Sunday, December 20, 2009

Mary Shelley: Building a Story

An idea takes root in your mind and you decide to make it a story. Ideas could come from a news story, trivia , or even a dream, as was the case with Mary Shelley. Like most of us, she had an idea and had to nurture this idea into a story.

It was a dark and stormy night (no, really) when Mary sat in the parlor with three friends on a bet. The four were bored and decided on a ghost story challenge. It is rumored the men teased her saying she was at a disadvantage as a woman, for she was unable to grasp the elements of horror.

She stared at a blank page for the longest time before remembering a conversation about Erasmus Darwin and the ideas he had about the possibility of returning a corspe or assembled body parts to life. It is said she had a waking dream which gave her the ideas for FRANKENSTEIN.

A plot seed needed nurturing to grow from there: A sceintist would create life from the dead, in a lab, using his scientific skill. If she made an outline it might look like this:

I. Scientist creates a living being (story begins)
a. His desire is to learn the mysteries of life and death and overcome them
b. He would have to rob graves to obtain body parts
c. Jail would be the penalty if he were caught. Stealth would be a must

This would establish goal, motivation and conflict for the main character. From here, Shelley would have to decide how the scientist's (Dr. Frankenstein) decision affected himself and those around him.

Instead of the growling brain-dead monster of many Frankenstein remakes, Shelley's monster was intelligent, multi lingual, and became a person with his own agenda.

II. He's created a monster (the story middle)
a. The monster cannot be controlled.
b. the monster has his own demands (wants)
c. The monster proves a threat

The monster wants a mate, the scientist is appalled. At first the sceintist tries to escape the monster, but the monster becomes adamant and threatens his creator.
(establishing his own GMC)
Unable to fit into society the monster wants a companion, one like him. (goal)
He promises his creator the to leave all in peace if he is granted this request (motivation)
He is denied (conflict).

Details often grow out of story ideas as you get to know your characters better and start to think as they would. Events escalate, the monster will not be ignored and lives are at stake.
The sceintist has to resolve the problem.
It is his creation; therefore, he is responsible for the monster.

How will he appease the monster? Can he appease it? Refusal means the death of his family.
Ultimately, the monster leaves for the artic circle, leaving the scientist broken.
A lesson learned about playing God. This is taken from her book:

"I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life, and stir with an uneasy, half vital motion. Frightful must it be; for supremely frightful would be the effect of any human endeavour to mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world."

FRANKENSTEIN was meant to be a short story, but the ideas grew and the tale grew longer. Outline your thoughts and play with the characters.

Can the monster die?Are there lessons he can teach us?
Will Frankenstein's intended dump the doctor and take up with the monster? This happened in Mel Brook's YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN with hilarious results!

Outlines are only guides. Getting the main ideas down for beginning, middle and end give a starting place for further ideas. Like a seedling, the ideas will blossom into something, a real story.
But keep in mind, you alone are responsible for your own creation.


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