Last weekend, Erin Thomas, Cheryl Rainfield, Urve Tamberg, Karen Krossing, Jennifer Gordon and I attended the two-day Screenwriters’ Summit in Toronto. I had one goal in mind: to find out what the **** a plot is. Yes, you’d think I’d know, with a novel coming out and all, and I do, don’t get me wrong, but I’d like to become more articulate about what I, and many writers, do intuitively.
Many novel-writing books are thin on plot information, and many novelists are almost too superstitious talk about structure—they fear it will make their writing formulaic. Screenwriters aren’t so squeamish.
Here is just a smattering of what I learned from two of the four great screenwriting gurus who spoke:
One of the many things that stood out about Linda’s talk was the idea that certain themes resonate more with different age groups. She suggests that we all familiarize ourselves with psychologist Erik Erikson’s theory of Developmental Stages to see which themes are more likely to appeal to our particular audience. I found this particularly interesting as a YA writer. Erikson defines adolescence as the first stage of development that is dependent on what we do rather than what is done to us, and identifies the primary struggle of a 12-18 year old as one of Identity vs. Role confusion, or, in Linda’s words, Conformity vs. Individuality.
Plot is not “what happened.” Plot is a choreography between the hero and all the characters she is fighting.
Truby’s talk was where we really got into a deep discussion about plot, and boy was he fabulous. His main thesis is that too many writers create a main character without giving enough thought to the “character web” that defines her.
He suggests that when figuring out your plot, concentrate on your main opponent. Every main character should have a great weakness and an antagonist that is able to attack that weakness at the deepest level.
Beware a story where a main character’s main opponent is “herself.” All mc’s need to make an internal change, but for a plot to work they must also have an external opponent or opponents. This doesn’t necessarily mean a bad guy with a sword. In a love story, the opponent is sometimes the love interest.
I own a well-thumbed copy of The Anatomy of Story and can’t recommend it highly enough. Get it. Read it. Read it again.
I have some guest posts coming up, so I won’t be posting my thoughts about Syd Field and Michael Hauge next Wednesday, but keep a look out for posts about the other two Screenwriters’ Summit speakers in upcoming weeks.