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Home » Archives » September 2007 » Unsafe Toy Alert!
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09/21/2007: Unsafe Toy Alert!

There is a thing that happens sometimes when you're coming up with a story. If you're still convincing yourself you can write without an outline, then it happens a lot. I'm talking about when a character doubles back on their own arc, ending up emotionally back where they started. A woman in love with her husband is told he's been cheating. She leaves him, then learns she was lied to and goes back to him. She's in love with him again just as she was at the beginning. It might feel like emotional movement as you're writing it, because she's angrily backing her bags at one point, and begging him to take her back at another, but since the beginning point and the ending point are the same, the story feels like a big never-mind.

Sometimes something similar happens with a pair of characters in conflict, who both change position and then both change back, twisting around each other in an awful double helix.

The problem actually grows out of good writers' instincts. You want to write scenes in which something changes. So you have your character change. But then there's another emotional scene. So you have them change back. It's a yo-yo. Add another character and you can see how the helix thing happens. When I tried writing my very first spec script I had two characters switching positions so often that I ended up titling the script, "The See-Saw," hoping that hanging a lantern on the problem would make it a virtue. It didn't.

Keep a watchful eye out for this. Complicate your character's emotional life so that going back to the starting place isn't an option, put them in a three-dimensional world so that they can move off in unexpected directions, plan your scenes so that you aren't improvising moves that you haven't thought through.

Ban the yo-yo!

Lunch: butternut squash soup, edamame


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