Monday, November 07, 2005

The Gap

No, I'm not talking about the clothing store... :)

Yesterday I mentioned what McKee calls the "Gap," but I didn't really go into much detail about it. McKee says that all human beings are basically lazy (I strongly agree with this statement -- that's why I'm such a good engineer :) ). By this he means that a person will take the action that will allow him to achieve his goal with least possible amount of effort. If the protagonist of your story has a goal, he will choose the most conservative path that he feels will be a positive step towards achieving that goal. The moment he makes this choice, however, the external world (in a good story) steps in and things do not react in the way he anticipated, blocking him from his goal. The forces blocking him are, of course, embedded in the antagonist and his cohorts. Instead of achieving his goal, a gap has opened up between him and the goal.

This opening of the gap is crucial to the progress of the story. When the gap opens, the protagonist realizes that his normal way of doing things isn't going to work -- he must take extrordinary action if he is to achieve his goal. Of course, this action leads to even larger gaps, and this is how we can build tension through conflict throughout the story. It's a good way at looking at conflict. If the "gap" that opens up isn't really a gap at all -- if the protagonist can easily overcome it, or if his actions lead to the results he expected, then you don't really have a story. Also, good, deep storytelling comes into play when the gap is accompanied by a flood of realization. The events that occur as a result of the character's actions are unexpected, but are totally consistent with the meaning in the story. In fact, the opening of the gap will often force us to re-evaluate everything we have seen as a result. This requires a keen mastery of the craft of storytelling, but it's something we all can aspire to!

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