Friday, July 17, 2009

What defines a Good Scheme?

What defines a Good Scheme?
Michael Davis
Author of the Year, 2008

What are the attributes that differentiate an Okay scheme from a Good one? Notice that I didn’t say, “Things that make a perfect scheme.” Truth is, you can always do better.

On average, I review/self edit my un-submitted scripts twenty times or more. I’m not kidding. And because reading 90000 words over that many times can make them blur in you mind, I use a separation strategy. The first ten or so times, I immediately go back and look for different faults (lack of suspense, not enough detail, typos, invoking the six senses, etc). After that, I set it aside and do something else; some promotion activities, outline a new script, go fishing, spend time with my sweetie, anything to try and purge the script from my brain (boy, can that be hard to do). When I come back, I get a whole different perspective on the integrity of the story.

But what is it that makes a script really good? I’m not talking the storyline itself. Let's assume it’s a great one. I’m referring to what elements different a so so script from a “mighty fine” piece of work. Here are some things you should strive for:

Typos – Lord is this my Achilles heel. I have no difficulty envisioning good storylines, interesting scenes, but I’m horrible at catching typos. And it’s not intentional. The same thing that helps me to unfetter my mind and imagination restricts me from seeing typos. I thing that’s true for a lot of people. You would think that typos are no big deal, but they are. Editors, publishers, agents are appalled at these tiny little blemishes. They hate em, and they will hold it against you. So what do you do? Beats the heck out of me. If I knew I would share it and not get yelled at so much. Here are a few things that can help: Read the script out loud (don’t know why, but that really helps), find three people that love to find mistakes that others make and give them a dozen red pens each, or a dime for each typo they find (this got too expense for me), use an independent professional editor (try to charge them a dime for every one they miss, haven’t got anyone to do that yet).

Suspense –Everyone knows that the phase “page turner” is the goal of a good fiction story. Make sure the reader learns something new on each page, a new character, a flaw in an existing character, a diabolic part of a more complex plan, something that is hinted about or linked to something latter in the story. The reader should always has a question hovering like, ”what does that mean” or “what’s he going to do about that” or “are they finally going to get down to it,” anything that makes the reader want to know what’s next. Note that in a good script, all these loose ends must be weaved together in a beautiful clear and concise tapestry to achieve, “Ah, that’s how it all comes together.”

Five senses – A story does not envelope the reader if it is just words about events. If must invoke the five senses to truly make the viewer feel he/she is there. What does it taste like, look like, sound like, colors, textures, touches, tingles. It’s hard, but it’s important. Too much and it slows the reader down, too little and it’s just a white page.

Factual – You must make sure that you’ve done your research and when you’ve described an event, a place, a machine, a technology, its plausible and realistic. Case in point, I read a few pages for someone that wanted to write and they referred to a character shooting someone two hundred yards away with a slug shotgun. What’s wrong with that? At 100 yards a shotgun slug will drop two feet, by 200 yards it drops ten feet. See the problem now? I suggested they use a 30-06 rifle with a 150 grain bullet (only drops eight inches at 200 yards). Point is, you must make sure what you write is realistic. If in doubt, ask your question on one of the many writer sites (like the Water Cooler) and you will get help.

Characters – Many readers focus on the plot, but more become wrapped up in the characters (in my opinion). They must be believable, interesting, flawed (like real humans), and evolving over the story.

Point of View – POV is my arch enemy. I fight it in every single story. Why? Because I like to be in everyone’s head, knowing what they feel, their emotions. Helps me visualize what they’re thinking, why they did what they did. Sadly, this is not acceptable in modern fiction writing. Per chapter or scene, you must stay in one persons head. I hate it, I think it's awkward, but it’s a bitter pill I swallow to get my stories out to the readers.

Introspective – If you don't venture into the thoughts, the conflicts, the memories of characters, how can a reader feel their sorrow, pain, fears, and the reasons why they respond in some illogical manner? You can't relate to characters if you feel no empathy, and it’s difficult to feel for someone if you don't understand what they’re thinking.

Once you get all those facets of the story in line, you’re on the right track. In future articles, I’ll discuss each of these areas in more detail, but these highlights should help in the interim.

1 comment:

  1. 'this got too expense for me' - should be expensive. :)

    Waiting for my dime in Newmarket.