More Creative Tips For Creating A Dynamic Opening to a Story

One of the greatest challenges for any writer when it comes to writing a story (besides coming up with the initial story idea) is to decide what is the best way to begin the story. The opening paragraph is the most important part of a story as it acts as the pivotal gateway through which your reader must enter your storyworld. The first few sentences the reader encounters can make or break their ongoing relationship with your story. So how do you create a dynamic opening for your story that will capture your reader’s imagination?

There are three writing techniques that I find really helpful when I am deciding how to start a story.

1. Write a list of different types of paragraph openings

Every writer will have different approaches to writing, but one of the first things that I like to do before I start to write the first few sentences of a story is to write a list of the different types of paragraph openings. This is not to say that I do not use the impromptu creative writing approach, where I just starting typing at random and see where the story goes. I am a big believer in having a story plan to keep me organised.

Of course, the way you begin your story will also depend on the genre of your story. If you are writing a fantasy story, you could start with a setting like a dark Dystopian world or a magical castle. If you are writing in the speculative fiction genre, you could start with a character portrait like a vampire rising from his coffin. If you are writing a crime story, you could start with a narrator who has just observed a murder, or you could have your main character/the murderer discuss their criminal plans in the form of a short monologue.

2. Create a Dynamic Image

The best type of opening paragraph is one that creates a dynamic image. Once you have written your opening paragraph, ask yourself this question: Will my opening scene create a dynamic image in the mind of the reader? One way to know if it is dynamic or not is to try visualising it in your mind, and see it playing out like an opening scene in a film.

A strong image is always memorable.

As well as catching the reader’s attention, a strong and powerful image also sets up the overall genre or style of your story. Think about the last film you went to see or one of your favourites. What did the opening scene contain? Maybe the first image was a spaceship drifting through space, maybe it was a character speaking an iconic one-liner, like the opening line that was spoken by Henry Hill in the gangster film Goodfellas, “As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster.”

The opening scene might be ambiguous, an intriguing image like the pile of black hats in The Prestige. The possibilities are endless for your story, but whether you choose a fantasy world, a haunted house, or you introduce your hero via a character description, it must create a dynamic image in the mind of your reader.
Just like there are some great ways to start a story, they are some things to avoid.

3. Avoid starting your story with dialogue

Firstly, the way you start a story can depend on whether you are writing a short story or a novel. Starting any type of story with a question or a one-liner is a great way to draw the reader in, but starting a story with dialogue may not be the best option. There are two problems that can occur when you start a story with dialogue:

It can create literary confusion as the reader will not know anything about the characters, so they may feel a little lost.
If you are writing a short story you need to be economical with words as short stories have a strict word count. If you want to use dialogue, it needs to be used sparingly in the opening paragraph, or leave it until later in the story.

Practice makes perfect, and once you have experimented with different ways of writing your opening paragraph, you will start to get a feel for what works and what does not work.

Another good tip to help you become more proficient at beginning a story is to read. Reading books and learning from those writers who have been writing for years, will help you to become a better writer. Stephen King, the Master of Horror gives us great storytelling advice:

“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”

William Faulkner also says:

“Read, read, read. Read everything – trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it’s good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out of the window.”

Now that you have learned some tips, here are three creative writing tasks to get those story-telling neurons firing.

1. Choose three types of paragraph openings: Character Description, Setting, and Action. Write up to 100 words for each paragraph, then develop your story from there.

2. Choose three films. Watch the first 5 to 10 minutes of the film. How does the film start? What kind of image is presented? How does it make you feel? Is it a strong, powerful image?

3. Choose a book from your bookshelf or from your local library (fiction is best). How does the writer start their opening paragraph, do they start with the description of a setting or a character description? Do you think it is a dynamic opening paragraph? Why or why not?

Jot down the answers to these questions. You could try re-writing the author’s opening paragraph. Of course, this is just for creative learning purposes. No plagiarism!

I hope these creative tips on how to write a dynamic opening for a story helps you on your storytelling journey.

Happy Writing!

 

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Buckled Book

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How To Organise Your Creative Writing Schedule

Finding time to write is a big challenge for a lot of writers. It seems that we never have enough time in the day, what with work, school, and family activities that make necessary demands on our time. We may have little, precious time left to dedicate to our creative writing. But we all have 24 hours in the day, no more and no less. So to find time for our creative writing, we need to take charge of our time and make it work for us and not against us.

Time management is a term that is used a lot in the corporate work environment, but we can also use some of its strategies for our creative endeavours. Time management teaches us how to take conscious control over our activities so that we can effectively manage our tasks within the time we have at our disposal.

You may be feeling “time poor”, but you can become “time rich” by putting some of the time management techniques into practice. Here are three time management techniques that have been adapted to suit creative writing and will help you to organise your writing schedule.

1. Understand your daily routine

The great writer Ernest Hemingway once said that writing in the morning worked best for him. So what is your daily routine? Are you a morning person, an early riser in the glimmering hours of dawn? Maybe you could utilise this time to do some writing before you go to work, start studying or get the kids off to school. Remember the wisdom that Dear Duchess shared in this month’s Letters to the Editor, just 10 or 20 minutes a day can work wonders.

Maybe you work best late at night. Once all the dishes have been done, the kids are in bed, and hubby is ensconced in front of the TV, you can take some time to create some story magic. If you are a single person, why not sacrifice some of your TV time and dedicate it to writing. You can always record your favourite show and watch it later. By understanding your daily routine, and your energy levels, you can establishing a writing routine that is perfect for you.

2. Prepare a creative work environment

When I first started studying online, I had a study corner in my bedroom, but my little workspace ended up competing with my chill-out time and interfered with my sleeping patterns. As I have a TV in my room, it too became a major source of distraction at times. So I cleaned up our spare room and made it into my own creative work environment. It helped me to be more creative, and of course, more focussed in my university work.

Even though you may not have a spare room, a favourite chair in a quiet place may work well for you, or a quiet corner of the garden or patio. Another good tip for preparing a creative environment is to avoid having emails popping up in the background, which can happen if you work on a computer or iPad. It might be a challenge, but choose to put your social media devices on silent. The social media world can make a lot of demands on our time, but your creative space should be a little haven away from any distractions.

Also, if you are going to use your creative space on the weekend, and you have a family or share a house or flat with friends, why not let them know that you will be spending some precious time in your creative hot spot. If you cannot find anywhere at home to create, you could always try the library. It is a quiet place, free of most distractions, except books of course. Having a creative environment will allow you to dream, create, and complete your literary masterpiece.

3. Make use of digital and software tools

Sometimes inspiration can strike us when we are out and about. We may not be able to access pen and paper or our trusty computer, so if you have a smartphone or tablet, consider it as your creative buddy. You can take notes on your phone, or if you have a recording facility, you can record your ideas and write them down later. Yes, those digital devices can make demands on our time, but make them work for you.

If you are struggling to organise your story ideas, there are a lot of writing software programs that can help you. If you want to convert your story into a screenplay, Final Draft has script formats that are ready for you to use, and storyboarding faculties, and a host of other helpful features. Final Draft is not free, but it is well worth the investment if you want to pursue a creative writing career.

XMind is a great resource that can help you brainstorm ideas and map out your entire story. You can download some applications for free, but if you want to access advanced features there are different pricing packages. Storybook is another free writing software resource that helps authors to organise characters, plot, and different scenarios into a novel. With all this technological wizardry at your fingertips, taking control of your time is easy.

Now that I have given you some creative time management tips, here is a writing exercise to get those storytelling neurons firing.

Create an organizational chart from Monday to Friday. Write down a list of creative elements to work on as follows:

Monday. Choose a story setting, and then write 50-100 words that describe the setting. If you can write more – Great!

Tuesday. Create up to 3 characters. Note down their description, basic background, goals, strengths, and weaknesses.

Wednesday. Create a plot for your chosen setting, and integrate one of your characters. Use the Narrative Arc Plotting Device that was featured in the Monthly Writing Exercise in the January issue of Unearthed, and integrate the Exposition into your story setting.

Thursday. Integrate the other characters and start work on your story’s Rising Action and Climax.

Friday. Work on your Falling Action and Resolution.

If you are unable to complete this task, you can shift some of them to the weekend. Of course, this creative exercise is a just a tool to help you get started on your creative journey. But if you stick to this micro-writing routine, you will find time to write amidst your hectic schedule, and you will discover that you have the first draft of a short story and an introduction to a novel.

Happy writing!

 

Creative Time Management originally appeared in The Australia Times Unearthed Fiction February/Perception Magazine.

 

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Hourglass.

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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. 

 

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Old Books. Josealbafotos

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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.

 

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Steve Czajka

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Write a Dynamic Opening for a Story

 

When it comes to writing a short story there are two important structural guidelines to remember: the ‘beginning and ending‘.  Although there are other guidelines, the ‘beginning and ending’ of a short story are considered to be among the most important.  These guidelines apply to novels as well, but for a short story, there is a limited word count in which to offer an intriguing storyworld.  So let us get started in exploring how to write a dynamic opening for a story.

A story’s opening paragraph should be designed to capture a reader’s imagination and inspire them to read more.  The opening paragraph acts as a pivotal gateway through which your reader must enter so that they can journey successfully through your story.  There are many ways of beginning a story: setting, character description, action, a statement, an idea, or posing a question.

1. SETTING

Your setting could be a location: a windswept beach, a dark Dystopian city, a magical underwater world, or a simple hobbit’s hole as described by J. R. R. Tolkien on the opening page of The Hobbit – “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or eat: It was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.”

2. CHARACTER DESCRIPTION

The 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.”

3. 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, until he was suddenly redeemed by a burst of bright sunlight as he stumbled out of the forest into a small clearing.”

4. A STATEMENT

The iconic opening statement in Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities is dramatic, poetic and memorable, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of our despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way . . .”

5. AN IDEA

How about Jane Austen’s opening line in the classic novel, Pride and Prejudice – “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”  Starting your story with an idea can really get your reader thinking.  Although they may not agree with your idea, they can be compelled to read on to see where this idea will take them.

6. A QUESTION

“Where’s Papa going with that axe?” said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.” Charlotte’s Web, E.B. White.  Beginning your story with a question sets up intrigue in the reader’s mind.  You have provided them with a question that needs to be answered and they must commit to the whole story to discover the answer.

I have provided just a few tips on how to write a dynamic opening for a story in a way that will capture your reader’s imagination.

 

Next week: We will explore the creative possibilities for your story’s ending.

 

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Books

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The Building Blocks of Creative Writing Continued

Here are some more building blocks for creative writing.

Climax – the turning point of a story

Conflict – a struggle between two opposing forces: person vs person, God/fate, society, nature.

Dialogue – Direct speech between characters in a literary work.

Falling action – the results or the effects of conflict in a story.

Flashback (or analepsis) – The introduction of material into the narrative that has happened earlier in the story. E.g. a character remembering an event or conversation from their past. (This technique can be used to include information that is outside the known storyworld in order to save narrative space).

Genre – a type or category that a literary work belongs to: romance/horror/science fiction.

Interior Monologue (Streams of consciousness) – a technique used to convey the thoughts and feelings of a character directly to the reader.

Rising action – the development of conflict and complications in a literary work.

Suspense (withholding information) – a technique that keeps the reader guessing what will happen next.

Theme – the underlying main idea behind a literary creative work.

 

Reference:

Porter Abbott 2008, ‘Glossary and topical index’, The Cambridge Introduction to Narrative, Second Edition, Cambridge University Press, New York.

 

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