I’m mostly dumb. I recognize that. The first step is admitting you have a problem. Sadly, this problem is permanent. Sigh. Sigh-snoodles.

I have what I call wandering, weaving brain. This means almost anything can be made to make sense or, conversely, be argued against. Which is paralyzing at times . . . and functionally makes me dumb. Too much going on in the wee wittle head there me boy.

BUT! Butt. Bute. Butane. Butterfly! I have learned to adapt. It’s my only way out. And part of that is finding ways to keep things as simple as possible, yet with quality as a driving force, not mere “ease” of creation.

After musing on what things make a great adventure movie, book, experience, I settled on 3 concepts that must be a part of the bigger story and sprinkled in the micro elements. None of these include jaw dropping revelations per se, but they do hone many important writing “musts” into a concise package. This helps me keep focused and moving forward. Instead of say, 10 things, I now wrap them up into 3 dynamic elements. An alchemy to create a “golden” story.

And there is a 4th bonus “W” that hit me while writing this piece. Stay tuned till the end for that!

  1. Wonder (questions and spectacle to create and close gaps)
    • This terms means many things, all of which create the gaps that we must promise to fill. Writing is often referred to as posing questions and answering them (eventually). But it also has another aspect (see the 4th bullet point in this section)
      • “What if?” (This is often early on in the story. The big question. “What if we did find the Ark?”
      • “What happens next?” (Like a Flash Gorden serial, we must answer one question by wondering about the next.)
      • “How will it happen?” (We may know it will happen, but the how is the reason you keep reading. If we know the movie is about how the Titanic sank, we are there to see how it sank but more importantly, how people dealt with it).
      • And, of course the wonder of spectacle. Bigger than life, awe inspiring moments. In Sci-Fi / Adventure I see these as the cool, “that’s what it’s known for” moments. In Star Wars it might be blowing up the Death Star. In Raider of the Lost Ark it might be the opening of the Ark of the Covenant. This spectacle fills a gap in that it provides a cathartic larger than life moment to keep the reader (or viewer) entertained.
  2. Warmth (heart, passion, friction)
    • This is the stuff that gets the blood pumping.
      • Many refer to this as “heart.” And it is, partly. It’s liking the story because you like the characters or the message or both. You care. In E.T., we literally see his heart glow. Ours does too because we fee so strongly about Elliot and his new friend, both lost in their own way. Both finding something special together.
      • Passion – this may be a heart on fire (thank you Hunger Games), or it may be anger, or commitment to a principle but is the driving force — the fireball that propels the story.
      • Friction is the heat of clashing forces and dazzling dialog. It is what makes things interesting and helps create more gaps (see how these things all relate?). Think of Mad Max: Fury Road and how Max and Furiosa are rarely “at one” with each other which makes their journey together even more compelling. They have different goals — Furiosa partly revenge but mostly to help the people being suppressed. Max is less idealistic and more self-oriented but they are stuck in a caravan of metallic chaos and destruction and must work together.
  3. Whim-sy (humor, playfulness and spontaneity)
    • This is loosening up, quite frankly.
      • Humor and playfulness – not only is humor entertaining, but it provides the little life affirming interactions that make characters more likable and relatable. If we don’t have humor or playfulness, what is there to live for? Why go through hell as a character to keep living so dang seriously? One of the reason I loved Guardians of the Galaxy was because of the humor. It made the characters feel like friends to me, and the playfulness between them made them seem more bonded than if they weren’t. This bolstered the “We are groot” moment at the end because we knew they were all so good together (meant for each other) and will miss Groot even more (in that incarnation anyways!).
      • I hyphenated the word for a reason. I wanted “whim” to have its own moment. “On a whim” we have spontaneity and uncertainty. This part of “wonder” of course, but as I said above, these work as alchemy, together. As many will say, incorporate surprise (even if just subtly) into every scene to make it better. In Star Wars: A New Hope, we have constant surprise. The opening shot of the Star Destroyer chasing the Tantiv IV. The droids ending up on a planet and getting kidnapped by Jawas. Luke discovering Princess Leia’s hologram message. Finding out “Old Ben” is not just a hermit, but a Jedi Master. Han shooting Greedo first (yep, I said it), The Death Star not being a moon. The trash compactor seen/underwater monster. Ben sacrificing himself. The Falcon knocking Vader out while Luke blows up the Death Star etc.

Now think of a movie or book that didn’t work for you? Chances are it was missing one or more of these three elements.

The Wow Factor. A 4th, bonus “W.” The epiphany as I composed this piece. As a writer, I need to feel all these things in order to be effective! I, yes, I, need to have a sense of wonder about my own story. I need to be excited (warm-up) and get my blood pumping and I need to loosen up (get whimsical) so I can wrangle those magic moments and not force them. If I don’t feel wonder, warmth and whimsy toward my project, it’s gonna suck. If I cannot pour myself (my own gold) into it but rather prefer to stand back and keep it at arms length like a stinky diaper, then I best move on to something else. It’s my litmus test for a starting and continuing a project.

Like alchemy, you do have to have the right amounts to create gold. Okay, alchemists never actually achieved the feat but you can! See, how is that for motivational? The point? It’s not a haphazard exercise. However, these elements (guidelines) tend to resolve to powerful moments I am usually quite satisfied with.

I wanted to share these as they helped me fool myself into thinking I am not quite as dumb as I knew I was. Hopefully they prove useful in your writing or enjoyment as a reader or critic. I welcome all thoughts.