Thursday, August 04, 2005


Because of my past work at make-up effects houses, I’ve known a few sculptors. When they begin sculpting in clay, they first build an armature to act as a skeleton; otherwise, the piece would not hold its shape. It might look good for a while, but would soon collapse.
When an admirer of art looks at a sculpture, she never sees or even thinks about the armature that gives the piece its structural integrity. It is invisible, but as much a part of the sculpture as the outside.
Before you begin writing, you too must build an armature. For us story-crafters, the armature is the idea upon which we hang our story. It is what has been called theme, but I find that the word theme is not descriptive enough and leads to confusion; I have found in teaching that many people bring a lot of baggage to the table when I address theme.

What is an armature, then, when talking about story craft? It is what you want to say with your piece. I was once talking to a friend who was complaining about a producer wanting to change a scene in his script. My friend was angry because the change had nothing to do with his “theme.” He said, “My theme is competition. And the change has nothing to do with competition!” I didn’t say anything at the time, but my friend was confused. There is an old joke about marriage that goes, “Marriage is not a word, it’s a sentence.” It’s the same with theme. My friend had nothing to say about competition. “Competition” is not a theme. A theme (or armature) might be, “Competition is sometimes a necessary evil.” Or, “Competition leads to self destruction.” Saying that your theme is competition is like saying your theme is “Red.” It really says nothing at all.

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