Explore the Creative Possibilities of Rewriting Fairy Tales

I grew up reading fairy tales like the Brothers Grimm stories, Rapunzel and Cinderella, and just like many young women, my romantic ideologies centred on many of the characters and narrative structures contained within these tales.  These magical tales had me believing that my prince would come and rescue me on a white horse and sweep me off my feet and I would live happily ever after. Not for one moment did I question the implausibility of a frog turning into a prince or that a young woman’s hair could be used as a rope so that the prince could climb up a tower to rescue her.  But as I have got older, and maybe a little wiser, and due to my uncovering the hidden meanings behind many of these narratives, I have discovered the creative possibilities of rewriting fairy tales.

Some of the narratives within the Tales for the Sisterhood collection (like Sisters, and The Tale of Ruthie and Grace) are designed to transgress archetypal characterisation, fairy tale gender roles, and challenge traditional storytelling.  So if you feel a little story barren, why not explore the creative possibilities of re-writing a fairy tale.

As a prime method of universal communication, storytelling has taken on many historical forms, stemming from oral folk tales, myths, legends and moral tales to contemporary literary narratives. More than any other narrative fairy tales have been subject to revision, due to cultural and social-political change. In the early nineteenth century, Edgar Taylor’s translation of the Brothers Grimm tales resulted in rigid censorship to overt references of violence, cruelty, supernatural and sexual thematics, as children were to be the prime audience for these stories.

A significant area of revision was the censorship of female roles. In the precursor to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Grimm’s Rose Red and Snow White tale depicted Rose (Snow White’s sister) as wild and unruly. Rose Red was then removed from later renditions as “her free-spirited, untamed ways” could be interpreted as “dangerous in the context of a patriarchal society” that attributed “femininity with docility, gentleness…good temper” (Friedenthal 2012, p. 163 pp. 163-165) and subservience. If you are interested, the studies of Friedenthal and other similar fairy tale narratologists provide a useful exploration into the power of belief systems, which can ultimately influence literature‘s form and style.

Almost in rebuke to these passive literary representations of female characters, post-modern authors like Angela Carter, A. S. Byatt and Margaret Atwood present their own feministic literary critiques through their unique representation of female characters and story-lines. Carter’s Gothic style narratives twists, such as the sexual awakening of the not so innocent Little Red Riding Hood in ‘The Company of Wolves’, and the daughter who is rescued by her mother from a murderous husband in ‘The Bloody Chamber’, see passive females being transformed into active and heroic characters.

A. S. Byatt’s intriguing tale ‘The Story of the Eldest Princess’ is also a prime example of a major break with fairy tale tradition, where Byatt transgress the expectations of fairy tale lore. Byatt’s princess is aware of her fairy tale entrapment and ultimately decides to take control of her own narrative destiny resulting in a ambiguous resolution (Gooderson 2005).

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood offers a complex characterisation and narrative structure. The novel is set in the mid 1930s to 1940s and follows the conflicted lives of two sisters, Iris and Laura, whose relationship is bound by the endless cycle of abuse at the hands of Iris’s husband, Richard. This abuse is tragically intensified by the fact that Iris is unaware of this abuse until after her sister’s death.

Atwood’s literary rationale concerned the socio-cultural “power politics governing the lives of women” and the traditional representations of female roles. Her novels explore “the saintly, selfless, and utterly self-sacrificing” woman, or the female villain” and rejects these stereo-typical roles through her narrative complexity (Brooks 2010, pp. 68- 70). It is Carter, Byatt and Atwood’s overall rationale towards rejecting traditional fairy tale conventions, and their trail-blazing approach to re-writing female roles that have acted as a dominant influence on my writing.

Although the magical world of fairy tales may take its consumerist multi-million dollar form in the Disney films, they can also offer a world of promise for creative writers as traditional fairy tales can encapsulate twenty-first century ideologies. Old narratives can be transformed into new narratives that challenge and inspire. So be brave and discover the creative possibilities of rewriting fairy tales or even create your own.

 

References:

Brooks, B J 2010, Continuum Studies in Contemporary North American Fiction:Margaret Atwood : The Robber Bride, the Blind Assassin, Oryx and Crake. London, GBR: Continuum International Publishing, viewed 19 November, 2014, via ProQuest Ebrary Online Library.

Friedenthal, A J 2012, ‘The Lost Sister, Lesbian Eroticism and Female Empowerment in “Snow White and Rose Red” in K Turner & P Greenhill (eds), Series in Fairy-Tale Studies:Transgressive Tales: Queering the Grimm, Wayne State University Press, Detroit, MI, USA, viewed 18 September, 2014, via Proquest Ebrary Online Library, pp. 161-178.

Gooderson S, ‘Writing a tale’, The Guardian, Thursday 22 September 2005. 

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2005/sep/22/fiction.asbyatt

 

Image:

light-castle

Mysticsartdesign

Pixabay.com

How to Create Four Dimensional Story Characters

 

This week we are are exploring how to create four dimensional characters. Over the past month or so, I have been doing a series on the seven archetypal characters that exist in the narrative world. I just wanted to go a little deeper in relation to character creation as characters are the most important narrative elements in the storyworld. But the quality or appeal of a story depends on whether a character is flat or fully developed – or four dimensional.

As opposed to the visuality that is provided by television, theatre and film, a literary work is dependent on the skill of a writer to create dynamic ‘word pictures’ that describe the characters. As we only have the words on a page (except for digital storytelling) to offer our reader a mental picture of our characters, learning how to create four dimensional story characters is an essential strategy for writers.

Drawing upon Vladimir Propp and other narratology specialists, four dimensional characters are those who have a two-fold function within the narrative. They can be distinguished between: “an acteur” (actor) (Kozloff 1987, p. 53) – a specific individual with certain characteristics specific to him or her, (for example, the character Kramer in Seinfeld, he has a certain hairstyle and mannerisms or mode of behaviour that makes him unique), and their “actantal  function” (1987, p. 53) – their particular role in the narrative.

Just like the primary characters – the hero and the villain, and the secondary characters – aka the princess, the dispatcher, donor, helper and false hero – they are all defined by their individual “sphere of action” (Lacey 2000 p. 51).

Modern day characterisation is dependent upon characters that combine their “actantal” position or “sphere of action” (2000, p. 51) in the narrative as well as their individual characterisation and distinctive idiosyncrasies (modes of behaviour).

Creating four dimensional characters

Creating a character is like painting a picture. An artist begins with nothing but a blank white canvas. After a brainstorming session he begins with a rough sketch of the landscape or portrait, and slowly bit by bit he begins the more complex process of the careful application of paint or whatever art medium he chooses. Once this process is completed, the finished product is finally revealed.

No. 1. A character’s physical description

When we begin to plan our story in front of our computer screen or a blank sheet of paper, a detailed description of a character serves as the first step in the process of creating a character. Although story characters are primarily fictional, we want them to be as real as possible so that the reader can draw a parallel between the character and a real life person as a point of reference.

Details of a character’s physical appearance or style of clothing helps to create narrative interest. As we live in a visual culture, and in order to keep books alive, we need to provide our reader with a external description of the character to hold their attention. Also, providing a character’s description gives the reader a mental picture of the character and helps the reader to differentiate between characters.

No. 2. Characterisation: the personality of a character

Just like real people are often remembered by their distinctive personalities and odd idiosyncrasies, so are fictional characters. The villain is known for his manic or sadistic personality, and the hero is known for his brave and noble nature. But to go a step further – characters may have a distinctive way of speaking or they may display strange physical mannerisms – think of Han Solo as the easygoing and wise cracking pilot of the Millennium Falcon or Kramer in Seinfeld with his strange gesticulations.

No. 3. Characters do not exist in a narrative void

Most narratives have at least three characters and these characters do not exist in a narrative void. Like us, they interact with one another, and they provide observations about other characters.  The 90s sitcom Friends is a good example of character interaction, and The Lord of the Rings book and films.

Through character interaction we learn about a character’s perception of other characters and their interpersonal relationships provide the reader with that extra dimension. Characters do not just sprout sonnets or ramble on with meaningless dialogue, they reveal important secrets, they share knowledge and their words can influence our speech patterns –think of the plays of William Shakespeare or the almost immortal words of Arnold Schwarzenegger in the Terminator films – “I’ll be back”.

No. 4. A character’s inner world

Just like in real life, the inner world of a character can remain much of a mystery. In the world of film or television, if we are not given any dialogue or a voice-over monologue, we can only surmise what characters are thinking by their facial expressions. Sometimes the camera will linger on an actor’s face and we as the voyeur are invited to try to discern what lies beneath. If the actor has considerable skill, discerning their secret thoughts is an easy job.

But when it comes to revealing the secret inner world of characters, I believe it is the humble book that is superior to other forms of storytelling media. A writer can utilize the techniques of a ‘internal monologue’ or ‘streams of consciousness’ – two invaluable tools that can provide intimate access to a character’s worldview, values, and thought life.

A snapshot of a four dimensional character. 

James Baldwin’s short story ‘Previous Condition’ provides a great example of how ‘streams of consciousness’ can give a reader intimate access into the heart and mind of a character. Through the main character, Peter, we have unmitigated access to his external and more importantly his interior world through his ‘streams of consciousness’ or ‘internal monologues’. We learn about his conflicted past as a child growing up in a poor African-American community and his fear and anger that is caused by the racial tension and discrimination of his present situation as a young out-of-work actor in 1950s New York.

A ‘flashback’ also serves as a conduit through which the reader perceives that Peter’s feelings have been simmering under the surface for some time. Peter is a ticking time bomb, and his repressed anger is ultimately externalized towards the end of story via his dialogue with his two friends, Jules and Ida. But the bulk of the story is limited to Peter’s perspective through his ‘internal monologues’. Many people would find this kind of storytelling boring and not very riveting. But Baldwin does it so well that he makes the reader feel as if they are right there in Peter’s tumultuous world and experiencing his claustrophobic and fear-driven existence.

See Baldwin’s story here:

The world of 21st century film and television provides us with a plethora of dynamic characters. Foxtel features the slogan ‘100% characters’  when they promote new and continuing programs. Australian ‘free-to-air’ television has also jumped on the ‘character bandwagon’ as Channel Nine’s digital channel GEM promotes itself as the place where great ‘Characters Belong’.

Other examples of four dimensional characters.

Characters like Inspector Lewis, Inspector Lynley or Hercule Poirot are good examples of four dimensional characters that have now become part of our popular culture. All of these characters have a backstory, distinctive personalities and appearances.

If you are an emerging or aspiring creative writer, a helpful learning task outlined below is to analyze a character when you reading about them in a book, or watching them on screen. Your characters are the lifeblood of your story and more often than not they are the narrative elements that will linger in your reader’s memory. One thing I can guarantee as a fellow storyteller, if you learn how to create four dimensional story characters – you will become a master of great storytelling!

Creative Exercise

Task 1

When you are reading a book or watching a film or a television program, start an analysis exercise.

What is the character’s role in the story?

What makes them distinctive – do they have a particular idiosyncrasy (mode of behaviour or mannerisms)?

How do you know what the characters are thinking – is there a ‘internal monologue’, or a voice over narration?

Are the characters flat and do not experience change or are they complex ‘four dimensional’ characters who undergo a transformation throughout the narrative?

Task 2

Write a short story with two or three characters. Use the four techniques mentioned in the blog above and create your own four dimensional characters. Create a backstory for them: their past, their personality or mannerisms, and their relationship with other characters.

Happy writing!

 

 

References:

Baldwin, James 1948, ‘Previous Condition’, Understanding Fiction 2005, Roof, Judith, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, New York, pp. 164-175.

Kozloff, Sarah Ruth 1987, ‘Narrative Theory and Television’ in Robert C. Allen (ed.), Channels of Discourse: Television and Contemporary Criticism, Routledge, London.

Lacey, Nick 2000, Narrative and Genre: Key concepts in Media Studies, Houndmills: Macmillan.

 

Image:

Pixabay.com

How to Create a Dynamic Character Profile

A few weeks ago, I provided some tips on how to create and develop the role of storyworld characters. As writers, characters deserve our full attention as they are the active agents that drive a story’s plot forward. They can function as either a ‘character- focalizer’ (a narrative participant) or as a ‘narrator-focalizer’ (an outside observer who knows everything about the characters) (Culler 1997, p. 90).

Whatever their role, characters give us a front row seat for all the action. If we are reading a short story or novel, the characters provide us with an intimate view into their thoughts and feelings via their ‘streams of consciousness’.

We have also learned some of the basic techniques for creating the storyworld’s most important characters – the hero and the villain. This week we will be exploring secondary characters and their narrative function.  And I will deliver some tips on how to create a dynamic character profile for a False Hero.

The function of secondary characters.

As we ready know, stories are usually centered around the hero, so the secondary characters function as an extension of the hero’s universe. The villain opposes the hero. The secondary characters provide help for the hero. But not always! If you are writing a comedy screenplay, chances are you might have a bumbling chaos-causing side-kick character who causes more problems for the hero than helping him.

In filmmaking, the sidekick can sometimes be turned into a worthy helpmate towards the end of the film. So this kind of character is well worth considering. Can you think of any books or films with this kind of character profile?

All of these rules about writing and story-world character creation may come across as being rigid and not allowing room for unbridled creativity. You may be thinking – creativity is all about letting your mind run wild and free, isn’t? Why can’t I just sit at my notepad, computer, or iPad and just for go for it?

Yes, absolutely you can do all these things! But the writing mantra has always been – once you know the literary rules that govern the story-world, then you can be brave and break them! An example of breaking the rules would be to turn the hero’s helper into a character who causes more trouble for the hero.  Remember the bumbling, chaos-causing side-kicks in Seinfeld – George or Kramer.

I believe that if you learn these basic rules, then you are on your way to becoming a better writer. I also encourage you to explore the world of narratology as much as possible. Especially if you want to take your writing to the professional level.  Learn from the experts such as: Robert McKee, James Patterson, Patricia Cornwell…

And become a reader too. Reading will expand your imagination, teach you about the beauty of language – and help you grow as a writer. My purpose at Creative is to help you develop as a storyteller. I am on a creative journey too and there is always something new to learn.

So let us start exploring our secondary characters a little more.

Seven archetypal characters.

In a previous blog, I mentioned that the story-world consists of seven archetypal characters as outlined by the Russian folklorist, Vladimir Propp. Here are Propp’s conclusions:

1. Functions of characters serve as stable, constant elements in a tale, independent of how and by whom they are fulfilled. They constitute the fundamental components of a tale.

2. The number of functions known to the fairy-tale is limited.

3. The sequence of functions is always identical.

4. All fairy tales are of one type in regard to their structure. *

* (Propp in Turner 1988, p. 69)

It is also important to remember that for modern-day storytellers these character types continue to remain stable and constant regardless of the setting or time period. But not all of these characters will be present in a narrative. And although all of these archetypal characters have distinctive functions, some of these roles can be played by more than one character such as the False Hero.

Here are the seven archetypes as identified by Propp:

The hero
The false hero
The donor (or provider)
The helper/s
The princess (or sought after person) (sometimes accompanied by her father)
The dispatcher (the person who sends the hero on his journey)
The villain

As we have already directed the spotlight onto our primary story characters, the Hero and the Villain, they can just hang out in the ‘green room’ for now.

Here are the archetypes we will be concentrating on over the next couple of weeks:

1. The donor
2. The helper
3. The princess (the sought after person)
4. The dispatcher – the person who sends the hero on his journey.
5. The false hero.

You have probably noticed that I have been using the mediums of filmmaking and television to predominately draw my story examples from. Of course, there are many great examples in literature, but I think both filmmaking and television have a greater potential for a global story saturation. And most of us are familiar with film and television references.

So now I am going to use the Star Wars saga to flesh out these characters in a modern setting.

The hero – Luke Skywalker
The false hero – Darth Vader
The donor – Obiwan Kenobi
The helper – Han Solo
The princess – Princess Leia
The dispatcher – R2D2
The villain – Darth Vader

This week I have chosen ‘The false hero’ for our secondary character profile.

From the Star Wars franchise, we have seen the development of the Darth Vader character, from the conflicted and misguided ‘false hero’ Anakin Skywalker, to his evolution as the villain. As a little boy, he was innocent and sweet and had a tragic life, and we felt for him, and we looked forward to his bright future as a light saber extraordinaire – the Jedi Knight. But alas, we were very much mistaken, or at least some of us tried to be shocked and dismayed at Anakin’s descent into darkness – after the considerable gap between the films. But Anakin was the false hero and it was his son, Luke, who would be the real hero. What is your view here? Do you think it is possible to have two heroes?

Another example of a false hero is the well known classic story that has also made a billion dollar crossover to a film franchise – The Lord of the Rings. Who is the false hero in this narrative? You may not agree, but I reckon it is Gollum. Before he became the wretched and ring-obsessed pathetic creature, Gollum, he was just a normal hobbit who had discovered a magic ring, not dissimilar to Bilbo and Frodo. But once the ring had consumed him with evil, he became a false hero, and in some ways a villain as well. Of course, he could have been the hero of the story, like Frodo, but his choice relegated him to the role of the false hero.

Just like the real hero, the false hero will have a journey to take and a choice to make. But he will falter in his journey, therefore allowing the real hero to step up.

Sometimes the false hero is used as a ‘red herring’ or as a clever narrative device to misguide the reader or viewer and to keep them guessing.

So we can see from this brief character portrait that although these character functions “serve as stable, constant elements in a tale” (Propp in Turner 1988, p. 60), some of these fictional characters can develop a dual/split personality, so to speak. For information on Propp’s archetypal characters see Graeme Turner: Film as Social Practice – available on Amazon Books.

 

Next Week: We are going to talk about the role of the ‘princess’ or love interest. This will be an interesting character to explore as the ‘princess’ in traditional storytelling, especially in the fairy tale, has been presented as a passive observer of the action, and more often than not – the passive receiver of the action. But this role has changed. Many thanks to Sigourney Weaver from Aliens, and Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games.

Happy writing!

 

References:

Culler, Jonathan 1997, Literary Theory, A Very Short Introduction. Oxford. New York: Oxford University Press.

Turner, Graeme 1988 ‘Film Narrative’, Film as Social Practice, Routledge, London.

 

Image:
Kermit.

Source: Reddit.com

Giphy.com

 

 

How to Create a Dynamic Villain For a Story

 

This week we are talking about another important character in creative storytelling – the hero’s nemesis – the villain or antagonist.  Like the hero, a storyteller needs to learn how to create a dynamic and memorable villain.  

Our world is experiencing unprecedented attacks from many out of control villains, and it seems that many of these villains are escaping the true justice they so rightly deserve.  But in the fictional world, the villain will always get his just rewards and face defeat.  Evelyn from The Mummy got it right when she said to the comedic style villain, Benny,“You know, nasty little fellows such as yourself always get their comeuppance.” (The Mummy, 1999)

The fictional world is attractive to writers because it offers an author complete literary control.  You can be the master or mistress of your own special micro-world.  All of the storyworld elements: the plot, the characters, and story symbols are yours to command.

At the scratch of a pen or at the tap of the keyboard, the journey the characters take and the ultimate destiny they face – all of it is in your hands.  Being able to dictate who, when and where in the narrative world is a literary luxury that real life does not allow us mere human beings to have.

So anyway, let’s get back to the fictional villain.

Last week I mentioned that all of the storyworld characters (seven archetypes, remember?) revolve around the hero and his universe, and are designed to function as either a help or a hindrance to his journey.

The antagonist is the hero’s main opponent.  As our hero embarks on his journey he will have one primary opponent who opposes him – the antagonist or the villain of the storyworld. The antagonist is designed to provide the main source of conflict for the hero.

Creating a dynamic and terrifying antagonist is like gold for the writer, because this character provides the story with its necessary form.  And above all, the antagonist provides the opposition and the many seemingly insurmountable obstacles to the hero’s journey.  This opposition is important for our hero, because the greater the opposition, the greater your hero will grow.

Here are Four tips on how to create a dynamic and memorable antagonist.

1. The antagonist will have a strong moral argument relating to his narrative purpose.

Like the hero, the antagonist will firmly believe that his chosen path is the right way, and his thinking will be along the lines of – “it’s my way or the highway.”  This blinkered psychology, although hopelessly flawed, defines his characterization and cements his place in the narrative.

More often than not, the antagonist does not see himself as the bad guy.  He believes that he is right and consequently he becomes part of his own created myth.

Sometimes he will have a moral argument that sounds plausible, and this will create conflict not only for the hero but also for the reader.  This character-driven tension keeps us glued to the page or to the screen.  But at the end of the story, the antagonist’s real motives are revealed and his flawed argument falls to pieces.

2. The antagonist is cast almost as the hero’s double.

When I say ‘double’ I mean the hero and the antagonist will have certain similarities. They will mirror each other in some areas such as: having a singular vision, distinctive values or they have had a past traumatic experience.  Although these visions, values, and experiences will differ significantly, they work to define these characters and will propel them through the story.

3. Use the ‘double reversal’.

Another interesting technique that can be used for creating a dynamic villain is called a ‘double reversal’.  A ‘double reversal’ is when the antagonist has an epiphany or revelation towards the end of the narrative, which is contrasted with the hero’s revelation.  The ‘double reversal’ allows the antagonist and the hero to learn an important lesson from each other.

The antagonist’s revelation makes him appear stronger due to his apparent capacity to change, and also provides the reader or viewer with a chance to question this revelation.  Has the antagonist been redeemed? Will he turn away from the dark side of the force and become good?  Can both the hero and the antagonist live in the same world?

It is in this pivotal moment of the antagonist’s false epiphany that the hero is able to overcome his nemesis and achieve his ultimate transformation.

Every antagonist/villain has his vulnerable side – think Darth Vader/Anakin Skywalker.  Here we are presented with an antagonist who has shown a sudden and remarkable capacity for positive and permanent change. The writer, George Lucas, provided hints throughout the film that signified that change was possible for this conflicted character.

Although he was menacing and terrified the other characters, Darth Vader had originally started off his journey well. As a young man, he had allowed himself to be ‘seduced by the dark side of the force’ in his quest for power and control.  And once he had been totally consumed by darkness, he wreaked havoc at every turn.  But when he was faced with the destruction of his only son, Luke, by the evil emperor,  he finally realized his mistake.  How unvillain like!  Of course, unlike Darth Vader, there are many antagonists who do not change.  They stay unrepentant to the very end.

4. Create an antagonist who generates sympathy.

As you begin to create your antagonist you might decide to create one who generates sympathy.

Again I am going to refer to the Man of Steel film.  Although I am not a big fan of the Superman films – a man with his underpants on the outside of his tights really does not appeal to me – but when it came to this latest film edition, I was impressed.  Not with the costumes, but with the characterization.

The primary antagonist – General Zod – was the epitome of the classic villain.  He was cruel, ruthless, driven, and passionate about his cause.  But he also generated sympathy. Why?  Because the primal desire that lay at the heart of his destructive plan for planet earth was to resurrect his native people who had been destroyed after his home planet, Krypton, exploded.  Sounds like a good desire – right? But at what cost to planet earth?  Do two wrongs make a right?

Although Zod was designed to generate sympathy and to keep the audience in suspense, he remained a villain to the end.  Zod was not interested in joining Superman in calling earth his new home. Or in letting go of his tragic past ( the destruction of Krypton). He was not interested in embracing a bright future like Superman had.  It was going to be Zod’s ‘way or the highway’.  His dark self-was hell bent on total genocide and there was no turning back for his megalomania.

But it was in this cataclysmic moment that Superman, our bizarrely clad hero, won his victory.

Again, like the hero, there is a wide range of techniques available for you to create a dynamic antagonist in creative storytelling.  I have only provided just a few.

Both the hero and antagonist are important characters within a story and it is their combined function to drive the story’s plot forward.

So what kind of antagonist will you dream up, the classic ‘evil to the bitter end’ villain or will you create a dynamic villain who generates sympathy?

 

Next week: Secondary story characters.

 

Image: 

Darth Vader

Source. Legionofleia.com

GIPHY

How to Create a Dynamic Hero

Last week we were learning about how to create compelling story characters in general and how the best characters are those who are fully developed.  This week I am introducing the main protagonist – the hero – and how a well-rounded and dynamic hero is of primary importance to your story. So read on and discover how to create a dynamic hero that will bring your story alive.

“What makes a hero? Courage, strength, morality, withstanding adversity? Are these the traits that truly show and create a hero? Is the light truly the source of darkness or vice versa? Is the soul a source of hope or despair? Who are these so-called heroes and where do they come from? Are their origins in obscurity or in plain sight?”

Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Notes from Underground

We all love heroes; whether it be in the pages of a book, on the silver screen, or in even in real life. We are thrilled by their incredible acts of bravery and great sacrifice.  We admire those people who dare to shine like bright stars in a dark world.  So when it comes to writing a story, the hero or the main protagonist is one of the most important narrative elements in the fictional world.  It is the hero who allows the reader or viewer to primarily engages with the story.  It is usually the hero who bring us back to our favorite book or inspires us to follow a film franchise.

“First, find out what your hero wants, then just follow him!”
Ray Bradbury

Out of all the characters in the story world, it is the hero who allows a writer to explore and develop their story premise or controlling idea.  All of the other characters revolve around the hero and his universe and are designed to function as a help or a hindrance to his journey. 

Without the hero, the story world would fall apart.  Now when I say hero, I am also including the all important female double, the heroine, but just to make it simpler, I will just use the patriarchal title – the hero.

To understand the hero’s narrative function, we need to understand the basic reoccurring characters types or archetypes that are unique to all meta-narratives.  The great Russian folklorist Vladimir Propp studied a wide range of folk tales in the early to mid 20th century and consequently developed a model upon which all archetypal (original) character functions are based. 

According to Vladimir Propp, all characters can be categorized as ‘spheres of action’ (Lacey 2000 p. 51) within a narrative structure and serve as stable, constant elements…” in a tale (Turner 1988, p. 69).  These ‘spheres of action’ are separated into seven archetypal characters: villain, donor, helper, princess (and her father); dispatcher, the hero (seeker or victim); [and] false [or anti- hero]” (Lacey 2000, p. 51).  As we are talking about the hero in this blog, we will disregard the other character types for now.

When we begin to write a story, it is the controlling idea or premise that tells the reader or viewer what the story is about.  But it is the ‘who’ – the all-important hero who outworks this controlling idea.  Right from the beginning, we follow the hero, we experience his struggles, his failures, and his victories.

In order to create a dynamic hero, we need to keep in mind some questions regarding a hero’s narrative function and specific characterization.  Who is the hero in the story?  What is his purpose? What are his goals?  What inspires or drives him to embark upon his journey?  What makes him unique from all the other characters?

The hero should be likable or at least invoke our sympathy.  We must care about him and identify with him on some level.  I am referring to human heroes here.  Although, animal heroes can also be endowed with human-like qualities: see anthropomorphism.

A good hero will be fascinating and possess some quality that catches our attention.  He will have an intriguing personality. He projects charisma. He is witty or brilliant.  He shows great courage in the face of great adversity.  For this example I will use a heroine – think of The Hunger Games protagonist – Katniss Everdeen.

A hero will have a strong desire and a primal need that connects him to his goal such as a desire for freedom, protection of loved ones, a love interest.  The goal should be simple and tangible, but there should be a world of complexity that surrounds it.

The hero possesses a conscious need or desire that is connected to an underlying contradictory unconscious need that stems from a deep seated wound like rejection, exclusion, or betrayal.  These hidden needs are a representation of the hero’s ego and also act as a metaphor for his search for identity and completeness.  It is these two conflicting desires that the hero struggles with throughout the narrative and his attempt to reconcile them creates interest and intrigue.

Endowing your hero with flaws gives him the opportunity to grow, to learn, to develop through the ‘character arc’.  As the hero begins his journey from a place of imperfection or a place of lack, he evolves into a well-rounded character with great psychological depth.  At the end of the journey, the hero is ultimately rewarded with the restoration of that lack: he wins the object of his romantic affection or defeats his nemesis.

The hero must be active, proactive and be an agent of change.  He may begin as a passive character, but at some point in the narrative, he must become active, and take back the control of his story.  It is his story that we are telling, after all! 

The latest Superman film, Man of Steel, is a great example of a hero’s transition from passive to active.  For quite a substantial section of the movie, Clark Kent tries to hide from his destiny.  Even his foster father tries to keep Clark from achieving his destiny as savior of the world or at least the city of Metropolis.  But it is when his foster father dies, and his arch-nemesis, General Zod, hunts him down, he is kick-started into action and this is when he really begins to shine.

Like all good storybook heroes, Clark Kent/Superman is firstly defined by a small action (saving the children in the school bus), which acts as a foreshadowing of greater things to come – an immense action – kicking General Zod and his army of supervillain’s butts.  Our hero should draw the reader or viewer in slowly, with a mix of internal and external conflicts, small and immense actions.

Above all the hero must undergo a metamorphosis or some sort of transformation.  But before he can achieve this transformation, he needs to be faced with a personal loss or tragedy that he feels he cannot reconcile himself to: think Luke Skywalker and the death of his father, Darth Vader/Anakin, in The Return of the Jedi

A hero’s tragedy or ‘dark night of the soul’ takes place in the final stages of a story and is considered to be the critical moment in the hero’s journey. It is this critical moment or final catalyst (although heartbreaking) that is designed as a necessary strategy to propel him forward towards his desired goal.  Although the hero faces defeat (and it must appear to be total), it is only a temporary defeat that allows him to transition into a new state of being and become a stronger character.

Finally, there are two types of heroes: the gung-ho adventure type who has no qualms about jumping into the action. Then there is the unwilling hero or anti-hero who is full of self-doubt and needs a violent shove by some outside force into a rip-roaring adventure.  Which hero type is your favorite? I’m a fan of the anti-hero.

Of course, there is so much more to be said about the hero.  So, I encourage you to seek out books, websites, YouTube videos about creating a dynamic hero.

Creative Exercise: Create your own hero/protagonist.

Don’t forget to leave a comment.  I would like to chat with you about your ideas for stories and characters.

Next week: The Villain – the heroes opponent.

 

References:

Lacey, Nick 2000, Narrative, and Genre: Key Concepts in Media Studies, Houndmills: Macmillan

Turner, Graeme 1988, ‘Film narrative’, Film as Social Practice, Routledge, London

 

Reading list:

Voger, Christopher 1999, The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Storytellers and Screenwriters, Pan, London.

 

Image:

Ironman

Heartywizard

Pixabay.com

How to Create Compelling Story Characters

Creating story characters is an exciting part of writing. As the creator of your own micro world, there are new heroes and villains just waiting to be born. But in order to capture your reader’s attention and make them want to read your story up until the very last page, you need to create compelling story characters they will care about.

So before we start, let me ask you some questions.  When you read a book, watch a film or a television show – what draws you in?  What captures your imagination?  What inspires you to go and see a film or buy a book? What gets you hooked into a television show?  I am pretty sure your answers to these questions will be… the characters – real or fictional. 

It does not matter whether we cheer for the hero or whether we hate the villain, characters are the most important elements in the story-world.  We all have our favorite characters (and I don’t mean actors or actresses). Who is your favorite character?  Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia, or maybe a cartoon superhero – Batman, Superman or Iron Man?  Or maybe you are a fan of the villain – the hero’s nemesis!

The best characters are complex and fully developed.  They have distinctive traits (actions, speech and external appearance).  Characters appear more complex when they develop new traits or undergo a metamorphosis or a personal transformation throughout the story.

What do we look for in a character?  Human qualities like sensitivity, empathy, strong values, bravery etc.  We seek to identify with characters on some level.  Do they laugh, cry, or experience conflict?  Do they experience crushing disappointments and celebrate long-awaited victories?

Even though I am a self-confessed bookaholic, I believe the world of filmmaking has the greatest potential for creating dynamic characters.  Since the creation of film, in the late 19th century, audiences have been quite happy to sit in a small darkened room, separated from their friends and other captured viewers, whilst being held transfixed by the moving images on a screen.

In the 21st century, we continue to repeat this much loved cultural activity, either at the cinema or in our self-created home theatre.  And in these social places of magic and wonder, we are suspended in time and space.  So what keeps us spell-bound?  Forget the special effects, the digital sound and computer generated imagery (CGI).  It’s all about the characters!  Whether we admit it or not, we live vicariously through these imaginary people who seem to live eternally in the magical story-world.

“It begins with a character, usually, and once he stands up on his feet and begins to move, all I can do is trot along behind him with a paper and pencil trying to keep up long enough to put down what he says and does.”
― William Faulkner

I love this quote about story characters.  Faulkner’s experience reminds me of what can happen when you breathe life into a character.  Once you have drafted your character’s backstory, their actions, their trajectory, chances are, he or she can sometimes develop a mind or will of their own.  There have been countless times when my characters have surprised me.  Their personalities have undergone a dramatic reversal and they seem to want to direct the plot themselves.  I thought it was just me and I had been staring at the computer screen for too long.  I had spent too much time in the fictional world.  But one day I attended a catch-up meeting with some other ‘creatives’ from the film, television, and theater site, Stage 32, and when I asked one of the writers do your characters sometimes change during the writing process? The answer was Yes!

So, why do characters change mid-story?  As writers, we have the power to create characters that can mirror real life people.  And just like real people, your characters can develop a mind or will of their own. 

A character will possess universal human characteristics and can be drawn from people we know.  We can relate to them on some level and we hope others will too. 

Of course, characters are not only restricted to humans; they can be animals, extraterrestrials (E.T.) or toys that come to life (Toy Story).  The possibilities are endless.  And sometimes there are characters we can not relate to, but they also have an important part to play and have an important story to tell.

“Who are these characters?  What do they want?  Why do they want it?  How do they go about getting it? What stops them?  What are the consequences?  Finding the answers to these grand questions and shaping them into a story is our overwhelming creative task.”

Robert McKee, Story, Style, Structure, Substance, and the Principles of Screenwriting.

Characters are the active agents in your storyworld that drive the plot forward.  They get things done, they react to situations and to other characters.  They put the heart and soul into your story.  The dialogue and monologues uttered by fictional heroes and villains are often the words we fear to say in real life. 

As a creator, we can make our characters do things that we are afraid to do in our everyday lives.  An example would be: having the courage to talk to someone we have admired from afar, or being bold and accepting a challenge. 

Yes, sometimes characters can achieve the things that we can only dream about. 

I also think that creating characters can be very therapeutic.  When I’m angry, stressed or depressed – creating a character helps.

Here are a few tips or ideas to get you started:

1.  Create a backstory for your character/s – even if you are only writing a short story.  A short story can develop into a novel or screenplay! Create a character profile: name, age, appearance, occupation, etc. 

2.  Just like actors do when they are preparing for a performance, ask yourself these questions about your characters?  What drives them? What are their passions, fears, goals? 

Let your characters lead you.   The fictional world is their domain.  Let them take you on their journey, you never know where it may lead.  So have fun creating compelling story characters your reader will love.

 

 
Images:

Library. erdemdindar

Pixabay.com

 

Reference:

Stage 32: The Premier Social Network for Film, Television and Theater Creatives.

https://www.stage32.com/welcome/18/

 

Top 10 Building Blocks for Writing A Story

Welcome to the world of creative writing and storytelling!  The art of storytelling flows from the very heart of the human condition. We cannot help but create and tell stories.  Robert McKee, the author of Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting said it best, that telling [or writing] a story is “a universally human experience [that is wrapped] inside a unique, culture-specific expression.”

Storytelling Photo

 

We love to tell stories. Whether it is sharing with a friend about what we did or experienced during our day; listening to a grandparent tell us an unexpected tale from their past to reading a book or watching a movie – storytelling is all around us. 

But when it comes down to writing our own story, whether it is fact or fiction – a blank page or a computer screen can be very intimidating.

So as you begin your creative journey, you may ask: How do I write a story? Where do I start?  Here are some really basic, but essential building blocks to get you on your way to your own creative destination – your story.  And not just any story – a story that will entertain, inspire, and yes, even challenge a potential reader.

THE BUILDING BLOCKS OF NARRATIVE

Building Block1Antagonist – The opponent of the protagonist. The antagonist or villain is the main provider of the conflict in a story. He or she is commonly the enemy of the hero. Here are a few well-known antagonists: Wile E. Coyote in The Road Runner cartoon. Loki versus Thor in The Avengers, Darth Vader in Star Wars.

2. Character Archetype – A character type that repeatedly occurs in various literary genres – such as the hero or villain.  The basic characteristics of a character archetype that has been drawn from folk and fairy tales continue to be reproduced in modern day texts.  

3Character – Character is a text or media-based figure in a storyworld, usually human or human-like. The term “character” is used to refer to participants in a storyworld and in contrast to “persons” or individuals in the real world.

4. Characterization – the personality/idiosyncrasies of a character. Characterization also includes the external description of a character, as well as their thoughts and feelings.

5. Focalization – A selection or restriction of narrative information in relation to the experience and knowledge of the narrator, or the characters in the storyworld. It is through a character’s focalization that the reader can ‘see’, ‘hear’, and/or experience events in the storyworld.

6. Narrative – The representation of a story (an event or a series of events)

7. Plot – the order in which the story events are arranged in the narrative.

8. Protagonist – the hero or heroine of a story. Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games.

The protagonist can also be an anti-hero.

9. Setting – The background for a narrative’s storyworld. E.g. A beachside setting, an alien world.

10. Story – a chronological sequence of events involving characters. Story should not be confused with narrative discourse, which is the telling or presenting of a story. Traditionally, a story unfolds in a linear fashion, with a clearly defined, beginning, middle and end, but these rules or techniques can be broken.

Like in many films, a writer can start at the end, or even in the middle of all the action.

Stay tuned for more creative building blocks for storytelling.

 

References.

Porter Abbott 2008, ‘Glossary and topical index’, The Cambridge Introduction to Narrative, Second Edition, Cambridge University Press, New York.

Garry, Jane, El-Shamy, Hasan M., Eds, 2005, Archetypes and Motifs in Folklore and Literature: A Handbook, Sharpe, Inc., Armonk, NY, USA: M.E, ProQuest ebrary.

Hühn, Peter, Pier, John, Schmid, Wolf, Eds. 2009, Narratologia / Contributions to Narrative Theory: Handbook of Narratology, Walter de Gruyter, Berlin, DEU, ProQuest ebrary.

McKee, Robert 1997, Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting, First edition, Harper-Collins Publishers, Inc., New York.

Image.

http://karbocom.com