Thursday, July 29, 2010
Use the Force, Writers...
In almost every film where the lead character reaches their darkest hour, there is a moment where something inspires them to continue. It gives them the strength, or the wisdom to overcome the seemingly impossible task at hand. With Luke Skywalker it was the voice of Obi Wan Kenobi exhorting him to, “Use the force, Luke.”
This is a pivotal point in the film. It is the moment Luke decides whether or not he truly believes that The Force will help him more than the tracking computer. It is his crossing over into the hero. I remember watching that moment as a kid with breathless wonder willing Luke to trust in the force. It was a movie making scene, moving and exciting…but if we’d never seen those prior scenes, the ones with Luke and Ben Kenobi training on the Millennium Falcon, that scene would play out differently.
There would be no audience connection with Luke’s past, or with the knowledge that Ben Kenobi was not actually dead but – on another plane of existence. Luke would have come off as kid so terrified by the responsibility of taking down the Death Star that he’d cracked and started to hallucinate and hear voices. Not a hero moment.
As a writer, my characters often come to a low point in their lives during the story. Whether it’s revisiting a painful situation, facing off with a deadly enemy, or struggling to survive an overwhelming scenario they need to draw inspiration from somewhere to continue.
I often try to incorporate Ben Kenobi moments in my writing. I’m not talking about old dudes in brown robes that speak like fortune cookies. I’m talking about a careful set up to explain how and from where the main character derives that final burst of strength to complete the impossible task. You have to know what it is ahead of time…planning is key to using this literary device.
First you have to decide what they will pull out of their hat to get the job done…
Do they dig deep down into the recesses of their psyche to overcome a crippling fear? Do they derive inspiration from a long-dead loved one? Maybe they’ve come full circle and the anger and fear of that prior experience has forges something stronger in them than they ever imagined.
Then you have to lay the groundwork...
Whatever the source of your character’s strength, the reader has to have some knowledge of it before the story gets to that point. Our readers need to have that emotional memory so when the main character reaches out in desperation and clings to that one glimmer of hope, its not an out-of-the-blue patch in that ruins your carefully crafted hero moment.
Whatever you decide it will probably be the most dramatic scene of your novel so make sure it’s worthy. Think of your kid self and remember what made you scream at the screen or bite back tears as you turned the page. Chances are you can recall those inspirational moments with great clarity because it was emotionally powerful. You'd connected with both the story and the character.
What kind of work do you do ahead of time to set up your climactic scenes? Do you have an idea in your head or do you plot it out on paper? How cohesive is the scene compared to what you write. I’d love you hear your thoughts. For now, I leave you with the iconic scene of my youth...
Until next time…Go Write!
Photograph by Andres Rueda.