Wednesday, November 19, 2008
In the beginning . . .
by Debby Giusti
I’m ready to develop a new story for Steeple Hill’s Love Inspired Suspense line and wanted to see what the experts say about how to begin.
A number of weeks ago, we discussed the benefits of studying screenwriting to improve our fiction thanks to a blog by Seeker Sandra Leesmith. She mentioned Blake Snyder’s book, SAVE THE CAT(Michael Wiese Productions, Studio City, CA, 2005).
Start at the beginning is Blake’s advice in SAVE THE CAT. Every writer – whether creating the next Academy Award winning screenplay or the next New York Times bestseller – needs to answer one question about the story he or she is going to create: WHAT IS IT?
If you can answer that question in a sentence that captures the imagination of editors and readers alike, you’ve got a story worth writing.
Blake uses the terms logline and one-line to refer to the all-important first sentence that defines the story. Just like the ingredients that turn an ordinary dish into a culinary delight, Blake offers the following recipe for an effective logline.
●The one-line must contain irony. The example he uses: A businessman falls in love with a hooker he hires to be his date for the weekend. Notice how the logline for PRETTY WOMAN grabs our interest especially because of the irony, or unexpected element, of the love story. Blake says, if our loglines don’t have irony, we need to reconstruct our stories to include that necessary and all-important ingredient.
●The logline offers a promise of more. Anyone hearing the one-line -- think editor/reader -- should be able to visualize the story about to unfold.
●Identifies audience and cost. As writers, we need to be true to our genre and recognize which readers we’re trying to attract. Often a youthful heroine draws a younger readership, while seasoned secondary characters could resonate with an older audience. The cost of production has little application to the written word unless we’re hoping to sell the film rights as well.
●Killer title. LEGALLY BLONDE packs both the irony and story promise in a title Blake finds effective. A logline and title go hand-in-hand, and both should answer the “What is it?” question.
Once we’ve included the above four components into our logline, Blake suggests pitching to anyone who will listen in order to fine-tune our one-line and our story.
Bob Mayer, in his book, THE NOVEL WRITER’S TOOLKIT (Writer’s Digest Books, Cincinnati, Ohio, 2003), also talks about beginning with one sentence that captures the original idea for our story. The "what if” is the foundation upon which to build the entire story.
Meyer suggests talking about our stories to others to ensure we can effectively communicate the concept. Once we’re satisfied with our sentence, then we can begin to write the story.
Evan Marshall offers similar advice in his book, THE MARSHALL PLAN FOR NOVEL WRITING (Writer’s Digest Books, Cincinnati, Ohio, 1998), although he uses the term “Suppose” in place of the “What if.” Marshall encourages writers to start with a crisis.
His test for an authentic story idea includes the following:
The crisis must be genre appropriate.
The crisis must turn your lead’s (hero/heroine's) life upside down in a negative way.
The crisis must capture your imagination.
According to Marshall, writers must give the lead a goal that will solve the crisis. In achieving that goal, the lead must seek possession of some treasure or relief from something destructive. He will face terrible consequences if he fails. In addition, the lead must have a worthy motivation and confront tremendous odds.
In WRITING SCREENPLAYS THAT SELL (HarperCollins, NY, 1988), Michael Hague uses “what if” to develop a plot situation or character that fits into the sentence: It is a story about a (character)________ who (action)______.
He uses the following example for ROMANCING THE STONE: It is the story about a romance novelist who tries to rescue her sister and falls in love with a soldier of fortune.
Hague’s story concept checklist includes:
●Reader can identify with hero
●Motivation (Needs to be a clear, specific, visible motivation or objective the hero hopes to achieve by the end of the story.)
●Obstacles stand in the hero’s way
●The hero needs courage to achieve his objective
Seems the pros agree that beginning with a one-line gets the story off to a good start. I’m pulling out paper and pencil to jot down some ideas in hopes of coming up with a sentence or logline that identifies the lead characters, expresses the objective or goal they must achieve and hints at how they will change and grow in the process. I’ll add Blake Synder’s idea of irony into the mix as well.
How do you start a new story?
Wishing you abundant blessings,