The highest goal of storytelling is to write something that changes lives.
For us this takes 400 pages and a whole lot of talent and luck. For songwriters, they get three minutes to come up with an iconic line or two that makes them and their music immortal. More people on the planet remember Imagine by John Lennon than generations of readers of “Moby Dick” combined.
Such is the power of words. Even when propelled into our minds on the back of a melody.
Last week I wrote a piece about how to find inspiration for our storytelling themes in song lyrics that haunt and amaze us. The response was amazing, both in quantity and quality. Everyone who responded offered up a compelling log-line, and the take-away was, for me (and I hope for you), very powerful.
You can read that thread here.
And… feel free to add more lyrics and log-lines going forward. We can never get too much inspiration.
Sometimes you’ll hear a pitch or log-line that seems void of theme.
The author may know it’s there, but the pitch seems exclusively plot-focused.
Like this: A replacement worker arrives on the moon for his three-year hitch at a mining operation and discovers the gig, and his own life, isn’t remotely what it seems. (This is from the recent film, Moon, which was totally awesome and worth renting on DVD.)
All concept, no theme. Anyone hearing that pitch would have to make the leap without much inspiration for the log-line itself.
None – and I mean none – of the entries offered here suffered from that problem. Each one had theme bubbling up from the words like steam from a volcanic hemorrhage.
Which is why it can be valuable to begin the story development process with theme. By definition, your story becomes a vehicle for it from square one, rather than an empty vessel in search of meaning.
But here was the pleasant surprise and the revelation: there was no lack of conceptual and dramatic appeal in these entries, either. These story ideas immediately resonated as something worth pursing, and as a reader, worth waiting for.
As born from a song lyric, these story ideas have two of the four elemental core competencies already in place.
So congrats to all who participated. Theme is the most challenging of the Six Core Competencies, and this exercise obviously hit home.
It was tough to pick a winner. But I did. Two in fact.
If you happen to work in the movie or publishing industry, read these entries. Really. This is a gold mine of killer material.
First, congrats to winner Elise Stephens, who submitted a lyric from one of my favorite songs, Mad World (the one Adam Lambert knocked out of the park on American Idol), originally by the group Tears for Fears. Here’s the lyric, followed by her log:
“All around me are familiar faces
Worn out places, worn out faces…
Going nowhere, going nowhere
…their tears are filling up their glasses
No expression, no expression
Hide my head I want to drown my sorrow
No tomorrow, no tomorrow.”
Log-line: A fifteen year old boy whose life is built around running from the past discovers a magic door that gives him sight into the future and, he hopes, the ability to face the abusive father whose return he has long dreaded.
Can’t you just imagine that story and its rich themes from this one line?
The point is that Elise could, and it may just well lead her to a career-defining story. Which will in no small part owe its success to the fact that the germ of it was one born of passion, from a heart-felt theme that led this writer to the place where stories are born.
Notice, too, that the story idea isn’t a literal translation of the lyric. It’s not a music video of the song, it’s something that lives on its own yet owes its thematic inspiration to these words.
Magic. The stuff storytelling is made of. The best stuff.
The other winner is…
Patrick Sullivan, who wins on a combination of quality and quantity. Patrick sent me about a dozen entries (all but one offered off-line, because he didn’t want to change the contest game… his enthusiasm was all about simply being excited by the proposition that theme is everywhere around us), all of them great story ideas. This guy is a bestselling author in waiting, if nothing else on his talent for coming up with original and compelling ideas.
Coming soon – “Top Ten Tuesdays,” a series of guest blogs from the winners of the “Top Ten Blogs For Writers” contest, hosted at Write to Done last month. I’m excited to share these talented writers with you, and hope you’ll visit their sites as they appear. To see who they are, click here for a list of the Top 10 winners and their sites.