How do you approach your writing? Do you come up with interesting characters first? Do you create broad concepts and scenarios? Do you just write down random ideas and see what sticks? Help an anon who has no idea what they’re doing.
Lately, I’ve been “approaching” my writing by the time-honored method of not approaching it at all and preferring to huddle up in a corner terrified of life.
This is the most common method.
But there’s a lot of stuff I’ve learned over the year or so I’ve written LotH. The biggest one is what Aaron Sorkin calls “Intention and Obstacle”. A character wants [X], but [Y]. This is the core of all dramatic stories. It’s the engine that powers everything. Once you’ve got that, you can almost autopilot.
Peggy Farrow is the LOTH character that gets the best reaction from readers, and she’s far and away the easiest and most fun to write. She has a clear intention (She wants to be seen as high class), and a clear obstacle (she’s not really classy). This is never explicitly stated to the audience, but it makes it easy to figure out how Peggy will act in any given situation. The intention and obstacle are often the source of most of the character’s traits, not some bullet-point list with a five-page backstory.
Jill kind of doesn’t have this, especially early on. She’s the hardest and least fun character to write, which is a problem because she’s the protagonist. If Jill’s in a room, what does she do? I don’t know. Sit around and slouch? Not very interesting.
Later, she gains the intention to save Riley, and then things start moving more smoothly. If Jill’s in a room, what does she do? She looks for Riley, unless there’s something more pressing, in which case she does that. Having her intentions clear is what powers her as a character. That’s why the first or second song in a musical is the protagonist saying what they want, sometimes known as the “I want” song.
<iframe width=”560″ height=”315″ src=”https://www.youtube.com/embed/YPv1J9otAM4″ frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen></iframe>
Frozen, which I’m told was a moderate success, has four
“I Want” songs. “Do you want to build a snowman” establishes the Anna’s main Intention (getting closer to her sister) and obstacle (Elsa’s shutting her out). Then the “For the first time in forever” for Anna’s secondary intention (to get laid) and obstacle (she doesn’t know anyone), and “Let it go” for Elsa’s intention to just kind of fuck off and enjoy these mountains (note that, before her intention is established, Elsa literally doesn’t do anything of her own volition, just sits in a room all day then runs away in a panic).
(The fourth one’s “In Summer”, for comic relief snowman guy)
It’s not the fun snappy dialouge or the shocking twist of the backstory or the world. Intention/Obstacle is the clothesline you hang the story from. In Saffron, Saffron wants to rescue Prince Faunus. The obstacle is villains. This is the core of the story. It’s what makes the characters go, and it’s hard to write characters that don’t have a reason to go places. Trust me, I’ve tried.