It’s a fractal universe. It’s all connected, reflective, and interactive with itself.
About 5 weeks ago I wiped out on a bicycle and ripped up the MCL (medial collateral ligament) in my left knee. It was a number-2 tear. Not life-threatening, but not an easy fix either. Since I’m quite active and athletic, this injury threw me for a loop. I limped around for 3 weeks and still can’t make quick lateral movements, but I’m turning the predicted 6-month healing process into 6 weeks because I know how to heal! I don’t leave it up to fate. I am the author of my own healing. I write my own story.
In the meantime, I’ve had to deal with the side effects of the injury. Limping throws my lower lumbar out of alignment, which throws out my upper cervical vertebrae via the sacral-occipital connection. With the two ends of my spine out of integrity, my thoracic area subluxates. Tertiary effects, like sciatica, headaches, poor sleep, restricted deep breathing, etc., come with these secondary issues. So, I go to my chiropractor and acupuncturist to realign my structural integrity and unlock my blocked energy flow.
I’m making a point here. Stay with me.
The knee, ankle, and feet are the foundation of our spine’s integrity. They must be strong, flexible, and structurally integral in order to support the integrity of the spine. The outer structure of the spine is the vertebrae, or a set of interlocking bones that encase the spinal cord. So, the spine consists of this outer protective casing to this mysterious inner bio-fiber-optic that conducts vibrational impulses throughout our bodies.
The same is true of Story. A story has a spine, which I will define in a minute. But what are the foundational “legs” of a story spine? I continue to insist that the foundation of the story spine is Character. If you don’t have well-defined characters, you’re story spine will be compromised.
Following through with the analogy, the plot of a story is like the vertebral column and the spinal cord is like the theme. The plot is the obvious part of a story and the theme is the more subtle, more profound part that rides within a Main Character’s emotional journey.
If your characters, like my knee, are weakened, or not well-developed, the spine will be weakened. The reason is because the spine of a well-developed story consists of emotionally-challenging decisions that the main character makes in the face of emotionally-challenging dilemmas. The dilemma must always be an emotional challenge. A physical challenge is not enough.
Let me explain by referring to an iconic scene in an iconic movie, Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid. Butch and Sundance are trapped high up on a cliff a hundred feet above a raging river. The Super-Posse is closing in. To confront them head on means certain death. Butch suggests they jump for it. Sundance tells him to go ahead; he’ll hold them off. Butch reminds him that if they jump there’s a chance; trading bullets offers no chance. Sundance insists. Butch demands to know why. Sundance reveals with great embarrassment that he can’t swim. Sundance would rather die than suffer the humiliation of admitting he can’t swim to his best bud. Revealing that he can’t swim is more of an emotionally-challenging decision for Sundance than dying!
My point is that physical confrontation isn’t always emotional. Gunfights, fisticuffs, chases, and staged stunts full of special effects are cotton candy to the eye and the adrenals, but they are not profoundly thematic. They have nothing to do with a story’s structural integrity if the action does not come from the main character’s emotionally-challenging decision to confront some fear that keeps him/her from pursuing the goal.
Back to my knee: my fear was that I had done some permanent damage to my knee and therefore my vital ability to act. My emotional challenge was to make adjustments in the picture of my healing. I’ve had ligament tears before. I knew that it would be a matter of discerning the good pain from the bad. As an endurance athlete, the pain is not the issue. Backing off of activity when I want to continue is the emotional challenge for me.
Likewise in screenwriting, it’s important to know that however great a scene may be, or however much you may love a scene, if it doesn’t move the story forward while developing character through inner and outer conflict, you need to whack it out. That’s the writer’s emotionally-challenging decision. Spiritual growth comes from abandoning your comfort zone, confronting your fears, and making the difficult decisions. Those kinds of decisions also build the story spine that carries the integrity of character, story, and meaning, or theme.
Who am I to state these things? I am the chiropractor of story spine; I am the acupuncturist of story energy. I can show you how to create structural integrity and vigorous vital purpose through character development. All elements connect, interact, and affect the whole.