CRAFT: Six Things That Are Wrong

Blake Snyder, the screenwriter, teaches that:

YOU MUST set up the story with a hero we like and THEN demonstrate what he wants and the Six Things That Need Fixing he must overcome. You MUST figure out the difference between the Catalyst (something happening TO the hero on page 12 of a screenplay) and the Act Break into Act II (something the hero actively DOES to take us into a new world.)

We first meet the hero. Who is he? And what is his world? We need a clear ~Theme Stated~ scene where you declare what your movie is about. And we need to be able to root for Our Hero–thus “Save the Cat!” What is that scene or character quality that makes a reader/watcher say, “I like this guy or at least understand him?”

Okay, here’s what I want to talk about regarding this. Your main character–the one whose story this is, and for sure your POV character in most cases–needs to not be perfect at the start of the story. I knew this already. But he articulates it and makes it measurable by saying that we should name off the
~SIX THINGS THAT NEED FIXING~.
Some of these things are wrong with my main character, Kay, in _Pundit’s Corner_:
(1) Stoic; can’t or won’t admit vulnerabilities, works through pain when it’s not advisable, self-denial when not appropriate (example: she won’t stop and say her ankle is killing her and to hell with the work today)
(2) Impatient–about the ankle thing–SHE’S IMPATIENT and SHE DOESN’T HAVE TIME FOR THIS
(3) SHE THINKS SHE’S SUPERWOMAN/INVINCIBLE but she needs to acknowledge there are things she can’t do. And acknowledge when she is in danger. Such as when the truck came at her. her fear of being thought “a crazy neurotic woman” as all of her aunts and family are said to be was worse than her fear of the person really having been after her.
(4) SHE CLINGS TO THE FANTASY about Greg and herself having a great romance because she WANTS THE LOVE/ROMANCE TO BE TRUE even when it isn’t as fulfilling as she really knows it should be. He is what she thinks she wants, and she DOES want to continue succeeding at the job. In other words, not only does she kind of fall into a rut that she stays in, she also clings to Greg because she still can’t believe a jock/frat boy like him would be interested in plain simple her, and she is imagining that they have something special and so forth . . . whereas he’s kind of a jerk, but he’s a well-meaning jerk who doesn’t know he’s a jerk, and there are dozens of such people in anyone’s life. The reader is supposed to suspect him and get really worked up thinking that Greg is in on a plot to kill Kay for the insurance money or because of some other sinister thing, and that’s part of the fun of the book, but ultimately (and this is a spoiler, but hey nonny we’re deconstructing EVERYTHING I DO so you shouldn’t be shocked at this) Greg is just a typical guy of a certain kind who is clueless in some things and really isn’t all that DEEP. Some of us are DEEP. Others are angsty-deep. Some are born philosophers. Others are happy just to make money and drink beer and get to play sports on the weekends, and they look at you blankly if you ask, “What is the reason that we try to live a ‘moral’ life and what is ‘moral’ anyway?” They mumble, “Um . . . well, YOU know . . . why do you ask?” Because they do not have a philosopher’s brain. And that is OK! It is just as OK for them not to have one of these brains like mine as it is OK for me not to have a sports-team-playing brain.
(5) On the other hand, she trusts her women friends implicitly. Perhaps this is not a completely safe thing to do. Maybe she ought to be a little bit more alert. This will come into play later.
(6) The conspiracy that is going on–it needs to be thwarted.

By the end of the book, we’ll have fixed the Six Things and/or will have proven that they weren’t “wrong” at all.

IS THIS MAKING SENSE?? Doesn’t this make sense to those of you who have studied literature or creative writing?

This is why I end up “defending” or explaining why I do what I do when I write a scene. I mean . . . I can’t put in a line explaining EVERYTHING, so I am trying to imply some of it.

All right, but perhaps you say, “When we read this passage in your manuscript, there is a flaw here because *I* would not do what this character is doing, and thus no one would do it. Or you have not set up that this character is different from the Invincible Heroic Person who usually stars in books.”

Well . . . OK, but I read differently. I accept that when the author shows a character doing something, it’s meant to show us this character’s special nature. Maybe she is a person who WOULD do this and is motivated differently from others. In the opening of the novel, this is how authors teach us that characters are type A or type B or nonconformists or wind-up toys. We accept that hey, this isn’t a typical response, and we don’t go on the attack and say, “NO ONE WOULD EVER EVER DO THIS EVER.” If I did not know several people who are of different faiths from my own, and several who are devout Republicans, and several who are devoted players of “World of Warcraft,” I might be ridiculously provincial and say that some of the practices and premises they take for granted would be something “nobody does.” But I would be WRONG! These practices are normal to THEM! These beliefs and practices tell us about the person. Same with the character. If I write that Kay doesn’t whine and throw a fit about “follow that car” after her near-miss, then maybe I have a rational reason for that. Maybe there’s a reason for it that you’ll find out by reading on (in other words, it raised a story question as to why she did that.) Maybe it’s not “AN ERROR MEANING THAT YOU KNOW NOTHING AND I CAN NOW REJECT YOUR BOOK AND MOCK YOU FOREVER AND HAND YOUR BOOK AROUND AS AN EXAMPLE TO LAUGH AT.”

Here’s the real problem. Agents and editors are not trusting me as author. Had you picked up my book–the one we’ve been discussing–in Borders and flipped through it and maybe read the back blurb, you would have made assumptions. “Well, editor Maxwell Perkins bought this book, and publisher Bennett Cerf thought enough of it to print 10,000 copies and send them to all these bookstores. I feel confident that people have gone through and made sure that this author knows what she is doing.” Therefore, when you read the opening pages, you might THINK all the stuff that the editor and various critiquers have said, but you would probably give the author a break. You would say, “Okay, I will trust that the author has a reason for this logical disconnect. There is a reason that I will come to understand soon as to why Kay did not start screaming that someone’s trying to kill her and why don’t they call the cops and go get him. This reason is important and illuminates her character. This will come into play later in the novel. Therefore, I will mentally note this. If the author does NOT imply something that explains this to my satisfaction by the end of the book, that’ll bug me and will be considered a flaw. However, I will give the author the benefit of the doubt and accept that it happened this way.”

But everyone is reading it as being some crap typed out by a nothing-nobody who probably has no idea what she’s doing and needs to be straightened out and told that she has to justify EVERYTHING right up front and IMMEDIATELY tell us who EVERYONE mentioned is and all about why there is a cable network in Dallas anyway (never mind that Turner started one in Atlanta and everyone probably said the same damn thing back then) and why doesn’t she do this and why does she notice that. There is no acceptance that “okay, the author is going to do something with that later, and I’ll watch for it.”

I’m giving you a “Save the Cat” sympathy thing in the form of the sprained ankle. Kay is supposed to be admirable here because she isn’t whining and making a big scene and fuss. Because this is a light-hearted romantic comedy/screwball comedy, we aren’t experiencing all the angst and pain stuff that we would were we watching _Beloved_ or _The Color Purple._ As Sartorias mentioned, I am promising what I plan to deliver. Whit’s “Save the Cat,” of course, is that he rushes to the damsel’s rescue.

I believe that my ~Theme Stated~ scene is in part the second scene, from Whit’s POV. What that does is set up the external plot/conflict. Then we have the setup of the inner journey and the internal conflict as well as the secondary themes in the following scene with Kay and her co-workers. Because this is Kay’s story (the most important thing that will ever happen in her life), it’s mostly about her inner journey. The external plot will bring about inner change.

What Kay wants is to maintain the status quo and keep her job and her employees and Greg, because she thinks that’s what is best and what she wants. What Whit wants is to foil the conspiracy plot.

What happens “to” Kay to kick off the action plot is that she finds out Whit is the consultant and figures out that he’s a downsizer–she THINKS, anyway. What takes her into a new world is the moment at the end of Act I when Whit confides in her that there is a “mole” who is concealing secrets in the Pundit’s Corner text, and she is brought into the plot to foil this. Whit’s catalyst is that he realizes he’s infatuated with a perp–or so he THINKS, anyway. What takes WHIT into a new world is the realization that she’s not the perp, that someone’s after HER as well, and that he’s going to have to trust her and work with her if there’s any hope of solving this problem.

At least that’s how I see it shaking out. Somebody’ll probably steal the good parts of this plot after reading this post and then my book can be rejected because it’s too much like the one that stole from it, so it likely won’t matter. I am hoping that at LEAST my comedy-of-screwups life is providing some what-not-to-do information for those of you destined to have an actual useful life. That would give me a sense of purpose.

But anyway, I couldn’t possibly know what I’m doing. Incompetent old fool. So don’t pay one bit of attention to whatever it was I just typed.

Oh, and my birthday kind of sucked. That wasn’t YOUR fault, dear readers. My family just is constitutionally unable to buy me a birthday card or get/make a cake, even when I promise we won’t eat it. “Why should we go to that trouble/expense when we can’t eat it?” This sounds like a reasonable rationale, except that my inner child wants to know why she isn’t worthy of a birthday cake with candles like everyone else. Everyone else living in a middle-class world, I mean, not EVERYONE else. There wasn’t any reason such as a famine or a war. . . . Well, I suppose Inner Kid’ll just have to grow up and face that this is a cold cruel world, won’t she? Ninny. Wussy. Wimp.

We did drive through a salad place for lunch and had a picnic of sorts sitting in the car. Later, hubby went to Fry’s Electronics and found a digital clock that sets itself by the atomic clock in Colorado and got it for me. Whee! I don’t NEED any stuff because I already have too much stuff, but . . . I suppose I’m being childish.

It’s over for another year, at any rate. Onward and inward.

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Author: shalanna

Shalanna: rhymes with "Madonna" and "I wanna," and is not a soundalike with "Hosanna" or "Sha-Na-Na." Aging hippie with long hair, husband, elderly mother, and yappy Pomeranian. I've been writing since I could hold a crayon. I started with fiction, which Mama said was "lying." “Don’t tell stories,” she would admonish, in Southern vernacular. “That's all in your imagination!” When grownups said this, they were not approving. So, shamed, I stopped telling stories for a few years--rather, I stopped letting anyone read them. I'm married to a fellow computer nerd who doesn't really like hearing about writing, but who reads sf/fantasy and understands the creative drive. I'm actually a nonconformist/hippie still wearing bluejeans and drop earrings and the Alice-in-Wonderland hair with headbands and sandals. Favorite flavor is chocolate/orange, favorite color is either Dreamsicle orange (cantaloupe) or bubble-gum pink, favorite musical is either Bye Bye Birdie, Rocky Horror, or The Producers . . . wait, I also love The Music Man. Is this getting way too specific and irrelevant yet? Obvious why I don't sell a ton of flash fiction, isn't it? To define oneself, I always say, it is good to make a list. How about a booklist? Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird Frank and Ernestine Gilbreth, Cheaper by the Dozen C.S.Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (all the Narnia books) J.R.R.Tolkien,The Hobbit/LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy Gail Godwin, The Odd Woman F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby J. D. Salinger, Catcher in the Rye (before dismissing it, actually read it) George Orwell, 1984 Kurt Vonnegut, Cat's Cradle Donna Tartt, The Secret History Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn James Allen, As A Man Thinketh Mark Winegardner, Elvis Presley Boulevard James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times The Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum Winnie-the-Pooh/House at Pooh Corner, A. A. Milne Peter Pan, J. M. Barrie The KJV and NIV Bible (each translation has its glories)

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