Something I’ve been thinking about for weeks now is the concept of what I like to call “’60’s writing”, because I saw “Lost in Space”, the original “Star Trek” and “The Twilight Zone” use it the most. Basically, the idea is this – you set up either a world or the real world, and then make your inciting incident something really bizarre. What results is that the audience gets pulled into following the story because mentally, they’re trying to figure out the puzzle that oddity creates. Like for example, let’s say you have a little girl playing with her toys, but then one of the toys starts talking. The basic human impulse when you see something like this is to ask, “why is this happening?” And then, “where is this going to end up?” It’s a really compelling way of doing things, and I dig it.
Now I know this isn’t breaking any new ground. I deliberately used the word “inciting incident”, because it comes from just about every book on writing. As a friend of mine pointed out, the classic definition of short film narrative is “twist-build-twist”, and that inciting incident is obviously that first twist. The thing is, I’ve never focused on that mentally before, and it solves a lot of issues I’ve been having with writing in recent years. For one thing, I often find myself asking what the point is of telling /any/ story – that is to say, one of the things that bugged me when kids would invent their own comic book characters was that at the end of the day, they were just a variation on some other character, who’s ultimately just a variation on Superman. Why should we care any more about your character than any other? Honestly, I always felt that “Wolverine” from Marvel Comics became what he became mainly because he was so visually striking. But in absence of that, why would anybody give a flying fig about /any/ character? That being the case, I often found myself asking the same thing about stories, and so my writing has either always been derivative, or worse, pointless. Like you really saw this in the superhero boom of the early ’90’s. “Malibu Ultraverse” and “Comics’ Greatest World” were no better or worse than DC or Marvel. And IMO, that’s what ultimately did the boom in.
The thing is, a better way to look at this is by reminding yourself that people like good, well-developed characters, and only get to know those characters if they follow them through a compelling story that demonstrates why they’re worthwhile. That being the case, from now on, I’d like to approach writing by coming up with either an inciting incident, and then inventing the character who could resolve that puzzle, or if I invent a character, immediately think of a puzzle for him / her to solve in conjunction with it. That way, I can /drive/ everything I write. If nothing else – a reader wants to see the puzzle resolved. If they like the characters who do it, they’ll want to see that character resolve another one. But if they don’t, they will minimum hang around to see how the mysterious occurrence gets resolved. I know that sounds very basic, and I’m sure if any of the great writers throughout history read this, they would say “duh”. But I’ve never quite thought of it – or more importantly, /stated it/ – that way.