Today I’m pleased to present a new Astraea Press author Cara Cooper.
Hollywood knows a thing or two…..
What makes a writer? 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration it has been said. I’m a panster, rather than a plotter. That is I sit down with a blank sheet and write by the seat of my pants. But I do like to listen to people who are far more analytical than I, taking stories apart to find out what makes a great story ‘tick’. Recently I have listened to a great talk by Michael Hauge and Chris Vogler, two ofHollywood’s screenwriting experts and thought I’d share some of their wisdom with you because so much of their good sense can be fascinating to readers and writers alike.
Messrs Hauge and Vogler believe that successful plots have both an inner and outer journey for the hero/heroine. For the outer journey, the hero has to pursue a visible goal with a clear finish line. Think of the hugely successful film ‘Titanic’ and we see that Rose has an outer journey planned: not just to complete the voyage, but to comply with the wishes of her family and marry her rich fiancé. If she loved him, and married him straight off, well there’d be no story. Michael Hague argues that the primary objective of storymakers is to elicit emotion. Readers connect with our books because they want to FEEL something. At their core, he believes stories are simple and built on a foundation of CHARACTER, DESIRE and CONFLICT.
What has captivated millions in the ‘Titanic’ story is the CONFLICT which rages within Rose. She simply doesn’t love her fiancé with all her heart and soul, and deep down in her psyche (where her inner journey takes place) she believes life could give her that once and for ever relationship. In Titanic therefore we already have Rose’s inner conflict but why do we root for her? What makes characters people we identify with, people we want to spend our precious time with, people we care about. After all, they’re not even real!
There are various ways of creating a CHARACTER we identify with and one of the ways of providing that emotion is to put your hero/heroine in peril. In a completely different type of story, the film ‘Collateral’ has an industrious taxi driver (Jamie Foxx) hijacked by contract killer Tom Cruise who orders Jamie to ferry him around whilst he completes his grisly work. The taxi driver is a good guy struggling in a difficult world. When we see that he keeps a photo of a desert island in his car because he has dreams of starting his own business calledIslandcars we immediately feel sorry for him. Tom Cruise has put him in peril and we stay with the story because we care that Jamie gets out of it alive to complete his dream. In Titanic Rose is in peril the moment she sets foot on that ship – it’s going to sink after all. But this story’s strength is, it has layers. Rose is not just in peril in a physical sense because the ship will sink, but we connect with her a deeper level due to her inner conflict. She is young and beautiful and we don’t want to see her married to the wrong man and face a miserable existence. Similarly in ‘Collateral’, Jamie Foxx’s taxi driver has been driving taxis for 10 years and dreaming of his own business. His outer journey is to stay alive in the presence of the toxic Tom Cruise. But his inner journey is that he is a doormat, he is put upon by his boss and by his mother who is scathing of him even though he visits her faithfully in hospital. You want him to complete that inner journey too, to stand up for himself and start a new life. In the end he does complete his inner journey. He not only stays alive, but is forced out of his passive role into an active role and gets the girl at the end of the film too!
Another way to create identification with a character is to make your hero kind and good hearted – well liked by other characters in the story. Tom Hanks has built a career on these sort of characters. Both Rose and the engaging Jack have likeable traits – another reason why we root for them. A further way to make a character engaging is to have them be an expert in their field. In these cases, even a criminal can be engaging because we are fascinated by their expertise (although I hated the Tom Cruise character in ‘Collateral’ because he’s mean and heartless he was fascinating for that reason).
But to get back to ‘Titanic’ for the last part of our example. Another facet of a great story is DESIRE. That is, that your characters have to desire something so badly that they will do almost anything to get it. But if it doesn’t seem impossible for your hero/heroine to get what they want, we don’t care. One of the most difficult skills for a writer to achieve is giving characters heartfelt desires, putting them in situations where things look impossible for them then having everything come right. ‘Titanic’ does this superbly. It looks as if Rose will die but of course she survives. However she does more than this – she completes that all important inner journey. For she finds the perfect love. Jack takes her out of herself, he helps her to find a perfect love (and one which although is cut short tragically does mean they never have to quarrel over who does the dishes!). The moment that made me gasp in that film is where she throws away the priceless jewel. But of course Rose knows that money doesn’t make you happy, it is having had a perfect love in her life and being freed to follow her heart that has made her life complete, and completed her inner journey.
I always bear in mind these useful lessons and did so when I wrote my first story for Astraea Press, a sweet romance called, ‘The Sanctuary’ which will be out soon. Set partly inLondonand partly on an island off the English coast I’m really excited to be with Astraea. I’m new to Astraea but I hope to connect with readers very soon and hopefully I will have managed to achieve some of thatHollywoodsparkle.
Cara Cooper is from London, Englandwhere she has had six novellas and many short stories published in magazines. She has worked as a conference organiser, a barmaid in an English pub and in the office of a Secretary of State in Westminster. But the job she most enjoys is writing. She is a member of the Romantic Novelists Association and appears regularly at http://thepocketeers.blogspot.co.uk. She is frantically setting up her own website whilst trying to finish her 7th novella, complete a 10-part serial for a magazine, and do research for a historical novel. This mainly consists of wandering aroundLondon drinking more coffee than is good for her.
I’ve been writing for years, but only in the last few years have I focussed on what makes a good story and worked at crafting my own to become a published writer. There are so many resources out there and one I downloaded onto my Ipod recently, and listen to when I go jogging is had short stories and novellas published inEngland.
Thanks for hosting me on your blog Lindsay, it’s lovely to be here!
Thank you for stopping by and congrats on your first upcoming AP release
Good analysis of the main characters in Titanic.
I haven’t seen the other film, but after learning the story line, I don’t think I’d want to. Not certain why, though.