Write like Doctor Who

I’ve analyzed the macro and micro levels of The Angels Take Manhattan, but what about the heart of the story? What if you wanted to feel your way through writing something like Doctor Who? What if you don’t want to focus on the genre, the 5 Commandments, and the conventions/obligatory scenes? Well, I still say those elements should come into play at some point in the crafting process. But, they don’t have to be your first thought.

What do you really need to know before starting a story? In the words of Shawn Coyne: “When you’re trying to start a new novel, the trick is to ask yourself, ‘What kind of story do I want to tell? …What kind of story is going to give me a lot of energy to get to the end?’”

In this case, I want to write something like The Angels Take Manhattan. But, why exactly?

What is it about this particular story?

If the choices we make in what to watch and read go beyond pure entertainment, and I believe they do, there must be a reason we choose the stories we do. Particularly to feel certain emotions, explore challenges, and view experiences that help us digest the lives we live. Story Grid Editors Leslie Watts and Anne Hawley explore this in their post on The Story Grid.

So, The Angels Take Manhattan. It makes me cry every time I watch it. Even knowing what’s coming won’t stop the inflow of tears. Or, the gut wrenching heartbreak that comes with saying goodbye to Amy and Rory. Yes, the theme of commitment is repeated in episodes featuring Amy and Rory. But in this episode Amy makes the ultimate sacrifice. She gives up her life with The Doctor, the promise of adventures in all of time and space, for Rory.

Why does that break my heart and yet inspire me all at once?

First and foremost, it’s about love. It’s about finding the person you’d give up anything for and proving you’d do so. Seeing that love on the page in a way I rarely have in real life is cathartic. Amy and Rory accept each other not in spite of their flaws, but because of them. They know that all the adventure in the world will never make up for a life spent apart. And, their actions prove their feelings.

And don’t even get me started on The Doctor. He’s an alien being living adventures to his heart’s content. Yet, he needs companionship in a way I think all of us do. Deep down I, too, want to live an adventure. I want to travel. I want to leave behind everything I know to live unconventionally. But, I also know that being alone isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Sure, you don’t have to bend to another person’s wishes, but you also don’t get to share in their memories or experiences either.

Though he doesn’t fully understand the human race, he still loves it. In a way, I think we all need that unconditional love. For each other. For those we don’t know. Because, if we could look past our differences and realize that we all have something in common, the world would be a better place. Not to get preachy, but as The Doctor said, “In 900 years of time and space, I’ve never met anyone who wasn’t important.”

Ultimately, this show to me is about love, kindness, and wisdom triumphing above all. It’s smart, funny, and proves that we’re better together. And in the process, it teaches me about myself and the things I love.

But, loving something and writing like it are two very different things.

What I mean to say is that knowing the core emotion, core event, and core value of the stories you love can help you on your writing journey. And though I firmly believe that exploring the 6 Core Questions and 5 Commandments will also help, I won’t harp on them.

Staring at a blank page is intimidating. Knowing what you want to write might be as simple as a spark of imagination, but how do you turn that idea into a novel? Do you have to have everything figured out before you start? No, of course not. But, knowing the core emotion, core event, and core value will help.

Core Emotion

What do you feel when you watch this episode? The core emotion changes based on genre, but ultimately comes down to what you want your readers to feel when they read your story. For me, this is an action story and a love story. So, the core emotions are excitement and connection. That fits. Throughout this episode, I’m on the edge of my seat wondering what’s going to happen next. I am relieved at the reunion between Rory and Amy. And, even though it comes at such a high cost, when Amy chooses to be with Rory one last time, it’s both surprising and inevitable.

Core Event

Think back to the most powerful scene from this episode. When Amy climbs up on the ledge and proves that she’d rather die than give up Rory, she sets up what happens in the end. It’s the climactic moment. The false ending to what’s yet to come. For you, what event do you want your readers to remember the most when they finish your book? The core event is when the core emotion is on display. It’s a chance to bring every other part of the story to a satisfying conclusion. And, it once again, will depend on the genre or type of story you’re writing.

Core Value

Stories are about change. Without a change from the beginning to the end, there is no point. There is no Story. What you’ve written doesn’t work. If that’s the case, you need to focus on the core value. Either the lovers commit to each other or they don’t. The hero/villain either lives or dies. And, you guessed it: the core value will depend on the type of story you’re writing. Think about what your character wants and what they need. That will being you back to what’s at stake. In turn, you’ll be able to focus on what’s changing for your character to survive their conflicts, either internal or external. Here, Rory and Amy shift from life to death and, at the same time, from separate to committed. That value shift brings about the core emotion and usually happens during the core event.

So, how do you write a story like Doctor Who?

Figure out why it’s important to you. Why do you love it? What draws you to the story. I don’t mean figuratively either. Take out a notebook and write notes while watching your favorite episode. Yes, I’m telling you to go watch tv instead of write. Figure out the core emotion, core event, and core value and bring that back to your own work.

And remember to think back to why you wanted to write the story you’re working on. Why is it important to you? If you can’t answer that, your readers won’t know why it’s important to them either.

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