Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Day 2 - Plunging Into the Past

Today's focus is on using past events to change the way our characters behave.

Reading Quiz and Attendance
Form Small Groups for warm-up writing exercise.  As a group, choose a character from one of the stories we've read for today.  Come up with a new and very person memory for this character, a memory that somehow involves food.  For 5 minutes, write as fast as you can about the incident.  Write this in the third person, past tense, narrative present.

Violence, Escape, and Manipulation - Just Another Human Day
As human beings, we are gifted with significant intellect - intellect which is dwarfed only by our own drive to survive.  Yet some of the most time-tested strategies for surviving from one day to the next are actually detrimental to the sophisticated societies we live in.
Small Groups Discussion: Select one of the stories from today's reading.  Go through the story and identify all the instances of characters using violence or manipulation to force desired behaviors on other characters.
Small Groups Discussion: Now go through the same story and find examples of characters doing their best to escape from challenging, threatening, or just plain stressful situations.

Violent Stock Characters - Just Like You and Me
Characters are the product of memory.  The painful memories from the past can deeply wound a character, trapping that character into dangerous patterns of behavior.  This is one reason why stock characters work so well - we're used to the idea of the "tough-as-nails" soldier or the "ruthless" pirate.  We relate to these kinds of characters - at times, we like to think that we'd have the kind of force of will necessary to simply inflict violence upon others (as Hollis does in "Kaleidoscope").  Also consider Willie Johnson, who's ready to string up "The White Man" now that he's come to Mars.
Group Discussion: Commander Adama in Battlestar Galactica refuses networked computers aboard his ship. (BSG Pilot, Episode 1, 29:23-30:03).  Observe how he references the "many who died" because someone wanted a "better and faster computer."  Does this inflexibility make him a stock character?
Group Discussion: Starbuck and Lee Adama (BSG Pilot, Ep. 1, 30:03).  Creatures of habit staring each other down?  Or is there more to the story we don't know?  And what clue do we see indicating that Starbuck isn't telling us everything?
New Information and Flawed Notions of Reality: The Game-Changer of Fiction
Fully realized characters change with time.  And how do they do this?  Usually, they realize that their original ideas about the world were flawed.
Group Discussion: Starbuck's admission to Lee (BSG Pilot, Ep. 2, 51:26-52:50).  Think about why she's suddenly admitting this, and why she's admitting it to Lee.
Group Discussion: Commander Adama and President Roslin (BSG Pilot, Ep. 2, 57:59-1:01:09).  Consider first the social sparing here, particularly the way Roslin has made Adama wait a moment before she begins discussions with him.  There's a power struggle here.  Why?  What does Roslin expect from Adama?  What does Adama expect from himself?
Getting These Memories on the Page - First-Person vs. Third-Person
Writing fiction and filming movies represent two very different creative endeavors, but the goals are similar.  In movies, information is usually limited to dialogue.  In fiction, though, we have exposition.  And this can be a powerful tool when combined with voice.
Small Groups Writing Exercise: Rewrite the "food incident" in first-person past tense, narrative present.  (5 min)  Note the difference between first-person reporting third-person reporting.  How does this change the tone?  How does it effect the choice of details?  And the choice of diction?
Memory Reporting - Investigating the Past
Small Groups Writing Exercise: Rewrite the food incident in the narrative past.  Use first-person narrative - this is the character personally recalling what happened.
Small Groups Writing Exercise: Now rewrite the incident in the third-person narrative past. Shift away from the character who experienced it - use the point of view of a character who wasn't there. (The effect should be similar to that of Hattie recalling her husband's suffering on Earth in "The Other Shoe." Or like Don Fenton's conversation with Ruth Parsons, in which he tries to figure out her past.)

Memory and Plot - How the Past Changes the Ending
Consider the four versions of the memory you've just written.  Note the effect of moving from narrative present to narrative past.  How does this affect the immediacy of the piece?  Does the memory feel more important to the reader if it's currently happening (narrative present) or has already happened (narrative past)?
Small Groups Discussion: Yet Another Rewrite!  First, discuss (in your small groups) how this memory of the food incident has changed your character's outlook on life.  Now add in a couple years and a new incident somehow involving the same food.  It can be a smell, or it can be the character faced with the prospect of again eating this food.  How will the past incident affect the character's behavior?  As a group, choose the course of action this character will take.
Small Groups Writing Exercise: Individually write what happens.  Start in medias resThe memory should come out gradually as the new event is happening.  The new event should be the narrative present, and the previous incident clearly in the narrative past.
Tonight's Homework - Due on the Website by 9pm
Take a look at the one-page assignment describing a childhood event.  Starting from there, consider the long-term effects of that event.  How did that event change the outlook of your main character?

Now consider how the character's new point of view will affect interactions with other people, particularly those who care about the character.  Write 1-3 pages about someone who wants to influence this character, but needs to first learn the memory in order to counter it's effects.  Remember, the memory could be positive or negative, and this other character might be trying to help or manipulate your main character.

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