Friday, September 11, 2015

Getting into the heart of the story...

Good morning all!

Next Monday, how about we talk about the heart and soul of our current projects: Act II. I'm planning on coming at it from the Hero's Journey structure and the literal changes it makes in brain chemistry when the right story 'clicks' within the reader. I did a little research this week, and it boiled down to the following:

A compelling story must do two things:

1. Capture our attention enough to transport us into the character's world.
2. Follow a structure (story arc) that allows us to intuitively feel 'trust' with the story.

A reader's attention has been described by science as something like a flashlight. It will 'illuminate' on a single element until something more compelling comes along. This is why 'good' stories become more compelling as the tale unfolds; our attention span requires metabolic energy, so we give it sparingly. A great hook is what carries readers into Act I of most stories.

However, if we can maintain a readers attention long enough, the 'transport' occurs and the reader becomes emotionally invested. At this stage, the readers 'older brain region' begins to simulate the emotions on the page. A chemical called Oxytocin is produced, allowing humans and other mammals to reach deeper levels of trust, compassion, and empathy (social / group bonding).

The 'transport' is not indefinite. Narrative theorists have found that an established story foundation; the "story arc" / hero's journey is a structure that allows our brains to create relevance to a story. In short, our brains require crisis to be overcome (story resolution / Act III). This is where TV and film has books beat: there is audio and visual stimulation that further draws a person into the story.

However; books have TV / film 'beat' in the narrative voice and deeper complexity allowed by a budget-free medium (word count not withstanding). Books are 'slower' than TV. We can pull a reader in deeper, safely working them through more complex elements... if the 'transport' is maintained.

Enter the elements of the three-act play and the tried / tested / established Arc Structure. At the heart of this structure is Act II. It begins with the hero leaving the 'old world' for something 'new'; it ends when our hero looks back on all that has happened and asks "Why did this happen?"

I've broken down Act II into the basic, fundamental steps. We'll talk about that on Monday. I've got handouts for all!

Also, feel free to bring in a sample chapter for us to dig through and critique!

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