Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Narrative Momentum

I've wanted to toss some thoughts out since the conference, but I have so many it's been tricky. I'll just go with one today. In one of the sessions, Dennis Hensley was talking about plot momentum, and he went on to discuss the basic eight priorities we have as humans. Read them, and that will make more sense:

1. Preservation of life (or the survival instinct)
2. Good health
3. Sense of security (financial, family, etc.)
4. Status (social, mostly)
5. Sensual stimulation
6. Mental stimulation
7. Altruism
8. Suspended action (or "rest")

You can debate the order of those all you want, but it doesn't really matter for my purposes. Dennis said that you get narrative momentum when you switch the order of those priorities, because something about that intrigues us or creates problems for your characters. In Frankenstein, Dr. Frankenstein puts his desire for mental stimulation above his sense of security, and that's where all the trouble comes from. In Harry Potter, Voldemort sticks "status" right there above "good health". In the Iliad, the warriors tend to put "status" above "preservation of life." Reordering these priorities makes a story.

The hero of my story is the quintessential 7-and-1 switcheroo-- that is to say, he places altruism over his desire to preserve his own life, and that, I think, is what makes him intriguing to me. I had to write it out to figure out why on earth someone would do that, and what sort of person he would be because of it.

Nifty, huh?


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