Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Ordinary vs the Extraordinary

First I would like to make a trio of announcements.  First, the local news paper did a small write up about Requiem.  It can be found by clicking HERE.  Second, Rachna from Rachna's Scriptorium posted a blog interview.  What I like about this interview is that it isn't just a interview to plug my book.  She asked some very specific questions regarding marketing, plotting, and the writing process.  Finally if you can see a glimpse of Guardian.

Today I want to talk a little bit about the Ordinary World vs the Extraordinary World.  I am going to shorten these terms to OW and EW.  There are countless examples of using the OW and the EW.  Most established writers know this, and probably don't have to think about them too much.  For example, Star Wars, Luke's OW is living in the desert, whining about power converters.  The EW is space, the rebellion, and everything that is not power converters and sand.  Because Luke is the hero, the story revolves around him.  However, don't forget other characters.  Take Han Solo.  His OW is one of crime, smuggling, trying not to get killed by Jabba the hut and keep his ship running.  This may not sound very ordinary, but for him it is.  In stumbles Luke and an old man and he finds himself thrust in an EW.  Battling the Empire, rescuing a princess, blowing up Death Stars.  Everything you wouldn't find an out for himself smuggler doing.

Knowing these details about your characters and where you want your story to go can make your writing much richer, and your characters much more real.  Also the OW and EW can be the opposite, or very abstract.  Take Princess Leia.  Her OW is everyone else's EW.  Politics, fighting the empire, getting shot and tortured is what she does every day.  So what is her EW?  We really don't see it until the second and third Star Wars movies, but it is her falling in love.  That is her EW.  She is so used to being in charge, knowing what to do, and leading the rebellion that when Han Solo with his scruffy looking grin and charm walk into her life, she doesn't know what to do.

The reason I bring up the OW vs the EW is because I watched a couple of good shows this last week.  The Walking Dead and Breaking Bad.  If you have seen these shows then you should have seen these transitions from the OW to the EW.  In The Walking Dead, we have the cops doing their normal jobs, complaining about marriage and girlfriends.  Everyday life for them.  Something happens and 15min later the hero wakes up in a zombie filled EW.

Same goes for Breaking Bad.  A high school chemistry teacher who is down on his luck, turns to a life of cooking meth to pay for medical bills and hopefully a nest egg for his family.  Breaking Bad has a nice polarity with the main guy and his brother in law who is a DEA agent.  They have opposite OW's and EW's.  Catching and dealing with meth heads is the DEA agents OW.  Home and family is his EW and he flounders here.  The exact opposite of the Hero.

But I don't write action or adventure I can hear you say.  Lets take a look at one more movie.  A romantic comedy that I like called The Proposal.  The two characters are Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds.  The primary focus is on Sandra.  Her OW is being head bitch at a New York publishing house, she gets in trouble because she is from Canada and decides to fake marry Ryan Reynolds to avoid deportation.  Still ordinary world for her until she has to go to Alaska.  This starts the EW for her.  Alaska is not New York.  Dial up modems and dog eating eagles run rampant in a world where warm hiking boots are in style over stilettos.  Very obvious.  Where it gets better is that we don't realize until later that family is her EW.  Sprinkled throughout we learn that her parents are dead and she lives alone.  Being there in Alaska surrounded by his family is more difficult than dealing with no cell reception.

With some creative thinking you can begin to see how the OW vs the EW is used all over the place to enrich the environment and characters we write.  So the next time you watch a tv show, movie, or read that next best selling book, keep a lookout for these things.  And if you haven't opened the interview at Rachna's Scriptorium you can do it now.  I will be checking the comments there and answering any additional questions people may have.  Have a productive week everyone.


  1. This is a great post. :)

    I just watched Season 1 of The Walking Dead through to get ready for the premiere of Season 2, which I'm going to watch tonight. Man, that show is creepy. I was so angry when half the people at the camp got slaughtered...it was their own fault - they didn't even post a watch or put up any noise makers to alert them! Geez!

    Ok, rant over. Sorry.

  2. The shows Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead sound good. I will have to check whether I can view them in India.

  3. @Ranae- Yea, I thought that was a bit weak as well. They can make mistakes now while the situation is new, but even kids know how to make traps for monsters with strings and cans. I hope they spice it up some. It's looking a lot like Battlestar Galactica all over again.

    @Rachna- I watch them on Netflix, but I'm sure there is something like that in India.

  4. Don't forget about the Ordinary World once your story gets going. LOST was very good at this with the flash backs. The Ordinary World is a very good place for character building. If you have seen Saving Private Ryan, there is a good scene where they ask Tom Hanks (their leader) what he was back home. School teacher is what he tells him. Not the type of job one would associate with a WWII commander.

  5. Fantastic post!! And I loved, loved loved the example...Han Solo...mmmm :)

    Sarah Allen
    (my creative writing blog)