Dear writers, have you ever been asked, “What’s your story about?”
Of course you have. And what was your answer? Did you recite your plot? Or instead, did you pitch a logline?
If the word “logline” beams a blank in your brain, here’s what it is.
A logline is a one-sentence story summary that can be published in TV Guide or a newspaper/web movie advertisement. It’s the hook that’s intriguing. It’s the sound bite that makes producers want to make your movie, publishers want to print your prose, and people want to peruse your pages.
And it’s even more that that. It’s your personal focus on the human journey, whether real or mythic. It’s the reason you told your tale.
So your summary is the place where all stories begin, where the writer asks herself, “Why am I writing this?”
If it’s for income, it’s a perfectly acceptable justification, but then it’s work. And later, your words may feel like work when people read them. Money alone won’t make a book sparkle.
So let’s refocus on a more merry motivation, like: “I just gotta get my ideas out of my head and into yours!”
Great. You’ve got ideas to spread around. Where do they come from? And how do they build a story foundation?
Let’s explore idea construction with an analogy.
The atom is the basic building block of the material world. Atoms are composed of smaller parts dynamically interacting with each other. Atoms in turn build more complex structures called molecules. Your primary story idea, your concept, is built like a molecule — out of basic mental building blocks.
These building blocks are not the characters or the twist and turns of your plot. The atom-like primary pieces of your story are your themes – what my computer dictionary defines as: The subject of a talk, a piece of writing, a person’s thoughts, or an exhibition; a topic or idea that recurs in or pervades a work of art or literature.
Your theme is your unstated message, that core principal which lingers in the subconscious of the people who finished your book or watched your play. It’s what motivated you to spin your saga.
Got that? Okay, back to the atom. Its nucleus is a varied composition of protons (carrying a charge) and neutrons (with no charge but contributing to its mass). Electrons orbit the positively charged nuclei of atoms and are responsible for binding atoms together. Electrons have a negative charge and create the force of magnetism. Electrons can also leave their orbits to share the orbits of other atoms and bind them together. An electron is like an assumption, a mental construct that brings people together through agreements. More on that later.
Your theme, like the atom, is built out of a combination of parts. The nucleus of a theme is composed of ideas. Some are emotionally charged (like protons) and some are neutral, but just as important.
Without interaction, your nucleus of ideas just sits there, minding its own business. But your ideas cannot live alone and so they create the push-pull of things spinning around them – things I’ve labeled assumptions.
An assumption, like an electron’s magnetic attraction and repulsion, creates likes and dislikes. Assumptions, made from and combined with core ideas, form your theme. And your theme attracts or repels readers.
It’s good to have varied themes. But that takes varied assumptions.
A carbon atom is a carbon atom and will stay a carbon atom until some alien particle invades its space with enough force to break it apart and annihilate it. Nature doesn’t like free particles (well…maybe photons and x-rays) so it does its best to recombine smashed nuclei into more complex atoms with more parts forming a more “evolved” element.
The same thing happens with the building blocks of your personal paradigm, your mental nucleus that makes you, you. Your basic assumptions about life get rearranged when an event invades your space that cannot be explained or justified with the logic you use to define your world. An “unfair” tragic death or Godly miracle shatters your assumed “truths” and forces you to make new and more complex core beliefs leading to new assumptions. That’s a good thing.
Friends, we can’t fight or fake our ideas and assumptions. Everything about you and me starts with a nucleus of core beliefs. Even when we borrow ideas, we’re making a choice about that based on our selected beliefs. It’s almost impossible (maybe it IS impossible) to write a plausible story and theme outside our personal truths and attitudes about them.
And even if we could, would we CARE about those ideas? I wouldn’t.
This topic, caring about the ideas we write about, explains Emma Coats’ Writing Basic #14.
Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.
Exposing your heart and passion becomes the soul of your story. Your themes sprout from your heart. If they come from some place else, your story will not come to life. You must love your ideas if you want someone else to love them.
And now I’ve returned to my own theme, that which permeates my writing/living philosophy.
If I want to write about new ideas I must continually seek new ideas.
And to author new ideas, I must be open to new ideas. And to be open to new ideas, I must stop being threatened by new ideas. And to avoid fearing new ideas, I must live with them for a while. I must become those new ideas even when I don’t agree with them.
Why must I take on uncomfortable ideas, those points-of-view I feel are destructive, at least for me?
Answer: I must walk in my neighbor’s shoes to understand how his journey shapes his path within a world we both share. Fear and hate fester in the fog of the unknown. Perceiving your neighbor’s intentions and understanding why they need to act feels a hell-of-a-lot more secure than looking over your shoulder and thinking, “What’s he gonna do next?”
We all strive for certainty, for balance. We all strive to predict the future. So the more we understand the push and pulls of conflicting cultures, the more we can predict an outcome or avoid a confrontation.
This statement is obvious. Right? We all go to school, learn lots of things. Right?
Nope, we all don’t. Too many people are uninformed about their judgments. And that limitation applies to writers as well. Many stay in their houses and describe their own backyards.
Now it’s not necessarily “bad” to have a narrow focus as a writer, especially if your readers happen to reside on your property. But it’s not a practical way to live. It’s too scary.
So again, my basic theme: The more we know, the more compelling our stories will be. Why? Because having a broader pallet of understanding allows our words to ring true with a wider diversity of readers. Beyond that, our neighbors don’t seem so menacing.
So the next time someone asks you, “What’s your story about?” you can pitch a logline but inside you’ll know your story is really about your ideas. And that means your story is about YOU!
Are you interesting?
Business: © Microsoft
Melancholy: © lusi|rgbstock
Filed under: Journal