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Situations 45&46

CONFLICT WITH A GOD AND SUPERNATURAL OCCURRENCE

“Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds. The latter cannot understand it when a man does not thoughtlessly submit to hereditary prejudices but honestly and courageously uses his intelligence.”

–ALBERT EINSTEIN

Conflict With a God

Conflict is a state of disharmony between incompatible or antithetical persons, ideas, or interests.

This situation requires a Mortal and an Immortal. By its very nature this situation can set up a variety of religious and spiritual questions to use as the theme. How the other characters in this story react to the Mortal will show their belief systems and may also show those of the writer. Things to consider:

Which religions are represented?

How are they represented?

Who are the “good guys”?

Is the Mortal likeable or an antihero of sorts?

The first question one should ask is, “Is this situation about religion, spirituality, or both?” Religion is a set of beliefs, values, and practices based on the teachings of a religious leader. Religion is usually inherited from one’s family, but it can change as one matures. Spirituality is about a personal relationship with the divine. It is an inner exploration of the soul that gives way to a personal theology. Spiritually is developed; it is not a set of beliefs one is born into.

The main Conflict here is with the Mortal:

struggling against a deity

involved in strife with believers in a god

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in controversy with a deity—doing what a deity commands

being punished for contempt of a deity

being punished for pride before a god

having rivalry with a god, like a doctor who wants to save a life, for example

Mythological stories and fables are ripe with this type of situation, but modern stories will often use this situation as an inner Conflict without externalizing the deity into a physical form.

THE MORTAL

The Mortal is someone who questions life. He doesn’t blindly believe what he is told to believe. He may have the same religion as everyone else in his community, but his views about that religion may be heretic.

If the deity asks him to do something, he will usually question it to make sure he is doing the right thing. Depending on his beliefs he may have a fear of the “devil” and therefore not want to be misled or tricked into doing something wrong.

Other Mortals may not believe in the devil at all, at least not as an outside force who tries to trick others but as an inside force or shadow self within the person who has done wrong.

Either way, he has a spiritual or religious belief that he adheres to. His beliefs may be open for discussion or he may fervently fight any opposition to his beliefs. Just because one is spiritual or religious does not mean one is enlightened.

THE IMMORTAL

The Immortal can be a physical presence in the story or an inner voice or consciousness of the Mortal. She can be a god, angel, muse, or concept, such as love or beauty.

The Immortal can be Loving or Vengeful. She can demand obedience in the Mortal and threaten with a type of punishment that will last for all eternity. She can be forgiving and patient with the Mortal and try to give him the answers and help he seeks.

Either way the Immortal will, at least once, give the Mortal a sign of some sort that they should be working together. In some cases the Mortal could have made the sign up himself, which leaves him with a sense of doubt. The Mortal needs something to hang onto when things get rough.

Whether Conflict With a God is used as plot, subplot, or incident, the elements of the beginning, middle, and end are the same:

236 Story Structure Architect

BEGINNING: A Mortal is in Conflict with a god.

Will this be a spiritual or religious Conflict? Or both?

Is the Mortal in Conflict with the god or with other characters who don’t approve of his actions regarding his relationship with his god?

Is the Mortal in Conflict because he doesn’t want to carry out the Immortal’s request?

How will the rest of the characters react?

Will a concrete belief system be part of the story?

Will the Mortal have help or support from anyone?

Will other gods get involved?

How do the god and Mortal come to know each other at this level?

MIDDLE: The Mortal voices his Conflict and gets himself into trouble.

Will he get into trouble with the other characters? Or with the god?

What options does the Mortal have?

What price will the Mortal pay if he doesn’t overcome this conflict in favor of the god?

What will the Mortal have to sacrifice? Are both options equally devastating for him?

Will anyone defend him?

How powerful is the god?

Are there other gods around? Can he go to one of them?

If this is an internal Conflict, how will you show it?

Are other characters going through the same thing?

END: The Mortal resolves his Conflict and pays the price.

Did he succeed in getting help?

Will he stick to his beliefs even in the face of death?

Will the god admire his conviction in the end and spare him?

Will anyone come to his rescue?

How do the other characters react after witnessing his punishment? Are they more fearful?

If he is not punished, does this make other characters question their beliefs?

If there is internal Conflict, how will you show it is or is not resolved in the end? (Think subtext.)

What is the ultimate message you are trying to convey to your reader with this situation? Is there a moral to the story?

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237

“I do not know if I believe in Ghosts, but I know

I am afraid of them”

– A NO N YM O U S

Supernatural Occurrence

Supernatural means being outside the natural world, attributed to a power that seems to violate natural forces.

In this situation, the Mortal becomes the Gifted One. There are two types: the Receiver and the Witness.

The Receiver is one who directly receives the gift. She works in concert with the “god force” and has reached a different level than most people. She can possibly see other realms of existence, predict the future, feel the presence of ghosts and angels, know what others are thinking or feeling, walk through walls (think X- Men), do laying on of hands for healing, or touch objects and “read” them.

Usually this is somewhat unexpected by the Gifted One. Something may have happened to tune her into this new way of viewing the world, such as:

a near-death experience

a jolt to her electrical system

a fall

something inherited (maybe she had a relative in touch with the supernatural)

having this gift since childhood but it was suppressed until now

Whatever it is, it has opened her up and changed her life forever. Her old identity is gone and she must now learn how to cope with her expanded view of the world. She may fight it, but this will only cause her pain and sorrow. After all, she would be denying not only a gift but a huge part of who she is. She would also be denying all those people she could possibly be helping if she would just come to terms with her newfound gift. Imagine what it would be like to all of a sudden see ghosts. (Some would say we all have these abilities. Just take a look at the many books on Remote Viewing, a psychic viewing technique developed by the military.)

The Witness is created when the Gifted One witnesses someone else with the “gift” and has to deal with it. Will she be able to accept what she sees? How will her life change?

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The Witness usually has an open mind to start with but still has trouble comprehending these events. Her mind has to expand to accept what is happening or it will shut down and try to be in denial as it searches for a logical explanation to hang onto. Imagine what it would be like to find out your friend could read every thought in your mind!

Whether Supernatural Occurrence is used as plot, subplot, or incident, the elements of the beginning, middle, and end are the same:

BEGINNING: The Gifted One receives or witnesses a supernatural event and can’t readily accept it.

Does she witness or receive? Why?

What do other characters think about this?

What is at stake for her? Her whole belief system?

Does she run away?

Is she in denial?

What does she stand to gain from this experience?

Can she find a support group? A metaphysical group or store to go to? A psychic to talk to?

MIDDLE: The Gifted One struggles.

What obstacles are in her way? Emotional? Mental? Spiritual?

Are others jealous of her?

Do family members disown her?

Does she think she’s a freak? Or, if she witnessed it, does she think what she saw was wrong or bad?

Will she come around a little bit only to be pulled back into denial again and again?

END: The Gifted One accepts or masters the gift. As a Witness, she learns to accept what she saw. As a Receiver, she learns to master her gift.

What has she gained from this experience?

How do other characters react? (Usually, once she accepts it, it is easier for them to accept it.)

Does she help people with it now?

Does she find a group she fits in with? (Think about the X-Men movies and the school the kids went to.)

Is she happy?

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EXAMPLES

Signs, M. NIGHT SHYAMALAN

CONFLICT WITH A GOD AS SUBPLOT—After the death of his wife in a freak accident, Reverend Graham Hess questions his faith and leaves the church. Months later, he discovers a gigantic crop circle in his yard. This starts happening all around the world and everyone awaits the coming of aliens.

The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc, LUC BESSON

CONFLICT WITH A GOD AS INCIDENT—A young girl receives a vision that compels her to rid France of its oppressors. Many turn on her and think she is doing the work of the devil. The Conflict With a God comes in moments of doubt as people question her and her voices.

City of Angels, BRAD SILBERLING

SUPERNATURAL OCCURRENCE AS PLOT—Seth, an angel, finds his job difficult as he falls in love with Maggie, a beautiful heart surgeon. She becomes interested in Seth, and soon his immortal state becomes an obstacle rather than a gift, as she can’t even conceive of someone like him.

The Sixth Sense, M. NIGHT SHYAMALAN

SUPERNATURAL OCCURRENCE AS PLOT—A boy who communicates with spirits that don’t know they’re dead seeks the help of a disheartened child psychologist.

240 Story Structure Architect

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