January 27, 2015 by Alexander Christenson
Amateur Guitar Solos
Look at the composition of Stairway to Heaven. A single guitar softly works its way through the classic lick. Some kind of flute comes in. Eventually, Plant comes in with the vocals, but again… very soft. Delicate.
The song has no drums until about the 4 minute mark and even then, we don’t hit the famous solo until 6 minutes in. From there on out, the song explodes successively until finally resolving quietly, with just vocals.
Whether or not you are a fan of Led Zeppelin you’ll surely agree that this song would not be as popular if it was 8 solid minutes of insane guitar solos. What makes Stairway a classic is that it’s a journey. It takes us somewhere.
My genre is “drama”… which is basically what they call a story when the genre classification becomes irrelevant. My interest is in stories that take place in recognizable settings with characters that we can identify with. “Tugging at the heartstrings” is a term that I think describes my goals, but in a way that feels organic and not forced.
Okay, so Mary has terminal cancer and was raped as a young girl and was recently widowed but has 3 children (two epileptics, one with down syndrome) and is facing eviction so she’s turned to prostitution but gets hit by a car on her way to collect food stamps and…
The only thing that’s tragic about Mary is that the writer that created her believes anyone can relate to her.
This is what would amount to an hour and a half of blazing guitar solos. There is no perspective. Everything is horrific. So nothing is horrific. The bullshit-O-meter inside all of us is shrieking. The result is, at best, amusement – at worst, boredom.
For a painter, there’s nothing inherently more powerful about the color red than any other color on his palette. For a writer, we’re granted the luxury of starting with situations that are inherently emotional black holes. They suck up everything around them.
The solution is to be incredibly conscious of what is on your palette. Do you have a catastrophic event? How many? Are you adding more of these in place of doing the real work of diving inside of your characters?
I would bet that most of the best movies involving catastrophe revolve around a single catastrophic event. Either in the beginning, and then the characters are scrambling to piece it all back together. Or in the end, and the story is about dealing with what appears to be impending doom.
It’s easy to think that you’re improving your story by stacking catastrophe upon catastrophe, but your laziness comes out in the wash. The audience will sense that the repercussions of the first catastrophe were not explored, and they will feel unsatisfied. You are essentially distracting them, saying, “Look! Another explosion! Over here!” It’s just not very nice.