Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Mantel-piece explains a key principle of story structure

Anyone who's been on my Total Immersion or Kickstart writing days will recognise, from the part where we talk about story structure, the concept that the Hollywood screenwriting guru Robert McKee terms 'the negation of the negation'. This, essentially, is a double-and-then-some twist of the knife in the guts of your story's principal theme. It can be difficult to pull this off - but here's a perfect example, from real life. 

Supposing your story is, at background level, about freedom of speech in a western democratic country. That is the value, the ideal, that is at stake. The opposite of that, obviously enough, is censorship. But the negation of the negation goes a twist or two further than the opposite, and here it is to have the leader of that free country publicly rebuke a writer for writing something that she never actually wrote

Get it? Yes, thought so. Oh, and compound it by having the leader of the opposition do the same thing.

It's one thing for the Mail to misrepresent a thoughtful article by a great novelist; but it's quite another for the PM himself to weigh in, on the side of the tabloid, without checking the author's actual text, which is freely available to read, and doesn't take that long, and doesn't require a doctorate in astrophysics to understand in its proper context. Sensible perspective in an editorial from The Guardian here. 

What does this mass hysteria say about our "culture"? How can people be persuaded to look at empirical fact, rather than rushing en masse to throw verbal stones at the latest individual at whom The Finger Has Pointed? Often it turns upon innocent people who are trying to do the right thing yet find themselves on the receiving end of trumped-up, mendacious, manipulative and usually self-interested claptrap. Is this really so far from the Manchester cover-up, notably the alleged attempt in 2002 to blacken the character of Martin Roscoe for whistle-blowing?

I would like to write an episode of British Borgen (yes, it sounds better in Danish) in which a top UK author sues the Prime Minister for defamation and wins.