We mentioned how the late screenwriter Henry Bromell asked himself five big questions for every scene he wrote or directed:
1. Have we seen this scene before?
2. Is there a conflict?
3. Is there a subtext?
4. Does it go from A to B (have a shape)?
5. Are the language and tone interesting?
Let’s look at the second and third questions here:
Is there a conflict? Is there a subtext?
These address hope and desire.
Hope and desire are the foundation of a successful book (after the big idea). People don’t want negativity (especially Americans). Even if you outline what you consider to problems in our current economic situation, you need to offer a solution that will give your reader a sense that there’s a way forward.
The same is true with drama, and a good nonfiction book draws from the lessons of drama. For example, a scene needs conflict of some sort, and if the characters don’t have clear goals or desires, where’s the conflict? Characters have to want something they don’t already have and something must be standing in the way of those desires. That tension, that desire creates conflict and keeps things interesting.
What makes this even stronger is when the psychology and feelings go much deeper than the evident desire. In other words, when there’s strong subtext to the scene.
When Rocky, at the beginning of the movie of the same name, enters his gym to find that his locker has been given away and argues with the gym owner about getting his locker back, the scene isn’t just about his gym locker. The scene dramatizes the direction that Rocky’s life has taken, his lack of fulfillment (evident in the gym owner giving away the locker) and Rocky conflating the locker with his true desire (a victory in the ring).The subtext behind the possession of the locker gives the scene depth and drama.
And the same is very much true in nonfiction books. Anyone reading your book has a plan to achieve some goal and overcome some conflict or resistance by reading your book and practicing your advice. Your job is to give readers the hope that they can accomplish those goals.
You must give people hope regarding the unspoken subtext to their goals. Losing weight isn’t just about losing weight, is it? Financial success isn’t just about finances. Leadership isn’t just about work.
The more you address the subtext around self-identity and self-image and give people hope in terms of personal growth, transformation and social approval, the better.
In our next post, we’ll continue to look at these components.
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