Contrast. It’s one of the great tools for writers and other artists. It’s one reason heroes have flaws and villains have virtues. It helps a monster stands out starkly in a placid suburban setting.
Following a long tradition of comedy teams, Sesame Street’s Bert and Ernie couldn’t be more different, which is why the are fascinating to watch. A generous act by a character who has been selfish can be poignant… or unsettling. A billionaire who hits the lottery isn’t much of a story. Make the winner a single mom who has trouble getting food on the table, and everything that follows is interesting.
Dystopias, horror stories, and disaster epics often lack contrast, and I think it weakens them. I am not a fan of Night of the Living Dead and its ilk. Not because they're gruesome (Tarantino outdoes Romero for blood), but because they are unrelenting.
This came home to me as I starting digging into contemporary horror. Though I have favorites like Alien, it’s not my genre to watch or to write. That’s why I’ve purposely been immersing myself in it, to get out of my comfort zone.
It is bleak. And, so often, there are few contrasts. This, to me, dulls even the sharpens images. Reading through script after script, it occurred to me that this lack goes beyond horror into other genres. It’s almost as if writers and directors are reluctant to include positive moments or characters who haven’t had the virtues drained out of them.
Going in the other direction is just as bad. Sappy, unrealistic stories that would gag anyone with two brain cells to rub together were in vogue when I was little, and I soon joined the revolt against these manipulative stories that left me unmoved.
Note: Frank Capra took the brunt of the rejection of happy stories, with his work referred to by critics and later generations as “Capracorn.” Pottersville in It’s a Wonderful Life is a nightmare. George Bailey is a flawed, reluctant hero who intends to commit suicide. For all its patriotism, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington ends well because a man blows his brains out. Sappy? Nope.
It’s Capra’s second-rate, would-be imitators that created the culture of happy stories of TV and movies made my teeth hurt. They were as unrelenting and lacking in contrast as many of today’s stories. The falseness of a greeting card world is not what I’ve advocating.
I do believe that it is both daring and powerful artistically to create contrasts by included basically good people in stories. Having successes for characters along the way. Including beauty. And, while I’m a sucker for dark humor, there is a place for heartfelt humor, too. And getting sentimental now and then? That’s okay, too.
Have the courage to bring the full palette of human situations to your work, and you can create more complexity and contrasts that will make your stories memorable.
How To Write Fast February 1 – February 28, 2018
Crank up the efficiency and get that novel, short story, article or script DONE. Through exercises, evaluations, tips and technologies, you can learn to write faster. Discover how to break through blocks, get ideas, develop plots, draft, and polish in less time without losing quality.
STORY BOOTCAMP February 5 – March 2, 2018
Start fast! Keep it humming. End with authority. Polish, correct, and tighten the prose. Learn how to rewrite your story, whether fiction or nonfiction, so it entices, captivates, and delights readers. This course will explore the dimensions of your story and push them to the limits so you get the most from your premise and your readers get compelling experiences. No slackers! This is a highly interactive class that depends on commitment and participation.
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Issue 4: Idea Discovery (Tasks 1)
Issue 3: Out of Your Comfort Zone
Issue 2: Speed Date Your Character
Issue 1: Plotting Help