Elements of Writing: Orientation
"Whatever the central idea, it should immediately raise an important question that needs to be answered. Well-crafted plays and novels raise important questions that the reader or audience wants answered. A question that will arouse curiosity, cause people to think, take sides, root for or against the characters involved in the action. The central idea is what keeps the reader reading and the audience in its seat. And most importantly, the writer should stay on track until the script is completed."
- Ken Eulo (Labyrinth of Design: A Causative Formula for Writers)
The central idea of a novel or play is its orientation; the initial 'spark' that instantly captured the writer's imagination, the 'germ' infecting slowly within. Without a central idea, a writer will not be able to stay on course and will eventually go astray. Most won't be able to finish their manuscript, or they'll wander or run amok.
It's the idea that gets them in the chair to write their story. Writers are encouraged to carry a notebook with them at all times. The greatest use of a notebook is when a spark occurs. Many ideas have been lost to time because they were not written down. The idea can be revisited in the evolution process that occurs in the meditation stage of a story idea. Like a chrysalis, the story idea will potentially morph to become the writer's next story to tell.
Story ideas sometimes come slowly or at times they hit the writer like an explosion. Many times, I've found myself in the heat of an idea, become passionate to the point that I'm compelled to sit down and just write like hell. However, as I've become more experienced in my writing, I've become more thoughtful in the writing process. Heated inspiration often blocks out cool logic. A writer must put knowledge before passion. This means that a writer must slow down and take a "good hard look" at what is compelling the writer to write that particular story in the first place.
The first and most important element in the construction of a story is orientation, however, it is the least understood. Most writers believe orientation is theme, but this is secondary. Orientation is the starting point, it's the constant guide that will keep the writer on track. How many manuscripts are sitting in drawers, unfinished because the writer lost their way and got confused to what they were writing about in the first place?
Orientation can be derived from a phrase, an aphorism, a title, problem, or perhaps a combination of different ideas that come together to form another new idea. Orientation must raise an important question or reveal an inherent problem. It's a question or problem that is provocative and will compel the audience/reader to stick around for the answer or solution.
Once the writer understands what the orientation of his/her story is, orientation will provide the writer clarity to what he/she is writing. It's something that a writer will explore from the beginning to the end of their manuscript. The audience will be with the writer as they explore and discover together.
Aphorism & Orientation
Aphorisms can be good orientations. Aphorism, according to yourdictionary.com, is a statement of truth or opinion expressed in a concise and witty manner. The term is often applied to philosophical, moral, and literary principles. To qualify for an aphorism, it is necessary for a statement to contain truth revealed in a terse manner.
Two examples of aphorisms that can be used are "if it ain't broke don't fix it" or "An apple a day keeps the doctor away." If a writer used the apple aphorism as the orientation for their story, the author will be compelled in their writing to prove or disprove that an apple a day really does or does not keep the doctor away. There are so many different directions the writer can take from this statement that I ask you to use your imagination on how you would explore this statement.
Often times I've heard or have been told, "That's good writing." I understand that the reader is not merely saying that my words or sentences were well structured, rather the way I tackled the orientation of the story was interesting and enlightening to the reader.
Below I've listed my orientations for the books and play I've written to date:
Hank's Six Days of Happiness (A two-act play)
Orientation: If you lived 50 years and had an unhappy miserable life, and you had the opportunity to erase your memory and begin anew, would you?
The Neighborhood (A horror novel)
Orientation: Can a man ever outrun his sins of youth in hell.
It's a Good Day to Liquidate (A thriller, novel)
Orientation: Can a man who has failed at everything in life find success in failing?
Lizard of Transition (A war story)
Orientation: God commanded us, "Thou shalt not kill/murder." Can a soldier who returns from war after he has murdered find redemption after living a good and seemingly fulfilled life?
The Great Mongolian of the United States of America (A comedy)
Orientation: "Can one live a simple life in a small town, work a small job, live without a family, and find meaning and fulfillment in living?"
If you'd like to learn even more about Orientation, I've discussed the orientations for several of my works in more detail:
- Elements of Writing: Orientation (Part I: The Amazing Life of Art Lemon)
- Elements of Writing: Orientation (Part 2: Lizard of Transition)
- Elements of Writing: Orientation (Part 3: The Great Mongolian Bowling League)
- Elements of Writing: Orientation (Part 4: Its a Good Day to Liquidate)
- Elements of Writing: Orientation (Part 5: The Neighborhood)
What are examples of Orientation in your own work? Comment below, I'd love to read about it. If you'd like, continue reading about the other elements of constructing a story.
- Ed Borowsky, Author.