The Apostle Paul is talking again about proclaiming the mystery of Christ.
He exhorts us to talk about Jesus, the hope of our lives, wherever and whenever the opportunity presents itself. As in yesterday’s verse, we are to always be ready to share our faith, even in the face of opposition.
Today, Paul asks us to have grace in our conversations.
The Greek word is charis and it occurs 24 times in the New Testament and is mostly translated as grace and favour, from God and from ourselves as a result of God in our lives.
Strong tells us that charis is from chairo meaning: of manner or act (abstract or concrete; literal, figurative or spiritual; especially the divine influence upon the heart, and its reflection in the life; including gratitude).
Our conversations are to have God upon our hearts and be a reflection of Him in our lives.
It has been more than a year since I entered a physical church building.
No one could have imagined the events of the last year which has contributed to me making that statement.
I have always believed that the church of God is the people and not the stone and glass, but it did strike me sitting in the pew of St. Oswald’s at 6:30am that I really was just one of many believers who have sat in Easter Day services since it was dedicated in April 1241.
People have found many different ways to connect to what is important to them over the last year.
So it has been with faith.
That we strive for connection with God is the important part.
Whether it is in a church building or online, with others or alone, out in the countryside or on city streets as we walk, God waits for us to start the conversation.
This talk by French Screenwriter and Film Maker, Celine Sciamma, has challenged me in two ways.
It has challenged my already challenged mind regarding the received ‘this is the way you plot a story’.
It has challenged me to think even more deeply about what the focus of my stories are.
For Sciamma there is a three stage process for her writing. She may not title them exactly as I am about to list them, but this is my translation of them:
Identify your Global Desires for the film/story
Place the Local Scenes
Return to the Global View and ensure that each of the Local Scenes are in keeping with your Global Desires.
Your Global Desires for your story encompasses the whole form and key elements of your narrative. There may be a number: It is a love story; it has a non-typical viewpoint; its is artistically driven and not obstacle driven in plot.
Your Local Scenes are the actual scenes in the story and should be split into two lists:
1.The Desired List – This is the parts of scenes, the snatches of dialogue, the setting of the story, random ideas of plot; in fact they are anything which inspired you in the idea of the story to begin with.
2.The Needed List – These are the scenes you need to have in your story in order to tell it. It is the plot, the characters, the action, etc.
The aim here is to take all of the items in your second list and work them into the first list. All that should remain is your list of Desired scenes.
Focus on what is important in each scene. Is it the dialogue? Is it the detail of setting? Is it character? Is it the action between characters?
Your finalGlobal View for your story now checks that your Desired list of scenes is telling the elements you specified in the original Global Desires list.
What isn’t necessary needs to be cut or altered so it is necessary.
You may not need lots of background detail in your narrative.
You may not need to follow the conventions of your time period or the genre of your story.
Conflict and Obstacles – the usual cornerstones of plotting – may not have to be the focus of your story telling.
If you are telling a love story your key characters may not have to have large obstacles or have conflict in their relationship. If your Global Desire is to tell of the love between two characters then focus on the love.
Take a story you are currently working on, or a new idea you have and apply Sciamma’s three stages of planning/plotting to it.
I expect your view of your story to change. Mine has.
If you choose to take a break, have you broken your habit?
I’ve written just over 63,000 words in the last 7 weeks, with the aim of writing at least 1,000 words a day.
I established the habit I wanted of writing a minimum of 1,000 words a day.
Then two days ago, I stopped writing.
It was a conscious choice.
The story was going fine. I am a ‘pantser’ by inclination and, creatively, I was having no problems.
The problem came from the characters themselves.
They were easy characters, working well together.
They had a plot which was going forward and had layers. They didn’t grumble.
But they pull me to one side and ask me one question – we know what’s going on, but does the reader?
I looked blankly at them and then asked for more coffee.
They were right.
I was leaving the reader to make big leaps in understanding of the characters from subtle clues in the things they said.
The characters left me alone to work the problem out.
The first thing to do was stop writing.
Another one thousand more words which weren’t quite hitting the spot wasn’t going to help.
I realised I was going to have to make changes in what I had written so far, but I wasn’t going to do that now.
Finish the story. Edit after.
What I needed to do know was realise all of the character points I knew in their backgrounds, and let that information out to the reader, without them having to do an ‘escape room’ puzzle to work it out.
I am writing a thriller. Not a character trait treasure hunt.
I have dropped the reader into the midst of a group of tight characters.
The reader needs to understand how they got where they are and why.
I am the writer, so it’s my job to get them up to speed.
The main characters know we are back to work as normal tomorrow.
Break-time is over.
I’ve looked them in the eye, and I think they believe me.
It is difficult in these days of movies and tv series not to associate actors with the fictional people they portray.
Or is it the other way around?
An honest actor will tell you that if the writing is good then they just say the lines. Which is them being very generous. Their art is a truly skilful one.
But, if the lines of their characters are true to their part within the story, then they may ‘play’ the role rather than having to ‘invent’ the role.
I’ve been concentrating on character within my own stories a lot more recently.
I tend write and reveal character through dialogue. Which, for me, is fine; mostly due to the fact that these characters have been hanging out with me and following me around, talking non-stop to me.
I’ve started to think much more about how much I am actually revealing about these characters. I think I might not be doing as good a job as I think.
One of the articles I came across whilst deliberating this issue offered ‘five ways to improving your characters’.
In my notebook, I neglected to write down where the article was from . . . but when I track it down again, I will attribute it properly so you can check the whole thing out.
Until then I offer you the notes I made.
Get in touch with your character on a personal level – If you were describing having met this person to a friend of yours, what would you tell them? Your reader probably should know that much too.
Understand their backstory deeply – You probably will not tell this story in your novel/script but all of the things that have happened to them up to this point, will effect their decision making within your story.
Drive your story with your characters – Plot is obviously important, but how your main characters get to that end point, might be different if you let them find their way there, rather than driving them there yourself.
Study how character change impacts plot – Back to school! – pick up those books/articles, listen/watch those interviews with your favourite authors. Keep learning your craft!
Be persistent – Unless you want your characters to give up, don’t you give up learning and understanding them, so together you build the best story you can.
One of my favourite movies is Lethal Weapon and the introduction to the characters of Riggs and Murtaugh is one of the best there is.
We discover that Riggs has nothing left to live for and wants to die. We discover that Murtaugh has a family he wants to live for and worries that he might die if he isn’t careful.
The tension between these two characters and their motivations are what we watch. The plot line almost becomes something that just moves them from one place to another.
We see them rubbing the edges off each other.
They will only survive to the end of the story by doing it together. Murtaugh has to take chances and Riggs has to have something to live for.
Just writing those last couple of paragraphs reminds me I need to keep going back to point 4!
Let me know how your characters are going and what you have done to improve them.
One piece of writing advice is to destroy your tv.
You’re a writer of books, so read ’em and write ’em.
TV was invented to distract you and allow advertising to sell you stuff.
So that should be enough for why not to TV.
So Why to TV?
Plot and Characters in a story arc.
Most tv series don’t give you much more, other than a great source of material for building ‘cliffhangers’ into your chapter endings.
Watch how each episode is finished. How does it wrap the events of that episode but how does it inform on what went on in previous episode plots or signal something yet to come.
What character relationships are there and how do they develop?
Not everything needs to make sense. A lot of TV shows don’t even try to explain shifts in scenes or seemingly impossible plot points – they just know you want a conclusion to that episodes situation and to see how the relationships between the key characters is furthered.
Perhaps you don’t need to fret over all of those details which were giving you sleepless nights after all.
So how long do you think you have got to reel in that reader?
You’ve written three hundred or four hundred pages, so thirty or forty pages to get going?
More like the length of the Amazon ‘Look Inside’ preview, or the equivalent stood at the shelves in your local book store.
The bottom line is, not that long.
So what can you do?
Learn a lesson from the writer/director M. Night Shyamalan.
I’ve been a big fan of Shyamalan for years, in particular The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, and The Village.
Scott Myers is doing an awesome series called 30 Days of Screenplays, and he brilliantly breaks down the first seven and a half minutes of the movie, three scenes, which establishes character and plot.
I’m not going to just repeat Myers breakdown, so click on the links and learn from one of the most original writers for screen over the last twenty years, with lessons which will work just as well for novelists.