I don’t know about the rest of you, but to me Architecture is the go-to tool to solve just about every story challenge. Think about it. Doors, windows, walls. Think about all of the things in a life that act as ‘doors, windows, walls.’ A fear. A rule. A law. A sound. A lesson learned. A troublesome thought. An obsession. A brick wall. A labrynth. Don’t tell me that when you come face to face with someone more beautiful than you’d ever imagined, you don’t stop in your tracks (even if you go rushing by); as if you’d run into a wall. Don’t tell me that you don’t cock one eye into the abyss and wonder shall I go there? That, my friends, is the power of architecture.
Architecture provokes story, character, dialogue, and setting. Tell me that we aren’t riveted, that the very story of Alien doesn’t happen because “Jonesy”, that damned cat, doesn’t tear off into Mother’s darkened tunnels, coils, and metallic canals. To make use of this tool, think broadly. Open your mind. Crack open your preconceptions.
Our every movement is shaped by architecture: seen and unseen. ‘Movement’ means motion. Body, mind, and spirit. They’re all moving all the time. But they move at the mercy of ‘doors, windows, and walls’. If there’s a steep, narrow staircase as delirious Violet has to navigate at the top of August, Osage County, her behaviour, her gestures, her frustration, her emotional life; what she does when she finally gets face to face with Beverly is provoked by the architecture of that stairway; and loopy tunnel she simultaneously navigates in her mind. All Tracy Letts, the writer, has to do is to let the old girl make her way down the stairs. What happens, the characters, the dialogue, the setting (i.e. the elements of story) write themselves.
Okay, there’re the bricks and mortar elements of Alien, August Osage County, Sense and Sensibility; of The Road. But think of the rules at work in ‘August’, ‘Sense’; think of how those rules provoke story because the story people’s progress within the bricks and mortar architecture is governed by architectures unseen. Rules, manners, social hierarchies, bank accounts, rights of inheritance, gender roles — we could go on and on.
It’s not to be lost that Architecture is one of the thirteen or so organic, compositional Viewpoints of which you would not be reading this, if you weren’t keenly attuned to that. In the ’80s, theatre creator Anne Bogart built upon choreographer Mary Overlie’s work in the 1970s identifying ‘Viewpoints’ of Time and Space. We use these points of organic awareness to provoke story, character, dialogue, and setting. Architecture is an organic point of awareness. That means that you, too, are already keenly aware of its power. We, though, want you to use your superpowers to amplify your pages.
Take a script you’ve written or a favourite that’s been produced. Choose a scene that strikes your fancy. Distill the architectures which are provoking story and its elements. Look for the brick and mortar elements. But, too, look further.
Don’t duck your head in the sand. What are the rules at work? What are the taboos, admonitions, threats, shamings, and warnings? What are the rules, manners, and traditions at work? What are the beliefs and ideologies? Note how people stop in their tracks, change direction, refuse to budge, or break free and run for broke depending on the architectures they encounter.
Do a little distilling. What’s at work? Go for it.