21 September 2009

Plot Tip: Creating an Illusion

Living in the present moment is difficult for most people.

Only while daydreaming or night dreaming, through mediation, under hypnosis, or while in the zone of writing or some other passion and with practice, can we stay mindful or conscious of the present moment for a sustained period of time. Usually our minds are darting into the future, whether the next 10 minutes or 10 years from now, or into the past, what just happened or what happened long ago.

Reading is a mindful activity. When the writing is good and in scene, a reader reads the words, but rather than pay attention to them, becomes engaged with the characters. This keeps the reader in the present moment -- not real time present moment, but story time present moment. Watching a scene unfold on the screen or while reading it on the page, we experience a sense of flow.

A story written in scene creates its own time and a sense that the present moment is all that exists. As we sink into the world of the characters, we surrender even our emotions to the illusion. This strengthens as we come to know the characters and care for them, even to worry about them. Our bodies respond on a visceral level; our hearts beat faster. We laugh and weep, present and involved in the story world itself.

Elements that entice a reader or moviegoer to sink deeper into the dream:

1)      Characters who invoke interest in the reader or movie-goer

2)      Conflict, tension and suspense that sustains excitement

3)      Only enough back story to inform that particular scene and triggers in the reader or movie-goers curiosity and investment in the dream

4)      Clarity into whom and what to root for in the story

5)      Consistency in story pacing versus missteps that can jolt the reader awake

6)      Right sensory details that deepen the overall story (dream) mood

7)      Foreshadowing that offers enticement (flashbacks can create time disorientation).

8)      No hint of the author in the story versus author intrusion

9)      The right balance between Scene and Summary

10)  Payoffs in the dramatic action and the character emotional development at just the right moments.

Once the lights go on in the theater or we put the book down, it takes a moment or two to remember that the people in the story were an illusion. Often, it is necessary to consciously detach from the world on the screen or the page in order to return to real life and regain a sense of real time.

The best stories are when we are with the characters and so in the trance of the moment that there never seems to be a good reason to put the book down or to pause the DVD. Lured deeper and deeper into the dream, we are unable to stop watching or stop reading until we find out if what we fear will happen does indeed happen, or not.