characters want? What will they kill for? What will they die for? A week ago, we looked at some work Jack and I had done for Elements of Dramatic Writing in the UWX screenwriting course – dirt as the resource base in Water World; fuel depot as the resource base in Road Warrior. Other examples of resource bases:
- Thornfield Hall in Jane Eyre.
- Daisy and her mansion in The Great Gatsby.
- Blubber in Moby Dick.
- Money in LeavingLas Vegas.
- Money in As Good as it Gets.
Back to the Antagonist
When we wrote the synopsis/treatment on Day Four, we soared across the plot and focused on the protagonist. That writing stabilized key scenes, freeing us on Day Five to dive into the back story of the antagonist using an exercise called One Hour Before.
One Hour Before is an exercise built on a series of antagonist backflips, starting one hour before the story opens, using a simple startline: “One hour before my story opens, my antagonist discovers….” The writing is in author voice, the goal is finding the secrets that are buried in the back story.
- One Hour Before my story opens
- One Day before
- One Week before
- One Month before
- One Year before
- Ten Years before
- Twenty-Five Years before
As the instructor and keeper of the clock, I have trouble switching my focus from Real Time to my own writing needs. If the writing takes me deep, I forget to start the timer. Not good. But today I am busy resurrecting my novel about Charley Chalice, a college boy hitman for the Order, so I write with the group, scribbling like Scrooge, wringing secrets from back story.
Downstairs at the break, I run into Bob Dugoni, a hot Seattle thriller writer, who’s promoting a novel written by 30 local writers during one of Hugo House’s write-a-thons. Bog brings me up to date on the turmoil of print books vs. e-books. His term for the digital revolution is “game-changer.” Climbing the stairs, I think: how do you win in a game where the playing field is cyberspace? Where no one knows the rules? Where every strategy is fraught with fear of failure? The answer: keep writing.
Scene performances for Day 5:
- Thriller in novel form
- Walker-World vs. Water-World fantasy in novel form
- Urns, a drama in stage play form
- Korean War – historical suspense tale in novel form
- Teen Sleuth – a Young Adult mystery in novel form
Last minute repetitive advice: for squeezing exposition, use script format on 3-4 scenes from your novel.
Scenes for next week: All.
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© Robert J. Ray. Rewriting 101, Spring 2011. All Rights Reserved.