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Things you think about if you're me
ink
cleolinda
Okay. I'm kind of sick today (chills, aches, low fever, sinus snarf), so maybe I'm a little loopy, I don't know, but I finally convinced myself to expend the energy to heat some soup, and while I was pacing around waiting for it to get hot, I started thinking about basic plot conflicts. In essence, everything starts with desire: a character wants something. This is expressed--I forget who said it originally (Robert McKee? That sounds familiar)--by that saying that a character must want something, even if it's just a glass of water. And I started thinking, and then I realized that people never really take that axiom far enough--a story isn't just about wanting something; it's about how the characters are positioned in relation to that something, and what they want to do (or not do) with it. If you can't figure out what that setup is, you don't have a dynamic story; you just have a bunch of people sitting around twiddling their thumbs. They need desires, and they need motives, and they need things to pin those feelings on. So when you simplify everything to "a glass of water," it becomes both motive and MacGuffin. Someone wants to drink a glass of water. Someone doesn't want you to drink a glass of water. They want to take your glass of water away. They stole the glass of water, and now we have to get it back. We want to discover the Lost Glass of Water. Someone wants to blow up the glass of water; we have to go back in time to prevent the glass of water from spilling; the glass of water is going to freeze and all of humanity will die; we have to stop a comet from hitting the glass of water. You just met the most awesome glass of water, and now you have to find it again. He was really a glass of water the whole time. Knowledge was their glass of water. Who shot the glass of water?

Frodo wants to chuck the glass of water into Mount Doom so Sauron can't have it. Galadriel wants it, but restrains herself from taking it from him. Faramir isn't thirsty. Eowyn wants the very best bottle of water, but her bottle of water has been betrothed to another bottle of water for years now (who is giving up her immortality for a bottle of water with an expiration date), so she settles for some slightly less renowned but equally good water (you know all fancy that bottled water is just filtered from the tap anyway).

Lyra has a glass of water that everyone wants to take from her, but she's the only one who can drink it. She spents most of His Dark Materials trying to get back this or that other glass of water, though--at one point her GOW is a person; at another, an object.

I don't even want to start with the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. It's like Musical Glasses of Water up in there; I wasn't sure who had which glass or wanted what water half the time.

Let's see, the most recent movie I saw--Iron Man: Tony Stark wakes up with a glass of water in his chest, and then the bad guy takes it from him (but he has another one, just in case). In the sequel, his glass of water is poisoning him, so he discovers a new one. (No, that's not a spoiler. Yes, Tony Stark dies horribly of water poisoning, no more movies, the end. Right.)

On Lost, most--but not all--of the characters want to get the hell away from the glass of water. They also have a secondary glass of water in their back stories that drives them emotionally, and often a third glass of water in the present. Jack thought his glass of water never loved him, so now half the episodes are about his water issues. Sawyer wants to find the glass of water who caused his parents' death. Kate can't decide which glass of water she likes better. Desmond will travel through time to get to his glass of water. Michael wants to find WAAAAAAATER! Locke clings desperately to the glass of water (DON'T TELL HIM WHAT HE CAN'T DRINK) and wants to make sure he never leaves it (until he's Smokey Locke, at which point all he wants to do is get the hell away from it).

What else... The X-Files: Mulder had a goddamn glass of water taken away when he was a kid that he would NEVER, EVER shut up about, and his search for the glass of water was kind of touching in the first few seasons but after a while he'd say "I HAVE TO FIND MY GLASS OF WATER" and I would be like Oh God, this again, it's one of THOSE episodes and I would mentally check out for the rest of the hour, and I stopped watching after six or seven seasons, but I hear that eventually his glass of water turned into starlight or some shit, I don't even know.

Harry Potter has a shitload of water glasses, now that I think about it--each book is pretty much Harry Potter and the Glass of Water, although, on a larger level, the entire series is about him trying to stop Lord Glassofwater from taking over the world. The last book is pretty much a whole cabinet full of water glasses, honestly. Collect them all!

Edward loves his glass of water, but he must never, ever drink it. Bella really, REALLY wants him to drink the glass of water. Eighty percent of the books are the two of them arguing about drinking water, with Bella splashing at him occasionally. Jacob also wants to drink the glass of water, but Edward ends up with it instead, and then he and Bella have a little cup of water of their own (nooooo don't take their cup of water!), and Jacob will get to drink that.

I'm going to stop now, because I feel kind of dizzy.

So basically, if you're a writer, the question you need to sit down and ask yourself is: what are you going to do with your glass of water? 


ETA: A little followup you may want to read about how this is an editorial tool, not a writing philosophy.



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I'm going to put the kettle on.

Unrelated: Gunnerkrigg squee!

In Pirates of the Caribbean I am pretty sure the water is rum...
(couldn't help myself)

"Michael wants to find WAAAAAAATER! "

Okay. That made me snerfle a little.

and then he and Bella have a little cup of water of their own (nooooo don't take their cup of water!), and Jacob will get to drink that.

That sounds vaguely dirty.
Also, hilarious!

Get better soon. :)

More than vaguely. Full-body shudder, y'all.

Despite the cold medicine (or maybe because of it) one of the most lucid and interesting essays on how desire motivates plot movement and character development I've ever read.

And I think the Glass of Water thing originally came from Robert McKee's 'Story', but I could be wrong...

Since I'm going to be borrowing that book from my son soon, I'll keep my eyes open for it...

...so I can sporfle as I think back on this post, of course. Heh.

That was completely awesome. (I'm envisioning a whole series of icons based on it, for one thing. Not to mention a whole creative writing curriculum.) Man, I wish I could be that creative when I'm loopy.

"Bella splashing at him occasionally" -- *SNORK*

I love your icon!! :D


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Yes, I'm also going to save it for when I'm writing.

Feel better!

As a medicated person today...I have to say that reading this was nearly like finding writerly nirvana.

PS- I now wanna set of Harry Potter Water Glasses. Like Pokemon...gotta catch'em all!

I have Lord of the Rings water glasses... They light up!

Let's see if I can do this without getting lost in all the allegories...

My vampire is after her glass of water (which in fact is more like her faucet because she ended up being his glass of water), which lo these many years ago spilled her glass of water that she wanted to snuggle with forever and ever. Along the way it's mostly storytelling, though toward the end all the glasses come together at one point or another, and a glass she thought she'd lost comes back, wanting to spill all the glasses of water.

Essentially, it's her chasing a glass of water (for more reasons than I alluded to up there), and shenanigans ensue.

And have you ever tried to write a character that is so paradoxical, contradictory and insane it's hard just imagining him, let alone getting him to -somehow- make sense? Yeah. Not fun.

~hug~ Feel better!

Your cold medicine must be awesome.

(Deleted comment)
Hm. I may have a girl-crush on you now. I have a thing for people going on long analytical monologues, preferably using metaphors. (If you've ever seen The Big Bang Theory or...probably a bunch of other things I can't think of right now, you might understand. It's just so cute.)
My favorite one is "He was really a glass of water the whole time." I'm looking at you, M. Night Shyamalan.

But how do you keep the characters from being defined by their glass of water? Obviously that's their driving motivation, and they can be single-minded in pursuing it, but if they're all "GLASS OF WATER GLASS OF WATER GLASS OF WATER" all the time, they're pretty boring, and unlikely to engage the reader's sympathies. But you can't just break in the middle of a text to go "AND HERE'S WHAT THEY'RE DOING WHEN THEY'RE NOT AFTER A GLASS OF WATER." because it mucks up the story. So where's the balance?

Like, here's an example from my work. My main character had his glass of water stolen from him, and he really wants it back, because he blames himself for letting it go. Another character was taken away from her glass, and wants more than anything to get back to it. But if these characters only act in relation to their glass, they cease being characters and become stick figures running around after their stick-glasses. And I obviously don't want that.

(I was kind of thinking about this already when I pulled up my flist. o.O)

Edited at 2010-05-12 07:30 pm (UTC)

One way is to have the character struggle between the water they want and the water they're supposed to want. Or to struggle with wanting water and expecting everyone else to want the water too, even though everyone else is way more into Diet Coke. Or have the character expect the water to taste one way, then get the water sooner rather than later and find out it's not what they expected, oh noes, what now?

I suddenly feel very protective of my glass of water.

Jacob also wants to drink the glass of water, but Edward ends up with it instead, and then he and Bella have a little cup of water of their own (nooooo don't take their cup of water!), and Jacob will get to drink that.

Wow. That's incredibly creepy EVEN WITH the glass of water metaphor.

The original phrasing I was going to use was, "Then they pour out some of Bella's water into a cup, and Jacob gets to drink that."

This is one of the most awesome things you have written (publically) lately. Maybe ever. I hope you feel better soon and very much appreciate you mining the comedy when you're under the weather.

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