Imagine you've just had some good news. You take your favorite person and go to a fancy restaurant where you order dinner and an expensive bottle of wine. On your way home, feeling full, happy and satisfied, do you and your favorite person spend the drive discussing the glass you drank the wine out of?
If you do, its because they served the wonderful wine in the wrong glass. Maybe it was brought to you in a shot glass, a coffee cup, or maybe you had to drink it straight from the bottle? Otherwise...you'd be talking about the wine, the food, the company. Anything except what the glass looked like.
This is the concept we'll be discussing in today's post. When a writer tells their story- its the wine. Often if a great story is crammed into a formulaic process like a beat sheet-the story is ruined by the glass. There are many benefits to a beat sheet
-helps find important stops or points in the story
-keeps pacing flowing
-fills in plot holes.
-gives bones for structure.
-The problem...If you're story has all the makings of a good novel, but you're trying to make it fit a formula, you've lost its uniqueness, intrigue and urgency. It becomes predictable.
Cory Mandell, a screen writer and instructor at USC talks about his work with aspiring screen writers. He has worked with a number of authors whose stories are great for about the first 40 pages while the author sets up the scene, setting, and character. However, as soon as 'the in sighting' incident is needed in the formula-around page 40-the story turns sour. Why is this?
Mandell claims its because the really memorable stories don't follow the formula. He gives three specific examples:
1. Juno: In Juno, the inciting incident happens before the story begins...When the MC gets pregnant.
2. When Harry Met Sally-In this romantic classic there isn't a clear incident. Perhaps the scene where Meg Ryan fakes an orgasm in the restaurant but that is 98 pages into the script.
3. The Godfather- A scene where our MC strides into a restaurant and guns down the enemy who attacked his father- Page 63 of the script
The point is...Each of these stories included an inciting incident, but not in the same place or at the same time in the story. "The Glass" had to be shattered in order for the writers to craft a specific container for the wine.
We don't read a book or watch a movie to talk about whether or not it followed a beat sheet. Trust me I've tried to have that conversation with my husband. He couldn't care less. If there's something wrong with the story. if it feels like its not going where it needs to. Then reader's put the book down, they don't work it out in their heads how it followed the formula and read it anyway.
The glass isn't important unless its so blatantly wrong, that it overshadows the wine. As a writer our job is to serve up the best, richest, most delicious wine for the money. If we do it properly, the glass doesn't matter.
The secret is now...How do I break the glass and craft my own specially sculpted container?
Good question. In part III, we'll look at ways to serve up your stories in the perfect decanter, goblet or carafe. In the meantime...keep writing!