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.

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Top Five Authors Who Can Inspire New Creative Writers

I have been inspired by many authors throughout my creative writing journey, and as it helps to learn from the best, I have compiled a list of the top five authors who can inspire new creative writers

No. 1.  James Patterson

James Patterson is a highly successful American Crime Writer who is famous for his fast paced, heart stopping and gripping thrillers. As a long time fan of James Patterson, I have never been disappointed. I have just finished Alex Cross, Run, and I was intrigued by the dual plot-lines, with Alex Cross hunting down two psychopathic killers, while also being hunted by a revengeful nemesis who will stop at nothing in destroying Cross’s reputation and family.

The Alex Cross series is a favourite as Patterson’s hero is a classic example of a four dimensional character. We see Cross in dual social spaces, his work and home life, we have access to his intimate thoughts, and more importantly we have access to the perspective of the nemesis or villain on Cross. Alex has victories and temporary defeats and exhibits many character flaws, which are highlighted  in this novel. These characters flaws help us to identity with his struggles as we cheer him on as he fights against evil.

Patterson also knows how to draw his readers into the short bursts of action contained in his novels.  He also provides us with a detailed outline of the psychology of his villains.

His dialogue is straight to the point, and every word is strategically placed and is used to good effect. Also his book chapters are short and there is plenty of white space, which provides for a pleasant reading experience. 

No 2. Patricia Cornwell. 

Patricia Cornwell is one of my favourite forensic crime thriller authors. Her heroine, Dr Kay Scarpetta, is a dedicated medical examiner who not tracks down serial killers but she has also been on the receiving end of crime. Scarpetta has had her share of complicated romantic and family relationships and she expresses empathy for the victims of crime.  

Cornwall’s writing style is engaging, and she keeps the reader guessing up until the finale. She also rates quite high on my list for the creation of a strong and sassy female character, who is not afraid to get her hands dirty, and she can hold her own in a male dominated world.

No. 3. Sophie Kinsella

Among many of her books, Confessions of a Shopaholic (2001) is a bestseller that has secured a global readership and ongoing commercial success. Whether you love or hate chick-lit, Kinsella’s narratives are easy to read and her characters are humorous.

Shopaholic has gained in popularity with its predominately youthful demographic of readers, due to its references to recognisable fashion brands, magazines, and department stores. It also features ‘chick-lit style’ characters, like the famous Bridget Jones, who tend to be urban women, employed in the media industry, are relatively successful, and continually struggle with romantic foibles or consumerist angst, with sobering, but hilarious results.

Kinsella’s book has undergone scathing reviews as many media commentators have tried to understand the book’s success, and many feminist writers have lashed out at the depiction of women in her books, but regardless of the socio-political uproar, the book’s key selling element is its lovable leading lady, Becky Bloomwood, who has catapulted Kinsella to literary notoriety.

Bloomwood is the bumbling and ditzy heroine who gives out financial advice in her day job, whilst being chronically in debt due to her out of control shopping addiction. While Bloomwood and her crazy antics provide for a good laugh, there is clear message about the effects of mass consumerism and crippling financial debt without being too preachy.

From a storytelling perspective, Kinsella’s characters are hilarious, the plot is faced paced, similar to that of a crime thriller, and her writing style keeps the reader riveted to the narrative up to the last page.

No. 4. Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins is another highly successful book that continues to dominate the literary field of mass market adolescent books.

I had never heard of The Hunger Games before the films premiered, and in hearing the arguments for and against their controversial content, I saw some of the films and then decided to read the first novel in the series.

Collin’s storytelling adequately draws the reader into a Dystopian world that lives in fear of an annual sadistic reality television show that involves a gladiatorial style of combat with a twist – the opponents are ordinary teenagers as opposed to skilled soldiers.

The Hunger Games is also an interesting example of an intriguing generic mix. It draws upon a mix of science fiction, adventure, drama, and action. Its key selling point is the unique combination of a popular 21st century television phenomenon – ‘Reality TV’ – and the Romanesque style of entertainment.

I chose The Hunger Games for this list of top five authors, not because of his mass appeal, but due to the main character, Katniss Everdeen, the young heroine whose bravery and sacrifice is the driving force behind the plot as she volunteers to take her younger sister’s (Prim) place in the games.

Collins has created a dynamic heroine who is an active female character who not only becomes a symbol for bravery for her hometown of Seam in District 12, but she has also been tagged as a positive symbol of courage for modern day teenage girls.

Although the book has raised controversial debates over its high levels of violence that is perpetrated by children, it is Katniss who heroically displays empathy and inner strength in the face of such violence.

The controversial debates have not affected the book’s popularity as it has reached almost mythic proportions in its readership popularity.

No. 5. Daphne Du Maurier

Daphne Du Maurier is an English author, who bases the majority of her narratives in Cornwell, Southern England.

Her novels were inspired by the mysterious, yet breathtaking landscape of the Cornish countryside, the idyllic, yet secretive villages, and especially the shifting moods of the beautiful, but sometimes treacherous, Bodmin moor.

Daphne is an all-round storyteller who has not limited herself to one genre. She displays a talent for being able to create novels that cross many genres/sub-genres such as: a short story collection that centres on the macabre, a speculative fiction novel, The House on the Strand, that combines the supernatural and science fiction, and also historical romances.

Many of Du Maurier’s historical romances contain an element of mystery, and the narratives foreground strong active female heroines.  Novels like Jamaica Inn and Rebecca centre on heroines who endure hardship either due to abusive or conflicted men, and these women are often left to fend for themselves in isolated and gloomy houses that carry dark secrets. Although it seems at times that these women are doomed to fight a losing battle, they are victorious, and their abusers or antagonists are brought to justice.

Although there are many great storytellers to choose from these days, I have chosen just a few of my favourite top five authors who have inspired me in my creative writing journey.  I hope that they inspire you as well. 

 

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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.

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