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!

 

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Buckled Book

thommas68
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

 

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

The Building Blocks of Creative Writing Continued

Here are some more building blocks for creative writing.

Climax – the turning point of a story

Conflict – a struggle between two opposing forces: person vs person, God/fate, society, nature.

Dialogue – Direct speech between characters in a literary work.

Falling action – the results or the effects of conflict in a story.

Flashback (or analepsis) – The introduction of material into the narrative that has happened earlier in the story. E.g. a character remembering an event or conversation from their past. (This technique can be used to include information that is outside the known storyworld in order to save narrative space).

Genre – a type or category that a literary work belongs to: romance/horror/science fiction.

Interior Monologue (Streams of consciousness) – a technique used to convey the thoughts and feelings of a character directly to the reader.

Rising action – the development of conflict and complications in a literary work.

Suspense (withholding information) – a technique that keeps the reader guessing what will happen next.

Theme – the underlying main idea behind a literary creative work.

 

Reference:

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

 

Image.

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