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.

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