Category Archives: Robert Gregory Browne

Reaching the Climax

by Robert Gregory Browne

Let’s talk about sex. Those of you who are uncomfortable with the subject, feel free to bail out now — I’m likely to get pretty raunchy.

Still with me? I thought so.

When we make love, most of us have a particular goal in mind: that moment when our entire body seems to stem from one central point, every nerve-ending tingling wildly as fireworks assault our brain.

That moment, of course, is orgasm, and anyone who has experienced one (or two or three) — especially with a willing and enthusiastic partner (or two or three) — knows that it can be an exquisitely pleasurable sensation.

But are all orgasms created equal?

Of course not. The quality of our orgasms is directly related to the quality of the fun and games that precede them, not to mention our emotional bond with our partner, and our willingness (or unwillingness) to surrender ourselves fully to the moment.

So what, you’re probably wondering, does any of this have to do with writing?

YOUR WILLING PARTNER

Writing is an extremely intimate act. In his book, On Writing, Stephen King describes it as a form of telepathy. We put our thoughts on paper, and days, months or even years later, someone literally reads our mind.

Think about it. With a simple arrangement of words, you have the potential to pull your readers into your mind where they can be stroked and fondled and toyed with — sometimes gently, sometimes rough.

The result is often a partnership so strong and emotionally satisfying that neither of you ever wants to let go.

Who of us here can forget those times when we’ve read a book or watched a movie we didn’t want to end? And when the end did come, we felt drained, elated and thoroughly satisfied — much like we do after a night of unbridled passion.

Getting to that place wasn’t an accident. The writer of the book — at least in most cases — didn’t merely fumble his (or her) way toward climax. If he (or she) did his job, every step was carefully choreographed to lead us around the third act corner toward that final pay-off. And the quality of that pay-off is related to one important thing:

THE GENTLE ART OF LOVEMAKING

We’re often reminded in how-to books that the typical story is broken into three acts:

Set-up, Confrontation, and Resolution. Sounds pretty cold and uncaring, doesn’t it? Not to mention dull.

But what if we were to beat the lovemaking analogy into the ground and refer to the three acts in this way:

Seduction, Foreplay, and Climax.

Certainly puts a whole new slant on things, doesn’t it? And if we’re to have a successful story with a successful and satisfying ending — one that keeps our partners wanting more — we must pay careful attention to these three words.

Seduction.

The beginning of a story, any story, cannot and should not be referred to as anything other than a seduction. It is our job to make our audience want us.

How do we accomplish that? First we start with character. We must create characters that our audience won’t mind, figuratively speaking, getting into bed with. Particularly the lead. Is he or she someone we find attractive? Does he have a problem or flaws we can relate to? Are his life circumstances universal yet unique enough to pique our interest?

The next element is mystery. Every story should be a mystery. Remember the girl in college the guys all wanted but knew so little about? A big part of her allure was that hint of mystery she carried. No matter what genre you’re writing in, you should never, never, never put all of your cards on the table at the beginning of the game. Instead you must reveal them one at a time, each new card offering a clue to the mystery of our characters and their stories.

The third and most important element of seduction is giving your characters a goal. And not just your lead. Every single character you write should have a goal of some kind. Put two characters with opposing goals in a room and you have drama.

But the goal of your hero must be compelling enough to intrigue us and hold our interest. In The Fugitive, Harrison Ford is wrongly convicted of killing his wife, escapes to find her killer, and soon discovers he’s being hunted by a relentless cop who doesn’t care whether or not Ford is guilty. All three elements of seduction are satisfied and guess what? We’re hooked.

Foreplay.

Once we get our audience into bed, however, we certainly can’t let them down. As you would with a lover, you explore and tease and make new discoveries — which can often lead your partner to discover something about him or herself that, until that moment, remained dormant.

The foreplay in the second act is a continuation of the seduction but on a deeper, more intimate level. This is when we really begin to understand and root for the characters, and when their stake in the outcome becomes more and more important. Surprises are sprung, secrets are revealed, and our emotions and feelings build with each new scene, gradually working us toward the moment we’re all waiting for:

The Climax.

And this is why we’re here today, class, to talk about that most crucial of Act Three moments: the time when all of the work you’ve done for the last three hundred or so pages comes together like the pieces of a puzzle, where plot and subplot intertwine to create the only ending that makes sense within the context of the story you’ve told — a thrilling and, hopefully, explosive orgasm of emotion. The final kiss, the final death, the final revelation that sends your audience soaring.

But you can’t get there without laying the proper groundwork.

A wise writer once said that the first page of a novel sells that novel and the last page sells the next one. This is certainly true, but what he doesn’t say is that the stuff between is what sells that last page. Without masterful seduction and foreplay it is virtually impossible to reach a satisfying climax.

Act Three is a culmination of all that came before it, and if the preceding two acts are anything short of spectacular, you’ll be lucky if your audience even sticks around for number three.

It’s all up to you.

Every time you sit down to write, you must remember that your audience is your partner, your lover, and in order to make them happy you must seduce, thrill and, most importantly, satisfy.

Riding the Roller Coaster

by Robert Gregory Browne

Before I was lured away by the publishing industry, I spent two years of my so-called screenwriting career writing Saturday morning cartoons.  I proudly take my share of the blame for what many fans of Spider-Man consider the worst version of the webslinger ever committed to celluloid.  A show called Spider-Man Unlimited.

God knows, my writing partner, Larry Brody, and I never intended to write crap.  We did the best we could with the hand we were dealt.  Unfortunately, long before we became involved with the show, someone had decided it would be a good idea to take Peter Parker out of New York and put him in an alternate universe where talking animals tooled around on flying Vespas.

Although we never quite succeeded in turning lemons into lemonade, we did have our moments.  And I don’t cringe too badly when I see the show pop up on television once in awhile.

On a personal level, it was a great time in my life.  The work was steady – or at least as steady as it can get in Hollywood – and the pay was great.  Brody and I spent a lot of days grabbing lunch at Lupe’s in Thousand Oaks, then driving to his ranch as we discussed story and, more often, life. 

During one of those drives, Brody and I were talking about writers and writing, and something he said has stuck with me ever since:

“Nine times out of ten," he told me, "you find a guy who loves his own writing, the work will be mediocre at best.”

Now, at that moment in time, even though we were writing a crappy little cartoon show, I was putting my best effort into the project and thought I was pretty darn good at it.  I had always had a fairly healthy respect – if not outright love – for my own work.  Always thought I could get the job done and do it well.

But what Brody said gave me pause.  Was I one of those guys?  Was I stuck in the animation ghetto because my work was merely mediocre and not as good as I’d always thought it was?

What followed, of course, was the usual downward spiral into self-doubt that writers everywhere can relate to.  I was immediately reminded of the co-worker who,  many years before, had handed me the manuscript of his first mystery novel, proclaiming it to be a work of genius.

It was, in fact, incomprehensible. 

Yet this poor gentleman was convinced that he was the next Raymond Chandler.  Not a doubt in his mind.  And after I gave him a bit of constructive criticism, his reaction had me wondering if I’d escape his apartment with all of my limbs attached.

So, when Brody made his proclamation as we drove through the hills, I had to wonder if I was as deluded as my former co-worker had been. 

That’s all it took to send me crashing.  A simple statement – that may or may not have been true – by a friend I respected.   A simple statement that had me doubting my worth as a writer and a human being.

It never ceases to amaze me how easily we writers can fall into this kind of funk.  Our entire existence is based on our ability to create something that others will read and enjoy, and it takes very little to get us wondering if we’ve failed.  One minute we think we’re geniuses and the next we’re convinced our work truly, truly sucks.

The writing life is a roller coaster.   A roller coaster I thought I was riding alone until I started hanging out with other writers and quickly discovered that this particular amusement park ride is quite well-populated.  Probably over-populated.  And even  the most successful of us aren’t immune to motion sickness.

Just the other day I was reading the Afterword to one of Dean Koontz’s books and he had this to say:

"When I am writing a novel, I experience bleak spells of deep self-doubt about my work, moments of surging confidence, despair followed by joy — although there are usually more dark moments than bright."

That about sums it up.  And it’s heartening to know that even a writer with the kind of fan base most of us would kill for and riches we can only dream of, has the very same doubts the rest of us do.

The question is, why?  Why are writers plagued by this disease?  Why, despite our successes, do we allow these dark demons to possess us on a fairly regular basis?  Why do we analyze the simplest of statements, carefully examining them for proof that we don’t deserve to put pen to paper?

I suppose you could argue that if we didn’t have such doubts, our work would never grow and improve.  That we’re in a business that requires us to always be at the top of our game and self-satisfaction is the surest sign that we’re losing it.   

That could be true.  Or maybe, as someone recently suggested to me, we live in a world where people with big egos are frowned upon, so we regularly have to punish ourselves for allowing our heads to grow too large.

It’s all a mystery to me.  One that will take greater minds than mine to solve. 

Yet, despite my whining, despite the tone of this post, I’m not quite as miserable as I may sound.  The truth is, I’m not really like Koontz.  When I’m writing, I have many more bright moments than dark.   And I actually enjoy reading my own work when it’s fresh and new, or even when I go back years later and read the stuff I barely remember writing.

Loving our own work does not mean it’s mediocre.  There’s nothing wrong in having a healthy respect for the words and worlds we create.  We should give our bruised egos a break and celebrate our ability to do what we do.  Regularly and often.

Of course, there’s no telling how I’ll feel about all of this tomorrow….

Rob Gregory Browne

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