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

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Exploring Story Characters: Examples of Four Dimensional Characters

In previous blogs I have talked about creating dynamic story characters and how the best characters are those who are four dimensional. Characters are the most important narrative elements in the story-world, and the quality or appeal of a story depends on whether a character is flat or fully developed – in other words, four dimensional. We all have our favourite story character/s from a book or a film. Characters determine how we experience the story-world and they leave the greatest impression on our mind and heart after we have read a book or watched a film.

Creating characters can be compared to an artist when he starts to create a masterpiece. He starts off with an idea, then he begins to sketch a rough outline of a landscape or a portrait, and then he applies the paint layer by layer. The layering process is when the artwork really begins to come to life.

Creating four dimensional characters is very similar. As we sit at our computer or when we put pen to paper we dream up a character, and then we begin to jot down details about that character.

The Layering Process of Characterization

The layering process of characterization is as follows:

The first layer is the character’s physical description. The second layer is his personality and idiosyncrasies.  Once we have started to weave the story-world around that character, we can then add the final two layers: the third and fourth layer: observations from other characters, and the character’s interior world – his intimate thought-life. This final fourth layer reveals his worldview, his psychology. After this is complete, our character is now fully developed. He or she has been borne from the chrysalis of our imagination and they are now ready to have their journey shared on the screen or the page.

Sometimes creating dynamic and four dimensional characters can be challenging, so a great way to get started is to think about existing, well-known characters from books or films. Some of the characters below also cross over from a book to film.

Five of the best characters from books 

Anne from Anne of Green Gables
Alex Cross from the James Patterson book series
Sherlock Holmes
Jane Eyre
Tris Prior from the Divergent trilogy

 

Five of the best characters from films  

Frodo from The Lord of the Rings Trilogy
Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games.
Superman from the Man of Steel film
Spiderman (the films with Tobey McGuire)
Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader

 

Image:

Books/Fantasy

Sciencefreak

Pixabay.com

 

Make Your Characters Face Their Fears

Creating fictional characters who display real life human characteristics and personality traits make them more believable, which in turn will make your reader or viewer love them more. When we read a book or watch a movie, it’s the character arc or the character’s journey that draws us in and keeps us riveted to the page or screen. By exploring your story characters (whether it’s the prime villain or the hero) and highlighting their flaws and fears and making them face them, either to create conflict or as a conduit for victory, lies at the very heart of dynamic storytelling.

Creating Character Flaws

Strengths and weakness are important for creating compelling characters. No one is perfect, we all have our strengths and weaknesses, idiosyncrasies, etc. So why should our story characters be any different?

Creating a super-hero who has special powers and manages to cheat death over and over is a little boring unless he has a weakness. Giving him character flaws also allows his ruthless nemesis to use that character flaw or weakness to taunt the hero. Once the hero has faced his weakness, he can then determine to rise to the challenge to overcome it.

Inner Conflicts and Tragic Pasts.

Any struggle, tragedy or trauma we face can ultimately make us into stronger, more indomitable and multi-faceted human beings. No one likes experiencing hardship, pain or suffering, but difficult events, circumstances, and people can transform us. This way something good can be born out of something bad. By allowing ourselves to grow through hardship, we are able to retain some control over the seemingly uncontrollable. It is the same for our narrative characters.  As creative writers, our dynamic characters act as our conduit through which we can reach and impact our readers.

Giving characters an inner conflict, a tragic past or a trauma can lead to their personal transformation. As we read a book or watch a film, we experience a character’s struggle, we feel and sometimes identify with their inner conflict caused by a tragic past and we want to see what lies ahead for them in the story. There can be no victory without a struggle and it is in the struggle that victory is won.

Facing Fear

Many times in real life we find we are immobilized by our flaws and fears, but creating characters can very cathartic, and can even motivate us to be better people and also break through the fear barrier.  We all have a hero and a villain inside us and we can choose which one we will follow. Our destiny can be determined by ‘who’ we choose to follow.

Examples of Characters that have Flaws and Fears

With hints of the ever increasingly popular anti-hero dominating our movie screens, it seems that the more flawed the hero is, with fears and doubts that we sometimes struggle with, the more they dazzle on screen and on the page.

The fear or doubt the character struggles with can be small or great: a hidden secret, a struggle with alcoholism, a struggle with feeling inadequate, or that life never works out. Some examples include Hancock, Frodo, and maybe even Bruce Almighty. But despite these flaws, they do not stay immobilized forever. They must push forward, recognize their weaknesses, break through the fear barrier, complete their mission, and achieve their goal.

In the story-world, the hero and villain, although polar opposites are necessary for narrative interest, complex character relationships, and their conflict is central to the story’s plot progression. They also have fears to face and choices to make and their choices will make all the difference to the story and to the audience.

Creative Exercise

Create two characters: a hero and a villain. Create a character profile: name, age, appearance, occupation, etc. List their character flaws, fears, doubts, and insecurities. How will they overcome these flaws and fears? Once you have created your character profile, you can start to build your story-world around them.

By exploring your story characters and giving them flaws and making them face their deepest fears, will result in dynamic characters that will win the interest of your audience.

 

Image:

Artist

Unsplash.

Pixabay.com

How to Write a Dynamic Screenplay

This week I will be moving on to a different aspect of creative writing; writing the screenplay or film script. A screenplay is a complex dramatic form that requires a particular structure and format, so I will be doing a series on how to write a dynamic screenplay over the next few weeks, which will include:

1.  An overview of a screenplay.
2.  How to create a dynamic Screenplay Design Plan.
3.  How to format a screenplay.

There are many multimedia entertainment formats that utilise a screenplay or a script such as films, television, theatre, and video games, but I am going to use film as my frame of reference. The magical world of film-making has captivated our collective imagination since its inception in the late 19th century, and now in the 21st century, it continues to be one of the most popular mediums for global storytelling.

An overview of a screenplay?

A film, as opposed to a work of fiction, is primarily a visual medium, therefore a screenwriter needs to think in visual terms. Although the dialogue is important, a dynamic and memorable image can deliver information much more effectively.

A screenplay may draw upon many similarities that are attributed to a work of fiction such as a complex story-world, a strategic plot, and characterisation, but it predominately relies upon the art of visual storytelling.

In the world of film-making, a screenplay acts like “a plan” or a “blueprint” (Glenn 2008, p. 104) for everything that is seen and heard on the screen. So when it comes to crafting a screenplay, remember the all-important literary mantra, Show Don’t Tell.  As a film contains moving pictures, the screenwriter needs to be able to craft words that come “alive with all the motion and emotion” (2008, p. 104) that is synonymous with the silver screen.

Before you set out to start writing each scene of your screenplay, ask yourself these four questions:

1.  Does my opening scene create a dynamic image in the mind of the reader and will it work on screen?  Visualising your scene on screen is a good technique.

2.  Have I been economical when it comes to word choice (have I used dynamic nouns and strong verbs to communicate the setting, action, and characters)?

3.  Have I utilised a good balance of dialogue and action?

4.  Does my screenplay create interest and suspense? This is where re-writing and multiple drafts help.   

Remember: perfection takes time.

A screenwriting tip. Download the screenplay for your favourite film and analyse its scene structure, tone, etc.  Stage 32 provides copies of the latest screenplays, but registration is required.

More tips for writing an effective and dynamic screenplay.

Avoid using anything in your screenplay that cannot be communicated visually or aurally on screen.

Film-making is all about dramatisation, not exposition. Show don’t tell! Although the dialogue is necessary to reveal story and character information, a single engaging image can convey a thousand words. A close–up on a character’s face. The camera focusing on a single memorable image.

Choose action over dialogue. The saying “Actions speak louder than words” is just as true in the film world. And like real life – what a person does as opposed to what they say reveals their true nature.

Of course, dialogue is important, but when using dialogue use carefully crafted and strategically placed dialogue as opposed to a whole load of empty waffle.

I am in the process of re-writing a screenplay for a short film, and as I am a fan of dialogue, I have had to be ruthless and cut out unnecessary verbiage.

Keep in mind your audience when you are writing your screenplay and use strong images (especially in the opening scene), which will create a strong emotional response.

 

Next week:

How to Write a Dynamic Screenplay Design Plan.

 

References:

Glenn, John 2008, ‘The page: Words that move’, Writing Movies: The practical guide to creating stellar screenplays, (written by Gotham Writers’ Workshop Faculty; edited by Alexander Steele), A & C Black, London, Ch. 4, pp. 103-135.

 

 

Image:

Startup Stock Photos.

StockSnap.io

How to Create Four Dimensional Story Characters

 

This week we are are exploring how to create four dimensional characters. Over the past month or so, I have been doing a series on the seven archetypal characters that exist in the narrative world. I just wanted to go a little deeper in relation to character creation as characters are the most important narrative elements in the storyworld. But the quality or appeal of a story depends on whether a character is flat or fully developed – or four dimensional.

As opposed to the visuality that is provided by television, theatre and film, a literary work is dependent on the skill of a writer to create dynamic ‘word pictures’ that describe the characters. As we only have the words on a page (except for digital storytelling) to offer our reader a mental picture of our characters, learning how to create four dimensional story characters is an essential strategy for writers.

Drawing upon Vladimir Propp and other narratology specialists, four dimensional characters are those who have a two-fold function within the narrative. They can be distinguished between: “an acteur” (actor) (Kozloff 1987, p. 53) – a specific individual with certain characteristics specific to him or her, (for example, the character Kramer in Seinfeld, he has a certain hairstyle and mannerisms or mode of behaviour that makes him unique), and their “actantal  function” (1987, p. 53) – their particular role in the narrative.

Just like the primary characters – the hero and the villain, and the secondary characters – aka the princess, the dispatcher, donor, helper and false hero – they are all defined by their individual “sphere of action” (Lacey 2000 p. 51).

Modern day characterisation is dependent upon characters that combine their “actantal” position or “sphere of action” (2000, p. 51) in the narrative as well as their individual characterisation and distinctive idiosyncrasies (modes of behaviour).

Creating four dimensional characters

Creating a character is like painting a picture. An artist begins with nothing but a blank white canvas. After a brainstorming session he begins with a rough sketch of the landscape or portrait, and slowly bit by bit he begins the more complex process of the careful application of paint or whatever art medium he chooses. Once this process is completed, the finished product is finally revealed.

No. 1. A character’s physical description

When we begin to plan our story in front of our computer screen or a blank sheet of paper, a detailed description of a character serves as the first step in the process of creating a character. Although story characters are primarily fictional, we want them to be as real as possible so that the reader can draw a parallel between the character and a real life person as a point of reference.

Details of a character’s physical appearance or style of clothing helps to create narrative interest. As we live in a visual culture, and in order to keep books alive, we need to provide our reader with a external description of the character to hold their attention. Also, providing a character’s description gives the reader a mental picture of the character and helps the reader to differentiate between characters.

No. 2. Characterisation: the personality of a character

Just like real people are often remembered by their distinctive personalities and odd idiosyncrasies, so are fictional characters. The villain is known for his manic or sadistic personality, and the hero is known for his brave and noble nature. But to go a step further – characters may have a distinctive way of speaking or they may display strange physical mannerisms – think of Han Solo as the easygoing and wise cracking pilot of the Millennium Falcon or Kramer in Seinfeld with his strange gesticulations.

No. 3. Characters do not exist in a narrative void

Most narratives have at least three characters and these characters do not exist in a narrative void. Like us, they interact with one another, and they provide observations about other characters.  The 90s sitcom Friends is a good example of character interaction, and The Lord of the Rings book and films.

Through character interaction we learn about a character’s perception of other characters and their interpersonal relationships provide the reader with that extra dimension. Characters do not just sprout sonnets or ramble on with meaningless dialogue, they reveal important secrets, they share knowledge and their words can influence our speech patterns –think of the plays of William Shakespeare or the almost immortal words of Arnold Schwarzenegger in the Terminator films – “I’ll be back”.

No. 4. A character’s inner world

Just like in real life, the inner world of a character can remain much of a mystery. In the world of film or television, if we are not given any dialogue or a voice-over monologue, we can only surmise what characters are thinking by their facial expressions. Sometimes the camera will linger on an actor’s face and we as the voyeur are invited to try to discern what lies beneath. If the actor has considerable skill, discerning their secret thoughts is an easy job.

But when it comes to revealing the secret inner world of characters, I believe it is the humble book that is superior to other forms of storytelling media. A writer can utilize the techniques of a ‘internal monologue’ or ‘streams of consciousness’ – two invaluable tools that can provide intimate access to a character’s worldview, values, and thought life.

A snapshot of a four dimensional character. 

James Baldwin’s short story ‘Previous Condition’ provides a great example of how ‘streams of consciousness’ can give a reader intimate access into the heart and mind of a character. Through the main character, Peter, we have unmitigated access to his external and more importantly his interior world through his ‘streams of consciousness’ or ‘internal monologues’. We learn about his conflicted past as a child growing up in a poor African-American community and his fear and anger that is caused by the racial tension and discrimination of his present situation as a young out-of-work actor in 1950s New York.

A ‘flashback’ also serves as a conduit through which the reader perceives that Peter’s feelings have been simmering under the surface for some time. Peter is a ticking time bomb, and his repressed anger is ultimately externalized towards the end of story via his dialogue with his two friends, Jules and Ida. But the bulk of the story is limited to Peter’s perspective through his ‘internal monologues’. Many people would find this kind of storytelling boring and not very riveting. But Baldwin does it so well that he makes the reader feel as if they are right there in Peter’s tumultuous world and experiencing his claustrophobic and fear-driven existence.

See Baldwin’s story here:

The world of 21st century film and television provides us with a plethora of dynamic characters. Foxtel features the slogan ‘100% characters’  when they promote new and continuing programs. Australian ‘free-to-air’ television has also jumped on the ‘character bandwagon’ as Channel Nine’s digital channel GEM promotes itself as the place where great ‘Characters Belong’.

Other examples of four dimensional characters.

Characters like Inspector Lewis, Inspector Lynley or Hercule Poirot are good examples of four dimensional characters that have now become part of our popular culture. All of these characters have a backstory, distinctive personalities and appearances.

If you are an emerging or aspiring creative writer, a helpful learning task outlined below is to analyze a character when you reading about them in a book, or watching them on screen. Your characters are the lifeblood of your story and more often than not they are the narrative elements that will linger in your reader’s memory. One thing I can guarantee as a fellow storyteller, if you learn how to create four dimensional story characters – you will become a master of great storytelling!

Creative Exercise

Task 1

When you are reading a book or watching a film or a television program, start an analysis exercise.

What is the character’s role in the story?

What makes them distinctive – do they have a particular idiosyncrasy (mode of behaviour or mannerisms)?

How do you know what the characters are thinking – is there a ‘internal monologue’, or a voice over narration?

Are the characters flat and do not experience change or are they complex ‘four dimensional’ characters who undergo a transformation throughout the narrative?

Task 2

Write a short story with two or three characters. Use the four techniques mentioned in the blog above and create your own four dimensional characters. Create a backstory for them: their past, their personality or mannerisms, and their relationship with other characters.

Happy writing!

 

 

References:

Baldwin, James 1948, ‘Previous Condition’, Understanding Fiction 2005, Roof, Judith, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, New York, pp. 164-175.

Kozloff, Sarah Ruth 1987, ‘Narrative Theory and Television’ in Robert C. Allen (ed.), Channels of Discourse: Television and Contemporary Criticism, Routledge, London.

Lacey, Nick 2000, Narrative and Genre: Key concepts in Media Studies, Houndmills: Macmillan.

 

Image:

Pixabay.com

How to Create Dynamic Secondary Story Characters: The Donor, the Dispatcher and the Helper

Over the last few weeks we have been learning about how to create dynamic story characters through brief character profiles. We started with the main characters – the Hero and the Villain and then moved onto the first of our secondary characters – the Princess

This week we will exploring the possibilities for the last of our archetypal characters as originally proposed by the Russian folklorist, Vladimir Propp – the Donor, the Dispatcher, and the Helper.

Although the Hero, the Villain and the Princess provide the main action in a story, the Donor, the Dispatcher and the Helper are indispensable elements in a narrative.  These story characters are especially important for our Hero. The Hero would not be able to embark upon his quest or successfully achieve his goal without these characters.

In a future blog, I will be exploring the role of characters even more in ‘How to create four dimensional characters’. As you can probably tell creating characters is one of my favourite aspects of storytelling. Whether we are reading a book or watching a film or a television show – great storytelling depends on dynamic characters.

So let us get back to creating a character profile/s for the Donor, Dispatcher and Helper.

Once more I am going to use a literature/filmic reference – The Lord of the Rings (LOTR) to explore these three character types.  LOTR is a good narrative to use for story character profiling as it provides us with a perfect example of how one character can play dual roles.  See Propp’s archetypal character list.

The Donor

The Donor is responsible for providing a magical agent to the hero before he embarks upon his quest.

The Donor in LOTR is the wizard – Gandalf the grey.  After finally succeeding in getting Bilbo to leave his “precious” ring behind before he leaves the Shire to journey to Rivendell, Gandalf gives this ring, which is the magical agent, to Frodo. But this magical agent harbors deadly magic – it originally belonged to the story’s villain – the dark lord, Sauron.   So we can see from this narrative that archetypal elements can take on variations.  LOTR also features more than one magical agent.  There are the elvish gifts that are given to Frodo: the sword that glows blue when Orcs are present, the silver ethereal vest, and The Light of Eärendil that is bestowed by Galadriel.

The Dispatcher

Gandalf also performs the role of the main Dispatcher as he sends Frodo on his mission. We could also include Strider/Aragorn, Elrond and Galadriel as dispatchers.

The Dispatcher has two functions.  He alerts the potential Hero to a grave misfortune or some sort of lack in their mutual world. The Dispatcher’s second function is to send the Hero on a mission or quest in order to resolve the original misfortune or lack.  Ultimately, the desire is to restore equilibrium to a world that is seriously out of balance or on the brink of destruction.

The Helper

The Helper’s job description is to inspire or motivate the Hero, provide rescue, help with or solve difficult tasks, and to transform the hero. Out of all these three characters, the Helper is the one character who is usually consistent throughout the narrative up until the conclusion of the story. And there can be multiple Helpers in a narrative.

In the LOTR films there are many Helpers.  Besides Boromir, Aragorn, Legolas, Gimili, and Arwen, there are also Frodo’s friends – the mischievous Merry and Pippin, and of course, the self sacrificing and loyal, Sam. With Merry and Pippin, we can see that sometimes the helpers can cause more trouble for the Hero than provide any actual help. But towards the end of the film franchise we see that Merry and Pippin redeem themselves and prove that they are indispensable to the story and more importantly to Frodo himself.

Here I have provided three brief character profiles for the Donor, the Dispatcher and the Helper.  For a more extensive outline of these archetypal characters and their broader narrative groups and place within a narrative, see John Fiske, 2010, Television culture.

 

Creative exercise

This week I have a creative exercise for you.

Watch ‘The Opera’ Season 4 episode from the Seinfeld series (you should be able to find it on YouTube). Or you can use any narrative that you familiar with. Analyze each of the characters. What are their functions within the narrative (hero, villain, princess etc.)?  Do they perform one or more function? Which is your favorite character and why?

 

References:

Fiske John 2010, Television culture, 2nd edition, Routledge, New York, London.

 

IMAGE:

Steve Czajka

Flickr.com

How to Create Dynamic Secondary Characters: The Princess

Welcome Creative Destinationers!

This week’s blog will be a continuation of the series: How to create dynamic secondary characters. Last week we directed the narrative spotlight onto the False Hero. This week we will be exploring the creative possibilities for the Princess (the sought after character).

Just to give you a bit of fairy tale history. The princess in fairy tale storytelling has traditionally been represented as a passive female character who finds herself either trapped in a tower, poisoned by an evil witch or a victim of a deadly curse. Of course there are some exceptions to this fairy tale rule – We will explore this a little later.

Out of all the archetypal characters that exist in meta-narratives, it is the princess who has undergone somewhat of a dramatic transformation or reversal in modern-day narratives (predominately filmic narratives).

The ‘princess’ is of great significance to me as during my university journey I submitted a thesis/creative project that analyzed the true purpose behind many fairy tales, in particular, the Brothers Grimm tales. My discovery was that well-known fairy tales were originally designed as literary commentaries on social-political issues at the time of their creation.

My project also explored transgressive tales by authors like Angela Carter and Margaret Atwood, whose work challenged archetypal fairy tale gender roles and traditional story telling techniques. If you wish to view the essay, click here: Creative project essay for Creative Destination

As part of the Creative Project, I submitted a short story called ‘Sisters’, which is now a short screenplay, Trafficked. This short story was designed to be a provocative social commentary on the ‘Human Trafficking‘ trade.

The characterization in ‘Sisters’ was also designed to challenge archetypal representations of female roles in literature. The main character, Rose, is transformed from a passive recipient of the action into an active princess who sets out to rescue her sister, Lily.  ‘Sisters’ will also be available in the Tales for the Sisterhood short story collection – so stay tuned!!

In modern-day narratives, we see that many female characters, especially in film, are designed to defy traditional audience expectations of gender roles.  In books, films and video games, we are encountering female characters who are not always reliant on being rescued by a prince, and many times, they dominate much of the action on screen. Think Charlie’s Angels or Kill Bill or Tomb Raider.

 

Character profiles of the princess in traditional fairy tales.

The damsel in distress.

In this representation, the hero sets out on his quest, and encounters a damsel/princess in distress.  He rescues her from an evil witch who has either kept her captive in a tower or has cast a spell that causes the hapless princess to sleep for a hundred years.

The sought after princess.

In many fairy tale representations a conflicted princess is also the instigator of the hero’s quest.

* The rebellious and sacrificial princess.

The magical world of Walt Disney has presented us with some ground-breaking examples of rebellious princesses – the love-struck mermaid, Arial, who disobeys her father, King Triton, in ‘The Little Mermaid’ by Hans Christian Andersen.

The Bold and the Brave Princess.

In the French fairy tale, ‘The Beauty and the Beast’, the pure-in-heart Beauty or Belle in the Disney animated creation, sets out to rescue her father from a terrifying Beast who lives in a cursed castle. And of course we know the end of the story – Beauty’s magical tears transform the Beast back into his true self – the prince. A great example of an active fairy tale princess!

 

The character profile of the princess in modern day narratives:

The princess in a romantic comedy.

The Princess is the love interest who is pursued by her admirer or love-struck hero. There are challenges to their love, or the princess continually rejects the hero until he finally wins her over. Ultimately they receive their happy ending.

The Princess/Heroine.

The princess is a passive recipient of tragedy or some type of injustice, but she rises to the challenge, either by herself, or she joins with the hero – like a crime fighting team. Here we can see Propp’s archetypal switch happening – the princess becomes the heroine. Think: Cinderella/Drew Barrymore in Ever After or Batgirl/Alicia Silverstone in Batman and Robin.

For us girls, the Princess/Heroine is a major draw-card in mass media representations, as it can inspire us to take up the challenge of being the heroine of our own story.

Radical shifts in female characterization provide the princess with an opportunity to take control of the narrative and embark on a quest to free herself and others from cultural and socio-political dis-empowerment.

Of course that does not mean that the prince/hero is dis-empowered, but both the prince/hero and the princess/heroine play an important role in fictional storytelling, and also in real life.

More examples of modern day princesses.

Ripley in the Alien film franchise, especially the first two films. Ripley was the last woman standing among all the well trained gun-toting marines, and she was transformed into an almost indestructible fighting machine. She is considered to be a ground-breaking character for women in film.

The Hunger Games heroine, Katniss Everdeen, has become an iconic symbol of bravery and courage for young women. She is a prime example of how one person can stand up against injustice and inspire others to do the same.

Just like the hero, the princess can provide a fictional conduit through which we can see evil defeated and justice prevail. Of course, fictional characters pale in comparison to real life heroes who display courage in the face of hardship and disaster.

These story character profiles show the shift from traditional representations of the archetypal entrapped princess to a dynamic active character in the story world.

Next week: We will be exploring the rest of the secondary characters: the donor, the dispatcher and the helper.

 

Also stay cybered for future posts:

1 – Creating four dimensional characters.

2 – ‘Writers’ Block’ – What is it and can it be cured?

3 – Writing the screenplay.

 

Happy Writing!

 

READING LIST

Fiske John 2002, Television culture, 2nd edition, Routledge, New York, London.

Carter, Angela 2006, The Bloody Chamber And Other Stories, Vintage, London.

Zipes, J D 2002, Breaking the Magic Spell : Radical Theories of Folk and Fairy Tales, 2nd Edn, University Press of Kentucky, Lexington, KY, USA

 

IMAGE

‘Just a bit of fun with the princesses’
by becky.
Flickr.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 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