Sunday, March 6, 2011

Architectural Narrative

Narrative is storytelling. Stories consist of events that are put in a certain order to affect characters in certain ways.  These stories may exist on Pluto or in  your backyard. Either way, they came from your (the storyteller's) head and therefore are intrinsically, subconsciously, and unavoidably involved in the world we exist in, right here and right now.

A writer once said that the best writers are the ones who beautifully weave life in and out of the story--using its essence rather than its topical  events. Mediocre writers attempt to do this, but their failures show too easily--there's always a sense of something not being right, something being uncomfortable (not in the sense of content, but in tone). And bad writers just rape the shit out of life.

That being said, life is crazy. It's unpredictable, irrational, irreversible, meaningless, way too short, and it tosses us around like a rag doll in a Hurricane. So what do we do? We take it in--all of it, the worst of the worst to the best of the best--and we structure it. We control it. We compartmentalize it until it gets to the point that it's an easily controlled and understandable form of literature. Our world in 90 to 120 pages.

In a sense, we are architects in designing the edifice of a story. We are building a narrative. We are constructing a connected series of events.

Boston Public Library Courtyard. Neoclassical. At once an homage to classics and a symbol of new learning.
Architects, in order to successfully design a building--a massive piece of product that effects our lives on a daily basis--must take into account numerous, often too many, Things. A couple of them are a little more important i.e., the function of the building and the building's relationship with the world around it.

What is this building for? What is this building doing?

These two questions affect everything. The mode of design--contemporary, neo-classical, arts nouveau, arts and crafts, modern--the way the inner workings of the building are designed--big rooms? small rooms? no rooms? stairs? elevators? where are the elevators?--to the exterior facades--windows? lots of windows? big windows? no windows?

Although these may be the broadest of broad strokes it is often time not having the broadest of broad strokes that fails us. These questions, these thoughts, create the foundation of our creation and if our foundation is not strong enough to build our metaphorical building on, it simply will not hold.

The same is true for writing.

Who is this story for? What is this story doing?

The answers are a little less ambiguous, though. The first question is always you. You are the writer. You are the creator. You are the one putting yourself on the line, making yourself vulnerable and naked for all the world to see and criticize. If this story isn't completely tied to who you are, it will fall on its face.

The second, the verb, is a little more ambiguous. This is up to you. This is where you make your mark. Just like every architect has certain mathematical and physical requirements in which he/she must design their building--the writer has certain limits in which to design our stories (especially screenwriting). DO NOT leave these boundaries or--once again--your building will fall on its face.
Hancock Building isn't falling on its face any time soon.

Instead, find your creativity within the boundaries. Limitations--believe it or not--induce creativity. Challenges, confrontation, conflict (ALL OF WHICH ARE INCREDIBLY IMPORTANT TO NARRATIVE) are the ingredients for creativity. Tight deadlines, rules, bitchy producers--all of these push us to perform and create in ways we never thought we were capable of. Genius is 1% personal ambition 99% your interpretation of everything else. What this story does--essentially what it is--is determined by how you play within the rules and how well you're able to bend them without breaking them.
Check the details. Creativity in the boundaries.

Same for architects. Architects can't defy gravity, if you're gonna have a staircase it better hold who ever is walking up it. It's how well they're able to make a functional staircase that separates them from the others. How does this staircase fit into the motifs that I've set in the broad strokes while still functioning as a staircase?

If anybody says art has no rules--they're bullshitting you. Have you ever seen Picasso's early work? It's remarkably normal.

And remarkably beautiful.

In order for us to branch out to literary cubism we must first conquer the broad strokes. We must first prove our abilities to play within the rules--much like how Frank Lloyd Wright started out as an apprentice to Louis Sullivan and how Picasso started with his beautiful portraits. It took FLW years of work before he became the famous architect (and womanizing egomaniac) we know today.

Like what Morgan Freeman said in Shawshank Redemption, "Time and pressure. Sometimes that's all a man needs."

Mine the rules, give yourself some time, and add some pressure. That's really all you need.


Cate Hahneman said...

I like the notion that we're forced to create narratives as a means of compartmentalizing our lives. That control as a means of therapy. Very interesting post Matt!

Andrew said...

Great comparison between story and architecture - how before we can show full creativity, we must first fully understand the rules of the world around us and within the story. I also find the fact that we take the confusion of life and stitch it together in narrative to make it understandable fascinating.