I’m blogging chapter by chapter through a great book on the art of writing by James Scott Bell. I encourage you to pick up a copy of “The Art Of War For Writers”.
Tip 28 is this: The fully engaged writer must extend operations to two levels of the story.
Sounds like a mouthful, but what Mr. Bell is on about is the need when we write to remember the emotional heartbeat of the story. Obviously the plot line or pitch concerns what happens to the lead character. But the story only comes alive when we describe what happens inside the lead character.
If we do this, Bell promises you “will elevate your manuscript above a mountain of slush passing before the bleary eyes of agents and editors.”
He provides some key words to help us distinguish between the outer and inner trappings of our writing. Think of “action” (outer) and “reaction” (inner). Think of “motion” (outer) and “emotion” (inner.) Goal / Growth is another pair of words to keep in mind.
Bell uses the example of Rick from Casablanca to illustrate the inner journey of the Lead, and in case we still don’t fully get it, he provides 9 questions to ask yourself while writing which will help broaden and deepen that journey for your characters. Examples:
Who does the Lead need to be at the end of the novel to be ‘whole’? And Where is he now? And Why is he this way?
I think this is what frustrated most when I saw the film “Dunkirk”. By design or neglect, Christopher Nolan gave us only surface depictions of his main characters. It kept me from caring. Compare this to the Spielberg classic, Saving Private Ryan, where Spielberg adds inner dimensionality to each character, beginning right off the bat with Tom Hank’s trembling hand.
Take a fresh look at your story. Is it an ordinary one-story house, or are two levels there for your characters to move about in?