Reverse Engineering of Setting

Reverse Engineering of Setting by Scott Mellgren “No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world.” John Keating, Dead Poet’s Society. The world is our setting, change it to drive your story. Space is a void. Place is setting. Time can change everything. Think of a movie set. Places are usually occupied by characters, background and props. Things happen and events occur. All those things that make a narrative: action, dialogue, story etc. Getting specific about setting is what propels an author to use setting. Use it like a tool. Setting is as malleable as a main character and the story itself. Setting can drive decisions that authors must make. Setting can be reverse engineered. Here are two examples I’ll invent to demonstrate for you. The first is a small item, a gun. The second is a big item, the sun. Example 1: Let’s make a movie. It’s a night scene. Your main character is James Bond and he is being chased. He needs a gun… to take down the international thugs on his tail. How do you give him a gun? How does a gun become available in his surroundings, his place, his action, his needs, his conflict… all we need is a gun. We see him approach a highly secured building with armed guards. He has the opportunity to relieve a guard of his gun. Being the antihero that he is… Bond is gentle. He only slightly hurts the dude, knocking him out, stuffs him in a bush, hiding him behind a thick stone wall so he won’t get hurt in the cross fire. Bond now has a gun that we generated in his proximity, as part of his setting, with which to eliminate his pursuers. Roll reversal, the prey becomes the hunter, and our main character’s external conflict gets resolved. Setting made this all happen. I would consider everything I’ve described as the setting except our main character… Government-looking fortress, some armed guards, some international thugs, and the isolated guard who gets knocked out and his prop (which is sometimes called a firearm). Don’t forget about or overlook the first item in this example of setting… It’s a night scene. Bond has probably just had dinner with a lovely lady and he’s wearing a tuxedo. What is a tux? The tux is setting. The tux may also be called wardrobe, characterization, style… lots of good answers. Example 2: I want the people... read more

The Anti-hero: The worst hero is loved the most?

The antihero is a character that lacks perfection, internally conflicted… a big flaw? Perhaps. This antihero character is usually interesting and refreshing to introduce, develops over the course of the story, becomes influenced by other characters, and advances the plot or develops a theme. Is the antihero the best choice for your main character? Well… Is it important to have a likeable main character? Someone the audience can relate to? Write something you know? Can you dance with the dark side? The audience needs to love to hate… a passion for hating an antihero seems key… at least for most of a story. To really be a hero, the redemption must occur. Some savory bits of… audience relating to and liking the antihero character, thus replacing the hatred with affection. Charlie Brown is the Peanuts’ antihero. He’s a blockhead. He’s easily disappointed. He’s the scapegoat. He brings flaws, neuroses and issues to the story. Lara Croft could be considered a hero or a villain… thus earning the title antihero. She is a thief and tomb raider, she pursues selfish agenda (the opposite of Indian Jones for example), and she claims to only murder people in self defense. She admits to killing endangered species, and should be incarcerated for all of her many crimes. Tony Stark could be easily considered a villain… he creates and distributes weapons of mass destruction. He’s a cocky, ego driven jerk and a pompous upper class twit. But, he saves the day and endears his audience to his vulnerabilities and turns out to be a normal guy (without a heart) with a false caricature exterior. Every single bad event/conflict that happens in Iron Man 2 is a direct result of Tony Stark being a jackass. He is this movie’s villain. All the other villains in this movie were inspired and created by Stark’s showing off and egomania, thus making him the super-villain. Not sharing his “super suit” invention with the “good guys” and being selfish about his “Iron Man” technology directly causes lots of civilian deaths. If you google “antihero” you will find a character treading the thin line between good and evil. There must be a flaw and there must be redemption. It’s an archetype. It’s a trope. It’s an idiom. If you try to explain it to someone, it’s like a broken record. My advice to writers: The antihero is a tricky character to master. This could go either way, depending on who... read more

First Lines

What is fiction? It’s a variety of subject matter, themes, and techniques and could become so broad as human experience itself. Is the nature of your fiction dramatic, concrete and specific, generally representative, instructs and entertains, related to life, or creative and imaginative? With any approach to writing a novel, there must be a first line out there for you to create. How important is the first line of a novel? Is it more important than the first page? The first chapter? What about the rest of the novel? Is the ending important? Character arch? There is so much more to consider. I can understand that a first line is what a reader finds after the title and becomes the first thing… the first impression. The blind date analogy: what is she wearing, hair style, and makeup. Do I always notice these things? Not specifically. Is this the real person? Is she styled like this all day and every day? Or is this a special occasion. Some people don’t date often and this is special. Is the first line like some sort of veil of decoration? Are you hiding your flaws and putting your best foot forward? What about the rest of the novel? Once you get to know someone, hair and makeup become trivial. One sentence can certainly display point of view and tense. It can show tone, style, theme and subject matter. You really can’t do too much with just the one line. Introducing character, plot and setting might be too much to ask. I think that’s why the work of art is called a novel. The most important single line should be located within the text where it has impact on story, plot and character. My theory is that all lines are important. The first is just that: first. If this first impression is important to you, then your first line is probably rewritten 38 different times with 12 different meanings. Could you leave your first first line in place? Sure, but by the time you complete the novel and you know what it is about and what it says, the first line can then be crafted to fit. A lot of writers “by the seat of their pants” and without a strict outline… might have no idea where they are going. They start writing. What does the first line mean on Day #1 and then what does it mean months or years later when the... read more