The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Friday, August 04, 2006

Second Commandment of Writing

The Ten Commandments of Writing #2:

"Thou shalt balance plot, characterization, and poetics."

Plot is what a character does in a given situation. 
Characterization is the externalization of a human
being's inner world, generally through actions,
perceptions, and emotions.  Poetics is the use of
language   to guide the unconscious mind of the
reader--or of imagery and sound to guide the
mind of the movie viewer.

These three things, in combination, create that
mystical thing called "Thematics."  Imagine each
of them as one corner of a triangle, with thematics
within the triangle itself, and you'll grasp what I'm saying.

If you will look at your writing in this fashion, look
for the interaction of these three aspects, you will
accelerate the process of your work tremendously.

LIFEWRITING demands that you learn all you can
about human psychology--beginning with yourself.
Why do you have the career, relationship history
and physical body you currently have?  Take
responsibility for it, without blaming anything or
anyone external. If you can do this without falling
into guilt, blame, or shame, you will learn more in
one year than most people do in ten.

As for Plot, we use the Hero's Journey, because it
is the ONLY plot structure that not only organizes
ideas into story, but comments upon the very
structure of life itself.  Therefore, every time
you consider plot, you are questioning your very
Cosmology (reality map) and Epistomology (the
means of creating that map) themselves.  This
is deep, hard work--we've all got a LOT of cleaning
up to do.  None of us created these maps entirely
consciously and maturely.  Most of the time,
these maps were given to us in the cradle. 

As for Poetics, the rule is simple: read ten times as
much as you write, and read one level "up" from
your writing ambitions.  In other words, do you
want to write science fiction?  Then don't just read
science fiction.  Read science, and read the best
quality fiction your mind can decipher (everyone
has a limit!).  If you eat steak, how does it come
out on the other end?  Well, that degradation
process works with reading and writing as well.
If you START with b.s., if you read garbage, what
exactly do you think is going to happen to your
unconscious creative process?  Read poetry, the
best from all cultures, back through history.  Don't
be trapped by contemporary ideas., or your work
will be utterly plebian and dead in the water by
next year.  Poetics are the domain of the unconscious must use the conscious mind to program
and prepare it.

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