In Story Robert McKee talks about “the negation of the negation” (NotN). It’s not mathematical, the multiplication of two negatives leading to a positive. It is the end of the line in the emotional or moral value of the internal story.
Take the normal “worst case” scenario, and find the thing that’s so much worse it’s unthinkable.
In “living dead” stories, that’s often the fate worse than death: damnation, or living death.
McKee talks about four stages, from The Big Win through Not So Much to Real Bad and finally, the NotN. For instance, in a love story you can have true love, indifference, active dislike/hate, and the worst thing in a normal romance, hate masquerading as love.
Scifi adventure: success might be beating the aliens. The other end of the spectrum might be seeing your whole race enslaved by the aliens, in a manner which prevents mass suicide. Nope. You’re slaves, maybe even eternally because they gave you live-forever-juice.
For many stories, the NotN is going to be, if not unique, at east customized.
The lighter the story the less devastating the NotN. For instance, in my book A Long, Hard Look
- Success: Phil solves the case and gets the girl.
- The likely case is he doesn’t solve the case, but at least he gets the girl.
- Worst case, you’d think, is he doesn’t solve the case, doesn’t get the girl.
- What happens is he stands in a room full of his girl’s family and is helpless to prevent one from killing another, and in the end, his girl leaves because he reminds her of his failure and her family’s brokenness.
Not only does the case get solved too late to prevent another death, the girl despises him and runs away.
Figure out what your readers will assume equals “success” and if you choose a happy ending, deliver that and more.
Know, or define, what they’ll expect as the “less than success” the hero is worried will be his fate.
Know what your readers expect as a worst case scenario. That’s failure.
Make your protagonist suffer that failure, then give him a way out.
Then, come up with something so unimaginable your readers never saw it coming, couldn’t foresee it, won’t believe their eyes.
And aim it straight at your hero.
Emotional writing connects with readers. But you’re not going to produce it simply by trying harder or longer. You can’t will yourself to an emotional outpouring. I’d like to chat more about ways to increase the amperage in our writing, but I’d like to be sure you understand that “trying harder” isn’t one of them.
Here’s your homework: read any or all of these fine articles on the limitations of willpower, and understand that this is how your brain is wired, not some failure on your part. While these articles are, in general, talking about persistence, problem-solving, and self-control, the principles affect your efforts to produce emotionally evocative prose.
This was originally a post on my Business Heretics website.
There are two ways to succeed:
- things turn out the way we expected; or,
- they don’t, and we learn something from it
There are two ways to fail:
- we don’t learn the lesson from Success #2 above; or
- we quit before we have a chance to fail and achieve Success #2 above
Continuing the Theme of Two, here are two ways for Fail #1:
- we can’t find the lesson to be learned; we looked, honest, and we can’t find it; or
- we think Success #2 is actually failure, so we don’t even look for the lesson
If you’re doing it right, here’s how your business will look, from most frequent to least frequent:
- Success #2: it didn’t turn out, but we learned a lesson
- Success #1: it worked!
- Fail #1a: the lesson is impossible to discern
You’ll note that Fail #1b and Fail #2 aren’t even on the list. Eliminate Fail #2 by quitting after you’ve learned the lesson to be learned.
Eliminate Fail #1b by changing your perception of how the universe functions and realising that life is something you create, not something that happens to you.
Seth posted a great list of questions every entrepreneur should ask themselves before they launch something. We’ve already launched years ago, but I went through the exercise of answering them anyway.
He warns against the danger of tweaking the answers (or the meaning of the questions) to suit our beliefs. If it looks like I’ve done that here, call me on it.
I want Someday Box to be the place you come to gain the belief that you, yes you, can write a book. If I’m not being honest with myself, that’s not honest with you.
Here they are:
Continue reading “Who Can We Change?”