Friday, 21 January 2011

High Stakes

You have to have something for a hero/ine to aim at. I understand that. Start with the inciting incident, preferably on page one, and go from there. Small problems get worked out and larger difficulties follow.
Some people call these high stakes stories where the hero/ine is absolutely bound to face hardship, danger, and emotional pain before s/he gets to that happy resolution. If the story is not in the romance genre, then the resolution may not be pain free, either.
We’ve all read about common themes in storytelling. For heroes, one event leads to another, and as he nears whatever it is he’s striving for, the difficulties get higher, larger, and hurt more. At the moment I’m trying to decide where my hero goes next and my musings led to thinking about the delicate art of storytelling balance.
The problem for the writer is in keeping the imagination within the bounds of what is possible. For example: Events have to be believable, and the hero must, in some weird way, like David and Goliath, be equipped to deal with the things that confront him. These days it’s not everyone’s good luck to be a whiz with a slingshot, but you take my meaning.
If the winning shot that fells Goliath also costs the hero in some way, that’s excellent from the writer’s point of view, otherwise it all seems too lucky to be credible if he got away with a wry grin, and a shrug of the shoulders. That belongs to the cartoon character. Or maybe Indiana Jones.
No, I take that back. Indie suffers physically and from his fear of snakes in almost every film, and sometimes Dad steals his girl. That's the thing about Indiana…a writer needs to know when enough is enough. Indie doesn’t; he goes on chasing the demon until he himself verges on becoming a cartoon character.
If we once ask ourselves if a man can survive all this pain, then we’re very close to the borderline of believability, where a thumping good storyline will suddenly be taken over by cartoon characters like the feminine creation in the film Salt I talked about a few posts back. And unless you are writing for movieland, then personally, I think cartoonland is a bad place to be.
Yippee! Being Human is on the way back! Next time I'll have to write about how BH gets away with being a high stakes story (hee hee) and avoids the cartoon trap.


Vicky said...

Great thoughts, Jen! I also think what the hero/herione confronts has to somehow link with their own inner conflict/demons. It's one thing to go into battle ready to defeat the enemy; it's a much deeper thing if deep inside you feel that fighting is wrong (which by the way, was the crux of the conflict for the heroine of the western High Noon.) Now the stakes are really high, because to succeed, you've also got to battle yourself.

leadinglight said...

I like the way you illustrate the difference between telling and showing.

Jen Black said...

Did I talk about telling and showing in this post, leading light? I hadn't realised....