7 Little Words …
There’s a single sentence that I find myself asking Bang2writers all the time … and it’s probably not what you think it is. It’s not:
– “What the hell is this??”
– “How did you think this is a good idea??”
– or even, “Are you on crack??”
This is cuz, contrary to popular to belief – not to mention the smack talk on this blog – B2W is always very respectful of writers, guiding them to various realisations about their work (both good and bad) WITHOUT the need for smashing them over the head with that metaphorical hammer –honest guv!!
… So, WHAT is this sentence of DOOM?
It’s very simple, when you think about it. It happens so often, you’ll kick yourself. Here it is:
‘Cuz then there would be NO STORY’.
Eeeek!!! 7 little words of terror. More, next.
… HOW does the sentence of DOOM happen?
But how do we arrive at the sentence of doom?? No writer goes into writing a story thinking they have shaky foundations, after all. So, I elicit it from the writer themselves via this question:
“Why does (protagonist) do/not do [this action]?”
If the script has major issues then, the writer may have to answer:
“… Cuz then there will be NO STORY.”
Yes, at times like this, writers may feel, well like THIS:
Everyone together – SUPERSADFACE (plus googly eyes).
WHY does the sentence of doom happen?
The sentence of doom frequently hits writers between the eyes for two reasons. These are usually:
- Plot. This first one is very straightforward. In terms of your plot, your characters have to *do stuff* that feels authentic, otherwise their actions feel contrived. Most screenwriters get this, so I don’t usually end up talking about the sentence of doom with this in mind.
- Concept. If your character is doing (or not doing) something *simply* because ‘then there would be no story’ then you have a suspension of disbelief problem. I call this ‘follow through’ – if your concept has a suspension of disbelief issue at grass roots level, it has a domino effect on the ‘follow through’; the plot collapses, because we can’t believe what the characters are supposed to be doing in the first place.
Like this …
I read a lot of stories about inheritances. Usually, a horrible protagonist is taught a lesson by a dying relative who says something along the lines of, ‘If you do these five tacts of kindness / solve these five riddles / visit these five people etc etc etc’, you can have Twenty-Fifty Kazillion pounds when I’m gone.’
Horrible protagonist goes, ‘Ooooh! I want money, sure I’ll do that and on the way I’ll learn what’s important about life, but hey-ho never mind about that, KERCHING!’
The problem with the above then is – besides being as cheesy and stale as mouldy brie that’s fallen behind the toaster for fifteen weeks – is that it immediately begs ALL THESE QUESTIONS:
- Why doesn’t dying relative just tell horrible protagonist? (‘Cuz then there would be no story)
- If horrible protagonist is so horrible, why would he bother doing something FOR dying relative, even for money, why doesn’t he walk away? (‘Cuz then there would be no story)
- If horrible protagonist is only doing this for money (not for love) why would we invest in his/her narrative journey? (‘Cuz then there would be no story)
Striking isn’t it how all those different questions could have the SAME ANSWER!
This is why those writers have a problem with their CONCEPT. It doesn’t ‘follow through’, it feels contrived at foundation level. Eeek!
… How To Fix Your Story:
The best concepts – in novels and screenplays – are compelling because they force characters to confront a problem or issue of some kind.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re writing a genre piece or a drama about the minutiae of life. The characters must have no choice but to engage with that issue or problem. The characters cannot simply walk away and/or give up — whether that means literally, metaphorically or both.
Check out the language use of the bold words above. They’re extremely active words that GRIP the characters, thus grip the potential audience.
If you’re answering, ‘Cuz then there would be no story’ when considering your characters’ actions, this is a major RED FLAG that you don’t have what you need. So revisit and redraft. Make your concept work at foundation level … OR ELSE!