Thursday, February 03, 2011

Fear and Passion

A story, to be a story, must have some sort of tension, conflict, and ultimately fear. Beauty fears the Beast. We fear Cinderella will live out her life in servitude. Juliet and Romeo fear their families' reactions, but also fear being torn apart. In The King's Speech, Bertie fears stuttering in public, but also fears letting his people down.  Fear provides tension, and dramatic tension guides a plot.

Fear can also be used to draw the audience into identifying with a character.  Does the character fear poverty?  Great!  Lots of readers/audience members fear poverty too.  To give a shape to that fear, make it specific:  Maybe she fears the creeping feeling of cold up her fingertips and down her spine, cold that would make her curl into herself and makes her muscles shiver and lock up - so she turns the heat up extra high, even as she racks up late fees on her other bills.

But love, and passion, are also ways to draw your audience in.  Maybe, as much as this character fears and hates the cold, she loves sunlight.  Maybe she gets up just at sunrise to catch those first long rays and visits greenhouses even in the winter, because they're warm enough to walk around in in a t-shirt, with the sunlight playing over her skin, and the smell of plants gobbling up that sunlight all around her.

In each of these cases, the general fear/passion (cold/sunlight) is something universal.  The specifics of our character's fear/passion must be vivid and idiosyncratic:  details that make the audience feel that fear anew, and remember that passion long past the closing scene.

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