What makes a story new, fresh, and original?

Lajos Egri: The Art of Dramatic Writing

The art of all dramatic writing begins and ends with the characters.

The plots, regardless of the genre, are all the same: love, hate, greed, revenge, power, and jealousy – or a complex and puzzling mixture.

So what makes stories new and fresh and different?

Always, it’s the characters.

That’s my opinion.

But I stole it.

And, through the years, I found it to be true.

Lajos Egri had the opinion before I did, and he has produced one of the greatest books ever on The Art of Dramatic Writing.

Egri may have focused on the theater where characters occupy every moment on stage.

But novelists would be wise to consider his words as well.

He wrote:  “In the arts we cannot discover startling originality–only trends, styles, twists, slants, tricks, exaggeration, minimization, emphasis on parts instead of the whole. Originality, then, is rare in the field of literature and, for that matter, in all fields of art.

“If we consider originality almost non-existent, then what shall a writer strive for? Characterization. Living, vibrating human beings are still the secret and magic formula of great and enduring writing. Read, or better, study the immortals and you will be forced to conclude that their unusual penetration into human character is what has kept their work fresh and alive through centuries, and not because they may have a new “slant” which seemed to many to be “original.”

He added: “A weak character cannot carry the burden of protracted conflict in a play. He cannot support a play. We are forced, then, to discard such a character as a protagonist. There is no sport if there is no competition; there is no play if there is no conflict. Without counterpoint there is no harmony. The dramatist needs not only characters who are willing to put up a fight for their convictions. He needs characters who have the strength, the stamina, to carry this fight to its logical conclusion.

We may start with a weak man who gathers strength as he goes along; we may start with a strong man who weakens through conflict, but even as he weakens he must have the stamina to bear his humiliation.”

And these are his thoughts on creating and building the protagonist in your story.

“The pivotal character knows what he wants…Without him (or her) the story flounders…in fact, there is no story.”

 

 “A pivotal character must not merely desire something. He (or she) must want it so badly that he will destroy or be destroyed in the effort to attain his goal…A good character must have something very vital at stake.”
“A pivotal character is a driving force, not because he decided to be one. He becomes what he is for the simple reason that some inner or outer necessity forces him to act; there is something at stake for him, honor, health, money, protection, vengeance, or a mighty passion.”

The art of all dramatic writing begins and ends with the characters.

That’s what Lajos Egri believes.

And he has convinced me.

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