14 January 2008

Drowning in Meaning

One of the most fascinating aspects of being a plot coach for writers is learning about other writers' writing process.

Usually, I find that writers have a preference for communicating their projects through one plotline initially over the other three plotlines --- character emotional development, dramatic action, and thematic significance.

Most writers divide into one of two groups -- developing characters versus developing action. However, every so often I find a writer who approaches a story through the thematic significance or deeper meaning of the piece. Recently, I worked with a writer who not only excelled in thematic significance, she was drowning in it.

Sara, I'll call her, is a memoirist. Throughout the plot phone consultation, Sara’s fears of not being able to do what she had set out to do constantly interrupted the flow. Her self-doubts about her abilities and worthiness were doing to her what they do to all of us -- stall, cripple, and damage the writing process more than any lack in actual writing abilities.

To protect herself from her fears, Sara stayed in her head. She seemed incapable of bringing the story down into her body. As difficult as it was to get her to consider the dramatic action needed in her story, she was oblivious to developing the characters. Sara had spent years intellectualizing her memoir. She had never written a word.

Sara had strong beliefs she was determined to bring forward, points to prove, judgments to render. When given the chance to stay in the intellectual, Sara's voice grew strident. I sensed she had to force herself to bite back true anger. Yet, her bitterness was the very emotion preventing her from actually ever writing her story. To get around her anger about the unfairness of the establishment, I kept asking her to consider the protagonist's (her) transformation and what actions got her there.

We finished the consultation after more than three hours with a good plot planner in place. However, I worry about whether or not she’ll ever get beyond her self-doubts and anger to actually get out of her head and write the story. I hope so. The story has merit. We’ll see….

*FYI: For a technique to determine what parts of your life to include and which to cut in your memoir, go to http://www.blockbusterplots.com and click on Memoir Writers.)

**FYI: Sure, lots of natural-born storytellers excel at all three approaches to writing at once. But, for the rest of us, a firm understanding of our strengths and weaknesses can help us achieve balance in creating our stories.

I have a test for writers to determine whether they are a character-driven writer versus a dramatic action-driven writer on http://www.blockbusterplots.com/test.html


Ask yourself if you prefer to develop the character and break down at coming up with conflict, tension, and suspenseful dramatic action? Or, are you great at creating breakneck excitement on the page, but come up short when it comes to character?


Do you live through your mind and like to intellectualize about life? You could be best at developing thematic significance.
Are you active and live through movement and your body? You could be best at developing dramatic action.
Are you spiritually driven -- this does not mean religious, but spiritual? You could be best at character emotional development.