The Razor

Likeability Blueprint

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There's a principle in science called Occam's razor. It says that the simplest, most direct explanation is the best. So, although the theory that the Sun revolves around the Earth can actually be made to work with some mathematical contortions, we go with the simpler explanation that the Earth revolves around the Sun. It's simpler. It's more direct. It works better.

This issue comes up a lot when we have an unexplained phenomenon, especially the kind that people start attributing to extraterrestrials. One of the more recent ones was the crop circles in England. Perfectly formed circles imprinted in the crops started appearing on farms. Visiting spaceships, right? Look far away for an explanation. That's more exciting and romantic. They set up all-night cameras in some crop fields in the area, and guess what they found? Two guys sneaking into the fields dragging weighted platforms around to make the circles. The more immediate, direct explanation turned out to be true.

Writing is tricky enough. You don't need any vague concepts, any excess baggage, to drag along while you're doing it. I'm going to go over a couple of things specifically to show you what I'm talking about, then give you a list of unnecessary terms and considerations that you need not bother with.

The concept of beginning, middle, and end is a good example. In the introduction I told you about my first experience with this idea. I'll repeat it here and then tell you what it really means. "Be sure your story has a beginning, a middle, and an end," one of my writing professors once said.

Ah ha! That was it. It made perfect sense. That's what I needed to do. I went straight home and sat down to write a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. I stared at the paper. A beginning? What did that mean, exactly? And what was the middle of a story, and how was it different from the beginning and the end? And the end, that's what I was having all the trouble with. Damn, I was back where I started.

At the next class, I asked, "Last time you said to write a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end, but I'm not sure what they are exactly."

"Well," he said with a little smile, "the beginning comes first. The middle comes next. And the end comes last."

Everyone laughed. I didn't ask again.

But now I know what they are, and so do you. The beginning of a story is the emergence of the conflict {"want meets obstacle). The middle is the struggle (action). The end is the resolution. They're already covered by conflict, action, and resolution, so there's no need to get into terms like beginning, middle, and end that are once removed and unnecessary.

Then there's this thing they call character development. I often have people come to me and say, "My plots are good, but my characters aren't developed enough." That tells me that the plot isn't working well either. What does character development mean? How does a character develop? How do we get a sense of who he is? A character is expressed (developed) by the way he handles his problems—how he acts when he's faced with an obstacle or a threat. Action is character. If you write a story using the model I've given you, your character will develop whether he or you want him to or not. He must develop. He must get off his ass and act in a meaningful way no matter what. This story model makes him act, makes him develop.

Voice and style are two other issues that come up. Some workshops' single goal is to "help you find your voice." Well, you don't need any help in finding your voice. Your voice and your style will emerge on their own if you write enough. They're a product of who you are, of your personality and your preferences. I don't differentiate between voice and style, although I'm sure there are people who do. Also, there's nothing wrong with trying to write exactly like Hemingway or Faulkner (two very different styles/voices). In the end, you will find your own way of doing it. It will emerge automatically, because of who you are.

Two other unnecessary issues, character biographies and premise, are covered in chapter 9, on method.

Another issue is outlining. At least one prominent author says that to be successful you must outline your story before you start. (Remember, anyone who tells you what you must do is talking about himself and what he must do.) Again, there is no real need for outlining—unless it helps, unless it's your thing. Most writers feel it's just another burden. Most writers don't want to be tied down to a whole story plan at the beginning. They prefer the adventure of exploring things on the page as they go along—feeling their way, being open to whatever pops up. One writer said, "Outline? Sure, I'll give you an outline—as soon as I finish the book."

Again, outlining (planning your story out) is worth a try if it makes sense to you. It might be your thing. Also, it's never one or the other, never all or none. You may plan one story and just jump in with no plan on the next one. You might lay out a scene or a chapter in great detail and jump in blind for the next chapter or the rest of the book. Outlining might be your thing for a long time, but then you might outgrow it. Nothing is static in this game.

Likeable character. Few things are more intimidating than having someone tell you that your character isn't likeable. And a good way to get stuck is to try to make him likeable. How would you do that? Have him help an old lady across the street or donate money to the poor? Likeability isn't a technical term. But identification is. Identification we can make happen. A character who is struggling with a threatening problem and is worried and frightened that it will defeat him will cause us to identify. Identifying is liking.

What about the need to pick a story that's interesting? One writing book says, "If you're going to bother to write a story, for God's sakes, be sure to make it interesting." The book fails to tell you what creates interest in a story or how to make it happen. The book did not even define "interesting" in a useable way. Be interesting! How intimidating is that? And why be just interesting? Why not be fascinating, captivating, mesmerizing? The answer to "interesting" is the same as the answer to likeability. Identification. If you've identified, you're interested—at the very least. Creating identification (revealing character through conflict and struggle) is what it's all about. Don't let yourself get distracted.

Here's a list of other concepts we don't get into and don't need to get into because the story model we use covers them all: Inciting incident. Plot points. Back story. Through line. Sequels. Verisimilitude. Believability. Beats. Context. Text. Story spine. Story event. Story value. Sequence. Story arc. Character arc. Arch plot. Mini plot. Anti plot.

How would you like to be loaded down with all that when you set out to create a story? These concepts are the result of examining story from the outside rather than from the inner dynamics of the characters and the conflict.

That said, if any of these issues that I'm calling unnecessary or burdensome strike your fancy or if you run into anything that sounds like it would make your task easier, try it. If it works for you, it's good. Just don't load yourself down with a lot of unnecessary things to do because you feel you're supposed to.

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The Power Of Charisma

The Power Of Charisma

You knowthere's something about you I like. I can't put my finger on it and it's not just the fact that you will download this ebook but there's something about you that makes you attractive.

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