LYRIC O’ THE DAY:
If I gave you pretty enough words
Could you paint a picture of us that works?
An emphasis on function rather than design.
--Lip Gloss and Black, Atreyu
I took my medical boards on Monday. I spent six hours in a cubicle staring at a computer screen, reading vignettes about patients and then choosing the right (I hope) answer.
In the eyes of the American Board of Internal Medicine, nothing was open to interpretation. It all boiled down to 180 multiple choice questions determining my worth as a physician.
When all else failed, I picked “C”.
Some claim writing is just like that multiple choice test. They say for all things literary, there's one--and only one--correct answer. These writing pedagogues say there’s one way to do a plot arc. One type of successful protagonist. One acceptable villain. One appropriate setting. Every story has been told before, so just play it safe and escape the big red check mark. Your worth as a writer depends on picking the right answer and following the right formula.
But what happens when both “A” and “C” make sense?
The formula may provide the story a backbone, but the author’s interpretation is what makes it run, jump, and fly. It's the unique twist that makes an old plot into a new story.
Formulas are for textbooks. Writing is for those who approach life without all the right answers.
Here are just a few questions that are open for interpretation:
1. Your protagonist is stranded on a deserted island with two attractive colleagues, Vlad and Joe. Upon learning that Vlad is a vampire, does she:
A. Fall for Joe, who has a solid job, IRA, and is emotionally mature
B. Fall for Vlad, who is dead, hogs the sunscreen, and has a thing for 17-year old girls
C. Cut herself on a palm frond, causing Vlad to go chupacabra on her jugular
D. Make a coconut neck guard using a tampon and a bobby pin
E. Call the elite Navy Seal team she secretly works for to pick them up in the invisible jet
2. Your main character has just walked in on her husband and her best friend in flagrante delicto. Does she:
A. Throw a vase at her husband, pull off her wedding ring, and cry
B. Say something disparaging about fake breasts, then set fire to the house
C. Shift into a were-tiger, and eat them both
D. Become a vigilante private investigator with a penchant for donuts
E. Join in
3. You are 168 pages into your epic fantasy novel. Your villain has finally captured the protagonist at a moment of weakness. Does he:
A. Kill him
B. Pontificate on the reasons he is evil, and then go get a latte, giving the protagonist time to escape
C. Give the job of killing the protagonist to his two inept sidekicks because LOTR is coming on cable later
D. Challenge him to a winner-take-all game of Boggle
E. Remind the protagonist of his special secret warrior escape power that only works if he truly believes in magic and unicorns
4. Your main character, a cynical detective with a chip on his shoulder, is driving to work. He is:
A. Drunk on tequila at 9 a.m.
B. Thinking about a prostitute he used to know
C. Contemplating his volatile relationship with his father while arching one brow and listening to Phil Collins
D. Petting a three legged dog named Mutt found down at the docks
E. About to stumble across a murder scene involving a dwarf and a former Dominatrix
Happy Wednesday!! And if you're in the mood for an excellent example of the power of interpretation, check out what these guys did with a Guns N' Roses song.