THE INSPIRATION: Structure and creativity
“I think that structure is required for creativity.”
—Twyla Tharp, choreographer, dancer and author
A lot of creative types will complain about rules and structure. Don’t tie me down! I’m creative!
But let me ask you a question; without the hum-drum everyday structure… what exactly are you breaking free from?
There is no creativity without structure. No structure without creativity.
THE FAT ORANGE CAT: Three rules
The rule of three is a big deal. I honestly don’t know why three of anything works so well, but it just does. So today, put three rules, boundaries or expectations into your work.
Maybe one character is setting boundaries for another. Maybe your protagonist is coming up against a list of expectations that stands between them and their goal. Maybe someone is laying down the rules for a risky sexual encounter. Lay down those boundaries, writer!
The “Get Your Stuff” link will bring you to an item I selected specifically to accompany this post, but you do not have to buy that thing in order to support me. Just keep popping through Amazon and buy the stuff you were going to buy anyway.
THE TROPE: Three-beat
Again with the magic of threes. A three-beat is an idea or thing that you hit three times in the course of a story. The first time you establish it. The second time, you reinforce. The third time, you subvert.
For example, in the movie Whip It, the family has two daughters who are deeply involved in the pageant circuit. We have three interactions between Earl, the father of two girls, and Ronnie, the father of two boys across the street.
Beat 1. Establish.
In the first interaction, Ronnie is playing football with his sons, and the football flies into Earl’s yard, hitting him while his arms are full of dresses and pageant trophies.
Beat 2. Reinforce.
In the second interaction, Ronnie is hammering the signs for his son’s football numbers, while Earl’s eldest daughter, Bliss, stomps angrily through the yard.
Beat 3. Subvert.
The third beat happens after Bliss reveals that she’s been doing roller derby, and wins the big bout. As Earl hammers in his daughter’s sign as #22 on the roller derby team, he smiles and nods at Ronnie, who’s watering the hedges.
Three beats. They’re everywhere. And they’re awesome.
THE QUESTION: Cannibalizing your life
“What do you owe the real people upon whom you base your characters?”
Okay, I’m taking this question from a list posted by John Fox. I have no idea who this is, this is not an endorsement, but I found this question particularly interesting as it’s an idea that’s been coming up a bit lately in our discussions on Endless: A Sandman Podcast.
And my answer is…
I mean… yes, let’s go ahead and get the extreme example out of the way. If you tell someone’s entire life story beat for beat and you make them extremely identifiable in the story, then… yeah. You owe them.
But that’s not what I’m talking about here.
I’m talking about inspiration. If you create a character in your story that’s based on someone you know… that’s just writing. It’s how life works. As long as you change the details and file off the serial numbers and don’t use their personal information… you’re good to go.
Plus… it is really fun to put people you despise in fiction and then kill them. Have the common decency to change the name and details, and then go on your merry way, and if they complain, bring out Anne Lamott, who brilliantly said, “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”
Anna Wintour took her lumps. So can they.
THE PRACTICAL: No. Dummy.
If I haven’t convinced you of the value of structure yet in this week’s digest, then you really need to visit Dave Ogleton’s TikTok page.
In most of his videos, Ogleton does the same exact thing. The shot framing is the same. It’s the same words, in the same order, over and over again.
He opens with, “I said to my son….” and then he asks a question-based joke.
Then he says, “My son said…” and gives a punny answer.
Then he says, “I said, ‘No…. <pause, zoom>… Dummy… <pause>”
… and then it’s an even funnier pun.
The only thing he varies is the joke. You would think that viewing a bunch of these in order would get repetitive, but no. The structure actually highlights the creativity, and each joke in succession gets even funnier.
I swear, it’s true. Go ahead, watch a bunch of them. The jokes don’t get funnier as you go. They just seem funnier because of the structure itself.
So if anyone ever tries to tell you that structure squelches creativity, just tell them, “No. Dummy.”
(God, I wish I had a good pun to drop in here, but that’s just not my thing.)