ANALYZING YOUR LIST
Now that you’ve got your list, and a brand-new notebook to keep it in, let’s take a look at what you’ve come up with.
For myself, I am constantly looking at:
Silence of the Lambs (book and movie)
A Wrinkle in Time (book)
The Wizard of Oz (film)
The Haunting of Hill House (book and original film)
Anything by Ira Levin, especially Rosemary’s Baby (book and film), and
The Stepford Wives
The Exorcist (book and film)
Jaws (film, and it’s interesting to compare the book)
Pet Sematery (book, obviously!)
The Shining (book and film)
It’s A Wonderful Life
That's off the top of my head, just to illustrate the point I'm about to make – and not necessarily specific to the book I’m writing right now. On another day my list could just as easily include Hamlet, The Fountainhead, Apocalypse Now, The Treatment, Alice in Wonderland, Philadelphia Story, and Holiday Inn.
All of those examples are what I would call perfectly structured stories. But that list is not necessarily going to be much help for someone who's writing, you know, romantic comedy. (Although the rom coms of George Cukor, Preston Sturges, and Jane Austen, and Shakespeare, are some of my favorite stories on the planet, and my master list for a different story might well have some of those stories on it).
Okay, what does that list say about me?
• It’s heavily weighted toward thrillers, fantasy, horror, and the supernatural. In fact, even the two more realistic stories on the list, Jaws and Silence of the Lambs, are so mythic and archetypal that they might as well be supernatural – they both have such overwhelming forces of nature and evil working in them.
• It’s a very dark list, but it includes two films and a book that are some of the happiest endings in film and literary history. I read and watch stories about the battle between good and evil… but if you’ll notice, except for the Ira Levin books, I do believe in good triumphing.
• The stories are evenly split between male protagonists and female protagonists, but except for Jaws, really, women are strong and crucial characters in all of them.
And guess what? All of the above is exactly what I write.
A lot of the stories on your own list will probably be in one particular genre: thriller, horror, mystery, romance, paranormal, historical, science fiction, fantasy, women’s fiction, YA (Young Adult, which has all its own subgenres). And odds are that genre is what you write.
(If you’re not clear on what your genre is, I suggest you take your master list to the library or your local independent bookstore and ask your librarian or bookseller what genre those books and films fall into. These people are a writer’s best friends; please use them, and be grateful!)
But there will also always be a few stories on your list that have nothing to do with your dominant genre, some complete surprises, and those wild cards are sometimes the most useful for you to analyze structurally. Always trust something that pops into your head as belonging on your list. The list tells you who you are as a writer. What you are really listing are your secret thematic preferences. You can learn volumes from these lists if you are willing to go deep.
Every time I teach a story structure class it’s always fantastic for me to hear people’s lists, one after another, because it gives me such an insight into the particular uniqueness of the stories each of those writers is working toward telling.
You need to create your list, and break those stories down to see why they have such an impact on you - because that's the kind of impact that you want to have on your readers. My list isn't going to do that for you. Our tastes and writing and themes and turn-ons are too different - even if they're very similar.
There’s another thing that my list says about me. I would say that every single story on that list is a fairy tale, and the fairy tale structure is one I use over and over in my own writing. But instead of launching into fairy tale structure (and confusing everyone completely!), I want to give that discussion its own chapter later, after we talk about basic structure.
And the first thing you need to understand about structure is the concept of PREMISE.
So we'll be going into that shortly.
In the meantime, anyone want to share about their own list?
The Screenwriting Tricks workbook is now up in all e formats, including on Smashwords, where yes, you can finally download it as a pdf file or whatever format you want. Any version - $2.99!
- Smashwords (includes pdf and online viewing)
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- Amazon UK
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