Sunday, February 7, 2016

David Farland: My Story Doctor - The End of Round 1

Well ... I'm all finished with my first workshop with David Farland over at The workshop I took was Story Puzzle, which Dave considers the first stepping stone in his online workshops.

I wanted to take a moment to offer some insights into the process as I experienced it, as well as my own thoughts on the workshop process as a whole:

The workshop consisted of six lessons which took me from the kernel of an idea, through development, and set me on the path to outlining--and it was a completely different process in approaching a story than I have ever seen.

First, Dave's core belief when developing a story is that the writer should start with a solid understanding of the setting first. He suggests that your characters grow out of your setting -- which makes a bit of sense on the surface. If you are setting your tale in Scotland, for example, you'd better know about Scottish traditions and the history of and daily life in Scotland, because your characters certainly should know all of this, and all of that history, all of the daily life and the traditions will help to form and shape who your characters are and how the behave and think.

That being said, I tend to approach my setting after I have some idea of my characters first. This isn't to say I allow my characters to dictate my setting (although sometimes this happens), nor is it to suggest I have fully fleshed-out characters by the time I get around to my setting. However, what I do mean is that, for me, characters are the most important part of story development. People read to escape, but they also read to make a connection with other people.

So, I like to get an idea of who my characters are -- just very basic traits -- before deciding where they live or where they are from.

Dave also teaches that, for him, conflicts grow out of characters. I find this to be true. Again, part of the reason people read is to escape and experience things vicariously through the characters of a book. These inter-character conflicts can really only come about once you have a good grasp of your characters ... and ultimately, then, the story's plot will come from these conflicts.

Look at it like a chain, if you will: Setting > Characters > Conflicts > Plot

Unfortunately, my typical method is to jump around. I can't think in this linear pattern so my traditional method of story development often looks like this: Idea > Characters > Plot > Characters > Conflict > Characters > Setting > Characters > Plot > Conflict > Plot

See? It's all over the place. An example of my typical work flow is this: I'll discover a cool idea. Something like, "What if lice had a matriarchal society, and what if they had an army to protect the queen?" I'd ask myself what kind of characters this lice queendom would have. I'll come up with an army called the Legion of Lice, and there would have to be a Lieutenant in the Legion of Lice ... and his name might as well be Larry. So, Larry, the Lieutenant in the Legion of Lice is new to the Legion and somewhat of a coward.

Now I need a queen ... Louisa ... and she's having trouble finding a replacement mate -- the louse responsible for fertilizing all her eggs. She can't be called a queen though ... I know! She's a Landgrave. Louisa, the Landgrave of ... shit, where do they live? Got it! Licenstein. Yes. Louisa, the Landgrave of Licenstein and Larry, a Lieutenant in the Legion of Lice of Licenstein. Perfect.

Okay ... what's Licenstein like? I already know they have an army (the Legion) and a queen (the Landgrave) and she's having trouble finding a mate. Well, obviously Licenstein is located on some kid's head, so their entire world is built of hair and scalp. Oh! Licenstein is a small country on a larger continent called Scalptopia! Great! And some of the other countries are populated by similar creatures. Ooh! There's Bedbugia, Arachnia, the Flea Republic, Tickland, and Mosquitonia. Oh! And all of these countries worship the Great Leech. Right.

Okay ... so ... I've got it! Louisa the Landgrave of Licenstein lives in the Parasite Palace. Yes! And within the Parasite Palace she protects the Blood Oasis ... the only open source for the Nectar of Scalptopia ... and all the other countries want it. So ... the other countries form a pact, like the European Union, called ... hmm ... what about the Bloodsucker Brotherhood? Right, and the Bloodsucker Brotherhood comes to Louisa and demands she join them and give them access to the Blood Oasis, which she refuses ... why? Right! Because if she gives in she believes the Bloodsucker Brotherhood will enslave her people.

So ... where's the conflict? It seems a stalemate between them. But ... what if there's a traitor in Licenstein? Oh! What if there's a louse who wants to take Louisa's place? What if he believes in a different way of doing things? Oh! What if, instead of one queen and one mate, there is a single king and a harem of female lice? That's this other louse's goal and when he presents the goal to Louisa she laughs and turns him down which pisses him off and so he goes to the Brotherhood and makes a deal.

Yes! And, that deal ... ooh! ... that deal helps the brotherhood wipe out the entire Legion of Lice and gives them access to the Blood Oasis ... but ... what about Larry? He's the guy I like the most. He's a coward but a soldier. There's got to be something for him to do. He's the hero of the story what can he ... I know ... he has to become Louisa's new mate. But how? I've got it! He has to find a way to overcome his fear and defeat the Brotherhood. How does he do that?

Oh! What if the Blood Oasis and the Nectar of Scalptopia give him super strength? What if the lice of Licenstein really believe the Blood Oasis is there only for the Landgrave to produce eggs and feed her young, but when the lice grow to maturity they are only allowed to eat dandruff cakes and oil drops from the scalp? Right, this would make them weak. Why would they do that though? Why wouldn't they all drink blood? Got it! Because they were forced to flee their old homeland and all the knowledge they once had was lost ... so they don't know all lice can drink blood ... Oh! In fact, they think that if all lice drink blood they will somehow run out.

Right! Which is the reason Louisa doesn't want to give access to the Blood Oasis to the Brotherhood.

You see how this goes back and forth, building on top of each other as I brainstorm this stuff. I'm all over the map with character, plot, conflicts, and setting.

This is part of the reason Dave's workshop was such a challenge for me. It forced me to look at my development process in a different way. Everything Dave teaches comes from years of experience from writing bestseller fiction to working in Hollywood as a story director and greenlighter. He knows his stuff when it comes to commercially viable fiction, so you can't discount his methods.

I have certainly learned a ton from his workshop and look forward to taking the next one on the list. I think the greatest takeaway from Story Puzzle for me was the exercises in seeing things differently and the realization that my brain doesn't function in the linear way that works for some people. I need to jumble -- the back and forth -- so one idea can build off another.

What is interesting, though, is how Dave's process and my process are very similar. We both cover the same material, but in a different order. Where Dave teaches his linear approach, I like the network approach, but in the end, the results are very similar. I would have eventually come to the same decisions with the lice story above following Dave's linear format as I did jumping around ... but, for me, the excitement of discover might not have been as great.

Bottom line: take Dave's workshops. Work through them. Learn different ways of approaching and solving problems within a story. Any kind of learning helps, even if it seems counter-intuitive. Go here to learn more.