Wednesday, 21 May 2014
Recipe for writing a serial
Hi - I am in the process of writing another serial aimed at Women's Weekly. It's been tough conjuring up the essence of what it was which got the last one accepted. As I plan my next one, I thought I'd share the thought processes which worked last time and at the end of this posting I've shown how I applied my thoughts to come up with the serial that WW accepted. For a pantster rather than a plotter, any sort of planning is difficult. However, I have tried to get myself in the mode which I did last time in order to try and wave that magic wand, and apply the same principles to this latest attempt. So, here goes. Hero(s)and heroines I am going to have two possible love interests in this serial and both must contain some or all of the elements which make a hero. I've just watched Gladiator and think Russell Crowe's character Maximus is totally a hero whereas Commodus is an archetypal villain. Don't we love to hate villains! Note to self - there was no villain in my last serial, perhaps one this time would be good. So my hero(s) and my heroine will have some of the following characteristics: People like/respect them. Maximus is shown after an epic battle which has knocked the stuffing out of him, congratulating his troops, spending time with them. Beforehand he was doing the same - he thinks of others before himself. He is loyal to the failing emperor who tells us that Maximus is the son he should have had, he has more virtues than his own flawed flesh and blood. Maximus is modest, he doesn't want the glory of ruling Rome, he just wants to go back to his wife and family. Here is another hero trait, he honours his own, he is faithful and constant. We are shown him repeatedly kissing the little clay models of his family - show don't tell is personified here. Maximus is an expert (this is a fascinating characteristic in a main character) in warfare and fighting, you know with experts that there is certainty. We are fascinated by them, entranced by the abilities they have to understand the world. We are drawn to them. This quality is true even if they are expert criminals, many taless have been told about expert criminals and while they would not make true solid gold heroes, they are compelling. A wounded hero is a sort of gold star hero because we feel sorry for him. Maximus is wounded internally/psychologically by the evil Commodus's actions and of course externally - who could forget the final fight scene where Commodus has stuck a knife in Maximus before they even enter the gladiatorial arena. Here is another trait which makes us care for a leading character - someone who through no fault of their own experiences misfortune. In fact, Maximus has done everything possible to attract good fortune and still, he is beaten down by life. We want him to succeed, he's challenged constantly by life - here is a universal truth with which we can all identify. Finally a main character has to have a goal, clearly defined, and if that goal has a time limit, that ratchets up the suspense element of a story. With Maximus his goal initially is to go home. Then, once his wife and child have been murdered, it is to go home having avenged their killings. Goals can and do change along the way, in Gladiator, his home eventually is Elysium or heaven as that is where his family is and we even see an image of him being welcomed by them. So in summary my hero(s) and my heroine will have at least some of these traits: Be liked/respected by others Be modest Be faithful and constant Be brave (Jennifer Lawrence as Catniss is the personification of the brave heroine - she does NOT let things happen to her, she makes them happen. She's also an expert with her hunting skills) Be an expert Be wounded internally/psychologically and possibly externally ie. bearing the visible memory of a wounding in the form of a scar or limp possibly (I love Jake Gyllenhaal as the hero of the film Prisoners - his twitch, blinking too hard, displays so much inner turmoil!) Have a clear goal, ideally time limited (eg. with the lovely Jake, it is to save the kidnapped girls before the crazy kidnapper murders them) In my serial Finders Keepers, the heroine, Erica is a scientist (there's her expert trait) whose daughter loves and depends upon her (ie. liked and respected by others). She finds a pile of banknotes buried and is tormented by whether to turn them in to the police or use them to help her daughter who is in hospital about to give birth and is in dire financial trouble. Erica takes matters into her own hands (so she is brave) and she acts to help her daughter who at one point says 'you always make things right' (faithful and constant). She has a broken marriage behind her (wounded internally) so she sort of ticks most of those boxes. Her goal is clear - to help her daughter. The hero, Logan Kershaw is very wounded as a soldier invalided out of the army. He doesn't have many friends, but this is okay, he still ticks the hero box as it's not because he's not likeable but because he is withdrawn. Part of his character arc, his changing character throughout the serial is that he gathers friends and a family to him in that he is eventually welcomed into Erica's family and one of the last scenes is of him with her daughter and grandchild. The fact that he befriends Erica and she takes to him is evidence of his ability to fulfil the first of the character traits above - to be liked/respected. He is modest about his bravery in the army and we know he's an expert from his past career. His goal is clear - he wants to stop Erica doing the wrong thing with the money and to catch the bad people who secreted it, before they catch her to get it back. Well, sorry this has been such a long post, but it has really helped me to get my head around what I need to plan in my new serial. If it contributes to anyone else's writing, so much the better! These are not all my ideas, I've rarely had an original idea in my life, but I am indebted to the two books Save the Cat by Blake Snyder and Michael Hauge's 'Writing Screenplays that Sell' - they're the guys with the analytical brains, and the big ideas! Woman's Weekly are still running their fiction courses which I can recommend, just Google them. Happy writing all!!!