The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter


Monday, February 06, 2006

MENTAL SYNTAX



What is mental syntax?  This is the ORDER in which we do things.  If you are opening a safe, 6 left,17 right, 24 left is very different from 24 left, 6 left, and 17 right.  Same numbers.  Completely different result.

In the creation of a life you can treasure, there are certain things that must be done, and they must be done in certain sequences.  Part of what you do in seeking out mentors and teachers is to determine the sequence in which they perform the component aspects of their high-level skills.

Writing, for instance:  Generally, I will start with an idea, or a theme.  If a theme, I imagine the effect I want to have on an audience, and begin to dream up the kinds of scenes that might have that effect.  After those scenes suggest themselves, I look into the structure of the hero’s Journey, and arrange those scenes in a sequence of sorts…all very loosely, based more on feeling than logic (this is, of course, the advantage of understanding plot until it has reached the point of Unconscious Competence).  Once a loose structure evolves, I’ll notice that the story has begun to people itself with characters.  Generally misty ghosts, but characters nonetheless.  I then begin to research the world until those ghosts solidify and begin to speak to me about their feelings, hopes and dreams.

Sample dialogue creates itself at this point, and it gets easy to go deeper.  I’ll begin to structure story and character in a screenplay format using Final Draft, moving the “Index Card” outlining screens around, again, using instinct.  Just feeling my way through.  I’ll do this every other day or so (giving my mind an opportunity to rest) and then, at some point, I’ll start writing a script.  When the script is done, I read it, put it aside for a few weeks, and then read it again.  If it feels right, I turn it into a book, polishing, expanding, and changing as I go. For the last eight years I’ve written pretty much like this, and it feels great.

This, of course, is just my approach.  When you talk to other teachers and writers, learn theirs…and then evolve your own!