“The question, ‘What is the movie about?’ will be asked over and over and over again. I work from the inside out. What the movie is about will determine how it will be cast, how it will look, how it will be edited, how it will be musically scored, how it will be mixed, how the titles will look, and, with a good studio, how it will be released. What it’s about will determine how it is to be made.”
Sidney Lumet, Academy Award-winning producer and director
For over fifteen years, Nicholas Burgess-Jones was the premier music-video producer in all of Europe. He gave Guy Ritchie his start as director. With offices in Los Angeles and London, he has worked with many of the world’s biggest acts, right across the music spectrum, from Barry Manilow to Boy George. He is constantly asked to gauge the potential success of new acts and new sounds. And for him, it all comes down to one question.
Is there a purity of direction.
Make no mistake. He is not saying, a particular direction. He wants to know, has the group arrived at a point where they are focused upon one specific compass heading. Any direction can conceivably work. So long as it is just one.
Regardless of our artistic medium, when it comes to bonding with our audience we all share one common trait.
We don’t have much time.
In the case of a music video, five minutes max. A staged dance, maybe twice that. Film, call it a hundred minutes. For your artistic medieum, how long can you hope to hold your potential buyer’s attention? And for writers, well, let’s hope your purpose and direction and dilemma are all clear enough to pose them on the book’s back cover.
Each novel has a unique opportunity to examine a concept from as many different angles as there are main characters. But no story should contain more than one. Why? Because for a theme to fully resonate with the reader, it must play a vital role in the story’s climax. No decent story can reveal two such constructs in the crucial final pages. It simply isn’t possible.
All of my stories in the Miramar Bay series are centered around the concept of a second chance at life and love. That was my core theme, the link forged between a series of books. Understand what I am saying here. For this to succeed, each story must look at this premise from a different perspective. It must engage the audience with a new dilemma.
With this first novel, the dilemma was not about second chances directly. That comes later. In Miramar Bay, it’s all about not making the same mistakes the next time around.
This predicament creates the high stakes that drive both the characters and the story.
For Connor, he must accept that so many of the wrong components of his life are his own fault. And to do that he first has to stop running. He is a rising star in the Hollywood scene, he is handsome, he is engaged to a rich and beautiful heiress whom he doesn’t really love, he is this, he is that. And so long as he allows himself to be swept along on this flow of fame and easy highs, he is lost. Ruined. It’s only a matter of time.
For Sylvie, she was wronged by a man who used love as a chance to create a mask of lies. He showed Sylvie the man she desperately wanted for herself—handsome, intelligent, a good listener, caring, gentle, and there for her. Only it was false. His real existence was as a married husband and father and…You get the picture.
Then along comes Connor. Who does his best to hide his true self behind a different mask. Because as he tries to put distance between himself and the misery of the wrong kind of success, Connor is ashamed of who he’s become. So when Sylvie learns the truth, all she sees is the same problem all over again. Another man who wants to tell her lies. Another disaster in the making.
And then there is Estelle, the mother who abandoned Sylvie when she was just nine years old. After twenty-two years of silence, she is back. Hoping for another chance of her own.
All three of these share common threads. They are high stakes, at least for the people involved. They center around the same impossible construct, overcoming one’s own past and owning up to the need for that greatest of challenges–change.
DO THIS NOW:
- Take a mental step back from your current project. Ask yourself this: Do you know where you are headed? Do you have a single purpose in mind?
- The key to success here is not to hesitate, to wait around and hope it will come to you, so that you can then restart. That is just another excuse to stop working. And we all know how easy that is.
- Keep at it. Remember the quote at the top of this section. Write out the question it poses and put it somewhere you can see every day. See this as a challenge you need to keep asking yourself throughout the life of your project.
- What is it all about?
Davis Bunn’s next novel MIRAMAR BAY comes out March 28th 2017. Don’t forget to order your copy today!