More Creative Tips For Creating A Dynamic Opening to a Story

One of the greatest challenges for any writer when it comes to writing a story (besides coming up with the initial story idea) is to decide what is the best way to begin the story. The opening paragraph is the most important part of a story as it acts as the pivotal gateway through which your reader must enter your storyworld. The first few sentences the reader encounters can make or break their ongoing relationship with your story. So how do you create a dynamic opening for your story that will capture your reader’s imagination?

There are three writing techniques that I find really helpful when I am deciding how to start a story.

1. Write a list of different types of paragraph openings

Every writer will have different approaches to writing, but one of the first things that I like to do before I start to write the first few sentences of a story is to write a list of the different types of paragraph openings. This is not to say that I do not use the impromptu creative writing approach, where I just starting typing at random and see where the story goes. I am a big believer in having a story plan to keep me organised.

Of course, the way you begin your story will also depend on the genre of your story. If you are writing a fantasy story, you could start with a setting like a dark Dystopian world or a magical castle. If you are writing in the speculative fiction genre, you could start with a character portrait like a vampire rising from his coffin. If you are writing a crime story, you could start with a narrator who has just observed a murder, or you could have your main character/the murderer discuss their criminal plans in the form of a short monologue.

2. Create a Dynamic Image

The best type of opening paragraph is one that creates a dynamic image. Once you have written your opening paragraph, ask yourself this question: Will my opening scene create a dynamic image in the mind of the reader? One way to know if it is dynamic or not is to try visualising it in your mind, and see it playing out like an opening scene in a film.

A strong image is always memorable.

As well as catching the reader’s attention, a strong and powerful image also sets up the overall genre or style of your story. Think about the last film you went to see or one of your favourites. What did the opening scene contain? Maybe the first image was a spaceship drifting through space, maybe it was a character speaking an iconic one-liner, like the opening line that was spoken by Henry Hill in the gangster film Goodfellas, “As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster.”

The opening scene might be ambiguous, an intriguing image like the pile of black hats in The Prestige. The possibilities are endless for your story, but whether you choose a fantasy world, a haunted house, or you introduce your hero via a character description, it must create a dynamic image in the mind of your reader.
Just like there are some great ways to start a story, they are some things to avoid.

3. Avoid starting your story with dialogue

Firstly, the way you start a story can depend on whether you are writing a short story or a novel. Starting any type of story with a question or a one-liner is a great way to draw the reader in, but starting a story with dialogue may not be the best option. There are two problems that can occur when you start a story with dialogue:

It can create literary confusion as the reader will not know anything about the characters, so they may feel a little lost.
If you are writing a short story you need to be economical with words as short stories have a strict word count. If you want to use dialogue, it needs to be used sparingly in the opening paragraph, or leave it until later in the story.

Practice makes perfect, and once you have experimented with different ways of writing your opening paragraph, you will start to get a feel for what works and what does not work.

Another good tip to help you become more proficient at beginning a story is to read. Reading books and learning from those writers who have been writing for years, will help you to become a better writer. Stephen King, the Master of Horror gives us great storytelling advice:

“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”

William Faulkner also says:

“Read, read, read. Read everything – trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it’s good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out of the window.”

Now that you have learned some tips, here are three creative writing tasks to get those story-telling neurons firing.

1. Choose three types of paragraph openings: Character Description, Setting, and Action. Write up to 100 words for each paragraph, then develop your story from there.

2. Choose three films. Watch the first 5 to 10 minutes of the film. How does the film start? What kind of image is presented? How does it make you feel? Is it a strong, powerful image?

3. Choose a book from your bookshelf or from your local library (fiction is best). How does the writer start their opening paragraph, do they start with the description of a setting or a character description? Do you think it is a dynamic opening paragraph? Why or why not?

Jot down the answers to these questions. You could try re-writing the author’s opening paragraph. Of course, this is just for creative learning purposes. No plagiarism!

I hope these creative tips on how to write a dynamic opening for a story helps you on your storytelling journey.

Happy Writing!

 

Image

Buckled Book

thommas68
Pixabay.com

 

How to Write a Book Proposal for a Publisher

So you have finished your book? That’s great! Your literary baby has been carefully crafted and completed.  All that perspiration and imagination has finally paid off.  It was well worth it all, wasn’t it? Even though you had many sleepless nights and you had to cancel so many social engagements. But now that your work is all done and dusted, you would like to share it with the world, right? Absolutely! I hear you say.  Aside from writing a book, whether it be a collection of short stories, a non-fiction travel guide, or a fantasy novel, writing a book proposal is the next big challenge to be faced in your creative writing journey. So how do you write a winning book proposal?

Before I get into the specifics of writing a book proposal, there are a few things you need to know about the publishing industry. I am talking about the traditional publishing market, not the self-publishing DIY option.

The publishing industry is one of the biggest mass media juggernauts in the world, and traditional publishers have very specific guidelines for book submissions. Publishers can afford to be choosy as there are so many authors around the globe who are writing novels and vying for the public’s reading attention.

As well as being a commercial enterprise that looks out for the next best seller that will generate high revenue, traditional publishers are also culturally minded and have the book-reading public’s interest to consider.

The humble book is still regarded as the perfect vehicle for the transmission of complex ideas, information and characters, so publishers are always looking for a book that is well-written, engaging and even ground-breaking. But the challenge is to get your book in front of the publisher’s commissioning editor.

Preparing a Book Proposal: Author Checklist

A book proposal is a formal way of introducing your book to a potential publisher. It includes details like the title of the book, tagline, synopsis, marketability, etc.

  •  Research the publisher

Before you start writing your proposal, research the many different publishers from small independent publishers to large multinational houses. Look at their existing book titles. What kind of readers do they target? Penguin Random House has an extensive list of genres: romance, science fiction, fantasy, non-fiction, health, and fitness. They cater for an extensive readership: Children and Teens, Young Adults, and General Readership.

  • Read the publisher’s manuscript submission guidelines

Publishers have very strict guidelines on manuscript submissions. Some publishers accept submissions on particular days, like ‘Manuscript Monday’ or during the first week of every month. They may require you to submit your manuscript as a hardcopy or as a digital copy. They may only be accepting particular genres. Whatever you do, do not just send the manuscript and hope they will read it. Start your publishing relationship the right way, which is the publisher’s way.

Two very important things to remember when submitting your manuscript

 1. Never send your first draft

This probably seems obvious, but I have heard a few stories about dodgy narratives being submitted. No pun intended. Write a few drafts of your manuscript, check your writing for spelling, punctuation and grammar mistakes. Have someone else have a look at the manuscript. It is so easy to miss glitches in your own work, which may put your manuscript in the publisher’s shredder – a bit harsh I know.  But this point needs to be emphasised: you want to leave a good impression with your potential publisher. If they read your manuscript, they want to see that you take your craft seriously and you are dedicated to good writing.

Have a look at your plot, characters, etc. Are your characters compelling?  Is your plot fully fleshed out? Even though your book does not have to absolutely perfect, as the publisher will probably make some editing suggestions, it is still important that your story looks polished.

2. Never send the entire manuscript unless the publisher is asking for the entire manuscript

Publishers have a lot of manuscripts to read, so they may only require a sample of your work, and then if they think it has promise, they will ask to see the entire manuscript.  Once again, check their website to see what their requirements are.

Now that you have done your research and read the manuscript guidelines, it is time to start writing a book proposal. Here are some things to include.

1. Title of your Book

The title of your book is one of the most important aspects of your book. A good title can make or break a book. Choose a title that will catch the publisher/reader’s attention and imagination. Something short and catchy that sums up the theme of your book.

2. Tagline or Log Line 

A tagline is a one-line description that sums up the content of your book. It should mention the main character,  the character’s action or the main plot. The key to writing a good tagline is specific word choice and strong verbs and images that catch the reader’s interest.

3. Story Synopsis

The story synopsis is a concise description of the book that should be up to 300 words. The synopsis should include an overview of the main topic/themes/subjects, main characters, and narrative scope.

A good tip is to include the conclusion of the book as well so that the publisher can see the overall continuity of the plot, and that the book is actually finished.

You might find that some publishers may accept a book if it is not fully completed, but they will still need to see that you have written a substantial amount of the narrative. But it is very rare for a publisher to accept a book that has not been completed.

4. Length and Format of the Book

What is the word count of your book?  Novels usually contain 70,000 words.

Children’s Picture Books or Graphic Novels

If your manuscript is a picture book for children or a graphic novel, you can include the details of the illustrations or images that you want to include in the narrative. Some publishers ask for the images to be included as an attachment, or if they want hard copies, they will ask for a DVD. Are the illustrations or images your own work or do they belong to someone else like a paid illustrator? Be aware that some publisher’s like to use their own illustrators.

5. Author Details

Include your title: the name that you want to appear on the cover of the book. Also, provide a short biographical note (up to 50 words) that includes your occupation, special interests, any university degrees or achievements, writing awards, and social media platforms that you are actively involved with. Even though the publisher will promote your work, you are now an authorpreneur and you should also be dedicated to promoting your own work. If there are any other contributors/co-writers or illustrators, include their details as well. If you have sent your manuscript to other publishing houses, you should include those details too.

6. Manuscript Marketability

This section is very important as it shows the publisher that you are interested in them as a high ranking socio-cultural entity in the marketplace, not just because you want to them to publish your book and give you a substantial advance.  Here are some details that you can include.

A. Book Comparison.

Once you have chosen your publisher, have a look on their website. Find two titles that are similar to your book. Include the title of the book, the author and the book’s theme, and how these two books compare to your book.

A book is a marketable product just like a box of corn flakes. And just like any business, the publishing industry looks for a book’s marketability. There may be certain genres that are ‘trending’ at the moment like historical romance, crime thrillers, or speculative fiction. So have a think about what age demographic would be a good target for your book. Would it appeal to young adult readers of fantasy or paranormal fiction? If so, why would it appeal to this particular age group, which is usually from 15 up to 25? Does it include supernatural themes, dark fantasy settings and characters like vampires, etc?

B. Book Competitiveness

How will your book compete with other titles, what advantages or features does it have over existing titles? What is unique about your book, what is its strengths? What can your book bring to the global reading table that readers have not read before?

Maybe your book is a crime thriller and the plot centres on a brilliant, yet socially awkward female detective who hunts serial killers, but hides her own shady past. Maybe you use genre fusion, and combine horror with romance, or maybe your book is a modern fairy tale.

7. Domestic or International Marketability

As you consider the global marketability for your book, ask yourself these three questions.

1. Does your book have the potential to attract a global market with a wide readership?

2. Is your narrative set in a particular country, or does it focus on a particular people group like indigenous people?

3. Will it appeal to some niche groups like university/intellectual readers or for those readers who are interested in social justice issues?

Even though the overall marketability of your book will be determined by the publisher, your own research shows that you have done your homework and that you are passionate about your craft and your book.

8. Contact Details

Include your contact details: email address, telephone number, and your postal address (for formal correspondence).

9. Manuscript

Some publishers will ask for the entire manuscript, while others may ask you to send in a certain amount of pages.

Finally, although there is no secret formula for getting a publisher to accept and publish your book, learning the tricks of the publishing trade, and writing a book proposal that adheres to a publisher’s guidelines, will give you a better chance at having your book shared with the world.

I hope you have found these tips on how to write a book proposal for a publisher helpful, and I wish you all the best for your writing career.

Happy Writing.

 

Image

Steel Lock/magazines

Agnail. Pixabay.com

 

 

Exploring Story Characters: Examples of Four Dimensional Characters

In previous blogs I have talked about creating dynamic story characters and how the best characters are those who are four dimensional. Characters are the most important narrative elements in the story-world, and the quality or appeal of a story depends on whether a character is flat or fully developed – in other words, four dimensional. We all have our favourite story character/s from a book or a film. Characters determine how we experience the story-world and they leave the greatest impression on our mind and heart after we have read a book or watched a film.

Creating characters can be compared to an artist when he starts to create a masterpiece. He starts off with an idea, then he begins to sketch a rough outline of a landscape or a portrait, and then he applies the paint layer by layer. The layering process is when the artwork really begins to come to life.

Creating four dimensional characters is very similar. As we sit at our computer or when we put pen to paper we dream up a character, and then we begin to jot down details about that character.

The Layering Process of Characterization

The layering process of characterization is as follows:

The first layer is the character’s physical description. The second layer is his personality and idiosyncrasies.  Once we have started to weave the story-world around that character, we can then add the final two layers: the third and fourth layer: observations from other characters, and the character’s interior world – his intimate thought-life. This final fourth layer reveals his worldview, his psychology. After this is complete, our character is now fully developed. He or she has been borne from the chrysalis of our imagination and they are now ready to have their journey shared on the screen or the page.

Sometimes creating dynamic and four dimensional characters can be challenging, so a great way to get started is to think about existing, well-known characters from books or films. Some of the characters below also cross over from a book to film.

Five of the best characters from books 

Anne from Anne of Green Gables
Alex Cross from the James Patterson book series
Sherlock Holmes
Jane Eyre
Tris Prior from the Divergent trilogy

 

Five of the best characters from films  

Frodo from The Lord of the Rings Trilogy
Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games.
Superman from the Man of Steel film
Spiderman (the films with Tobey McGuire)
Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader

 

Image:

Books/Fantasy

Sciencefreak

Pixabay.com

 

Can Your Learning Style Determine How You Read a Story?

Storytelling is an integral part of human culture. Although storytelling has been around for thousands for years, whether it be through the earliest cave paintings, oral tradition, or via digital mediums, storytelling continues to be of great importance to the way we communicate.

In my conversations, I have discovered that there are many people who don’t like reading a book, which is hard for me to fathom as I have always been an avid reader. Some people have never read a book and the only kind of reading they engage in takes place on the internet. How much they are missing out on!

I believe that reading is so important, aside from providing an opportunity to temporarily escape from reality, it allows us to explore a range of human experiences that may vary from our own, and it can help to develop our imagination and our language skills. 

Books are an important part of our human history. From the moment of their first introduction into the world, they have provided opportunities for people to learn to read, to experience the greater world that was inaccessible at that time, and the humble book has even ignited revolutions.

There are many reasons why people avoid reading a book. They may not have cultivated a love for reading from a young age, they may have a learning disability, or they may not have access to a book in their language. But here is an interesting question: can your learning style determine how you experience a story?

There is another significant reason why reading a book is avoided; we all have different ways of learning and absorbing information.

Three Learning Styles

Extensive study and research show that there are three different ways of learning and absorbing information. They are called the Three Learning Styles or Techniques. I had learned about these learning styles some years ago and they have helped me to understand the best way for me to learn, absorb and retain information.

Once you have discovered your learning style it will change the way you perceive information. It will help you to choose the best way of experiencing a story and ultimately enhance your reading experience.

Here are the Three Learning Styles.

Although there are different approaches in explaining these learning styles, I have chosen to use a basic description.

Visual (Spatial)

You learn via the visual sense – seeing and looking.
You like images, pictures, and illustrations.
You like taking notes.
You tend to visualize things (settings, characters) in your mind when you are reading.

Audio

You learn via the auditory sense.
You like to listen to discussions and hear people talk.
You like reading aloud.

Kinesthetic

You learn by doing and by the sense of touch.
You like to engage in activities.
You like to ask questions during an activity.
You like working or talking with others in a team or group.

Why not try this creative exercise to discover your learning style. 

Once you have discovered what your dominate learning style is (there will usually be one main style that defines you), you can find a storytelling medium that best suits you.

Four Different Ways to Experience a Story.

Besides reading a book, there are many different ways to experience a story.

Audio Books

As well as audiobooks, you can also find websites where a book narrator provides stories via a podcast. Here is one website: Kris Keppeler narrates short stories. 

Watch a film with friends

If you are a kinesthetic person and watching a film or the television by yourself is boring, you could have a film night and discuss the film with your friends afterward as a group.

Smart televisions also allow for a community interactive experience. You can engage with other viewers by leaving comments via social media whilst watching a show.

DVD

Most DVD’s these days have an extra feature where you can listen to (and watch) the Director or Actors talk about the film, and a section where you can engage in social media discussions, or even choose alternate endings to a film.

Graphic novels

Books with pictures are a great way to encourage reading for the younger generation: children and adolescents. Developing a child’s reading experience at an early age can lead to an ongoing relationship with books that can extend into their maturing years. It can help them develop language skills, teach them to use their imagination, and promote empathy and intercultural understanding.

Digital Devices

If you are sight challenged or just a Digital Device fan, you can download books via Kobo or iBooks. Digital devices also allow for multiple book downloads and greater portability.

Internet/Social Media Platforms

There is ongoing research that argues that reading via the internet can be detrimental to our reading experience: it can affect our neural pathways by causing an inability to concentrate for long periods. But for those who are visual and/or kinesthetic, it can be a struggle to focus on just words on a page, so the internet provides many different ways of experiencing a story: YouTube, social media platforms like Facebook, and websites where you can share stories and chat with other writers.

Here are some creative writing websites.

Apollo Blessed
Skrawl
Scriggler

Digital Storytelling

Although digital storytelling is still being developed, you can learn how this breakthrough method of storytelling combines the three learning styles: visual, audio and kinesthetic. Have a look at my blog post on Digital Storytelling.

Immersing yourself in a story by reading a text-based book has so many benefits, but it may not suit everyone.  But when you discover your perfect learning style and choose a storytelling medium that suits your style, you will be able to fully discover the magical world of storytelling and enhance your reading experience.

 

Image:

Books

Mysticartdesign.com

Pixabay.com

Make Your Characters Face Their Fears

Creating fictional characters who display real life human characteristics and personality traits make them more believable, which in turn will make your reader or viewer love them more. When we read a book or watch a movie, it’s the character arc or the character’s journey that draws us in and keeps us riveted to the page or screen. By exploring your story characters (whether it’s the prime villain or the hero) and highlighting their flaws and fears and making them face them, either to create conflict or as a conduit for victory, lies at the very heart of dynamic storytelling.

Creating Character Flaws

Strengths and weakness are important for creating compelling characters. No one is perfect, we all have our strengths and weaknesses, idiosyncrasies, etc. So why should our story characters be any different?

Creating a super-hero who has special powers and manages to cheat death over and over is a little boring unless he has a weakness. Giving him character flaws also allows his ruthless nemesis to use that character flaw or weakness to taunt the hero. Once the hero has faced his weakness, he can then determine to rise to the challenge to overcome it.

Inner Conflicts and Tragic Pasts.

Any struggle, tragedy or trauma we face can ultimately make us into stronger, more indomitable and multi-faceted human beings. No one likes experiencing hardship, pain or suffering, but difficult events, circumstances, and people can transform us. This way something good can be born out of something bad. By allowing ourselves to grow through hardship, we are able to retain some control over the seemingly uncontrollable. It is the same for our narrative characters.  As creative writers, our dynamic characters act as our conduit through which we can reach and impact our readers.

Giving characters an inner conflict, a tragic past or a trauma can lead to their personal transformation. As we read a book or watch a film, we experience a character’s struggle, we feel and sometimes identify with their inner conflict caused by a tragic past and we want to see what lies ahead for them in the story. There can be no victory without a struggle and it is in the struggle that victory is won.

Facing Fear

Many times in real life we find we are immobilized by our flaws and fears, but creating characters can very cathartic, and can even motivate us to be better people and also break through the fear barrier.  We all have a hero and a villain inside us and we can choose which one we will follow. Our destiny can be determined by ‘who’ we choose to follow.

Examples of Characters that have Flaws and Fears

With hints of the ever increasingly popular anti-hero dominating our movie screens, it seems that the more flawed the hero is, with fears and doubts that we sometimes struggle with, the more they dazzle on screen and on the page.

The fear or doubt the character struggles with can be small or great: a hidden secret, a struggle with alcoholism, a struggle with feeling inadequate, or that life never works out. Some examples include Hancock, Frodo, and maybe even Bruce Almighty. But despite these flaws, they do not stay immobilized forever. They must push forward, recognize their weaknesses, break through the fear barrier, complete their mission, and achieve their goal.

In the story-world, the hero and villain, although polar opposites are necessary for narrative interest, complex character relationships, and their conflict is central to the story’s plot progression. They also have fears to face and choices to make and their choices will make all the difference to the story and to the audience.

Creative Exercise

Create two characters: a hero and a villain. Create a character profile: name, age, appearance, occupation, etc. List their character flaws, fears, doubts, and insecurities. How will they overcome these flaws and fears? Once you have created your character profile, you can start to build your story-world around them.

By exploring your story characters and giving them flaws and making them face their deepest fears, will result in dynamic characters that will win the interest of your audience.

 

Image:

Artist

Unsplash.

Pixabay.com

How to Write a Dynamic Poem

This week’s blog is about how to write a poem that will engage your reader. Poetry is such a fascinating and multifaceted aspect of creative writing; it is an expression of life coupled with the imagination.  Writing poetry can be as simple as a few well-placed words that rhyme or it can be a complex arrangement of lines, stanzas, and rhyming patterns.

Poetry opens up an unlimited world of creative possibilities, and once you have a good understanding of the wide range of techniques and styles available, you can craft your own unique expression of life.

An Overview of Poetry.

The history of poetry is as complex as the art form itself, and there have been many debates over the centuries over what constitutes a poem. The origins of poetry stem back to oral tradition, where a poem was used primarily for didactic and entertainment purposes in the form of a ballad. Shakespeare made the Sonnet famous – a poetic form that fuses together a delicate balance of both narrative and lyrical qualities. With the arrival of the printing press and the book, poetry became a highly respected literary style.

What Constitutes a Poem?

Is a poem just a static literary form that must adhere to a particular rhyming pattern, a specific use of language and a rigid structural format?

The traditionalist would argue that a poem should adhere to a strict rhyming pattern and its appearance on the page must not divert from four-lined stanzas that run down the page.

The rebellious modernist would argue that rules are meant to be broken and writing a poem is a free and unfettered craft that is subject only to the artistic whim of the poet.

I think the answer to what constitutes a poem lies in this statement: a poem is the perfect form of creative expression. What is your view?  Does a poem allow a writer to express their feelings, thoughts, and experiences of the world better than a short story?

The 19th-century classical poet and critic Mathew Arnold defined a poem as the ‘most beautiful, impressive, and most widely effective mode of saying things, and hence its importance….’ (Knickerbocker 1925, p. 446). But as grand as this quote sounds, the art of writing a poem is so much more.

Poetry teaches us about the beauty and power of language and the richness of the written word. By using a combination of the available poetic techniques, a writer can find complete freedom in the expression of thoughts, ideas, and feelings.

John Redmond defines a poem as not so much a structure of words, which has to conform to a set of rules and a particular form, but an experiment with being, that has a personality and value of its own; and “…any good poem should make us feel like explorers of a new planet, setting out on a momentous adventure… [a] good poem will try to maintain the openness, the sense of possibility, which every reader feels when they open a book for the first time”(2006, p. 2).

To maintain the openness and the sense of possibility, the poet needs to keep the reader in mind when they are writing a poem, by using language and images that the reader can engage with and therefore feel that they can join the poet in the journey of exploration.

A poem enables the poet to reveal their thoughts or life experiences to the reader through a heightened use of language that appeals to the emotions. It is an invitation from the poet to the reader to undertake a journey of the exploration of ideas. Overall, the poet designs their perfect form of creative expression to engage their reader and to provoke a response.

Here are seven techniques or tools that can help you write a poem that will engage your reader:

You have access to a toolbox that is full of different techniques or poetic devices that will allow you to aptly convey your thoughts, feelings, and experiences of the world such as:

One. Sound. An arrangement of sound (a clever combination of alliteration and assonance – the repetition of consonant and vowel sounds), which creates an internal rhyme and evoke music in our mind when we read the poem out loud. Assonance can create an internal rhyme like this line of poetry by Theodore Roethke “I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow…” 

Two.  Enjambment. Enjambment is strategic line breaks that determine meter and rhythm, which can highlight a certain phrase or idea.

Three. Imagery. Imagery allows us to draw upon vivid description to create a word picture.  You can use concrete images, which are images that we can see or feel like the sun or rain, a cat, or a house. Abstract images denote things or concepts we understand but we cannot see or feel like love, freedom or justice. 

Four. Metaphor and Simile. These two figures of speech reveal hidden similarities and compare two ideas for poetic effect.

Five. Rhyme. Rhyme relates to words or lines that end in identical sounds. “Whose woods these are I think I know. His house is in the village, though…” Robert Frost. 

Six. Tone. Tone is a particular use of voice that evokes a certain type of feeling or emotion like melancholy, happy, pensive, sad or angry, which is determined by specific word choice. This is an excerpt from Departure by Edna St. Vincent Millay, which shows a melancholy tone of voice.

I wish I could walk till my blood should spout, 
And drop me, never to stir again, 
On a shore that is wide, for the tide is out, 
And the weedy rocks are bare to the rain.

But dump or dock, where the path I take 
Brings up, it’s little enough I care, 
And it’s little I’d mind the fuss they’ll make, 
Huddled dead in a ditch somewhere.  

Source: Poetry Foundation. 

Seven. Poetry Styles. Explore the many poetry styles available. A poem is a  such a vibrant and versatile art form. There are many composition styles available – Free verse (which does not conform to traditional rhyming stanzas that contain a regular meter or rhythm), or an Elegy that can be used just as a poem or a song that portrays sadness.  

These seven techniques are just a few tools that the poet can access in their toolbox and some of these techniques can be used in writing stories, but they specifically belong to the world of poetry. 

Ultimately, the role of a poem not only serves the purpose of self-expression, but it can teach us something new, and also capture our imaginations and emotions.

If you would like more resources on poetry styles and authors go to the Resources page and click on the link for the Australian Poetry Library and the Poetry Foundation. Or you can have a read of some of my own poetry.

 

NEXT WEEK: Exploring Poetry Styles.

 

References:

Knickerbocker, William S 1925. “Matthew Arnold’s Theory of Poetry”. The Sewanee Review 33 (4). Johns Hopkins University Press: 440–50, via Jstor. 

Redmond, John 2006, How to write a poem, Blackwell Publishing, USA. p. 2.

 

Image:

Poetry. Gadini.

Pixabay.com

How to Create Dynamic Secondary Story Characters: The Donor, the Dispatcher and the Helper

Over the last few weeks we have been learning about how to create dynamic story characters through brief character profiles. We started with the main characters – the Hero and the Villain and then moved onto the first of our secondary characters – the Princess

This week we will exploring the possibilities for the last of our archetypal characters as originally proposed by the Russian folklorist, Vladimir Propp – the Donor, the Dispatcher, and the Helper.

Although the Hero, the Villain and the Princess provide the main action in a story, the Donor, the Dispatcher and the Helper are indispensable elements in a narrative.  These story characters are especially important for our Hero. The Hero would not be able to embark upon his quest or successfully achieve his goal without these characters.

In a future blog, I will be exploring the role of characters even more in ‘How to create four dimensional characters’. As you can probably tell creating characters is one of my favourite aspects of storytelling. Whether we are reading a book or watching a film or a television show – great storytelling depends on dynamic characters.

So let us get back to creating a character profile/s for the Donor, Dispatcher and Helper.

Once more I am going to use a literature/filmic reference – The Lord of the Rings (LOTR) to explore these three character types.  LOTR is a good narrative to use for story character profiling as it provides us with a perfect example of how one character can play dual roles.  See Propp’s archetypal character list.

The Donor

The Donor is responsible for providing a magical agent to the hero before he embarks upon his quest.

The Donor in LOTR is the wizard – Gandalf the grey.  After finally succeeding in getting Bilbo to leave his “precious” ring behind before he leaves the Shire to journey to Rivendell, Gandalf gives this ring, which is the magical agent, to Frodo. But this magical agent harbors deadly magic – it originally belonged to the story’s villain – the dark lord, Sauron.   So we can see from this narrative that archetypal elements can take on variations.  LOTR also features more than one magical agent.  There are the elvish gifts that are given to Frodo: the sword that glows blue when Orcs are present, the silver ethereal vest, and The Light of Eärendil that is bestowed by Galadriel.

The Dispatcher

Gandalf also performs the role of the main Dispatcher as he sends Frodo on his mission. We could also include Strider/Aragorn, Elrond and Galadriel as dispatchers.

The Dispatcher has two functions.  He alerts the potential Hero to a grave misfortune or some sort of lack in their mutual world. The Dispatcher’s second function is to send the Hero on a mission or quest in order to resolve the original misfortune or lack.  Ultimately, the desire is to restore equilibrium to a world that is seriously out of balance or on the brink of destruction.

The Helper

The Helper’s job description is to inspire or motivate the Hero, provide rescue, help with or solve difficult tasks, and to transform the hero. Out of all these three characters, the Helper is the one character who is usually consistent throughout the narrative up until the conclusion of the story. And there can be multiple Helpers in a narrative.

In the LOTR films there are many Helpers.  Besides Boromir, Aragorn, Legolas, Gimili, and Arwen, there are also Frodo’s friends – the mischievous Merry and Pippin, and of course, the self sacrificing and loyal, Sam. With Merry and Pippin, we can see that sometimes the helpers can cause more trouble for the Hero than provide any actual help. But towards the end of the film franchise we see that Merry and Pippin redeem themselves and prove that they are indispensable to the story and more importantly to Frodo himself.

Here I have provided three brief character profiles for the Donor, the Dispatcher and the Helper.  For a more extensive outline of these archetypal characters and their broader narrative groups and place within a narrative, see John Fiske, 2010, Television culture.

 

Creative exercise

This week I have a creative exercise for you.

Watch ‘The Opera’ Season 4 episode from the Seinfeld series (you should be able to find it on YouTube). Or you can use any narrative that you familiar with. Analyze each of the characters. What are their functions within the narrative (hero, villain, princess etc.)?  Do they perform one or more function? Which is your favorite character and why?

 

References:

Fiske John 2010, Television culture, 2nd edition, Routledge, New York, London.

 

IMAGE:

Steve Czajka

Flickr.com

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

Write a Gripping Ending To A Story

 

 

“Have you thought of an ending?”
“Yes, several, and all are dark and unpleasant.”
“Oh, that won’t do! Books ought to have good endings. How would this do: and they all settled down and lived together happily ever after?”
“It will do well, if it ever came to that.”
“Ah! And where will they live? That’s what I often wonder.”

J. R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring.

 

This week we are talking about how to write a gripping ending to a story.  Ending a story is always a difficult part of the writing process for me. When the final line has been written or typed, and there is nothing else for the characters to do, and victory has been won and the antagonist vanquished – I shed a tear.  You may think me to be a tad melodramatic, but I have just finished the first draft of my first novel.  And I feel a sense of satisfaction that is tinged with sadness. 

But all stories have to end sometimes, don’t they?  When it comes to your literary masterpiece, the question needs to be asked, “Have you thought of an ending?” (Tolkien).  So here are some tips on how to write a gripping end to a short story.

Like the beginning of a story, there are many ways to end a piece of fiction. You can choose to end your story with a satisfying conclusion – with all the loose ends tied up.  Most of us enjoy this type of ending. The neat and tidy ending is so popular because, unlike real life, a story can provide us with a guaranteed resolution of conflict. We can have our desired happy ending and everyone lives ‘happily every after’. 

But for those of us who choose to defy traditional story-telling techniques, there is the option of a ‘surprise ending’ or an ‘open ending’.  By daring to be different we can ultimately leave the reader desiring more. So let us go a step further and explore the different ways that you can craft your ending and leave an indelible impression on your reader’s mind.

The circular ending

 This type of ending is when the story concludes with a mirror image of the beginning.  It is a circular journey where the characters return to the same scene at the beginning, but they have learned some valuable lessons.  They may look or still be dressed the same but they have been transformed on the inside. 

The ending of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis is one of the best examples I can think of.  Although the children do not enter Narnia in the first paragraph, but in the first couple of pages, the ending mirrors this section of the story.  As in the beginning, the children tumble out of the wardrobe and are met again by the sound of the footsteps of Mrs. Macready and her guests in the hallway.

The surprise ending

Kate Chopin’s ‘The Story of an Hour’ is a great example of a surprise ending.  In the beginning, Mrs. Mallard is notified that her husband has died in a tragic train accident.  The majority of the narrative focuses on Mrs. Mallard’s conflicting emotions over her husband’s sudden demise and reveals some interesting revelations about his abusive nature. 

As her ‘streams of consciousness‘ show her dramatic shift from the grief-stricken widow to a woman who has discovered the guilty pleasure of an overwhelming revelation that she is now free from her husband’s suffocating control, there is a clever twist at the end.  Brently Mallard was well and truly alive, and seeing him at the bottom of the stairs, not only fatally shocked his wife, but shocked me as well.  This kind of ending is not everyone’s ideal ending, but Chopin’s ironic and tragic twist contributed to the overall tragic mood of the story.

The ‘open’ ending

Daphne Du Maurier’s The House on the Strand is one of the best examples of an ‘open’ ending I have read.  Although I am a fan of defying traditional narrative expectations, I initially was quite shocked and disappointed by her choice of ending.  I really wanted to know what happened to the main character, Dick Young, who had become addicted to a drug that enabled him to travel back in time to the fourteenth-century in Kilmarch, Cornwall.  At the end of the book, Young is back in the safety of his home and under the expert care of the resident doctor.  But whilst on the phone to his wife, he suddenly looses consciousness, and this is where the novel concludes.  Du Maurier had left me high and dry and I was devastated.  I wanted to know what happened to Dick, did he die? Did he return to the past?  So many questions and absolutely no answers. 

But in hindsight, Du Maurier’s ‘open’ ending was another example of clever writing.  She had provided me with an opportunity to dream up my own ending.  As the passive reader, she was giving me some narrative power and inviting me to write my own conclusion and to decide upon Dick Young’s ultimate fate.

The trick ending

‘An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge’ by Ambrose Bierce is a good example of a trick ending.  At the beginning of the story, a man is being hanged.  Bierce provides quite a densely packed narrative about the man’s supposed dramatic escape. But it is not until the man reaches his home and family that we are told that he, “Peyton Farquhar was dead; his body, with a broken neck, swung gently from side to side beneath the timbers of the Owl Creek bridge”. 

In writing this story, Bierce had drawn upon the idea that moments before death a person can be subject to hallucinations, and he uses this to trick us into believing that Peyton had cleverly escaped his death sentence.  With his trick ending, Bierce reveals that Peyton had only imagined that he had successfully cheated death!

The summary ending.

This technique is used a lot in film-making.  At the end of the film, the audience is shown a written summary that tells them about the final outcomes for each of the characters – they get married, they succeed in business, etc.  As in films, this choice of ending provides a feel-good ending for the reader. The hero or heroine are victorious, the villains are punished and justice is served.

I have provided you with just a few choices for the ending of your story. But whichever one you decide to choose, your purpose should always be to leave a lingering impression or a dynamic image in the reader’s mind.  As writers, we have the power to entertain and inspire the reader but to also challenge their literary expectations. Have fun writing your gripping ending for your story

Happy writing!

 

Next week: It’s all about the characters.

 

Image: Freeimages.com