Crafting a story

I’m a firm believer that writing is a craft. IMHO it has skills that can not only be learnt, but also honed through practice. The analogy I use most often is that writing is a bit like carpentry. I refer to my early books as “slightly wonky tables” as I was practising when I wrote them. Actually the later ones are more like perfectly functional tables that work but aren’t sufficiently accomplished or special for publication.

Anyway, one thing that arises from this is a source of friction between me and The Wife. I tend to watch a film or read a book and consciously notice the salient points. Like who the protagonist is, where they meet their conflicts in the story, how the writer avoids it all being formulaic. For me this is like looking at a cabinet, and not only admiring it, but also looking at the quality of the joints, the choice of woods and appreciating how it was made. But I’ve learned not to point any of this out to The Wife while we’re in the middle of a film!

I mention films a lot because the books that I’ve found most useful on story structure come from the world of screen-writing. They are quite easy to translate into novel format because they work with the basics of story telling that have been true for thousands of years.

As an example, I went to see Logan last night. I won’t review it here as it’s only just out and I’ll try to avoid spoilers! But, I noticed straight away that it was very nicely written. We got straight to the protagonist, established what his life was like, and within the first 25% of the film we were sure what his objective was and who the bad guy was. What I liked was that the writers gave Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart plenty of time to be their characters. When we were between action sequences (it is a superhero film) they could just do what they do best with a good script. Even the side plots were all neatly dovetailed in together by the end.

One reason it avoided being formulaic was by breaking the mould of a strict structure. For example was that there was one consistent bad guy, and antagonist. But throughout the film, he gained depth. He brought in new associates and his boss turned up as well. It wasn’t just Wolverine vs Bad Guy for two hours – his adversaries, while maintaining a clarity of purpose, changed and evolved.

So that’s an example of how I view a film. Of course, I enjoy it very much. I love being told a good story and seeing actors work their craft in concert with everyone else, directors, writers, producers, etc. But I also like to see behind the scenes, watch the cogs turn and learn what I can.

Being a house husband I (sometimes) have my days free. Recently I’ve been making more of an effort to switch off Facebook and go through the DVD collection and actively watch a film to study how it was written.

How do you approach this subject? Do you just get an idea and write or do you plot? How actively do you watch films and/or read books? Please comment below – I’d love to know what my readers think!

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