Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Caught in the Act

I don't normally do a lot of outlining when I write my stories. Part of the magic of writing for me is to watch my characters grow and change and take on lives of their own. Yes, I realize this is nothing more than my subconscious finding a way to express itself, but because -- by definition -- I'm not consciously aware of the process, it still seems like magic as my own creations tell me a story. It's a big attraction for me.

On the other hand, I realize that I might could write stories that were more truly powerful if I took more care to plan out the actions of the characters, particularly in terms of what McKee calls the Controlling Idea, Inciting Incident, and act design in general. Now, in all fairness, I do think about these things in the revision stage of writing (though I've never used those names), but logic suggests to me that more power will be contained in the story if I design it that way form the start. I'm not convinced, and I certainly don't want to lose what makes writing fun, but I'm open minded enough to give it a try. So, I spent a good bit of time today in explicit act design. Before I start to write, I usually have a pretty good idea of how the story is going to go in general terms, so constraining what turned out to be four acts wasn't all that hard. What was important was making certain the Controlling Idea was the guiding theme in each act climax. McKee's law of conflict says that conflict, as an expression of the Controlling Idea, is the only thing that moves a story forward, and each conflict must be more powerful than the one that came before it. It's also important that primary value expressed in the Controlling Idea change state from one act to the next. McKee argues that if things are good and then get better (or bad and get worse) from one act to the next, then the second act will be less powerful because there will be less contrast between it and the previous act.

I find it a little constraining, but maybe that's a good thing. This novel is really just intended to be an experiment in which I can try out some of these techniques. It will be interesting to see how this all turns out!

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