Challenge: Write a short paragraph (100 words or less) daily on a topic beginning with the sequential letter of the alphabet.
It’s interesting that no other letter in the English alphabet has so many meanings attached to it than the simple X: It marked buried treasure on pirates’ maps (that’s debatable, but it’s one of those urban myths, like horned Viking helmets, that everyone “knows” is true); it provided a legal signature for an illiterate; it’s the symbol of a kiss; it denotes strongest quality, whether on liquor or films; it’s the unknown quantity in algebra, and from there became the symbol for any unknown value or thing (as “A,B,C” represent known, “X,Y,Z” represent unknown); and the list goes on.
Happy New Year! 2015 has begun, and with it I’ve begun the research for my next novel; this one, 18th century historical fiction (rounding off the Northing Trilogy with the final book), is taking me back into the world of workhouse orphanages, royal naval vessels, and 1760s fashions and mores. As I research, read, take notes and wiggle my way into a mental corset (to limit myself linguistically, morally, historically and socially to the times), I can still take advice from a more modern medium: Films.
I like to listen to good film commentaries, and one of the best teachers in the field is Steven Spielberg; he not only discusses the filming process itself, but the thought processes and philosophy behind his decisions and choices. Here are a few notes I’ve taken from his commentaries, and where I noted the particular film, I’ll let you know in case you want to hear it for yourself:
14 Tips from Steven Spielberg:
- Give environments a “used” feel – gritty, creaky, broken-in. Don’t explain every little detail, but take some things for “granted” to give an authentic feel. (Star Wars)
- The subconscious mind doesn’t know the difference between dreams and films – emotions will be touched equally.
- Running gags create humour (e.g. Indiana Jones hates snakes).
- One problem solved leads to another. One bad decision leads down – the main character must either decide to be redeemed by good actions, or be ruined (e.g. Darth Vader).
- If you have point A & point B of your plot, don’t be afraid to explore, to fill in the blanks to get you from A to B!
- The clothes have to match the characters to be believable. (Can you imagine Indiana Jones without that iconic hat?)
- If you edit cerebrally, you will lose feeling; rather, edit to “it feels right.”
- Sometimes you need a pointer scene, though it needs to be subtle: “This is where we are; this is where we need to be; this is how we get there.” (e.g. strategy scene before Luke destroys the Death Star)
- If there’s no emotional connection, there’s no point in doing something for narrative clarity.
- Contemplation time is essential in the creative process – don’t fill it with brain work that distracts. Take a bath. Do the laundry. Draw; doodle; do a craft.
- Get under the skin of a character, or culture, or landscape.
- Every act has three events.
- What is your main character’s “third place”? The first place is home; the second place is work; the third place is a socializer.
- Establish the mystery, and then begin peeling layers away.
[Plot Thots is my own shorthand for anything to do with mapping out a storyline.]