Tag Archives: Storyline

Fixing Split Ends: How to End a Story Perfectly

Some writers know what their ending will be right from the start. Others discover it in the course of writing the story, because even if you have an outline, things change. You get a better idea, or a character becomes more interesting than you expected. But not knowing how to end a story in a way that satisfies you (or an editor) is why many people abandon stories. What keeps going wrong?

Even well-known writers abandon stories sometimes—the feel for the story disappears, or something else seems more urgent.

Some stories are more like exercises—and don’t aim to be polished, finished works.

But if you have stories that you feel are interesting and well-executed (up until the end) and this keeps happening, let’s look at a few things you can do to break that no-ending barrier.

Identify the Problem, Then Troubleshoot:


You got through all the things you wanted to do in the story or novel, and now there’s nothing left to say.

A fairly common problem in writing stories is that the conflict isn’t visible enough. In fact, sometimes it’s hard to identify a conflict, because the focus has been on character.

Suggestions:

  • Look at what your character had to face in the course of the story and ask why and how and what changed because of it.
  • Heighten the difficulties and their implications.

You got to the big climactic scene and you haven’t a clue what to do now. What should happen?

Sometimes you can’t figure out what to do because nothing was really in jeopardy. You’ve given the main character a problem, and you’ve got to the point where the problem drives the action, but what you don’t have is how this matters to the character.

Suggestion:

  • Stop worrying about action and imagine the emotional components that brought your protagonist here. What does this conflict do to your character’s way of life?

The ending is in line with the conflict, it all makes sense, but it doesn’t have a punch.

You’ve avoided doing anything risky or unpredictable, so it’s no surprise that the ending is soft. I’m afraid you’ve got to shake things up completely in order to make this come alive—and the first thing to do is to… change the main character. You might have been coasting here because you haven’t forced yourself to actually imagine someone with different needs from your own.

Suggestions:

  • Imagine someone totally unlike you, who wouldn’t make the same choices you would make.
  • In the first big branch of the story, force your character to choose a dramatically different path from the one you gave him or her. Surprise yourself by figuring out why someone would do that different thing.

Everyone says: very nicely written, nice story; sorry but we’ll pass.

This is similar to the above, only this time the story is good but forgettable—when they put it down they really don’t have anything to hold on to.

Suggestions:

  • Shake up your story.
  • For example, about one-third of the way in, have a catastrophe happen—it can be personal or atmospheric, small or large, but what it does is create a background problem that your foreground problem has to play itself against. This automatically ramps up your story, and it forces you to reconcile both large and small issues at the end.

No one believes the ending. Which is weird, because it actually happened.

Never think that what actually happened makes for a convincing story. You’ve trapped yourself here by falling prey to determinism. The story doesn’t work because there was no free will.

Suggestions:

  • Go back one or two decisions in the plot, and change it. Whatever actually happened before you get to the end, change it.
  • Make yourself think about what’s going on and why; then write what that character would cause or do.
  • Another way to handle this is to switch the characters—have “what actually happened” happen to someone who wasn’t there. That should force you to rethink the narrative arc.

You can’t get a good last line.

What was your story’s opening line? Go back and look at it for a while. Where does that first line suggest the story is going?

Suggestions:

  • In some cases, the first line or paragraph contains the idea for the last line. (This is especially true for short stories.)
  • In other cases, you should pick up on a metaphor or image that mattered to your protagonist in the course of the book.

How to End a Story: More Tips and Tricks

Most of the time, you’ll figure out how to end a story. But what if you have a solid story but no good ideas on how to wrap it up? Nothing works in your head or on paper; you’re stymied. Are there any tricks that can help?

Return to a Backup Point

If you just can’t get it to work, go back a few paragraphs or even a page, throw that out, and start again.

Try not to re-read the part you’re about to abandon. You may have written yourself into a corner. (This can also work if you’ve stopped in the middle of a story, rather than the end.)

It can help to start in the middle of a paragraph, or in the middle of a piece of dialogue—someplace where you can pick up on the action or dialogue. Then see where it goes. You may find that the new version takes you in a slightly different direction.

Write past the End

If you know what you want to do, but somehow it just doesn’t feel like an ending (too abrupt, too inconclusive, etc.), then just assume that really isn’t the ending.

Keep going. See where it really stops. You can try different directions: what happened next, how a character viewed what happened next; what unexpected consequences resulted, etc. Picture characters or setting a week later, a year later, a decade later—does that suggest anything?

Work on Your Closing Line

If you’re stuck trying to get that last paragraph or that last, brilliant line, maybe you can pick up on a symbol or image you’ve used in the story. It can be a tree, a place, a song, a sound—something you may have used without thinking about it too much.

Or it’s something you can go back and develop (and you may find that it adds resonance, too, to the story you’ve already written). Use a recurring image to develop the character’s epiphany or the resolution of the story.

Create Closure

You can also use circularity to bring your story neatly to a close. If you opened with a character driving, for instance, to his/her plot device, you can close with a car scene and some enlightenment that goes with it.

In Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner, both the first dramatic scene and the closing scene of the novel involve children flying kites: different children under vastly different circumstances.

Add an Aftermath

You can conclude with general consequences after the conflict is over—the world is better; the world is worse.

You can even demonstrate how easily the world got past the private tragedy in a story. In Kafka’s “Metamorphosis,” after the grueling experience of Gregor Samsa’s transformation resulted in his death, the family is rejuvenated. The ending contrasts the new sense of life they now have, outside the constricted apartment where Gregor lived his insect life. They begin to see their futures again, symbolized by the health and vitality of their daughter (her actions are in contrast with their son’s rigid insect body): “And it was like a confirmation of their new dreams and excellent intentions that at the end of their journey their daughter sprang to her feet first and stretched her young body.”

Change Some Choices

Finally, be aware that stories that refuse to end properly may reflect a problem earlier in the story. Perhaps you went in the wrong direction and now the concept is falling apart. Perhaps your character needs to do something different, or the big conflict is the wrong conflict. You may have chosen the wrong point of view, the wrong voice, the wrong central character. What can you change about the story itself that would make you interested in it? What annoys you about the story? Remove it.

Don’t Know How to End Your Story? Keep Thinking!

Maybe you won’t always know your ending right from the start, but if you approach it thoughtfully, you’ll find it.

By Karen Heuler

Source: refiction.com

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How to Write a Short Story: Free Tutorial

Short stories were once the training grounds for the best writers in the world. Writers like Ernest Hemingway, Leo Tolstoy, Mark Twain, and Stephen King learned the craft of writing through short stories before they published their first novels. Even though short stories have gone out of favor, they are still the best way for writers to learn the craft quickly.

In this free tutorial, you will learn why short stories are important for aspiring writers, how to write a short story, and how to submit your short stories to magazines and get them published.

Ten Steps to Publishing Short Stories

This effective tutorial will be conveniently delivered to your email inbox in ten manageable chunks. You’ll also get links to helpful resources and professional services. Here are the topics we’ll cover:

 

How to Write a Short Story

Everyone needs a little kick in the pants every once in a while. If you want to write but have been struggling with the discipline to do it, this tutorial will help by providing practical challenges given with a dose of inspiration.

Get Published

Thousands of literary magazines exist today to publish up and coming writers like you. This tutorial will help you discover those magazines and submit your short stories the right way so you can get published sooner.

Source: thewritepractice.com

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The Secret to Writing the Killer Plot Twist

A woman in Poughkeepsie plucks your debut novel off the shelf. Okay, fine. It doesn’t have to be Poughkeepsie. It can be anywhere—Marietta, Springfield, Sedona—wherever. The town doesn’t matter because your debut novel flew off the shelves in every big and small town across America. Mostly because of one big thing. You pulled off the killer plot twist.

Now everyone who reads your book thinks they’re your biggest fan. That lady in Poughkeepsie? You’re about to become her favorite author. And she’s going to hand your book to her best friend and tell her in an urgent and serious whisper, “You have to read this. I still can’t believe the ending.”

Sound too good to be true? It’s not. Because the secret to pulling off the most memorable plot twist since Psycho isn’t a magic spell. It’s the unreliable narrator.

What is An Unreliable Narrator?

Put simply, an unreliable narrator is a character who lies. Sure, sometimes he lies because he has something to hide. But the lie isn’t always deliberate. Sometimes he just doesn’t know the whole story. So how can he explain it right? Sometimes he’s too crazy (American Psycho) or too tired (Fight Club) or too drugged (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas) to see the full story as it unfolds. But one thing is for sure. Regardless of the reason for his failure, the unreliable narrator’s story is not what it appears to be. And here’s the secret: it’s the gaps in his tale that leave space for the twist.

How Unreliable Narrators Set You Up for a Plot Twist

In life, we brush shoulders with killers and liars, psychos and saints. We don’t always know a killer or liar when we meet one. Maybe he’s just limping Linus from 2A who hides an unlikely amount of antifreeze under his kitchen sink. Or maybe it’s that mom who rolls her kids to the park in the double stroller. What is she really drinking from that flower printed water bottle?

Life creates a multitude of untrustworthy characters who blend with the crowd. The best fiction does too.

You’ve guessed it. Unreliable narrators feature in so many twisted plots precisely because of what they hide. It’s those missing pieces, the parts of the story they hold back, that feature in the big reveal at the end. And that big reveal? The one where we learned what really happened? It changes how we understand the whole story, doesn’t it? Hence the perfect plot twist.

Ready to see them in action?

How to Instigate Your Own Plot Twist (Two Iconic Examples)

Pi from Life of Pi is a character who keeps you guessing. His story of ship wreck and survival at sea isn’t the first of his fantastical tales. But even though his stories are tough to believe, you find that you want to. Since you don’t want to believe what you already know, you become a willing participant in the deception. So the twist surprises you all the same.

Pi is an example of The Embellisher, an unreliable narrator who tells tall tales for fun. But The Embellisher isn’t the only type of unreliable narrator. Verbal Kint from The Usual Suspects uses deliberate deception to trick you in one of the most memorable plot twists in modern storytelling.

Verbal is a Self-Preservationist, an unreliable narrator who lies to save himself. He’s the only survivor of a boat explosion. How he came to be on that boat is a mystery that investigators are determined to extract from him. Verbal’s tale twists many times before the final reveal. Surprise, in this case, is built on deception.

These are just two examples of unreliable narrators. But in 7 Unreliable Narrators to Twist Your Plot I reveal the techniques behind the Self-Preservationist and more. In this article, you’ll get seven character types to wow your biggest fans.

And that lady in Poughkeepsie? She doesn’t need to know you learned it here.

Source: mandywallace.com

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to plot or not to plot…?

So much has been said and written about this topic, that it is almost fruitless to comment. All you need do is google the topic and you will find countless analyses of the benefits of one or another approach, or of each approach.  But beware, the writer’s subjective preference will often show, once you do this. For example, Kate Forsyth is probably on the side of plotting, as is James Patterson. And the genre chosen by the author to write in, will determine to a great extent, which approach s/he chooses. Fantasy writers and detective story writers will likely employ plotting as the favoured approach. However, not always. Kate Atkinson writes detective stories, but she is also great with character. She seems to bridge the gap between the two categories in a seamless way.

http://www.kateforsyth.com.au/kates-blog/writing-to-plot-or-not
https://writerswrite.co.za/seven-lessons-writers-can-learn-from-james-patterson/

Kate Grenville and many other writers, especially female writers, prefer writing in segments based on vivid characterisation and “zingy” writing. An example of this style of writing is Tirra Lirra By The River by Jessica Anderson (1916-2010). See my post on this blog about this book at:

http://anneskyvington.com.au/tirra-lirra-by-the-river-by-jessica-anderson/

I think that I belong to this latter group more than to the other group. However, I also think that one must adhere to each approach at different times of the writing process.

Kate Atkinson’s Detective Stories

Kate Atkinson’s Books

A balanced summary of the issue by Sulari Gentill can be found at: http://southerlyjournal.com.au/2015/01/29/discovery-through-story-3/

and by The Magic Violinist on  “The Write Practice” at: https://thewritepractice.com/plotters-pantsers/

It almost, but not quite, boils down to “female” versus “male” perspectives. This is not as sexist as it sounds, if taken in the Jungian sense of “eros” versus “ego” and “anima” versus “anima”. That is, we are all made up of two aspects, and we’d be advised to take into account both of these aspects when creating stories.

If you neglect the Apollonian side relating to “the rational, ordered, and self-disciplined aspects of human nature”, you will fall short of the desired end goal. And if you get caught up totally in the “Dionysiac lust and chaos, you might also fail to reach potential. See Wikipedia on this dichotomy of “the struggle between cold Apollonian categorization and Dionysiac lust and chaos”.

It is best, if at all possible, to remain with one foot in both camps, as does British author Kate Atkinson.

That is because both approaches can collaborate, like partners in a successful “marriage of equality” (in its broadest sense), in producing a brilliant work of art.

By Anne Skyvington

Source: anneskyvington.com.au

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How to end a novel: Writing strong story endings

Knowing how to end a novel is an essential skill for fiction writers. Story endings often stay with us as readers – especially when they’re satisfying, haunting, clever or profound. Here are 7 ways to end a novel. May they inspire you to find the best closing for your story:

1. Leave readers guessing: The open-ended story

2. Bring readers full circle: Ending where you began

3. Pull the rug from beneath their feet: Shocking twist endings

4. Create feel-good lingering: ‘Happily ever after’ endings

5. Build in ‘what next?’ – Cliffhanger endings

6. Create complex resolutions: Combining ending types

7. Avoid cliched and unsatisfying story endings: Ending ‘don’ts’

Let’s explore each of these story ending types in greater detail:

1. Leave readers guessing: The open-ended story

Leaving your story open-ended is an interesting but risky approach. Open-ended closing chapters may work in a literary novel. Yet in a genre romance novel, readers typically expect that lovers will be united.

What makes an open-ended story satisfying? It allows the reader to imagine, to fill in the blanks. Without a guide for how we should interpret the final scenes, we’re free to decide for ourselves what they mean.

An example of an open ending: An anti-hero killer ends up relocating and going incognito. This ending was used by the writer’s of the Showtime TV adaptation of Jeff Lindsay’s Dexter series. Not giving a final conflict or confrontation leaves room for future installments.

J.K. Rowling took a similar approach in the final book of her Harry Potter series. (Rowling however also advanced the timeline several years, with her characters shown as grown adults in her epilogue. This was interpreted as a way for the author to convince her devoted readers there would be no more stories involving her characters’ teenage years.)

Even though this type of story ending leaves some room for imagination and interpretation, make sure that you:

  1. Resolve secondary conflicts and arcs so that there is at least some sense of resolution. For example, even if a primary villain lives to fight another day, perhaps their henchmen get their just desserts.
  2. Don’t mistake an open ending for letting the story peter out – even if there is no decisive conclusion, maintain tension to the end.
  3. Know your reason for leaving your story open-ended. Perhaps you want to convey a specific message (in the case of the example above, it could be that sometimes ‘bad’ people get away with bad deeds).

Another type of story ending is the ‘full circle’ closing. Here, everything returns to how it all began:

2. Bring readers full circle: Ending where you began

If you prefer a stronger sense of an ending, the ‘full circle’ story ending can be highly satisfying. This is a particularly effective way to end a book if your story began with a mysterious, unresolved situation. [Brainstorm the starting and ending scenarios for your story using Now Novel’s step-by-step process.]

Example of a ‘full circle’ story ending

David Mitchell’s novel Cloud Atlas is an excellent example of this type of novel ending.

In his sci-fi adventure novel, Mitchell hops between eras and locations from section to section. Each section ends on a cliffhanger or with an unknown unexplained. The author resolves each story arc in reverse order from the middle. This creates a sort of mirror structure around the central post-apocalyptic section.

Cloud Atlas ends with the resolution of the first interrupted story arc. We learn the fate of a character taken ill aboard a ship, and a shocking twist about a primary relationship for the character. Mitchell thus returns us to the first set of characters, and the novel’s first time setting and style (the first and last sections are written as journal entries at sea). This mirror or cyclical structure gives Mitchell’s novel a particularly satisfying sense of completion.

Shocking story endings that surprise us with a major twist are also effective:

3. Pull the rug from beneath their feet: Shocking twist endings

The plot twist is a typical ending for the short story. Famous short fiction authors such as O. Henry and Edgar Allan Poe mastered the ‘twist in the tale’ ending. Yet this can also be a satisfying ending to a longer work of fiction. Masters of the surprise ending include the authors Kazuo Ishiguro and Ian McEwan.

Alec Worley, in his post ‘The 5 types of twist ending’, lists the following types of story twists:

How to end a novel with a reversal: the 5 types

  1. Identity reversal: In which ‘someone turns out to be someone else’. A character is not who we (or other characters) thought they were. This is a common ending type when there is an unreliable narrator.
  2. Motive reversal: In which the reader assumes a character is acting out of the desire for x when what they really want turns out to be y. For example, we think a character seeks a lover because they’re romantic, but they turn out to be controlling and power-seeking.
  3. Perception reversal: In this type of story ending, the protagonist realizes their world or their understanding of it is out of step with reality. This is a common ending type in Poe’s dark, Gothic stories.
  4. Fortune reversal: Here a character is brought low or elevated to new highs by a stroke of luck or unforeseen circumstances. Dickens’ Great Expectations is an example. The character Pip inherits a fortune from a mystery benefactor, who turns out not to be the person he thought.
  5. Fulfillment reversal: A character reaches the goal of their primary motivation. But another character’s actions undo their hard work.

An ending doesn’t have to be shocking or surprising. Yet surprising reversal endings give readers the uncanny feeling of having been duped. This sense of surprise can make your climax more dynamic and exciting.

Story endings - quote by Stephen King | Now Novel

4. Create feel-good lingering: ‘Happily ever after’ endings

A twist ending, especially a shocking, discomforting one, carries the risk of angering readers who were looking forward to an expected resolution. Sometimes you’ll simply want to give readers what they expect and desire of a novel in your genre.

A tidy wrap-up can be comforting and reassuring – it’s why most childhood tales end with ‘happily ever after’ (or simply the reassuring finality of ‘the end’).

Even if a tidy ending feels a little too predictable, there are ways to make the wrap-up more interesting:

5. Build in ‘What if?’ – Cliffhanger endings

If you want to explore your fictional world further over a series of books, cliffhangers are effective story endings.

Think of how screenwriters handle plot arcs in thriller TV series. While each major plot arc of each season is mostly resolved, there is something left over that leaves viewers hankering for the next season to start. The bodyguard’s ward may be killed and they fail in their main task, but they (and us) still need further answers. Who was the culprit? What was their motivation?

Think of each book in your series as a season. Building the ‘what next?’ into your closing chapter will keep readers on the lookout for your next installment. It also helps to stop your resolution from feeling too tidy and convenient.

6. Create complex resolutions: Combining ending types

There’s no reason why you should have to stick to just one of the story ending types listed above.

There’s no single correct answer for how to end a novel. A simple return to the beginning can be effective, but the way David Mitchell returns to the beginning in Cloud Atlas with new information is both complex and satisfying. It’s a combination of a ‘full circle’ ending and a final twist.

Explore ways you can combine different types of ending to provide some surprise and some satisfaction.

Writing story endings - John Irving quote | Now Novel

7. Avoid cliched and unsatisfying story endings: Ending ‘don’ts’

Some story endings feel hollow and unsatisfying. Here are novel endings to avoid in your writing:

  1. The deus ex machina

    A deus ex machina describes when an unlikely story event provides a quick, all-too-convenient resolution. It usually feels contrived. The term is derived from the ancient Greek for ‘God from the machine’. In the Greek theatre, actors playing Gods would be lowered onto the stage on a rope via a crane-like contraption, usually to resolve primary conflicts. Try to avoid lowering in convenient Gods near the end of your story on obvious rope.

  2. The abrupt ending

    The end of a novel serves multiple important functions: It resolves major questions raised by preceding plot events (or purposefully leaves some unanswered). It clarifies and rounds off important ideas or themes (reinforces the ‘point’ of the novel). It also shapes the lingering impression readers will have of your story as a whole.

    Avoid moving your story to an end without sufficient build-up and release. The best story endings weave together all the different threads that have been laid out before the reader. It’s often subtler to do this over several ending scenes or chapters. This is often smoother than hurriedly tying all your characters’ arcs up in a clumsy knot. This being said, there are no ‘rules’. Bret Easton Ellis ends The Rules of Attraction mid-sentence. However you choose to end your story, know your reasons.

Source: nownovel.com

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4 Easy Edits That Make Your Story Flow Better

As a copy editor, I’ve learned a lot about improving the flow of my own writing as I’ve tweaked the manuscripts of others. Today I want to share five easy edits you can make yourself that invite the reader deeper into the story and provide the impact you want to have.

1. Eliminate crutch words.

Crutch words are words we lean on too much in our writing — used when unnecessary, repeated too often, diluting the point. Like many definitions, it’s easier to understand when you see examples. Here are a few: just, so, definitely, really, very, suddenly, and (at the beginning of sentences), smiled, shrugged, knew, saw, heard.

Adverbs are most often the culprits, but you might wonder what’s bad about knew, saw, and heard. Nothing is wrong with any of these words used well, but we tend to misuse or overuse them. It’s a crutch when you write, “I knew I was going to be in trouble,” when “I was going to be in trouble” is the same thing and a deeper point of view (POV) anyway. The same is true with saw and heard. If a POV character says a bell tolled, we know they heard it.

Bonus thought: Curse words can easily become crutch words too. Make sure you treat each like you would other words; that is, imagine substituting another common word in its place. If it feels overly repetitive, you have too many instances of that curse word — it’s become a crutch and can interrupt the flow of the read.

2. Finish strong with sentences and paragraphs.

Way back when I was in college, I learned about the recency effect. Psychologists have shown that we remember what we heard or write mostly recently better than what’s in the beginning and especially the middle. For this reason, deleting or moving around a few words in a sentence can make a real difference in the impact they have on a reader.

Let’s take a quick example. Which do you think would have the recency effect a writer desires?

“No one seemed to know if the spell had any real power in it.”

“No one seemed to know if the spell had any real power.”

“In it” doesn’t finish strong the way “power” does. Ditching those two words can give the sentence the impact it deserves. Here’s another example, with moving words around:

“As I stared at the knife raised above my heart, regret was my strongest emotion.”

“As I stared at the knife raised above my heart, my strongest emotion was regret.”

The second clearly lets the word regret linger in the reader’s mind. Look for places where removing a few words or moving them around draws attention to the words you want to echo in the reader’s mind.

3. Substitute action or description for he said/she said.

“I loved him like a brother,” she said. She placed a rose on his grave and wiped away a tear.

Why is she said included? A dialogue is needed to tell us who’s talking, but in this case, the next sentence gives that information. The action fills in that information, so that she said can get nixed and nothing’s lost:

“I loved him like a brother.” She placed a rose on his grave and wiped away a tear.

Sometimes you’ll have a double-hit like the example above, but other times a writer has missed an opportunity to give more information about a character by using he said/she said instead of describing their body language, vocal tone, actions, or appearance. Just compare the strength of these two options:

“I loved him too,” he said. “Or I did until he backstabbed me.”

“I loved him too.” He clutched his rose tight to his chest, crushing its petals with his grip. “Or I did until he backstabbed me.”

Door number two, anyone? Simply run a manuscript-wide search for those he said/she saids and see if you want to make any deletions or substitutions.

4. Break up some paragraphs.

When I edit my own books, one run-through always involves putting the book on my e-reader so that I can see it the way a reader would. The prose appears very different in this format than on a computer screen, and it’s easier to see large, clunky paragraphs that need to be broken up.

Your book needs white space — that is, areas without text — to prevent the reader from being overwhelmed with the busyness of the page. Without sufficient white space, reading a book can feel like searching for Waldo; your brain gets overwhelmed.

What’s the right size for paragraphs? It depends. What genre do you write? Historical will have longer paragraphs than thrillers. What’s happening on the page? Description tends to have longer paragraphs than dialogue. Who’s talking? An erudite POV character will have longer chunks of thought than a street thug. So you have to make that call.

Regardless, make sure no page is so overwhelmed with text that it’s difficult for the reader’s eyes to focus.

With so much of writing a book being hard, it’s nice to learn about some easy ideas for improving the flow of your story. These four easy fixes can help you achieve the impact you want to have on the reader.

By Julie Glover
Source: writersinthestormblog.com

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Small Moments Make Your Story Big

“A big story is about a small moment.” ~Matthew Dicks

Think about that for a moment (not a small one).

Every book you have ever read is about a small moment—an epiphany when a character realizes an emotional truth with complete clarity.

Let me provide examples:

THE MONSTORE is not just about a store that sells monsters. It’s about a brother and sister who learn to appreciate one another and cooperate.

 

7 ATE 9 is about number 9 realizing his worth.

 

LITTLE RED GLIDING HOOD is about not judging someone before you get to know them.

 

Before I read Matthew Dicks’ STORYWORTHY, I used to phrase this “small moment” concept differently. I would explain that a story, especially a picture book, required an emotional core. Now I realize that is an amorphous blob of a statement.

In other words, not very helpful.

Likewise, if I told you my manuscript was about siblings who learn to get along, that doesn’t sound very enticing, does it? Sounds preachy and boring—been there, done that.

However, frame that sibling story in a shop of misbehaving monsters and suddenly it’s a must-read.

Small moments. They are what make your story BIG.

You may ask, do I set out writing about small moments? NEVER. I begin with an appealing, kid-friendly premise about dolphins or aliens or robots or puppies. If I am doing my job correctly, my main dolphin is not going to be the same dolphin by the end of the story. That dolphin has changed. Not from a bottlenose to a pantropical spotted, but from a mean dolphin to a nice one. Or one who doesn’t believe in narwhals to one who does. That small moment of emotional transformation is what makes the journey through the waves (and the story) meaningful. Otherwise, it’s just splashing in the ocean.

Your small moment appears with the story’s organic evolution. Often, if you begin with a small moment you end up sounding like a big know-it-all. Why? Because you can unknowingly force that theme into being. Never do I write in THE MONSTORE, “Zach and Gracie learned to appreciate one another and cooperate.” SNOOZEFEST. Instead, they open another Monstore together. That’s a lot more fun, and the small moment of transformation shines through.

While STORYWORTHY by Matthew Dicks is about crafting personal storytelling narratives, it contains nuggets of writing gold applicable to picture books. I had a small moment myself when I read about small moments.

So examine your manuscript. Does it contain a small moment? If you hear from an editor that your story requires another layer, that emotional epiphany could be the big answer.

Source: taralazar.com

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How Story Affects Us

Continuing in our four post series on the foundation for harnessing your readers’ psychology, today we’re exploring how story affects us. We’ve already explored where story is (essentially, everywhere), and why we love it so much (because it serves a very useful function!), and now we’re going to discover exactly how deeply it’s been wired into our grey matter.

Genes are the building blocks of our DNA. They mutate and blend, creating an myriad of possibilities for survival of the fittest to select from. Each gene is a blueprint for a particular characteristic, and if that particular characteristic helps us survive, it receives a tick of evolutionary approval and is spread throughout the population. Evolution thought opposable thumbs were pretty cool, language was pretty useful, and that being drawn to story was pretty important.

Evolution thought the benefits of narratives were so important that it actually wired us for story. In fact, it thought it was so important that it deeply embedded it into our grey matter in two significant ways. The first is in the chemical communications that happen in our head. Namely dopamine, the little molecule involved in pleasure and reward. Cheesecake, coitus and cocaine all trigger the release of dopamine in our brain.

And so does devouring a good book.

In the case of reading, dopamine is your brain’s way of rewarding curiosity, so you can learn the hard-won lessons the character is enduring (in the safety of the library or your bedroom). Interestingly, the more dopamine is released, the more of a high we get, the more we want to keep doing what we’re doing. Most importantly, if the brain anticipates doing that activity again, like reading, it will release dopamine accordingly.

Think about it, we’ve all been there when our favourite author releases a new book. When that book finally rests in your palms, that happy, heady feeling has you diving into the first page no matter where you are. It’s the brain’s way of encouraging you to go for it because it felt so good last time.

The second has us probing right down at a cellular level. Neurons are the spindly, spidery cells that make up our brain matter. They’re the little suckers that zip information and messages all around our brain and body. A relatively recent discovery was that of mirror neurons, cells that fire both when you do something but also when you see someone else doing it. Oh, like hear a story, watch a movie…or read a book! Mirror neurons are why we get just as excited watching sport as playing it, why we scrunch up in our seats and turn our eyes away from a horror film.

Or why we have a physical, visceral response to a great book. One study scanned participants brains whilst they watched scenes from Clint Eastwood’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. What the functional magnetic resonance imaging machine (fMRI) showed was that viewers’ brains ‘caught’ whatever emotions were being acted out on the screen. When Eastwood was angry, the viewers brain was angry. When the scene was sad, the viewers brain was sad, too.

In a similar study, a team of neuroscientists popped some research subjects in a fMRI scanner while they played a short clip of an actor drinking from a cup and then grimacing in disgust. They also scanned subjects while researchers read a short story, asking participants to imagine walking down the street, accidentally bumping into a retching drunk, and catching some of the vomit in their own mouths (anyone else have an instinctive, visceral reaction to that?!? Actually, that’s our very own mirror neurons working right now!). Finally, the scientists scanned the subjects’ brains while they actually tasted disgusting solutions.

In all three cases, the region of the brain associated with disgust (the anterior insula, in case you were wondering) lit up. It’s fascinating to appreciate that whether we see a movie or read a story, the same thing happens—we activate the sensation of disgust. This is exactly why reading a book can make us feel as if we are literally experiencing what the characters are going through.

Pretty cool, huh?

What’s more, in addition to the evidence that the brain responds to depictions of smells and textures and movements as if they were the real thing, science has also discovered it treats social interactions among fictional characters as real-life. A review of 86 fMRI studies by psychologist Raymond Mar concluded that there is substantial overlap in brain networks used to understand stories and those used to navigate interactions with other individuals. What’s more, this is particularly evident in interactions in which we’re trying to figure out the thoughts and feelings of others.

Actually, it’s not surprising that reading fiction can improve a reader’s ability to put themselves in another person’s shoes. But what’s really cool for us lovers of the written word is that recent research has discovered that people who read score higher in empathy and understanding others. Readers who frequently read fiction are better able to understand other people, empathise with them and see the world from their perspective. Yes, it literally makes you a better person! And when empathy is linked to prosocial behaviour and health benefits for the individual, it seems everyone wins when you pick up a book.

Are you noticing the overlap of this information with the earlier chapter on why we’re drawn to story? These studies of the ‘brain on fiction’ are consistent with the theory that story functions as a virtual reality, a place for us to safely learn so we can improve our ability to deal with real-life problems, but more specifically, the complexities of social life.

Straddling the unique position of both reader and writer, authors already appreciate that story offers a unique opportunity to engage this capacity—it’s a space where we can identify with characters’ longings and frustrations, guess at their hidden motives and vicariously experience encounters with friends and lovers, competitors and enemies. As a reader we’ve felt the heady sensation of immersion, and as a writer we try to capture it.

For you as a writer, this neuro-soup of cells and chemicals is one you want to tap into. When a reader is experiencing that rush of dopamine, they will keep reading. When they are experiencing your story world as if it were their own, they will keep reading. Building on what we’ve learned, there’s one big thing you have into include in your story, and that’s what we’re going to explore next.

By Tamar Sloan
Source: psychwriter.com.au

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Do characters work personalities shape a story?

How important is a character’s work situation when it comes to shaping an overall impression of a character.

Looking at four basic work situations where the job is an ordinary job in that it can be recognized as a normal occupation. Piloting a space ship would be considered a normal job, as it’s just another kind of vehicle that can be driven. Growing a garden in burnt out soil after a war, everything is knocked back to basics, where getting mixed results would be considered normal.

1) The job is performed in an ordinary way under normal circumstances yielding normal results.
This probably wouldn’t create an impression about the character.
2) The job is a situation dealing with ordinary or unusual situations yielding hapless results.
Might make the character appear less than desirable.
3) The job is dealing with unusual situations yielding as best as can be expected results for the circumstances, including failure.
Generates some respect for the character even if things don’t work out.
4) The job is dealing with ordinary or unusual situations constantly yielding spectacular results.
Creates a competent gets the job done type of character, one that people would appreciate reading about.

If the majority of character’s jobs in a story were sticking to one of the four types listed, how much of a driver would that be for a story. I could see option #4 setting up an action packed adventure story. Option #1 would be just a passive background, more informational about a life style rather than a working part of the plot. Option #2 might drive a comedy or a tragedy. Option #3, being less predictable creates a background for the overall story, perhaps contributes more to the style of writing.

Source: sffchronicles.com

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Story in the Human Psyche

After my brief hiatus (life got busy and I got overwhelmed), I’m back and excited to bring you a series of posts that will be part of a book I’m writing. Harness Your Reader’s Psychology is going to all about understanding what draws readers to your story, what fires their psychology, and how we can harness that.

The first part of the book will focus on why readers read. Four chapters will explore where story can be found, why we’re so drawn to it, how story impacts us, and what it is readers are really looking for. So this week, we’re going to discover exactly how pervasive story is.

Most writers can tell you that story lives in other places outside of books. We understand that everyone does story in one form or another, even those that don’t read. I devour books, my husband loves to watch TV, my son absorbs himself in games of breeding dragons or building pixelated forests. In fact, gossiping is story, seeing a psychologist is all about telling your story, marketers know that a good story will invest you in their product.

Story’s roots are so deeply embedded and woven through our humanity, that it is, quite literally, everywhere. Yep, story is everywhere.

The proof that fiction is deeply embedded in humanity’s psyche is simple—story is everywhere. Story was with the Australian Aboriginal Dreamtime thousands of years ago, it’s stamped in the hieroglyphics of the pyramids and was carried in the beaded necklaces of the American Indians. And yes, we are reading less than we used to, and oral story telling is an art on the brink of extinction. But that isn’t because we’ve forsaken fiction. Story now thrives in chart-busting love ballads, Call of Duty games, and generates billions of dollars in movies about blue-skinned, long-tailed Avatars.

Many of us understand that most of those examples are stories. But story is deeply embedded in our psyche, as evidenced by the stories we tell ourselves. Whether you aspire to be a writer or not, we are all storytellers in our sleep. Dreams are the places where we fly, commit adultery, witness murders, save lives. We spend hours (some scientists believe we may dream all night) scripting and screening fantastical theatre in our mind. Asleep, everyone of us is a storyteller.

Nor do we stop dreaming when we’re awake. Daydreaming is the mind’s default state. We daydream when driving, when walking, when mopping the floor, when listening to Uncle Joe regal us with the golden years. The reality is, that if our mind isn’t focused on a task, it will skip off to wondering what would happen if you interrupted Uncle Joe and began discussing the joys of cross-dressing.

In fact, our mind can’t help but create stories. This point is beautifully illustrated by an experiment conducted by psychologists Fritz Heider and Marianne Simmel. It was the mid-1940’s when the researchers made a short film, a simple black and white animation that lasts about a minute and a half. Essentially, there is a big rectangle that is motionless, except for a flap on the side that opens and closes. There’s a big triangle, a small triangle, and a small circle. The animation starts with the big triangle inside the big rectangle. The small triangle and circle then move onto the screen. As the big square’s flap opens, the big triangle moves out. The three shapes move around the screen, in and out of the rectangle. After ninety seconds or so, the little triangle and little circle leave the screen again.

heider-simmel

When I watched the film, I didn’t see basic geometric shapes. Instead I saw a father (the big triangle) inside his home, comfortable that he is lord and master of his domain. His daughter (the small circle) enters the scene with her newfound love, the little triangle. The father exits the house, and is furious to discover who his daughter has chosen. He instantly attacks the boyfriend, using his size to aggressively push and shove the smaller triangle around. He fires insults at the poor fellow, never giving him a chance to defend himself, then orders him to stay away from his daughter. The daughter runs to the house, cowering from behind the door as she watches in horror. But as she sees her love be bullied, the indignation has her approaching them. But her father berates her, being brutish and dominant. The couple try to flee, only to be chased. Eventually, they manage to escape. There’s a possibility the father may never see his daughter again.

It was all very Romeo and Juliet, angst-filled teens fighting for identity and love and independence. In truth, it was a silly story my mind created in the moment from ambiguous stimuli.

Thankfully, I’m not alone. After showing the film to their research subjects, Heider and Simmel gave them a simple task.

Describe what you see.

It’s fascinating (and relieving!) to discover that less than three percent of participants gave a truly subjective answer. The majority were like me; they didn’t see inanimate objects, they saw characters and drama and emotion driven action. (The link to the animation is at the end of this article.)

We can’t help but create story.

What’s more, not only do we think in story, but our interactions are driven by story. When we meet another person, the simple question of ‘how are you?’ sparks a description of our current state; the why we feel like that, and the how of how we got there. Discussing the news, our workmates, the latest reality TV craze is natural and normal. It’s all underscored by story. In fact, some scientists believe that one of the reasons story has stayed with us through the centuries is because of its importance in helping us function as individuals, but also in groups.

So not only is story everywhere, we’re incapable of being without it.

As writers, this is a something we want to harness. Our readers are drawn to our narratives for a reason; an unconscious one, a deeply rooted one. To do that, to grab them by the neutrons and not let go, we need to understand why story has become such a staple of our psyche, the how of what we’re trying to harness, and ultimately, what readers are really looking for.

For that, stay tuned to the upcoming posts in this series.

By Tamar Sloan
Source: psychwriter.com.au

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