Lost the Plot? Take Control of Your Story

Writing a short story can be like a journey into unfamiliar terrain. Just like a holiday in a new city or a hike into the wilderness, we can get lost if we do not have a plan or a map that can show us the way. When we start to write, we may begin merrily, the ideas flow along nicely, the setting is established and the characters come to life. But then we suddenly run out of inspiration, the story seems sluggish, and we may find that we have lost the plot – literally! So if this is you, it is time to take back control of your story.

Story versus Plot

Besides the all-important elements of storytelling – theme setting and story characters – the plot is a very important tool that provides the story with its basic framework on which to build your story-world and the overall narrative structure.

Just like any trade, there are specific techniques or rules, so to speak, that are needed to perform the job well. Writing is no different and there are some narrative building blocks or techniques that will help you to write a better story. You may or may not be familiar with these basic building blocks of narrative, but here is a refresher of their definitions.

Story is the logical and chronological sequence of events in a narrative. Story should not be confused with narrative discourse, which is the telling or presenting of a story from the story’s narrator. Traditionally, a story unfolds in a linear fashion, with a clearly defined, beginning, middle and end (three-act-structure). Once you have become familiar with this traditional storytelling format, you can break the rules. You can start at the end of the narrative or in the middle of the action.

Plot is the order or sequence in which the story events are arranged in the narrative. It gives a story that much-needed symmetry, movement, and flow. Once you decide on the events that make up the plot of the story, your narrative structure will be revealed.

Now that we have the two basic elements of storytelling sorted, it is time to work on developing the plot of your story. Although the Greek philosopher Aristotle set down the basics for story development, that all stories have a beginning, middle, and end, it is not sufficient to write a compelling story. In order to build upon the three-act structure, the most common plotting device is the narrative arc.

The Narrative Arc Plotting Device

The narrative arc plotting device is a very handy plotting tool that can help you to plan and execute each stage or section of your story. It can be used for a short story and especially for writing novels. Here are the five stages of the narrative arc.

1. Exposition

The exposition is the opening statement or situation that is presented to the reader at the beginning of the story. This is where you introduce your theme, setting and the characters. If you want to use this tool for writing a novel, the main characters are usually presented in this section and other minor characters can be added later.

2. Rising Action

The rising action is the development of conflict or complications in a literary work. This is where you place your first event or series of events. This section is especially important for creating drama, suspense or intrigue for the rest of the narrative.

The rising action is the development of conflict or complications in a literary work. This is where you place your first event or series of events. This section is especially important for creating drama, suspense or intrigue for the rest of the narrative.

The rising action is the development of conflict or complications in a literary work. This is where you place your first event or series of events. This section is especially important for creating drama, suspense or intrigue for the rest of the narrative.

3. Climax

Climax is the turning point of a story. This section involves a series of heightened complications arising from a major event: an act of violence, relationship angst, etc. This part of the story is where it gets really exciting, the characters clash, emotions are at breaking point. Remember: conflict is necessary for creating great drama.

A. Conflict

Conflict is the struggle between two opposing forces like person versus person, and can also include God/fate, society, nature. The conflict is part of the rising action and increases until the climax of the narrative. The stronger the conflict the more dynamic your story will be.

4. Falling action

The falling action is the result or effects of conflict in a story, or for a longer narrative, the series of events that unfold after the climax. The hero has faced and vanquished his nemesis, he has learned a valuable lesson, or he or she has won their heart’s desire.

5. Resolution

The resolution is the end of the story and is sometimes called the denouement. This is where the character’s problems are resolved to some degree. You may choose to finish with a happy ending or leave some questions unanswered.

Creative Exercises

 

Exercise 1

Take one of your existing stories, or if you have never written a story, have a look for a short story collection from the library. Or if you are feeling especially adventurous, choose a novel.

Analyse the story and see how it fits into the narrative arc pattern.

Write down the key elements in the narrative arc: exposition, rising action, etc.

Ask questions like:

Have you or the author introduced the theme clearly?

Where in the story are the characters introduced?

Where does the rising action start?

Who or what provides the conflict or action?

What is the climax of the story?

What is the falling action?

What kind of resolution has been used – neat and tidy or partly resolved?

 

Exercise 2

Write a story using the narrative arc plotting device.

Write down each of the sections from the narrative arc plotting device: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution.

Under each heading write down some notes on how you will begin your story.

Start by asking some questions.

What is my opening statement or situation?

What kind of action will I use and who will provide the action?

Where will I place the climax?

How will I resolve the narrative?

Once you have written notes on each of these sections, you can start to bring them all together into a whole narrative.

Once you have put the narrative arc plotting device into practice, you may find that it will become an indispensable strategic plan that will help you when you get lost in the narrative maze.

Happy Writing

Lost the Plot? Take Control of Your Story first appeared in the January issue of Unearthed Fiction.

 

Can Your Learning Style Determine How You Read a Story?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three Learning Styles

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

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

Here are the Three Learning Styles.

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

Visual (Spatial)

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

Audio

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

Kinesthetic

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

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

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

Four Different Ways to Experience a Story.

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

Audio Books

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

Watch a film with friends

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

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

DVD

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

Graphic novels

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

Digital Devices

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

Internet/Social Media Platforms

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

Here are some creative writing websites.

Apollo Blessed
Skrawl
Scriggler

Digital Storytelling

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

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

 

Image:

Books

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Top Five Creative Tips for Writing a Story

 

Writing a story can be a great experience, seeing your own little world come to life, but sometimes the art of creativity can be a challenge, so here are top five creative tips for writing a story

1. Write a Story in 100 Words.

Micro, flash or nano fiction is a great way to brainstorm story ideas and practice brevity in our writing. Specific word choices, a controlled use of adverbs and adjectives, and simple description can make the difference between a good story and a great one. Writing to a strict word count is good discipline and will tighten up your literary skills.

2. Create a Character Profile.

Characters are the heart and soul of your story. Try writing a story without a character. If it can be done, I have never encountered it, but it might make for an interesting creative exercise, besides this one as indicated below:

Start your story by creating a character profile.

Name

Physical Description

Age

Now start to build your storyworld around that character by answering these seven questions:

What does their world look like?

What is their social status, rich or poor, working class.

Who are their friends? Do they have any friends?

Do they have an enemy, a nemesis?

What is their MDQ (major dramatic question) they are trying to find the answer to? What is their goal?

What is the challenge they are trying to overcome?

Do they have any internal conflicts, do they harbour a dark secret, do they suffer from depression?

3. Make a List of Story Settings.

A setting creates a strong visual for your reader and sets them up for the rest of the narrative. Creating a unique setting can be challenging, so try thinking outside the narrative box.

An ancient city inside the earth
A haunted forest
An alternate universe
A setting from your last holiday
A civilization inside the cracks in the pavement
Inside the broom cupboard
A scene from your favourite novel

4. Write a Story Based on a Dream.

I dream a lot and sometimes my dream-life can be more exciting than my real one. So when I feel that my creative bank has been depleted, I just use one of my dreams and go from there.

So leave a notepad next to your bed and in the morning jot down some details from a dream that you think would make an interesting story.

5. Write a Narrative Based on a Media Story or Your Own Real Life Event.

When we think of the words creative writing we think in the terms of fiction, but the cliché ‘truth is stranger than fiction’ can also inspire our writing. A lot of what we see or read about in the media world is derived from true events, and our everyday lives can prove to be more riveting, inspiring or shocking than anything that is created in Hollywood.

Watching the daily news can shift from being a boring social practice, a front row seat to an out of control crazy world, to a rich melting pot for creative ideas. You can take an unsolved crime and create your own ending, or take a television personality (change their name of course) and weave a story around them.

These top five tips for writing a story should inspire you, but try brainstorming your own, and maybe drop me a line about your story ideas.

Happy writing!

 

 

Image.

Lisa Simpson. Writing is the hardest thing ever!

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Top Five Best Books for Children

 

The best way to become a great creative writer is to be a dedicated reader and to develop a love of books from childhood. I have been reading ever since I was a child and I could not image my life without books.

Books are magical portals that allow their readers unmitigated access to new and undiscovered worlds, and they provide uninterrupted journeys into the soul. They can take us on a journey into the realm of the imagination, and allow us to become part of another person’s life experiences. Here is a list of the Top Five Best Books for Children.

 

Anne of Green Gables.  Lucy Maud Montgomery. 

The timeless tale of the adventures of Anne Shirley, the spirited red headed orphan with a heart of gold, continues to capture the hearts and imaginations of children all over the world. Lucy Maud Montgomery published eight novels that feature Anne and her family, and the spirit of Anne lives on in additional short story collections like The Chronicles of Avonlea and The Road to Yesterday.

 

The Famous Five. Enid Blyton.

The Famous Five is a book series that was written by English author Enid Blyton, and was first published in 1942. The series follows a group of children, Julian, Dick, Anne, Georgina (George) and her dog Timmy, who live in Dorset, South-West England. The children’s adventures range from finding buried treasure, exploring secret tunnels, and exposing smugglers. There are 21 novels in the series, so there are plenty of adventures for children to explore.

 

The Secret Garden. Frances Hodgson Burnett. 

The Secret Garden is a timeless drama/fantasy novel, which was originally published in 1910. The heroine, Mary Lennox, is a sickly, unloved and selfish ten-year old who is born to wealthy English parents living in India. Most of Mary’s life is spent being cared for by servants, and after her parents die from Cholera, she is sent to live in Yorkshire, England, with her morose uncle, Archibald Craven, at Misselthwaite Manor. Mary continues to be a rude and disagreeable child, and spends her time being confined to the gloomy and mysterious manor. But after discovering a secret garden, Mary begins to learn about the healing power of friendship.

 

Matilda.  Roald Dahl.

Matilda is an intelligent, caring and gifted little girl who is often mistreated or neglected by her boorish parents. From a young age Matilda has to fend for herself, but finds a welcome escape from her troubled home life through her insatiable appetite for reading. In response to her parent’s neglect she often amuses herself by playing pranks on her family like gluing her father’s hat to his head.

At school, Matilda befriends her kind teacher, Miss Honey, a kindred spirit, who encourages Matilda to develop her exceptional intellectual abilities. Miss Honey hides her own pain and sorrow as her sadistic and manipulative aunt, Miss Agatha Trunchbull, is also the headmistress of the school. The Trunchbull, as she is tagged by the students, delights in inflicting cruel and unusual punishments on the children for minor infractions. While Matilda, Miss Honey and the other students live in fear of the tyrannical Trunchbull, Matilda discovers her growing power of telekinesis, which she uses to finally oust the headmistress.

Matilda’s wish for a loving family is finally bestowed when her father, a corrupt car salesman, decides to escape from the police, and he readily agrees to let his misunderstood daughter live with Miss Honey.

Dahl’s wonderful tale is an empowering book with an anti-bullying message flowing through the narrative, and it also teaches children to embrace their gifts and to respect others despite their differences.

 

The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe: The Chronicles of Narnia. C. S. Lewis.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was first published in 1950 and its magical tale of adventure will never lose its literary appeal for children or adults. A classic fantasy tale of good versus evil, it also has an emphasis on the innocence of childhood, and the power of friendship.

The story begins where a group of English children, Peter, Susan, Lucy and Edmond, are sent to live with their uncle in his house in the countryside, after a wartime evacuation. After discovering a magical wardrobe, the children discover Narnia, a world of talking animals and mythical beasts who live in fear of an evil witch who keeps the land enslaved in a perpetual winter.  

The continuing appeal of these Top Five Best Books for Children goes beyond the world of books as all of these stories have been turned into television series, films and stage-plays.  

 

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Magic Books.

Fotor. Pixabay.com

Write a Gripping Ending To A Story

 

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

The circular ending

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

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

The surprise ending

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

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

The ‘open’ ending

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

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

The trick ending

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

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

The summary ending.

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

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

Happy writing!

 

Next week: It’s all about the characters.

 

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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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