writing doom

7 Little Words …

There’s a single sentence that I find myself asking Bang2writers all the time … and it’s probably not what you think it is. It’s not:

“What the hell is this??”

“How did you think this is a good idea??”

– or even, “Are you on crack??”

This is cuz, contrary to popular to belief – not to mention the smack talk on this blog – B2W is always very respectful of writers, guiding them to various realisations about their work (both good and bad) WITHOUT the need for smashing them over the head with that metaphorical hammer –honest guv!!

… So, WHAT is this sentence of DOOM?

It’s very simple, when you think about it.  It happens so often, you’ll kick yourself. Here it is:

‘Cuz then there would be NO STORY’. 

Eeeek!!! 7 little words of terror. More, next.

HOW does the sentence of DOOM happen?

But how do we arrive at the sentence of doom?? No writer goes into writing a story thinking they have shaky foundations, after all. So, I elicit it from the writer themselves via this question:

“Why does (protagonist) do/not do [this action]?”

If the script has major issues then, the writer may have to answer:

“… Cuz then there will be NO STORY.”

KA-BLAM!

Yes, at times like this, writers may feel, well like THIS:

Everyone together – SUPERSADFACE (plus googly eyes).

WHY does the sentence of doom happen?

The sentence of doom frequently hits writers between the eyes for two reasons. These are usually:

  • Plot. This first one is very straightforward. In terms of your plot, your characters have to *do stuff* that feels authentic, otherwise their actions feel contrived. Most screenwriters get this, so I don’t usually end up talking about the sentence of doom with this in mind.
  • Concept. If your character is doing (or not doing) something *simply* because ‘then there would be no story’  then you have a suspension of disbelief problem. I call this ‘follow through’ – if your concept has a suspension of disbelief issue at grass roots level, it has a domino effect on the ‘follow through'; the plot collapses, because we can’t believe what the characters are supposed to be doing in the first place.

Like this …

I read a lot of stories about inheritances. Usually, a horrible protagonist is taught a lesson by a dying relative who says something along the lines of, ‘If you do these five tacts of kindness / solve these five  riddles / visit these five people etc etc etc’, you can have Twenty-Fifty Kazillion pounds when I’m gone.’

Horrible protagonist goes, ‘Ooooh! I want money, sure I’ll do that and on the way I’ll learn what’s important about life, but hey-ho never mind about that, KERCHING!’

The problem with the above then is – besides being as cheesy and stale as mouldy brie that’s fallen behind the toaster for fifteen weeks – is that it immediately begs ALL THESE QUESTIONS:

  • Why doesn’t dying relative just tell horrible protagonist? (‘Cuz then there would be no story)
  • If horrible protagonist is so horrible, why would he bother doing something FOR dying relative, even for money, why doesn’t he walk away? (‘Cuz then there would be no story)
  • If horrible protagonist is only doing this for money (not for love) why would we invest in his/her narrative journey? (‘Cuz then there would be no story)

Striking isn’t it how all those different questions could have the SAME ANSWER!

This is why those writers have a problem with their CONCEPT. It doesn’t ‘follow through’, it feels contrived at foundation level. Eeek!

… How To Fix Your Story:

The best concepts – in novels and screenplays – are compelling because they force characters to confront a problem or issue of some kind.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re writing a genre piece or a drama about the minutiae of life. The characters must have no choice but to engage with that issue or problem. The characters cannot simply walk away and/or give up — whether that means literally, metaphorically or both.

Check out the language use of the bold words above. They’re extremely active words that GRIP the characters, thus grip the potential audience.

If you’re answering, ‘Cuz then there would be no story’ when considering your characters’ actions, this is a major RED FLAG that you don’t have what you need. So revisit and redraft. Make your concept work at foundation level … OR ELSE!

More on B2W about Concept:

The 1 Reason Stories Crash And Burn

4 Reasons Your Concept Counts About All Else

7 Steps To Road-Testing Your Concept

7 Useful Things You Can Do Between Drafts

Top 10 Writing Misconceptions

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10 Responses to The 1 Sentence That Will Kill Your Story DEAD

  1. Helen says:

    Why does reading your posts give me a headache? Not trying to be mean, but I have read this post twice and I still don’t know what you are trying to say. I’d much rather you spit it out. Plainly, concisely. Sort of how you would prefer we screenwriters present our scripts. Thank you.

    • Lucy V Hay says:

      Blimey, you’re not going to get a blog that is as PLAIN or concise as this one. If you don’t know what this – or indeed any other post on here – is ‘trying’ to say, I would wager you have bigger writing problems than you realise.

      • Helen says:

        Constructive, thank you.

        P.S. I’m a finalist in the first of several competitions I have entered so far this year. Not eligible for the Nicholl because I won a fellowship several years ago. Will keep plugging along.

        • Lucy V says:

          You’re v welcome, Helen. If you wanted ‘constructive’ help, why not try different phrasing next time, like actually ASKING for clarification? Just a thought. Good luck with your contests.

          • Helen says:

            Thank you, Lucy. Yes, I should have worded my original comment differently. Apologies.

          • Lucy V Hay says:

            No problem Helen. I have revised the headlines in the article so hopefully it will be clearer now :)

  2. Glyn says:

    I rarely comment, Lucy, but I read most of your blogs, and for this one I checked in to say what a great point you’ve made. I’m pretty sure I understood it.

    The “without it there’d be no story” blemish can be seen across TV and film, but that’s no excuse. And the fault is rooted in that old issue of characters not being clear, and having at best vague motivation.

    Now I’m sidetracked by Helen and her headache. And tactless as she was, she has a point. I don’t mean the breathless style (I hope you don’t talk at breakfast like you blog!); but, for example, putting the Why section ahead of the What, isn’t too helpful.

    More to the point, though, I think there’s more to be said on the Sentence of Doom, so maybe you could revisit and explore? Keep up the good work!

    • Lucy V Hay says:

      Oh yes Glynn, I’ll definitely be coming back to the SENTENCE OF DOOM. After all, sometimes ‘cuz there would be no story’ is permissible. So how can we tell?!

      As for the subheadings — It goes WHAT it is; HOW it happens; WHY it happens — do you mean it should be the *other* way around? Cuz now you’re definitely on crack 😉

  3. Betty Spinks says:

    Yeah, no, this post doesn’t make its point coherently. I’m not upset. Just hope it helps you in future posts. For now, I’m going to stop following your blog.

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