The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Pattern recognition in writing

As I said a while back, juggling multiple projects is something like playing multiple games of chess.  The chess master sees the flowing patterns on the board, and moves his pieces into an aesthetically pleasing configuration.  From vast experience, such artistic arrangements also lead to winning positions.

In writing, there are patterns as well, underlying the surface elements of grammar, spelling, paragraph construction, etc.  They have to do with the way character and plot interact with each other, and themselves.

Here are some questions to ask yourself when you return to a project after a few days or weeks away:

1) Who is my lead character? 
2) What does  she want?  What does  she need?  What is the difference between the two?
3) What is her greatest flaw?  How does this interact with the plot to create drama, or opportunity for growth?
4) What is her greatest strength?  How does this resolve or complicate the plot?
5) What is the moment of the character’s greatest despair?  What allows her to triumph despite the obstacle?
6) Does the character end the story on a higher or lower level than her beginning position?  Why, or why not?
7) What personal pain or joy am I expressing in this story? 
8) What is the difference between what this story is APPARENTLY about, and what it is ACTUALLY about?
9) Does this story have mythic or classical underpinnings? In other words, am I re-interpreting an older work or theme?
10) Why should a reader care about my characters?

Asking questions like this can jump-start your process.  Take a couple of these questions, and apply them to your work today!

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