In yesterday’s blog, we studied James Cameron’s Avatar and how he used tried-and-true universal themes in this futuristic, dazzling story. Because I refer to material from yesterday’s blog, you might want to read that first.
Think of a universal theme that has proven to resonate with huge audiences, and strengthen it with the following story elements.
Stakes. Stakes. Stakes. Dust off your Donald Maass workbook about the breakout novel. Create high public stakes, high personal stakes, and keep raising them. I can still hear Donald’s mantra from RMFW’s May workshop in 2002, I think. He would have us turn to a scene we had already written, and he asked us to write down what was at stake in that scene. Once we answered that, he would ask, “How can you make it worse for your protagonist?” then “How can you make it even worse?” In Avatar, the Na’vi’s entire world is at stake.
Take your universal theme and ask these questions until you have a theme with high stakes.
New twists. Why change a uniform when you can create a living, breathing body to inhabit? Why tell the story of a sinking ship when you can weave an unforgettable love story within its decks? Cameron topped his Terminator with a newer, more powerful villain made of liquid metal and polymorphic abilities.
What can you do with plot, character, setting and/or style that will present this universal, high-stakes theme in a new, refreshing light? Cameron chooses a unique setting, and the plot twist is that Sam … oops, spoiler material. Another twist is what happens to Sam.
Another brilliant twist in Avatar: the protagonist is handicapped, but finds himself in a world and time when his physical impediments can be instantly erased.
Tomorrow we’ll look at GMC (Goal-Motivation-Conflict-Disaster) because, no matter how fantastic, futuristic or ancient your setting, no matter how horrific, romantic or mysterious your story, good story needs this critical spine.