Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Timeless Story

Shakespeare’s play “Romeo and Juliet” and Verdi’s opera “Rigoletto” were originally set in Italy, around the 16th century. How amazing, then, that you can move either of them four centuries forward, to an iconic location like Las Vegas or New York, and watch the same characters unfold the same story, conveying the same emotions and themes. If the heart of a story is true, it can happen anywhere, any time. It’s eternal.

Baritone Zeljko Lucic admitted that it made no difference to him whether he played Rigoletto as a jester in Mantua or a comedian at a strip club: the character stayed the same. He’s an archetype: a father whose cruelty and vengeance destroys his beloved daughter, just as irrational hatred destroys Romeo and Juliet or Tony and Maria.

How timeless is your story?

Could you move your story to ancient Rome or futuristic Marstopia and reveal identical truths? Wouldn’t it be great if you could?

·         Reduce your story to fundamentals. It doesn’t matter whether the protagonist is a NASA
astronaut or a Greek philosopher. What basic dilemma does she face, and how will the plot
skeleton resolve that? (Incidentally, this is the best approach for a logline, if you’re working on

·         Free your plot from specific conditions or circumstances. If those disappear, so does your plot. So do your characters. Eternal stories come from the human foibles and passions that endure wherever people are.

·         Unearth the changeless conflicts of your story, like love versus duty, or survival versus freedom.  These may not be obvious. But they’re in there. If they’re really not, discover them. Add them. Build your story around them.

Tip: Dig deep to compose a story that isn’t about this group of people, but all people everywhere.

The truths that unite everyone make novels haunting. Isn’t that what you want for yours?

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