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

 

How To Organise Your Creative Writing Schedule

Finding time to write is a big challenge for a lot of writers. It seems that we never have enough time in the day, what with work, school, and family activities that make necessary demands on our time. We may have little, precious time left to dedicate to our creative writing. But we all have 24 hours in the day, no more and no less. So to find time for our creative writing, we need to take charge of our time and make it work for us and not against us.

Time management is a term that is used a lot in the corporate work environment, but we can also use some of its strategies for our creative endeavours. Time management teaches us how to take conscious control over our activities so that we can effectively manage our tasks within the time we have at our disposal.

You may be feeling “time poor”, but you can become “time rich” by putting some of the time management techniques into practice. Here are three time management techniques that have been adapted to suit creative writing and will help you to organise your writing schedule.

1. Understand your daily routine

The great writer Ernest Hemingway once said that writing in the morning worked best for him. So what is your daily routine? Are you a morning person, an early riser in the glimmering hours of dawn? Maybe you could utilise this time to do some writing before you go to work, start studying or get the kids off to school. Remember the wisdom that Dear Duchess shared in this month’s Letters to the Editor, just 10 or 20 minutes a day can work wonders.

Maybe you work best late at night. Once all the dishes have been done, the kids are in bed, and hubby is ensconced in front of the TV, you can take some time to create some story magic. If you are a single person, why not sacrifice some of your TV time and dedicate it to writing. You can always record your favourite show and watch it later. By understanding your daily routine, and your energy levels, you can establishing a writing routine that is perfect for you.

2. Prepare a creative work environment

When I first started studying online, I had a study corner in my bedroom, but my little workspace ended up competing with my chill-out time and interfered with my sleeping patterns. As I have a TV in my room, it too became a major source of distraction at times. So I cleaned up our spare room and made it into my own creative work environment. It helped me to be more creative, and of course, more focussed in my university work.

Even though you may not have a spare room, a favourite chair in a quiet place may work well for you, or a quiet corner of the garden or patio. Another good tip for preparing a creative environment is to avoid having emails popping up in the background, which can happen if you work on a computer or iPad. It might be a challenge, but choose to put your social media devices on silent. The social media world can make a lot of demands on our time, but your creative space should be a little haven away from any distractions.

Also, if you are going to use your creative space on the weekend, and you have a family or share a house or flat with friends, why not let them know that you will be spending some precious time in your creative hot spot. If you cannot find anywhere at home to create, you could always try the library. It is a quiet place, free of most distractions, except books of course. Having a creative environment will allow you to dream, create, and complete your literary masterpiece.

3. Make use of digital and software tools

Sometimes inspiration can strike us when we are out and about. We may not be able to access pen and paper or our trusty computer, so if you have a smartphone or tablet, consider it as your creative buddy. You can take notes on your phone, or if you have a recording facility, you can record your ideas and write them down later. Yes, those digital devices can make demands on our time, but make them work for you.

If you are struggling to organise your story ideas, there are a lot of writing software programs that can help you. If you want to convert your story into a screenplay, Final Draft has script formats that are ready for you to use, and storyboarding faculties, and a host of other helpful features. Final Draft is not free, but it is well worth the investment if you want to pursue a creative writing career.

XMind is a great resource that can help you brainstorm ideas and map out your entire story. You can download some applications for free, but if you want to access advanced features there are different pricing packages. Storybook is another free writing software resource that helps authors to organise characters, plot, and different scenarios into a novel. With all this technological wizardry at your fingertips, taking control of your time is easy.

Now that I have given you some creative time management tips, here is a writing exercise to get those storytelling neurons firing.

Create an organizational chart from Monday to Friday. Write down a list of creative elements to work on as follows:

Monday. Choose a story setting, and then write 50-100 words that describe the setting. If you can write more – Great!

Tuesday. Create up to 3 characters. Note down their description, basic background, goals, strengths, and weaknesses.

Wednesday. Create a plot for your chosen setting, and integrate one of your characters. Use the Narrative Arc Plotting Device that was featured in the Monthly Writing Exercise in the January issue of Unearthed, and integrate the Exposition into your story setting.

Thursday. Integrate the other characters and start work on your story’s Rising Action and Climax.

Friday. Work on your Falling Action and Resolution.

If you are unable to complete this task, you can shift some of them to the weekend. Of course, this creative exercise is a just a tool to help you get started on your creative journey. But if you stick to this micro-writing routine, you will find time to write amidst your hectic schedule, and you will discover that you have the first draft of a short story and an introduction to a novel.

Happy writing!

 

Creative Time Management originally appeared in The Australia Times Unearthed Fiction February/Perception Magazine.

 

Image

Hourglass.

Stevepb

Pixabay.com

4 Creative Tips to Kick-Start Your Storytelling Resolutions

Once the fireworks go off on New Year’s Eve and the champagne flows, we are filled with expectation, which may get us thinking about our creative writing resolutions or tentative plans for the year ahead.  But sometimes we can get lost in the busyness of the new year, and our plans for our short story collection or novel gets left behind.  Our desires to fulfill our storytelling goals are strong, but we struggle to meet our own expectations.  So if your creative muse is still on holidays, or you find yourself staring at the blank screen of your computer or page of your journal in frustration, then do not despair – I have brainstormed and come up with 4 creative writing tips * to kick-start your storytelling resolutions. 

Writing a story does not always have to be a stressful thing, and you do not have to stay glued to the computer for hours on end.  If you are committed to setting apart just a few minutes during the week to write a few words, sometimes called the “little and often approach” can result in a short story or a novel.

You may find that you struggle with two things.

One. You may struggle to come up with an idea, especially a unique idea.

Two.  You may have so many story ideas milling around in your creative brain, you may not be sure how you are going to craft the idea into a successful narrative.

Even professional writers can flounder in a deep mire of creative ideas, and other times they may feel like their creative muse has left the building, and you may feel like that too.

So if this is you and you feel a little story barren, or if you have a multitude of story ideas, here are four creative writing ideas or tips hat will help you to get you back into the creative game, so to speak.

1. Develop a Story Plan.

Sometimes the way you have approached your writing in the past may not be working for you now. If you have hit a wall and your little micro world has been put on hold, developing a story plan can help you get organised. In no time at all, you will be able to create a dynamic story with a pulsing plot and compelling characters.  In one of my articles in Unearthed Fiction, a magazine that I look after, I provided a story plan, but here is an updated version.

2. Choose your genre.

Genre is a type of classification that can be applied to music, books, and film. It helps us to decide what music we will listen to, what book we will read, and what film we will watch. But genre is also an important tool for a creative writer. As well as using your favourite genre, try writing in an unfamiliar genre.

Before you choose your genre, do some research on the different genres: crime, romance, speculative fiction, horror, non-fiction.

As well as choosing one or multiple genres, why not try mixing genres. It might seem like a challenge, but we writers (secretly) do enjoy a challenge. Mix two genres together like crime and romance or comedy and horror.

You will be amazed at the plethora of ideas that you can come up with, and it can also refresh your existing story ideas.

3. Choose your setting.

Reading a story is so powerful, it can take us out of our familiar ordinary world into another unfamiliar and strange world. We can go on a journey anywhere around the world, into the past, the future, or even another dimension. Your choice of setting is an important one as it creates a strong visual in the reader’s mind. Try brainstorming a host of settings for your story.

You can start with a real world setting like the romantic city of Paris, the fast-paced metropolis of New York, or the seedy underbelly of Kings Cross in Sydney.

Why not try something out of the ordinary, an alternate reality, or even a microscopic world in the cracks of the pavement.

4. Create a profile for your characters.

Story characters are the most important elements in a story. They provide the psychology and action in a narrative. We live vicariously through them, and it is from their point of view and senses that we experience the story world.

The best characters are the ones that are fully developed and are as human as possible. Even if the reader cannot relate to the character’s situation, the character should be created in such a way that the reader should feel like they have stepped through a magical portal into another person’s world.

Part A

Create a basic profile for your characters by doing the following:

Choose a hero/heroine, one or two helpers, and a villain.

What are their names and what do they look like?

What is their social status: rich or poor or working class?

What are their flaws and fears?

What are their goals or desires in the story?

Part B

Give your character a dilemma to solve.

Once you have created your character profile for your hero or heroine, give them a serious dilemma that needs to be solved. Then write down two different ways they could solve the dilemma. They could face the dilemma bravely or they could take the coward’s’ way out. Next to each dilemma and their corresponding action, start to develop your narrative from there. This way you will have two stories to work with.

Creative Exercise

Sometimes story ideas can come to us while we are sitting at our computers, travelling on a bus, or even when we are listening to our grandparents tell their life story at the dinner table. But all too often it does not work like that. The story-line and characters do not always just miraculously come together, so here is a creative exercise that will help you get into the creative zone right away.

Step 1. Write down 5 story settings. You could choose a real life setting, a fantasy world, a romantic beach-side setting, a dark haunted forest, or a Dystopian city.

Step 2. Choose your lead character for each story. The lead character is usually the hero or heroine, but as they say, “Once you know the rules, you can break the rules”. Maybe your lead character will be the villain!

Step 3. Create an opening paragraph for each story – up to 100 words. You could start with a character description, fast-paced action, a question, or an intriguing idea. Here are some examples to inspire you.

Character Description

Your opening lines can introduce your main protagonist, for example:

“Ella leaned back against the cold damp stone wall. Her porcelain skin was pale and drawn with deep lines etched around her eyes and mouth, and her once glorious golden hair hung in matted tendrils around her face.”

Action

Starting your story with strong action is a great choice as it thrusts the reader into the thick of the story.

“The baying of the hunting dogs drew closer as he dashed through the thickly wooded forest. Like a mad man, he fought his way through the close-knit trees as their branches tore at his face until he was suddenly redeemed by a burst of bright sunlight as he stumbled out of the forest into a small clearing.”

I hope these four creative writing tips and writing exercise will help you to kick-start your storytelling this year, and I wish you all the best for your storytelling journey.

Happy Writing!

* This post is based on the article, Creative Brainstorming 101 that appeared in the December issue of Unearthed Fiction.

Image:

Journal

KateCox

Pixabay.com

 

An Exegesis for Second Chance: A Short Story with a Social Conscience

 

One of my short stories ‘Second Chance’, which is featured in the short story collection: Tales for the Sisterhood, is about a young girl who is struggling to cope with the devastating effects of bullying.

My prime motivation behind this story is firstly the subject of bullying, which is a serious social-cultural community issue.

Bullying has been placed centrestage under the media spotlight, and anti-bullying programs and initiatives have been introduced into schools in an effort to try to stop this destructive behaviour, which is endured by children and adolescents, and also in the workplace.

TV shows such as A Current Affair and 60 Minutes have shown that bullying has become more insidious due to social media usage by young people, through platforms like Facebook and Twitter. This online form of bullying is more invasive and it is difficult for young people to switch off from its effects.

Days have gone by where bullying was confined to the school-yard, its presence can now invade into personal living spaces.

My second motivation for this story came from my own experiences with bullying at primary and high school, during which time I was also struggling to cope with a family unit breakdown. Due to my love of painting and writing, I found it therapeutic to express my thoughts and feelings in this creative way.

During my university journey, I conducted research into bullying and different forms of therapy, while creating Second Chance. Organisations like the Sydney Centre for Creative Change hold workshops and courses for youth workers, and offer creative therapy for young people who are dealing with trauma. These classes not only aim to build an artistic skill base, but to empower students to solve problems creatively.

Creative therapy provides a positive course of action that can be taken by the sufferer, giving them back some control.

A lot of my own teenage angst was responsible for creating the character Kara, minus her physical responses to bullying. Like Kara, my favourite subject was Art, and besides English, these subjects were the only ones I succeeded in. As this short story is aimed towards the Young Adult market, in particular, high school students, I wanted the narrative to be primarily from Kara’s perspective on her world, and I hoped to capture the pain of her struggles in such a short word count.

My own reading of young adult novels like John Marsden’s Winter and Amanda Hocking’s Switched, also inspired me to present Kara as the conflicted and misunderstood heroine, who begins her journey towards a psychological transformation, through a Creative Therapy Class.

My other literary challenge was how to begin the narrative. I wanted to highlight Kara’s home life as well as her school-related abuse and then briefly show the beginnings of her personal victory. I decided to include the ‘cutting’ that she considers earlier in the narrative. I have heard that young people can sometimes make the heartbreaking decision to resort to self-mutilation to try to control their emotional pain.

Kara’s choice to use the ‘fight not flight’ response is due to her repressed frustration; not that this is an excuse or an acceptable response to bullying. A young person should stand up to victimisation, but they should not have to do this ‘standing up’ on their own. A strong support system of friends, family members or counselors should stand with them.

The use of creative therapy is not a solution to bullying or other stressful events that can occur in childhood or adolescents, but it is one conduit through which young people can channel their thoughts and feelings, within a safe environment.

My hope is that the short story ‘Second Chance’ may inspire young people to share their stories and not stay silent about bullying. Help and support is available.

 

Here is a excerpt from Second Chance. 

 

The computer screen flickered, which meant that another post was being entered onto my Facebook feed. I turned toward the computer and stared at the words.
“Yur such an ugly useless fat bitch. It wuld b beta if U were ded!!!”

Even though they were just words on a screen, I felt like I had been punched in the stomach. Although I went to a small country school, I was not immune to the normal school-yard bullying, but now that it had
begun to invade my private and personal space, it seemed that there was nowhere to hide. In the past, I had tried to stand up for myself in an effort to stop the bullying, but it usually escalated into an ugly fight, and I
had been expelled more than once.

The only part of school that I did like was art class, especially when we would use watercolours. My teacher, Mrs Anders, had taught us to use a hair dryer to make the water mix with the paint. I found it fascinating to watch the colours swirl into a multitude of patterns like a kaleidoscope. She would always praise me for my work. “You have such a talent, Kara. Your work is so vibrant.” I would never reply, but in my heart I felt something stir.

 

The full story and other short stories in the Sisterhood Collection are available through Amazon or the Book Depository.

 

Anti-bullying campaigns and related websites. 

ChooseREAL Campaign

Make Bullying History Foundation

 

 

References.

Chloe’s Law, 60 Minutes 2013, television programme, Channel Nine, Sydney, 10 November. YouTube.

Hocking, Amanda 2012, Switched, St Martin’s Press, New York.

I would get death threats”: A Current Affair 2011, television programme, Channel Nine, Sydney, 21 September.

Marsden, John 2000, Winter, Pan Macmillan Australia Pty Limited.

Sydney Centre for Creative Change

Understanding Teen Cutting and Self-Injury Boystown.org.

Six More Creative Tips to Revitalise Your Writing

 

New and experienced writers can sometimes find themselves struggling to brainstorm new narratives. Our ideas pool looks like it’s all fished out and our once helpful creative muse has left the building. But never despair, when you’re faced with writer’s block and that blank computer screen seems to mock your inability to create, here are six creative tips to revitalise your writing and get you back into storytelling mode.

No. 1. Flash, Nano or Micro Fiction.

Specific word choice and brevity is important for a creative writer. Making each word count and telling a story well in the best possible way can distinguish a good writer from a great one. Writing to a particular word count can help you streamline your writing skills and can kick-start a lot of creative story ideas.

Flex your creative muscles by trying the Ernest Hemingway challenge: Write a Story in Six Words, or in 100 words. I like this style of writing mainly because it stimulates the creative side of the brain, therefore allowing new ideas to be born. A longer narrative can be born out of a Flash/Nano or Micro tale, so be brave and take up a Micro Fiction challenge.

No. 2. Re-write a Folk or Fairy Tale.

With so many folk and fairy tales out there you are sure to find one that is desperately in need of a re-write or refresh. Many of the female roles like the passive princess can be changed to a butt-kicking no nonsense princess. You can also change the story into a modern day setting with 21st century socio-cultural and political themes. Check out my version of the Rapunzel tale, The Tale of Ruthie and Grace in my free eBook, Exploring the Narrative World: Writing the Short Story

No. 3. Choose a Short Story and Write It Into a Short or Feature Film.

This is a great exercise for writers. The short story ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’ was written by James Thurber in 1939 and was remade into a blockbuster film with Ben Stiller in 2013. The task of choosing key settings, events and characters from a work of fiction is performed by many successful Hollywood screenwriters. So why not take one of your favourite short stories or Google one and try transforming the narrative into a short or feature film.

No. 4. Interview a Parent/Grandparent and Write a Story Based on their Experiences.

Parents and grandparents have so many interesting life stories that are just waiting to be crafted into a story that can impact the world. The saying ‘truth is stranger than fiction’ can make for a compelling tale even more so that a purely fictional tale. This storytelling exercise can also benefit a lonely elderly person in a nursing home or retirement village. Once you have interviewed your willing participant, and have written the story, you can print it out and give to your real-life hero or heroine as a gift.

No. 5. Pick Five Everyday Items and Write a Short Narrative. (Give them human-like qualities. Describe them as if they were alive, and had feelings. Or choose one of your family pets and create a story around them.)

This exercise was originally a poetry exercise but it can also be used in narrative fiction. You can start by writing a short narrative about how the item, like a mobile phone, has human qualities and would feel about having to constantly supply on demand unlimited information.

Here is an example of an everyday item that has been endowed with human qualities.

A Mobile/Cellphone.

Her bright exuberant face tantalises me with the happy expectations of friends and unlimited social invites, none of which I am invited to.  As a solitary observer of the many delights and distresses of her daily existence, I am a constant companion, but I am no more than an expert supplier for her excessive demands for sometimes useless and unnecessary information.

My revenge upon this fanatical digital ogre who relentlessly taps away at my delicate silver skin is my shrill shrieks and incessant clanging when she would rather be snoozing. I am an electronic prosthesis that is also an extension of her inner life.  As she sleeps, I dream of an immanent future where I will have the power to invade her innermost being and control her body, soul and spirit.

No. 6. Write a Story with One Character or Write a Story without a Character. 

Although this type of creative exercise can narrow the boundaries of the storytelling world, it is a favourite with some writers.  

Write a story with the main character as the omniscient narrator/focaliser. Many non-fiction narratives use this style. Boris Glikman uses this technique a lot. Many of his short stories take on a metaphysical or philosophical outlook on life. You can view some of his stories in the Unearthed Fiction magazine.

I hope you find these six creative tips to revitalise your writing helpful. 

Happy writing!

 

Image.

Inspiration/Writing GIPHY

IAM-TUMBLING.TUMBLR.COM

 

 

Seven Creative Ideas For Writing a Poem

Writing a poem, like a short story, can sometimes be a challenge. We can sit at the computer or with a blank sheet of paper in front of us and feel that we are fresh out of ideas. But never underestimate the creative mind. Just when you feel that you have drained the creative pool dry, an unusual idea can pop into our consciousness, and then we are off and running with an intriguing story or an inspiring poem. But if you feel that your creative muse has left the building and ideas have been a little stale lately, here are another seven creative ideas for writing a poem that will help you on your poetry journey.

One.
Begin a poem with a serious predicament. It could involve people, animals, the law, or a combination of things. Try to resolve the situation in no more than 10 lines.

Two.
Write a poem of rage or protest. It could be based on how you really feel about something or someone, or it could be complete fiction. Let your emotions flow through the poem.

Three.
Make a list of four or five everyday objects. It could be a shell you have found on a beach, a feather, an iPhone. Give each of these objects emotional qualities. Describe them as if they were alive, and had feelings.

Four
Write a poem in the form of a letter. It can be rhymed or in free verse. It can be to someone you know, or a stranger. Or write a letter to yourself.

Five.
Write a poem about an experience from the past that includes the following:
person, animal, location, object. Allow each of these to inform the poem in ways that are both physical and emotional.

Six.
Poems are like lyrical accidents just waiting to happen. You could be at home listening to music, watching television, out shopping or walking in the park. A poem can be inspired by almost anything. Start with whatever comes to mind, and develop the poem from that spontaneous place.

Seven.
Write a poem in the voice of another – like a monologue.

There are no hard and fast rules about writing poetry, but sometimes trying something a little bit different like these seven creative writing ideas for writing a poem can help you to push past any blockages to your creativity. 

Happy Writing!

 

Image:

Poetry. Oldiefan.

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 Write a Dynamic Short Story

One of my favourite narrative formats is the short story.  This fondness had grown out of my continual battle to complete a story.  I had no trouble starting the story, but once I had written about a hundred words or so, I would lose the plot – literally!  But after writing a few stories, I think I have finally vanquished my nemesis.  So if you like to read short stories and would like to write your own, then read on and discover how you can write an engaging and dynamic short story in four easy steps.

The short story is an artistic product that contains a fixed sequence of words and is known for its particular format: length of words, structure, viewpoint, or tone of voice, etc.  It provides a small literary window onto an observed dramatic event or a personal experience. 

The short story has a long history, starting off in oral tradition long before writing and the arrival of the printing press.  Some well-known forms are Homer’s Iliad, folk tales, fairy tales etc.  Many of these short story forms were used for didactic or teaching purposes– such as Aesop’s Fables, or in a biblical context – the parables of Jesus. 

Folk or fairy tales were originally designed as subtle social commentaries on exploitation against the lower/middle classes throughout history.  Of course, these social commentaries had to be cleverly disguised so as to protect their authors.  Feudal lords, kings, and queens were transformed into the fantasy characters we know so well today – giants, evil step-mothers/witches.  And the passive captive princess – just an example of their fateful prey.  There is more I could say about the dubious representation of gender roles in many of these tales, but for our purposes, we will stick to storytelling.

As folk and fairy tales have been passed down through history, they have been subject to revision, due to socio-political change.  Many of The Brothers Grimm tales in the late eighteenth century were censored and re-packaged towards children.  I apologize for demystifying or removing the magical aura that surrounds the fairy tale.  But seriously, would a prince really climb up a tower with a girl’s long blonde hair???  Don’t get me wrong – I am a fan of fairy tales too, but sometimes it is important to know the ‘why behind the what’. 

I believe short stories are great narratives for the 21st century as they do not require so much reading time as novels do.  They may not provide as much content as the novel, but a short story can exist for the sole purpose of just presenting an idea or a question to the reader.

A story tip to remember.  When it comes to the short story: form and content are important!

When you start to craft your story ask yourself these four questions:

No. 1

What structure will I use?  A traditional linear structure with the events unfolding chronologically, (including flashbacks) – or experiment and adopt a more innovative style.

No. 2

Where will I start my story?  From the beginning?  In the middle of the action?

No. 3

Where will I place my story conflict or rising action?

No. 4

How will I end my story?  Will it close with a satisfying conclusion – with all the loose ends tied up or will I defy traditional storytelling techniques and leave the reader wanting more? 

You are the creator of this infant literary world – it is up to you!

Personally – I like to challenge traditional storytelling methods.

Overall, form and content are important because a short story is determined by a specific word count.  When I was at university most of my creative writing assessments were 1000 words.  That may sound like a lot, but considering a novel is 70,000 words plus, 1000 words can be challenging for an author to create an intriguing storyline and a dynamic characterization.  But it can be a lot of fun seeing what you can do in 1000 words. Of course, some short story competitions accept stories up to 5000 words.

Remember!  A story was never meant to exist in a literary vacuum – it was meant to be read by others. When you start writing your short story, consider your audience and their overall reading experience.

DISCUSSION ZONE: 

Your task, if you choose to accept it, is to come up with a theme or an idea for your story.  Brainstorm your narrative structure.  Choose your setting.  Pick one character. Yes – only one character!

 

NEXT BLOG:  ‘Digital storytelling’ – Creative Storytelling for the 21st century.

 

If you would like to read my version of the fairy tale ‘Rapunzel’, head on over to the BOOKS tab, and in my free eBook, Exploring the Narrative World: Writing the Short Story, you will find the short story, ‘The Tale of Ruthie and Grace‘.  Let me know what you think?

 

READING LIST:

Grimm, J 1982, Fairy Tales from Grimm, retold by Peter Carter, Oxford University Press, Oxford, New York. Available from Google Books. *

Zipes, J D 2002, Breaking the Magic Spell:Radical Theories of Folk and Fairy Tales, 2nd ed,
University Press of Kentucky, Lexington, KY, USA. Available from Amazon Books

 

* You can find a book of fairy tales at your local library or an eBook through Apple iBooks.

 

Image:
http://images.freeimages.com/images/thumbs/0c5/writing-1239763.jpg

Explore the creative possibilities of genre writing

The wonderful world of creative writing not only offers the writer limitless ideas for creating stories, but it also offers many different genres for a writer to explore.  The word ‘genre’ is probably familiar to you, but just to clarify its meaning; ‘genre’ basically means ‘kind’ or ‘type’.  Genre has become a central part of our society and culture as an influential tool in the construction of artistic classifications and related meanings.  So lets explore the creative possibilities of genre writing and how it can revitalise your storytelling.

David Bordwell defines genre within the context of filmmaking, “When we speak of film genres, we’re indicating certain types of movies.  The science-fiction film, the action picture, the comedy, the romance, the musical, the western…” (2010, p. 328).  Some genres are defined by their “subject matter or theme”, or by their “emotional effect” (pp. 328-329) on the audience like a thriller or a romance film. 

The film industry has even gone a step further, as there are many ‘sub-genres’ available, which provides the screenwriter or filmmaker with endless opportunities to push the boundaries of creativity.  Some examples are: comedy/ romance, science-fiction/western.  Genre classification can also help us when we are choosing a book to read or a movie to watch, or when someone asks us, “What kind of books do you like to read?” or “What’s your favorite movie?”.

Let’s go back to the discussion from the ‘Brainstorming‘ blog.  One of the suggestions was – Explore a tried and tested genre, like science fiction, and come up with a new scenario and characters.  A film comes to mind here.  It’s not one of my favorites, but it’s a good example of mixing genres: Cowboys and Aliens, which stars Harrison Ford and James Bond hottie – Daniel Craig.  If you have not seen it, check it out.  It offers an interesting, if not slightly bizarre twist on the Western film.

Our culture is so highly saturated with media texts, it can feel as if the ‘creative idea pool’ has been all fished out, but mixing genres can a helpful way of writing a story that is fresh and unique.  I have given you just a brief snapshot of genre and its usefulness in dreaming up crazy ideas.  So now it’s up to you to strap on your brainstorming cap and discover the possibilities of genre writing

Remember: It is never too late to kick-start your creative journey!

 

Reference.

Bordwell, David, and Thompson, Kristin. Film Art: In Introduction. 9th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill International Edition, 2010. Part 4. Chapter 9. ‘Film Genres’. 328-348. Print.

Cowboys and Aliens 2011, Universal Pictures.

Image.

enovelauthorsatwork.com