It’s safe to say that the alleged infidelity of Tiger Woods in 2009 had sparked controversy, debate, and discussion. So what does this have to do with writers? What can writers learn from a media storm like Tiger’s?
A recurring media trend takes place when it comes to big stories. First comes the inciting incident that makes the headlines and gets on national news. Something surprising, maybe breathtaking, happens. It catches the public by surprise. We’re intrigued. We want to know more. This inciting accident most importantly focuses on the people in the story, the situation(s) they find themselves in, and the immediate actions they take. Think of Tiger Woods’ car accident and his wife smashing the window of the vehicle with a golf club.
Media coverage focuses on the who, what, where, and when at the start of the inciting incident.
The lesson for the writer? While a story may open showing a character in his ordinary world, an inciting incident soon occurs that often threatens to change the character’s life forever. The change is dramatic and irrevocable.
In a sensational story, once the media has exhausted all the initial details that have played out, the media continues the story by digging deeper. It starts focusing on other factors, other people, and tries to get to the heart of what’s really going on. In Tiger’s case, infidelity is what this story is really about. Further questions ensue. How did Tiger pull off his philandering? Who else was involved? We learn that more than a dozen women had been tied to Tiger.
As we live through this story, we want to know what’s going on inside the heads and hearts of those people most affected. What are they saying and doing that reflect what they’re thinking and feeling? We are “shown” this on TV. Elin and Tiger were holed up in their home. Possibly on the yacht. But we ask why? To work on their marriage? To protect the family? Or for Tiger to keep Elin from seeing what else the media uncovers? And when Elin finally surfaces, she isn’t wearing her wedding ring. Her action “shows” us what’s going on right now. Such behaviors in this story raise lots of questions. Lots of speculation. Lots of interest and curiosity.
But what really tugs at us most is the emotional pull of the story. What are these people going through emotionally? When it comes to matters of the heart, we’re sucked in every time. We care about these people and their relationships. We worry. We’re rooting for Elin. We’re upset with Tiger. We’re concerned about the children. Emotion is inherent in a sensational story. Tiger’s story plays on our emotions, that’s for sure.
We tend to look at their terrible trouble and wonder, “What if I was in the center of this scandal. How would I handle it?” And if a person didn’t deserve the terrible trouble, we find ourselves sympathetic to her (or him). Often people in a story like this “show” their emotions to us. We see the pain registered on their faces, in their eyes, in their body language, and in their choice of words. We feel that pain and confusion. (Prince Charles and Lady Diana come to mind here.)
The lesson for the writer? Show don’t tell. And remember, it’s all about the emotional pull of the characters. Make a character sympathetic. One way to do this is to have your character suffer undeserved misfortune.
And once the news has us deeply mired in the story and can’t imagine how the events could play out any further, the media expands the story; deeper developments ensue.
Bigger, more lofty questions emerge. These questions make us look to ourselves. We are then forced to take a long hard look at underlying themes about our society, about our culture. About the human condition.
In Tiger’s case, the media will most likely focus on related issues and questions on a grander scale such as:
Is infidelity a secret of the golfing community or perhaps an open
secret? Can fame and fidelity co-exist? Or are people in the spotlight (celebrities, politicians, and sport heroes) “destined” for infidelity? Are they any more prone than people in the private sector? Why do people cheat? Are men and women different in that regard? Are men and women supposed to be in monogamous relationships at all? What can we learn from these issues? How can we apply it to our lives and possibly make the world a better place?
Sensational stories play themselves out over and over in the media. For example, the terrible incident at Columbine High School ultimately led to larger themes, issues, and questions. Are kids today not getting the guidance from parents the way they should? Should there be stricter gun control laws in America? How do we define heroism today? And lastly, can we make the world a better a place if society addresses the issue of bullying?
Another incident is the death of JonBenet Ramsey and the deeper questions it raised. Why did the death of a wealthy white girl make national headlines while the death a black girl of lesser means go virtually unnoticed? Do we still have a great divide between class and color? Should parents be dressing up toddlers like little adults in sexy pageant costumes with big hair and makeup? Is this exploitation? Are we putting too much pressure on children today to succeed at too young an age? Does our society put too much emphasis on beauty? Can we make the world a better place by teaching young girls and boys to put more value on other attributes, such as brains and kindness instead of looks?
The lesson for the writer? As your novel unfolds, so should your underlying theme rise to the surface as you near the end of your story. As a writer, you are passionate about what you have to say and so let it unfold in your story. Effortlessly. Inevitably. Surprisingly. The reader has taken this journey with you and wants a read that is thought-provoking, possibly life changing. It doesn’t mean the reader has to agree with you. So, when it comes to your theme, message, or moral argument, do you deliver?
As for Tiger’s situation, we all have opinions on how we want the story to unfold. We may all want different endings to this morality tale. The important thing in any story is to be shown all sides so that we can come to our own conclusion about the human condition.
All this self reflection on deep meaningful themes occurs simply because Tiger Woods hit a tree in the middle of the night. Who knew that one inciting incident could lead to a really big story that has all the makings of a best-selling novel?
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www.KimberlyLlewellyn.com – aka “the Wedding Writer"