Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A Writer's Diagram

As we write a story, structure and time are critical. Normally we like to put “A” before “B” and so on and on. Sometimes we don’t, and we mess around with the fractured time frames, The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje is a great example. Yet, as I pointed out last week, it is critical to outline the story. In addition, it is important to diagram the story; to visually see how it flows and moves forward and upward. Every movie made has had some form of a storyboard in its history and evolution. Whether it is a series of vignettes or a formal diagram, it is easier to follow than an outline.

When I developed the story diagram for Elk River I used the concept of two worlds, the civil and the wild. The hero in the story moves back and forth between these two parallel worlds (sorry, they are real places, not time warps or something else). Each world provides the stage and the context for the events in that portion of the story. Simply put, you wouldn’t want to find a snake in your living room or a couch in the swamp (but then again, you might!). The following diagram, though difficult to read (the original is three feet by five feet, but click on the image to a larger version), gives you an idea as to how much detail you can invest in both the outline and the story diagram.

Elk River Story Diagram
Last week, I again visited Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey, to get my head and arms around a story line I have been kicking around in the ol’ cabeza for over twenty years. True story: I was given a letter years ago that tells of a simple journey to an exotic land, in 1928, by a man and his family; a few days, a small adventure, the challenges of culture and nuance. The letter gnawed away, teasing me with the thought of a larger story, an important story, an epic journey. Thus from those nine type written pages I’ve been evolving an outline and a supporting diagram. The outline we discussed last week (see blog below).

This diagram is both an expansion of Vogler as well as a graphic of how the story may flow. Three acts, the first two develop the story’s trajectory as it ascends, the last presents the climax to the denouement. The goal here is to develop the hero’s evolution. These all lead to the Moment of Truth (M.O.T.). The last Act pushes the story to its conclusion. Within the journey are trials and resolutions and Turning Points (T.P.). Each pushes the hero and the characters forward. Each builds on the last T.P., Vogler’s Writer’s Journey is posted along the base line.
Click on to enlarge
This is hardly the last story diagram I'll generate, and like Elk River, I will continue to evolve a very detailed diagram as to how the characters will interact with both events and each other. So, take a look, and think about the climb to the M.O.T., not unlike most us and our own life’s journey. Let me know what you think.

More later . . .

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