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

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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

Mysticartdesign.com

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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.

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Six More Creative Tips to Revitalise Your Writing

 

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

No. 1. Flash, Nano or Micro Fiction.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Mobile/Cellphone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy writing!

 

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Inspiration/Writing GIPHY

IAM-TUMBLING.TUMBLR.COM

 

 

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!

Giphy.com

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Seven Tips to Boost Your Creative Writing

 

Whether you are an emerging writer or a seasoned professional, seeking that next big creative idea can be like a knight embarking on an uncertain quest for adventure. The brave knight receives his commission to embark on a quest, either to save a princess in distress, save his kingdom from destruction, or just for the sake of the romantic idea of a quest. Our quest for creativity is not fraught with untold dangers along the way like the knight’s quest, but it is still a journey that can fill us with anxiety and make us doubt our abilities as a writer. But do not despair – here are seven tips to boost your creative writing.

1. MICRO FICTION

With groundbreaking digital technologies, software and new media platforms like Twitter and Facebook, the art of storytelling is rapidly evolving, therefore allowing writers to explore new ways of telling a story. Some examples of electronic literature are Hypertext Fiction, Interactive fiction, and Micro Fiction.

Micro Fiction, Flash or Nano fiction offers a tantalising challenge to writers to restrict their storytelling to a particular word count, anything below 300/400 words. Writing micro fiction not only allows a writer to practise brevity but a micro story can develop into a longer narrative.

Why not try these two writing challenges.

1. Linkedin recently issued a writing challenge to Write a Scary Story in Five Words.
2. Write a Story in 100 Words (on any topic).

2: BRAINSTORM DIFFERENT WAYS OF BEGINNING A STORY

A story’s opening paragraph should be designed to capture a reader’s imagination. It acts as a pivotal gateway through which your reader must enter so that they can journey successfully through your story. You can start to build your micro world in a number of ways:

A dramatic setting like a dark Dystopian city or a windswept beach.
Strong action like a battle or a pursuit through a haunted forest.
An intriguing idea.
A question.
Remember: “There is something delicious about writing the first words of a story. You never quite know where they’ll take you.” Beatrix Potter.

3: MIXING GENRES.

Sometimes we writers tend to play it safe and stick to a familiar genre, but why not try mixing genres? Be brave and experiment. Mixing genres is a great way to revitalise your writing.

What’s your favourite genre – horror, science fiction, romance, speculative fiction, comedy?

Boost your creativity by following these steps:

A. Choose two of your favourite genres and create an intriguing generic mix. For example: write a story that mixes romance and speculative fiction, or horror and comedy.

B. Read an article or a book about the rules or conventions of each genre.

C. Try mixing the genres together.

D. Evaluate your story. Has this brainstorming tip helped to revitalise your writing?

4. RE-WRITE A FABLE OR FAIRY TALE. Storytelling has been the prime conduit for human communication for thousands of years and basic archetypal narrative structures like folk and fairy tales remain an integral part of contemporary popular culture. So why not try re-writing a fable or a fairy tale – or base your story on an archetypal plot.

Here are seven basic plot ideas:

Quest
Rags to Riches
Tragedy
Voyage and Return
Comedy
Rebirth or Metamorphosis
Overcoming the monster.

5. JOIN A WRITERS’ GROUP.

Although writing is predominately a solo vocation, writers can sometimes struggle and flounder when they live in a creative void. Even famous writers need someone to bounce their creative ideas off. Most novels have an attribution to someone, or sometimes, many people who have helped the author along their storytelling journey.

So why not join a writer’s group either at your local community centre, or online. In the midst of like-minded people, you can share ideas and maybe even find a suitable mentor.  There are many writers’ groups on Linkedin like The Writers’ Network,  and I have listed some under the Resources tab. 

6. The ICWE. The ICWE is an ‘innovative creative writing exercise’ that is designed to help you brainstorm new story ideas. This is how it works:

Step. 1. Write at least five short paragraphs, up to 100 words each, on one sheet of paper. Your paragraph can be a description of a setting, a character description, or you can use dialogue.

Step 2. Print out the sheet.

Step 3. Cut up each individual paragraph into strips.

Step 4. Mix them up, then lay each strip on a table, one after each other, and see what you’ve come up with. You may be pleasantly surprised at the new narrative you’ve created.

Also, each paragraph can be developed into a separate story.

7. COMPLETE YOUR CREATIVE QUEST.

The best advice for any writer whilst on their creative quest is to persevere. Once you embark on your creative quest, you must stay on track until your quest is completed.

Remember:

Keep your goal in mind as you go.

Avoid any distractions that may deter you from fulfilling your quest.

If you experience challenges from the creative writer’s nemesis, ‘writer’s block’, or it feels like your creative muse has abandoned you, take a break and then continue on your quest.

The creative mind works best when it’s relaxed. So walk away from the notepad or computer and refresh those creative neurons. Then you can return to your storytelling journey and successfully complete your creative quest. Even the bravest of knights have had to take a break from rescuing the princess or fighting the dragon. I hope these seven tips for boosting your creative writing will help you in your storytelling journey. 

Happy writing!

 

Image:

De Kalatravo. Calatravo – Medieval Knight. 

wikimedia commons. wikimedia.org

The Power of Books and the Influence of Literature

 

For this week’s post I thought I would share my thoughts on the power of books and the influence of literature.  I would also like to compare the level of reading that takes place on the Internet as opposed to the reading of a book.  I have read a few articles on the hotly debated idea that high levels of interaction with the Internet could be ruining our concentration and changing the way we think as opposed to the reading of a book. So in order to brainstorm some ideas about the power of books and the influence of literature,  I will be using the format of a personal essay which is in response to the following essay question:

“Look at my bookshelf! These are the books I read. To what extent can literature have an influence on or affect people’s lives? Discuss and explore.”

“I recollect nothing of learning to read; I only remember what effect the first considerable exercise of it produced on my mind; from that moment I date an uninterrupted knowledge of myself’” (Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 1923, p. 7).

I cannot envision my life without books, and by books, I mean the good old fashioned paperback, not the static digital downloads that are on offer today. The humble book, whether it be a collection of short stories or a complex novel, have been to me, as Amos Bronson Alcott so aptly described, “books are…the best of companions, accessible at any moment…[and they] reward me with their company” (1872, p. 133).

Books provide me with an opportunity to open my imagination. They invite and entice me to embark on cost-free journeys to undiscovered realms and have enlarged my vocabulary.

I have been reading since I was very young and back then I would have read almost anything, even fashionista magazines, like Cleo and Women’s Weekly. Books of all genres have had a profound influence on me and have instilled a great love of the written word and a passion for writing. I had no need for pictures or illustrations, for the words and my imagination conjured up the necessary images, to visualize the scenarios contained.

 I would spend hours going through my nana’s bookshelf and explore the Reader Digest, starting with the humorous section“Mere Male” and then onto the “Real Life” story for that edition. I then started working my way through autobiographies, such as Corrie Ten Boom’s The Hiding Place.  Above all, my favorite books were: The Anne of Green Gables series, The Narnia Chronicles, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, The Lord of the Rings, and John’s Bunyan’s A Pilgrims Progress. My bookshelf still includes some of these books and I find myself going back and reading them again and again and still they enthrall me.

In high school, I was introduced to the unique realm of poetry and enjoyed reading and experiencing poems by literary wordsmiths, such as the Australian poet, Kenneth Slessor, in particular, ‘Beach Burial’, a mournful but beautifully crafted elegy for unnamed soldiers that were washed ashore at El Alamein. As Anthony Lawrence says about his introduction to poetry “… these poems gave me something I’d never encountered: a need to live for my imagination” (The Paper Trail 2010, p. 40).

My latest literary rambles have taken me into the world of the likes of Josephine Cox, whose novels are predominately set in Blackburn, England, in the 1800’s. I have spend many hours with the well rounded and engaging characters of Joy Fielding, the very down to earth and hilariously eventful novels of Sophie Kinsella, and have been riveted by the thrilling, nail biting suspense of James Patterson – just to name a few.

This is not to say that I have not read other works of literature, in order to understand the world of the past and present. During my course of study, books of academia have been added to my repertoire and have served to enrich my life in ways that a humble story cannot. I have enjoyed reading books on art, music and history, but my book of choice has always been a work of fiction.

A story is a work of art in itself and the interest in storytelling is universal, whether it be a child reading a book for the first time or an adult watching a movie.  The practice of storytelling is intrinsic to how we communicate and are entertained. Above all other mediums, through which storytelling is conveyed, none has the potential to draw us in, to hold us spellbound, but the unassuming book. But even more than storytelling, books have ignited revolutions, provided people with the opportunity to read in their own language, and to have access to information that was previously withheld from them.

In a world that is addicted to the power of technology, and a digital cyberworld that demands our attention, where we are compelled to work and play almost at the speed of light, the book invites us to draw aside, to curl up in our favourite chair, turn off the incessant mobile phone and enjoy a good yarn.

My bookshelf predominately contains books that are devoted to stories, from the impressive novel, that can suck you in and destroy a holiday as it has done many times for me, to the short story that can “… lay claim to a kind of completeness that eludes the novel” (Millhauser 2008).

During my short stint in youth work, I came across young people who had never read a book of any kind. Literature was a word from a foreign language and if they were ever tempted to try to read a book, it would have to contain pictures. Their attention span did not reach beyond the email, the phone text, or the next tweet.

As this world seems to get smaller due to the advances in technology and conversation is fast becoming limited to Facebook and Twitter – how does the book compete? Every now and then I visit my local library and am amazed to see people still reading and borrowing real books.

I believe that literature is so essential to our development and for our understanding of the world around us and our place in it. Exposure to reading literature should start from a young age as it enlarges the imagination and introduces a child to the greater world. Literature has the power to influence and affect people’s lives in many ways and one of the most defining influences is the level of interaction a book invites as opposed to the type of reading that takes places on the Internet

In his book, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, Nicholas Carr argues that “the Internet could be altering the very structure of our brains” (Carr in Harris 2010).  He also raises an interesting comparison between the type of reading on the Internet and the reading of a book.  The Internet’s “cacophony of stimuli” and “crazy quilt” of information have given rise to “cursory reading, hurried and distracted thinking, and superficial learning” – in contrast to the age of the book, when intelligent humans were encouraged to be contemplative and imaginative” (Carr in Harris 2010).

But despite these Internet-based concerns by Carr and others, as long as people continue to read books and to write the stories that are contained within their pages, the power of the book and the influence of literature will continue to remain as a central part of our personal lives and our society.

 

Reference List.

Alcott Bronson Amos 1872, Concord Days, June, Books p. 133, Published by
Roberts Brothers. Boston. U.S.A.

Harris J 2010, ‘How the internet is altering your mind‘, The Guardian, viewed 14 March, 2016.

Lawrence A 2010, ‘Paper trail’, in Krauth, N & Brady, T, The Clunes little book of the book: five leading authors reflect on their relationship with the book, Creative Clunes, Clunes, Victoria, pp. 39-46.

Milhauser S 2008,  The Ambition of the Short Story‘ The New York Times, p. 31.

Rousseau Jean-Jacques 1923, ‘The Confessions of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Part One, Book 1, P. 7. Published by Alfred. A. Knopf, New York

Additional reading.

Lehrer J 2010, Our Cluttered Minds‘ , from Hasselberger, William. “The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains.” Sunday Book Review, The New York Times, Web. 15 March, 2016. 

 

Image.

Old Books. Josealbafotos

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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

How to Create Compelling Story Characters

Creating story characters is an exciting part of writing. As the creator of your own micro world, there are new heroes and villains just waiting to be born. But in order to capture your reader’s attention and make them want to read your story up until the very last page, you need to create compelling story characters they will care about.

So before we start, let me ask you some questions.  When you read a book, watch a film or a television show – what draws you in?  What captures your imagination?  What inspires you to go and see a film or buy a book? What gets you hooked into a television show?  I am pretty sure your answers to these questions will be… the characters – real or fictional. 

It does not matter whether we cheer for the hero or whether we hate the villain, characters are the most important elements in the story-world.  We all have our favorite characters (and I don’t mean actors or actresses). Who is your favorite character?  Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia, or maybe a cartoon superhero – Batman, Superman or Iron Man?  Or maybe you are a fan of the villain – the hero’s nemesis!

The best characters are complex and fully developed.  They have distinctive traits (actions, speech and external appearance).  Characters appear more complex when they develop new traits or undergo a metamorphosis or a personal transformation throughout the story.

What do we look for in a character?  Human qualities like sensitivity, empathy, strong values, bravery etc.  We seek to identify with characters on some level.  Do they laugh, cry, or experience conflict?  Do they experience crushing disappointments and celebrate long-awaited victories?

Even though I am a self-confessed bookaholic, I believe the world of filmmaking has the greatest potential for creating dynamic characters.  Since the creation of film, in the late 19th century, audiences have been quite happy to sit in a small darkened room, separated from their friends and other captured viewers, whilst being held transfixed by the moving images on a screen.

In the 21st century, we continue to repeat this much loved cultural activity, either at the cinema or in our self-created home theatre.  And in these social places of magic and wonder, we are suspended in time and space.  So what keeps us spell-bound?  Forget the special effects, the digital sound and computer generated imagery (CGI).  It’s all about the characters!  Whether we admit it or not, we live vicariously through these imaginary people who seem to live eternally in the magical story-world.

“It begins with a character, usually, and once he stands up on his feet and begins to move, all I can do is trot along behind him with a paper and pencil trying to keep up long enough to put down what he says and does.”
― William Faulkner

I love this quote about story characters.  Faulkner’s experience reminds me of what can happen when you breathe life into a character.  Once you have drafted your character’s backstory, their actions, their trajectory, chances are, he or she can sometimes develop a mind or will of their own.  There have been countless times when my characters have surprised me.  Their personalities have undergone a dramatic reversal and they seem to want to direct the plot themselves.  I thought it was just me and I had been staring at the computer screen for too long.  I had spent too much time in the fictional world.  But one day I attended a catch-up meeting with some other ‘creatives’ from the film, television, and theater site, Stage 32, and when I asked one of the writers do your characters sometimes change during the writing process? The answer was Yes!

So, why do characters change mid-story?  As writers, we have the power to create characters that can mirror real life people.  And just like real people, your characters can develop a mind or will of their own. 

A character will possess universal human characteristics and can be drawn from people we know.  We can relate to them on some level and we hope others will too. 

Of course, characters are not only restricted to humans; they can be animals, extraterrestrials (E.T.) or toys that come to life (Toy Story).  The possibilities are endless.  And sometimes there are characters we can not relate to, but they also have an important part to play and have an important story to tell.

“Who are these characters?  What do they want?  Why do they want it?  How do they go about getting it? What stops them?  What are the consequences?  Finding the answers to these grand questions and shaping them into a story is our overwhelming creative task.”

Robert McKee, Story, Style, Structure, Substance, and the Principles of Screenwriting.

Characters are the active agents in your storyworld that drive the plot forward.  They get things done, they react to situations and to other characters.  They put the heart and soul into your story.  The dialogue and monologues uttered by fictional heroes and villains are often the words we fear to say in real life. 

As a creator, we can make our characters do things that we are afraid to do in our everyday lives.  An example would be: having the courage to talk to someone we have admired from afar, or being bold and accepting a challenge. 

Yes, sometimes characters can achieve the things that we can only dream about. 

I also think that creating characters can be very therapeutic.  When I’m angry, stressed or depressed – creating a character helps.

Here are a few tips or ideas to get you started:

1.  Create a backstory for your character/s – even if you are only writing a short story.  A short story can develop into a novel or screenplay! Create a character profile: name, age, appearance, occupation, etc. 

2.  Just like actors do when they are preparing for a performance, ask yourself these questions about your characters?  What drives them? What are their passions, fears, goals? 

Let your characters lead you.   The fictional world is their domain.  Let them take you on their journey, you never know where it may lead.  So have fun creating compelling story characters your reader will love.

 

 
Images:

Library. erdemdindar

Pixabay.com

 

Reference:

Stage 32: The Premier Social Network for Film, Television and Theater Creatives.

https://www.stage32.com/welcome/18/