Tag Archives: Storytelling

Should Your Story Have a Happy Ending?

Once upon a time my wife and were doing our second-favorite thing, sitting up late at night reading. Suddenly she yelled something like ARRGH or UGH and threw the book across the room, where the poor thing bounced off the wall and landed on the floor. The cat wisely jumped up and took off for parts unknown, while I was thinking, “She’s between me and the kitchen where all the sharp objects are.”

“Uh, honey, is something wrong?”

“At the end, an atomic bomb went off and they all died.”

“Uh, why did the bomb go off?”

”No reason. Just because.”

She wasn’t kidding. The End. And they all died unhappily ever after.

And I know how she felt because when I was in Junior High I read a novel about hot rodders where, at the end, the hero drives off a bridge, his head collides with his girlfriend’s with a “bone-shattering crunch.” The End. I felt cheated. I went back and read the end again. Yep. Dead as can be. Let that be a lesson to you kids — no racing around in souped-up jalopies.

Let’s talk about what most of us do, and that’s genre fiction. Let’s talk about “. . . and they all died.” Maybe indulge in a little compare and contrast between tales that do not end with everybody dying, that say, yes, Virginia, happiness is possible.

  • Popular memes about genre fiction and how to fight them

Meme Number One — grim stories about the futility of modern life are more true-to-life and realistic because the world is going to Hell in a hand basket.

Meme Number Two — stories about miserable characters trapped in meaningless lives who stay miserable and do nothing about it are somehow more important than a series of paranormal romances.

At their dark, bleeding hearts these memes would have you believe that a happy ending is easier to write, and therefore less worthy. “He stood over the heroine’s body, holding the knife, laughed maniacally and went back to the castle.” That Stephanie Plum is less valuable to readers than the woman at the heart of Gone Girl.

Don’t you believe it.

  • The world is going to Hell In a hand basket

If it is, people have been saying that for generations. In Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1955) starring Kevin McCarthy, the hero talks to a psychiatrist about the people in Santa Mira who believe their friends or family members have been replaced by doubles. The shrink replies, “It’s mass hysteria. Worry about what’s going on in the world, probably.” That was 1955 and we’re still here. Remember the kids driving their hot rod off a bridge? First it was juvenile delinquents, then hot rodders, followed by surfers, then hippies and later, slackers, each iteration of youth marking the end of civilization as we know it. If anything, the Jayne Ann Krentz ending, with relatively happy protagonists, is more realistic because we’re still here; Charon is still waiting to take that hand basket across the River Styx.

  • Dark and brooding is more important 

Oh, really? Okay, sales numbers do not always relate to quality — Valley of the Dolls was a huge seller — but you want meaningful numbers? Romance novels account for 29% of all titles sold.1

That’s right, almost one in three books, including e-books, has a lady with cleavage, or a guy on the cover who makes me feel inadequate. Add in thrillers and mysteries and it’s over half of everything sold. That number has held steady for years, and to me that says something. It says that a good story can end happily, and that such stories fill an important need. Note that here I am including a typical Stephen King ending where victory is obtained, but at a cost. This attitude isn’t new, either. Barbara Tuchman’s brilliant The Guns of August was praised, sort of, by scholars as “popular history.”2 It was an instant best seller and continues to sell to this day.

I believe in Story. I believe in laughter. For my money there’s not enough of either one in the world.

First, Story, with a capital S.

The world around us is often chaotic, we humans have a hard time figuring out why things happen and often the answer is simply, “because.” The cliche of the woman holding the body of her husband and shrieking at the heavens, “Why? Why?” is constructed like a flawed pearl around a pebble of wisdom, because often the answer is — just because.

Art, Story, provides a respite from the unrelenting randomness of real life. “Just because” doesn’t work in a novel. How random is life? The chain of causality that led me to writing this essay goes like this: I was in high school, headed for UCLA with my best friend Mark. When he was killed I lost interest in UCLA, went to Cal State Long Beach instead, where I met my wife (the book-thrower) and through her the lady who invited me to contribute to WITS. But is that a story? Of course not. It’s “just because.”

Our job is to layer on structure, to remove the extraneous. (And as a side note, wouldn’t that be a good topic for one of these essays? Do we as storytellers create the structure, or is it always there, waiting for us to reveal it? In a possibly apocryphal story Michelangelo once said the statue was always in the piece of marble; he just had to chip away the part that wasn’t David.) We either make or reveal the structure, and provide a tale to entertain.

Humor, happiness, is hard! You want tragedy? Just open your AP news feed.

Jerry Lewis said in the documentary “No Apologies,” “I see people all over the world desperate for laughter.”3 He was right, and I would add to that they are desperate for simple joy.

He described a plaque given to him by John F. Kennedy that reads:

There are three things which are real:
God, human folly and laughter.
The first two are beyond our comprehension
So we must do what we can with the third.

Here’s the point. It’s important how you feel about your work, and if you’re writing a series about a shape-shifting alien prince, or a detective who indulges in self-deprecating humor, you may feel a nagging sense that literary writers are somehow “better.” Fight it.

In the final analysis, what I’ve always wanted to do is what Don McLean says in, “Bye, Bye, Miss American Pie” — “maybe they’d be happy for a while.” What I’ve learned, no, what has been driven home to me recently, is just how important that is.

Source: writersinthestormblog.com

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How to Create Convincing Science Fiction Technology

Technology is a vital part of science fiction. Even if your story isn’t about a technological change, differences in technology will define the aesthetic of the setting and the possibilities available to the characters.

So how can you go about imagining convincing science fiction technology?

Why Convincing Technology Matters

Before delving too deeply into this, it’s worth considering why convincing technology matters. After all, other genres get away with making up whatever they like, as happens with fantasy and steampunk. Even some science fiction glosses over the details of technology, apparently treating it as unimportant.

One reason to pay attention to technology is your readers. While there are science fiction readers who don’t care about the details of the science, there are also many who do care. They’re passionate about understanding the underlying principles behind the way a future world works. They have a decent grasp on science and technology, which they will use to critique your work.

You can ignore these readers, but you do so at your peril. They often sit near the heart of fandom and can be among the most vocal advocates or critics of a book. Winning them over will provide you with a valuable support base, and if they don’t like your science then you’ll see it in your reviews,

There are other reasons too, beyond pleasing pedantic readers, reasons that will help you with your writing.

The first is that technology brings the world to life. Think about how much laptops, smartphones, and cars define our modern world. In the same way, the right technology can help to make your imaginary world feel real.

Developing a convincing system of technology can provide great inspiration for your storytelling. The way characters travel can inspire chase scenes. The way they communicate can inspire situations where they become cut off. The way they relate to their technology can shed light on how characters view the world and what inspires them.

Even if the outline of your story is already fully rounded, knowing how the technology works will make it easier for you to tell the story. If you know what makes a spaceship works then you’ll know how it could break down and how the crew might try to fix that. Knowing in advance means that you don’t have to stop the flow of writing to work it out.

How to Create Convincing Technology

The process of creating convincing technology starts with understanding modern technology and science, which means research.

Read up on the state of technology in the area you’re concerned with. What’s out there. How it works. How it’s used. Find out about what’s at the cutting edge, where experts in the field think this technology will go next. Look at how it got to this point, so that you can understand the way it develops over time.

When doing this, it’s important to look at the underlying principles. Adrian Tchaikovsky’s award-winning Children of Time is grounded in the fundamentals of evolution, not just the principle of information being passed on in the genes, but the way that this shapes changes over time. Though the evolution is exaggerated, the changes it creates in an insect population are convincing because they’re detailed and grounded in science. The result is an evolutionary pattern that is fascinatingly different from our world.

For most technology, you’ll need to consider design as well as science. A car’s design is about more than just the way an engine works and what makes an aerodynamic shape. It’s about how many passengers are included, where to seat the driver, where to place controls, how the vehicle provides feedback to the driver on what it’s doing, and a thousnad other factors. The same applies to any piece of technology, from a sword to a smartphone. So think about the design of the technology in your story. What aesthetics have shaped it? What issues of practical use? There are dozens of different ways the same tool could be designed, so look for one that says something about the society it’s used by.

While science fiction technology is mostly grounded in reality, it’s always going to depart from our world in some way – that’s what makes it science fiction rather than science fact. When deciding how to deviate from reality, it’s often good to work from the principle of the one big lie. This is one thing about the science of your setting that you’ve made up, like a form of psychic powers or faster than light travel. Readers will accept one or two big lies better than lots of little ones, as the one big lie and its consequences creat a coherent whole.

Work out the implications of your one big lie, including the different technologies that stem from it. Sell it well enough and your readers will believe.

Technology in Context

The way that technology is used is as important as the technology itself. Understanding how your technology fits into the world is vital to making it convincing.

New technology doesn’t start out as accessible to everyone. The Rocketpunk Manifesto blog has provided a simple, handy model for considering how it spreads and becomes more accessible.

First comes the experimental phase, in which the technology is unusual, unreliable, and only in the hands of a select few – think modern spaceflight. Then comes the government / megacorp stage, when the technology is mature and reliable enough to be replicated but costs so much that only huge organisations such as powerful nations can have it, as is currently the case for submarines. This is followed by a stage in which it’s accessible for commercial purposes and private ownership by the super rich, like owning an airliner. Finally the technology becomes available to private individuals, becoming ubiquitous, as smartphones have done in the past decade.

Understanding where on the spectrum your technology falls will help in understanding how it fits into the world you’ve created, how easy it is to access, and what challenges characters might face in getting hold of it. It’s also a useful way of setting limits on a technology, if making it ubiquitous would spoil your plot.

Once you’ve worked out the maturity level of the technology, think about who has it and why. What do they use it for? Why do they use this technology rather than something else?

Consider the consequences of the technology. For example, railways and the telegraph transformed western society. They made it possible for people, goods, and messages to travel at previously impossible speeds. The world became more connected, news travelled almost instantly, and the difference in power between nations with and without these technologies expanded hugely.

Technology can shape society in all kinds of ways. The need for precious metals for microelectronics has led to pollution and the mistreatment of miners in poor but resource rich countries. Those microelectronics have also allowed the internet, making most of human knowledge availalbe at the touch of a button. This has accelerated the pace of technological change, allowed dispersed social movements, fostered relationship between people on different continents…

You get the idea. The consequences of a technology can transform society on every level, and thinking that through makes your technology more real, as well as adding new story possibilties.

Case Study: Spaceships

Spaceship design, as discussed by Dr Nick Bradbeer in a presentation at Nine Worlds 2017, provides a great example of some of these principles.

Spaceships are currently at the experimental phase of maturity, though recent developments are nudging them into the national / megacorp zone. They’re very hard to make and get hold of, and they’re not entirely reliable.

The principles needed in designing a spaceship are similar to those in designing a ship. You have to take into account the ship’s role, its size, and its layout. The role will define what equipment is needed, such as weapons for a fighting ship or storage for a cargo ship. It will also tell you how many crew are needed. These parts together define its size, as there needs to be space both for specialist equipment and for crew facilities, incluing space for sleeping, eating, and recreation, as well as facilities to deal with waste, to create or make up for gravity, for people to do their jobs, etc. The layout is largely defined by finding the most efficient way to put these pieces together, inlcuding protecting people from the heat of engines and efficiently connecting different systems.

Design-wise, a spaceship can be pretty much any shape you want.  This creates freedom to make something that reflects the setting and culture you’re working with.

The big lie for spaceships is usually a faster-than-light drive. This is needed to connect together different places in an interstellar setting, and is such a common big lie that most readers will just accept it in some form.

So the research for spaceship design is a mixture of ship design and cutting edge space technology, combined with whatever design suits your vision.

Building Better Sci-fi Worlds

Whether you’re writing a vast space opera or a day-after-tomorrow dystopia, convincing technology makes for convincing science fiction. And along the way, it can provide you with the inspiration to make deeper, more interesting stories that engage your audience.

By Andrew Knighton
Source: refiction.com

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Writing Resources: Telling True Stories

Human beings are built for story.

Story is how we perceive the world around us and how we understand ourselves and other people. Through story, we learn and make connections. We use stories to map the future and study the past.

Stories are the single most effective tools for education, communication, and persuasion, which is why they are prevalent in advertising and political campaigning. Marketers know the power of story.

Stories are powerful because we see ourselves in them. We put ourselves into the stories we read and experience things we could never otherwise experience.

Put simply, stories transcend. 

Telling True Stories

Telling True Stories is, foremost, a book on the craft of narrative journalism, which is the art of telling true stories while adhering to the standards of journalism. It’s a dense book (the paperback is 317 pages) filled with essays about reporting and writing, but its greatest value is the experience and wisdom shared by its authors:

“Stories are parables. Write and edit and tell yours with meaning, so each tale stands in for a larger message, each story a guidepost on our collective journey.” — Jacqui Banaszynski, Telling True Stories

This collection of essays features some of the most successful and prominent journalists and nonfiction authors who gather every year for Harvard’s Nieman Conference on Narrative Journalism. Telling True Stories offers their best insights from finding the right topic to structuring a story, from ethical considerations to building a career.

Insights from Telling True Stories

In my experience, reading books on the craft of writing that are outside my form or genre is one of the best ways to gain a deeper understanding of the craft as a whole. If you’re a fiction writer and all you do is read fiction (and books on fiction writing), you’re missing out on the many nuances of writing that are not addressed in the realm of fiction. I have found that my studies of poetry have greatly enriched all my other forms of writing, from copywriting and blogging to fiction writing.

So I wasn’t surprised to find that, even though I’m not a journalist, there were plenty of wonderful nuggets of writing advice and insight that I could apply to my own writing. Some insights were new; others were welcome reminders:

  • The ending must bring a payoff. (p. 28)
  • Every deep story involves a subjective person slamming into an objective world. (p. 35)
  • The first draft takes the longest and is the most painful. (p. 53)
  • You start with an unformed, fuzzy idea, throw it into a funnel, and out comes a focused, purposeful story. (p. 55)
  • Writing is like scraping off a piece of yourself; people can see beneath your skin. (p. 100)
  • Every detail you select should help communicate your story’s theme. (p. 147)
  • The editor is the reader’s professional representative. (p. 197)
  • Successful rewriting requires a fierce sense of competition with yourself, not anyone else. You must be dogged in reaching for your personal best. (p. 205)
  • When a good editor or another reader gives you feedback, listen hard to everything he or she says. This isn’t a time to protect your ego; it’s an opportunity to re-explore your story and force yourself to delve even deeper. (p. 207)
  • One way to attract readers is to create an irresistible central character, one the reader truly cares about. (p. 219)
  • Every story contains an engine: the unanswered question that keeps the reader going. (p. 220)

This is just a small sampling of the wit and wisdom that I discovered while reading Telling True Stories. But this isn’t one of those books that you can’t put down. I found that I needed to read it in small chunks, which is unusual for me since I usually either inhale a book or cast it aside after the first few chapters. With Telling True Stories, I wanted to read a few essays, then chew on what I’d read.

It also made me want to write. Sometimes I had to put the book down so I could work on my own story, (which is not a true story, by the way). Like I said, I’m not a journalist, but I learned a lot about my craft from the narrative journalists who shared their expertise and experience in this wonderful collection of essays.

If you’re anything like me, you’re always looking for writing resources that you can use to strengthen your writing skills or inspire fresh ideas. Telling True Stories will be a valuable addition to your collection.

By Melissa Donovan
Source: writingforward.com

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Stumped for Story Ideas? Try This One Tip

In a recent episode of Jane the Virgin, the main character, Jane, is stumped for story ideas. She already published one book, but that was inspired by her dramatic telenovela-like life. She’s convinced that she has no other story to tell.

one tip 2

When she shares her dilemma with her fellow writing-class students, they assure her that what she described is not a problem at all. She doesn’t need new story ideas. Why?

Because she can retell the same story.

Follow the Heat

Cheryl Strayed calls this “following the heat.” Her most famous book is Wild, a memoir about the hike that help her deal with her mother’s death.

But she wrote about that period of her life and the loss of her mother repeatedly. She wrote personal essays about it and fiction inspired by it. She told and retold her story as many times and as many ways as she could.

That’s following the heat.

There are so many examples of authors rehashing the same story ideas and telling stories about the same thing over and over again. Philip Roth is one of the most prolific American writers ever—somehow Newark, NJ manages to find its way into most, if not all, of his books. In the show, Jane’s fellow classmates astutely point to Jamaica Kincaid and John Updike and their tendency to return to the same themes or characters.

Tell and Retell

So, do you feel like you’ve already told your one great story?

No problem. Tell it again.

Tell it from a different perspective (e.g, a side character). Zoom in on a specific moment or zoom out to show how it fits into something bigger. Try telling your great story in a different format: perhaps a personal essay instead of a novel, or vice versa.

It’s OK to take the same story ideas and tell your story again and again and again.

Can you think of other writers who have told and retold the same story? Let us know in the comments.

By Monica M. Clark
Source: thewritepractice.com

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Stock and Cloned Characters in Storytelling

I was recently reading a novel, and a few chapters in, I realized I had mixed up two of the main characters. In fact, I had been reading them as if they were a single character. I’m a pretty sharp reader, and this has never happened before, so I tried to determine why I’d made the mistake. Was I tired? Hungry? Not paying attention?

I went back and reviewed the text and noticed that these two characters were indistinct. They were so alike that without carefully noting which one was acting in any given scene, it was impossible to differentiate them from each other. They were essentially the same character. Even their names sounded alike.

This got me to thinking about the importance of building a cast of characters who are unique and distinct from each other instead of a cast of stock characters who are mere clones of one another. 

Stock Characters

We sometimes talk about stock characters in literature. You know them: the mad scientist, the poor little rich kid, the hard-boiled detective. These characters have a place in storytelling. When readers meet a sassy, gum-popping waitress in a story, they immediately know who she is. They’ve seen that character in other books and movies. Maybe they’ve even encountered waitresses like her in real life. These characters are familiar, but they’re also generic.

When we use a stock character as a protagonist or any other primary character, we have to give the character unique qualities so the character doesn’t come off as generic or boring. It’s fine to have a sassy, gum-popping waitress make a single appearance in a story, but if she’s a lead character, she’s going to need deeper, more complex development so the readers no longer feel as if they already know her. She has to become fresh and interesting.

Stieg Larsson did this brilliantly in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and the sequels that made up the Millennium trilogy. At first the protagonist, Lisbeth Salander, seems like a surly punk, the kind of character we’ve seen a million times before. As the story progresses and Lisbeth moves to center stage, we learn there’s more to her than meets the eye. She’s antisocial, and she’s a computer genius. She’s bold, brave, and tough. She’s not just some surly punk. She is a moral person with unique challenges — one of the most intriguing characters in contemporary fiction.

Cloning Characters

Stock characters are often taken from source material, sometimes as an homage and other times as a blatant rip-off. Such characters are problematic when they feature prominently in a story and have no traits that differentiate them from the character upon which they are based. Do you want to read a story about a boy wizard named Hal Porter who wears glasses and has a scar on his forehead? Probably not, unless it’s a parody of Harry Potter, whom we all know and love.

You can certainly write a story about a young wizard who is based on Harry Potter, but you have to differentiate your character from Harry. Make the character a girl, give her a hearing aid instead of glasses, and come up with a memorable name that doesn’t immediately bring Harry Potter to mind. And give your character her own personality and challenges.

As the book I was recently reading demonstrates, we also have to watch out for cloning characters within our own stories. For most writers, this is a bigger problem than cloning characters out of other authors’ stories.

Think about it: you are the creator of all the characters in your story. You might have based them on people or characters you know and love (or loathe). You might have conjured them from your imagination. But they are all coming from you: your thoughts, your experiences, and your voice.

While I’ve never mixed up two characters in a book I was reading before, I have noticed that characters who act, think, and speak similarly are common. And while a cast of characters who are similar to each other in every way imaginable doesn’t necessarily make a story bad, a cast of characters who are noticeably distinct from each other is much better.

Nature vs. Nurture: How to Avoid Cloned Characters

Cloning is the practice of making a copy of something, an exact replica. You can clone a human being (or a character), but once the clone comes into existence, it will immediately start changing and becoming different from the original. Its personal experiences will be unique. By nature, the original and the clone are exactly the same, but nurture (or life experience) will cause the clone to deviate from the original.

Here are some tips to make sure your characters are unique and not clones of each other or any character or person they are based on:

  • Give your characters distinct and memorable names. Avoid giving characters name that sound alike. Don’t use names that start with the same letter and are the same length, and don’t use names that rhyme.
  • Unless you’re writing a family saga, make sure your characters don’t all look alike. Try developing a diverse cast of characters.
  • Characters’ speech patterns will depend on where they’re from, but individuals also have their own quirky expressions and sayings. Use dialogue to differentiate the characters from each other. Maybe one character swears a lot while another calls everyone by nicknames.
  • Create character sketches complete with backstories. If you know your characters intimately, you’ll be less likely to portray them as a bunch of clones.
  • To help you visualize your characters, look for photos of actors, models, and other public figures that you can use to help your imagination fill in the blanks.
  • Once you’ve created your cast, ask whether any of them are stock characters. If any of your primary characters feel like stock characters, make them more unique.

Are You Using Stock Characters? Are Your Characters a Bunch of Clones?

The main problem with the book I mentioned at the beginning of this post was that there were two characters who were essentially functioning as a single entity, at least for the first four or five chapters, which is as far as I got in the book. Together, they shared the same purpose or function within the story. The best fix for that problem would have been to combine the two characters into a single character, something I have had to do in one of my fiction projects that had a few too many names and faces.

I can’t help but wonder if the author ever bothered to run the manuscript by beta readers, and since the book was traditionally published, I wondered how the cloned characters made it past the editor.

How much attention do you pay to your characters when you’re writing a story? What strategies do you use to get to know your characters and make sure they are all unique? Have you ever noticed stock characters or cloned characters in a story you’ve read? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment, and keep writing!

By Melissa Donovan
Source: writingforward.com

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How to Develop Story Ideas Into Amazing Stories

I often hear practicing writers ask, “What if I can’t think of anything to write about?” Sometimes they even have notebooks full of observations, but they feel like none of them are good enough for a full story, and they’re not sure how to develop story ideas into amazing stories.

I’ve felt the same way, but there are more opportunities or seeds for story ideas in our notebooks than we think. It might be an image, a snippet of a conversation we overheard at lunch, or a social issue that grates against us. Once we have the seeds, how do we take those seeds and develop them into stories?

How to Develop Story Ideas

I love hearing the different ways writers develop story ideas into full length projects. It’s one part of the writing process that often remains cloaked in mystery. Sometimes, a writer isn’t sure how an idea develops, so they’ll say, “Oh I just write,” which makes the rest of us feel like failures when we sit down and nothing comes.

Sarah Gribble shared a great way to outline fiction in a post earlier this week, but what do you do in the space between “I noticed this thing” and “outline the story”?

Some might say, “Oh that’s the magic. You can’t teach that. It’s too formulaic. It just happens.” That might be true, but I can’t have my classes of fiction writers sitting around waiting for the magic to happen. I have to teach them how to make magic. (Do I have an amazing job or what?)

Here’s one way I help my students develop a story idea into an outline and draft.

Choose Something Specific

When students begin trying to find story ideas, they inevitably pick something too big.

“I want to write a story about the way technology makes us less human!”

“Global warming!”

“True love!”

“Space opera!”

These are all topics and themes that could yield great stories, but they are too broad and too general. We need to get much more specific to capture the humanity of these themes.

As I search through my notebooks, I look for a vivid image, event, or conversation. Here’s an example I found recently:

So good to have my sister here. Odd conversation tonight that stuck with me. She said her kids might not need to learn to drive the way self-driving cars are advancing. She said, “They use information from satellites, traffic cams and even other cars to minimize user error and fatalities.” It’s hard to imagine.

The thing that interested me was this idea of minimizing fatalities. Who gets to decide which one person can be “minimized” to allow the others to live in a car crash? I pulled the idea of self-driving cars along with that one phrase from our conversation: “Minimizing fatalities.”

Find the Heat

Once you choose a specific idea, find the hot spots in it or create one. A hot spot is a place where the temperature is higher or “a place of significant activity or danger.” It might be the inherent conflict in a conversation or the oddity in an image that could lead to or expose disaster.

Again, specificity is your friend. Some examples:

You overhear a conversation: “So help me if you leave with the hamster and espresso machine, I’ll …”

Or a headline from the news with an odd (and heartbreaking) image: “Woman who gouged out her own eye found standing next to church.”

Both of these moments hold immense potential for stories because they prompt us to ask, “Why?” and “What if?” The emotions behind these small hot places can be great places to develop an idea. If you can capture the emotion behind a moment, you can build any world you like around it.

A Character as a Hot Spot

Maybe your idea isn’t an image or event, but a person. If you start with a character, you can follow the same process by asking a few specific questions.

What does this character want from the moment we meet him?

How far is he willing to go to get it?

How can this character’s fears, anger, or insecurity get them in trouble?

You can short cut this by building from someone you know or using an actor or type. Then get specific. I can start with my Uncle John, because he is curmudgeonly and outspoken against technology, but I’ll need to change it up and give the character some details that belong only to him.

Also, remember you aren’t writing about a character’s life, you are writing about his or her problem. Specific, vivid details will make the character leap off the page.

An Example

The thing that interested me most in the conversation with my sister was this idea of minimizing fatalities. Who gets to decide which one person can be “minimized” to allow the others to live in a car crash?

I asked some questions: Who is responsible in a car crash involving a self-driving car? The driver or the car company? The tech company who built the algorithm? The satellite company reporting the data?

What if a new IT graduate buys a self-driving car and her grandfather disapproves? What if that same girl is in a fatal accident?

There are a number of hotspots in this idea that could create conflict, because there are so many emotions surrounding a crash and the element of responsibility. From here, I’m ready to outline the goal of my character, the conflict, and the climax that will guide my story.

Once you’ve explored the possibilities, you can outline the main beats of your story and get to drafting.

Do you have a method for getting from seed to draft? Do you have any tips for how to develop story ideas? Let us know in the comments!

By Sue Weems
Source: thewritepractice.com

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How to Use Foreshadowing Like a Master Storyteller

Foreshadowing is a task writers have to approach with the same careful precision they use when threading a needle. It’s not always easy, but when done right, you’re in business. Hinting at a future revelation is necessary for authors of mystery novels, for example, but it’s useful for all writers looking to include a killer twist—no pun intended. Not sure how to use foreshadowing? Not to worry — today we’re covering techniques you can use to thread that needle.

2 Ways to Use Foreshadowing Like a Master

Foreshadowing is a delicate balancing act. You have to toe the line between throwing a random plot twist into your story and making the surprise too predictable for the reader. The trick is to leave a trail of bread crumbs. Here are two techniques you can try for how to use foreshadowing:

1. Drop hints

At first glance, it may seem like a near-impossible task to communicate to your reader that whatever you’re mentioning is going to be important later. How will they know what to look for? After all, there are so many elements to a story, some of which won’t matter at all for your twists.

Is there something significant about that green dress the heroine wears in chapter four? Does it matter that the neighbor walks his dog at three o’clock every day? Luckily, there are a couple of useful ways to clue your reader into the fact that something is important.

This is one of those ways.

See what I did there? By setting that sentence apart from the rest of these paragraphs, I made you pay attention. Now, all of a sudden, you had to insert a pause before and after those few words.

If something critical happens in your story that is going to come up again later, make sure it stands out in the crowd. Start a new paragraph, insert a break in your chapter, whatever you have to do.

A simple formatting technique can make things a little too easy, though. If your hints are hammered into the reader’s head instead of being gently dropped, the magic and mystery vanishes. Decide if there is a better way to get your point across.

2. Repetition is key

Repetition is another trick you can use to send your reader the mental message that they should be paying attention. Think of this as the technique teachers use in their classes. Though some might say, “Write this down; it’s important,” all most teachers have to do is repeat a certain point in various ways throughout the class and their students will make sure that information is in their notes.

Don’t tell your reader to “write this down,” but do rephrase and repeat the key points of your plot.

For example, in one of my sci-fi stories, two of my characters have different habits when it comes to how they put their coats away when they get home: Astrid always tosses her coat across the back of the couch and Dawn always hangs hers up. Every time Dawn and Astrid return to their apartment, I make sure to point out in some way that Dawn’s coat ends up on her hook and Astrid’s is tossed aside.

Later on in the story, Dawn is kidnapped and replaced by a doppelgänger. Though I don’t come right out and say it, it’s obvious that Astrid becomes suspicious of “Dawn.” Why? She doesn’t hang up her coat. It ends up thrown onto the couch along with Astrid’s.

This clue is essential to figuring out that “Dawn” is not who she claims to be, and if the reader is as perceptive as Astrid is, they’ll pick up on that.

Walking the Tightrope

Like with every aspect of writing, foreshadowing gets easier with a little bit (or, I should say, a lot) of practice.

Write with the mindset of a reader. Try to think how you would react to your own story. Is it too easy to figure out? Too out of the blue?

You’ll know what feels right in the end.

Do you have more suggestions for how to use foreshadowing? How do you approach your plot twists? Let us know in the comments!

By The Magic Violinist
Source: thewritepractice.com

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How to End a Story With a Brilliant Twist

Don’t you love a great twist ending?

Often appearing in the middle or at the end of a story, a twist can completely transform the reading experience into a wild ride where anything can happen.

But executing a twist isn’t easy, and if done improperly, can leave your reader feeling deeply disappointed.

And that’s just what many writers unsuspectingly do.

The Wrong Kind of Twist

A “twist” is the revelation of crucial information that radically changes the reader’s understanding of the story. And to work properly, the twist must be related to a major choice made by the protagonist.

Many writers fail to make this connection. Rather, they think that a twist ending simply needs to withhold any important background information until the end of the story. And then, upon revealing it, they will somehow have reached a surprising and satisfying ending.

But this isn’t the case.

I found this to be true as a judge of the 2017 Fall Writing Contest, hosted by The Write Practice. The theme, “Let’s Fall in Love,” yielded many stories where characters simply “remembered” things that happened long ago. Perhaps they were visiting a cemetery where a loved one was buried, or a residence from childhood. The memories came back, and bits of information were revealed throughout the 1,500 word allotment. Then the story was over.

Nothing happened. Little changed.

Sure, surprising information appeared here and there, but it didn’t arrive in the context of choice. 

The revelation of surprising information is not climactic action. Information doesn’t do anything; it just explains.

Yet when that information accompanies a surprising, climactic choice, it enhances the complexity of the choice.

A bad twist is information posing as a choice. But a great twist reveals a choice that the reader usually can’t see coming, and why it is so impactful.

That’s the kind of twist you want.

The Right Kind of Twist

The best twists focus on Choice, and reveal one or two things:

  1. A contradictory motivation behind a major choice
  2. A hidden, contradictory major choice

Take Toy Story 2. 

The heart-wrenching song “When Somebody Loved Me” is a slow, painful twist that reveals the seemingly contradictory choice that Jessie the Cowgirl is making: to go to a museum, rather than entrust herself to another owner. Why? Because despite the nature of a toy (to be loved by a child), Jessie has been deeply wounded by her previous owner, and is too scared to make herself vulnerable again.

Tell me that scene didn’t rip your heart out! 

Or think of The Shawshank Redemption. The protagonist, Andy, has been making a very important (and methodical) choice during his 19 years in prison. The twist reveals it, completely changing the characters’ (and the viewer’s) understanding of Andy’s choices throughout the whole story. His secret choice has been contradicting his visible choices the whole time.

Tell me that moment didn’t change your life!

Both of these twists accompany and complicate a major choice made by a character. They also reveal something contradictory about the character’s nature.

That’s the stuff of a powerful twist!

How to Write a Great Twist

Executing a powerful twist ending isn’t easy. It takes lots of planning, drafting, and revising. And it won’t always work the way you expect. Here’s how to do it:

1. Plan Choices

When you outline and draft, focus on the big, high-risk choices your characters can make. Experiment with a variety of choices, some that are outside your plan or even your comfort zone.

And as your characters solidify in the world of your story, focus on one to two choices that will truly surprise your reader. Hone in on choices that seem to contradict outward appearances or add deeply empathetic context to their difficult choices.

2. Don’t Keep “Secrets”

Unless you’re in the Mystery genre, try not to keep secrets. Sure, be intentional and sparse with your exposition, but don’t buy into the lie that secret background information qualifies as a satisfying twist.

In fact, you should write versions of scenes where you intentionally reveal crucial information (those would-be secrets)! You may find that the scene works better with the truth on the table. It will certainly force you to focus more on character choice, rather than character backstory!

And even in the Mystery/Thriller genres, the best secrets are tied to choices as well. Usually these big secrets are wrapped up in lies, which qualify as character choices — especially when you show them in action.

Keep the focus on choice, and you’ll find yourself in a great position to start executing a twist.

3. Wait Until the Perfect Moment

The best way to identify the perfect moment is to answer this question: “When are the stakes the highest?”

It’s at that moment that you should unleash your twist, as it complicates the high-risk choices made by your character.

I relished the opportunity to do this when I wrote a murder-mystery play. After the “false” ending, just when the characters and audience believe that the evil has passed, the killer reveals his true nature in a deeply personal and shocking way, murdering someone very close to him. It altered every choice the audience had seen him make for nearly two hours, and was even a complicated choice in and of itself, motivated by anger and a thirst for revenge.

But it took a ton of planning, drafting, and revising to finally get right!

Do the Twist

A great twist ending is worth the effort. It sits atop the storyteller’s Mt. Olympus, right alongside eliciting a full-bellied laugh from your reader, or a puffy-cheeked cry.

Few stories are able to deliver it in a deeply satisfying way. Will yours?

Remember: These take lots of practice. You’ll hardly ever get a perfect twist right on the first or second, or even third, try.

But it’s totally worth it. For many of us, great storytelling twists motivate us to tell our own stories. We long to recreate the catharsis of an unpredictable twist.

So do it right. Focus on choices, and the seemingly contradictory reasons why characters make them. Don’t simply hide backstory, but use it to complicate the difficult decisions every character has to make.

So write on, fearless storyteller! And have fun planning and writing great twists that will thrill your readers every time!

What are your favorite twist endings? How do you surprise your readers with a brilliant twist? Let us know in the comments.

By David Safford
Source: thewritepractice.com

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

Archetypal Characters in Storytelling

The hero, the mentor, the sidekick. We’re all familiar with archetypal characters in storytelling. We’ve seen them before. We know the roles they play.

Archetypal characters shouldn’t be confused with stock characters or stereotypical characters. Although we’ve seen all these characters before and will surely see them again, stock and stereotypical characters are based on character traits; archetypes are based on the characters’ function or purpose within a story.

Characters’ Function in Story

Archetypal characters fulfill a specific function a story. The herald signals change or the beginning of an adventure. The mentor imparts gifts, skills, or knowledge to the hero. The threshold guardian tests the hero or blocks the path forward.

Stock characters feel familiar because they embody a personality type — behaviors and attitudes that we’ve seen in similar characters before. The tough guy, the girl next door, and the wise old man or woman are all examples of stock characters. They may serve a purpose in the story (somebody has to serve the main characters at a restaurant), but what stands out is their personality, which sometimes feels cliché.

Stereotypical characters reflect social stereotypes, which are widely held and often inaccurate or misleading beliefs about groups. Stereotypes occur when traits, behaviors, and attitudes are assigned to an entire group. They often based on race, religion, gender, or geographical origin, and they are usually negative. Stereotypes make irrational assumptions about individuals based on the group to which they belong.

How can we tell the difference between an archetype, stock character, or stereotype? Let’s use the Knight in Shining Armor and a Damsel in Distress as examples. The damsel functions as a plot device, providing the hero with a goal (to save her), and the knight functions as a hero whose primary goal is to rescue the damsel. But the function these characters perform within a story (to save or be saved) need not be assigned to a damsel or a knight. A child could save a puppy. A witch could save a wizard. Or a lifeguard could save a swimmer.

If we remove the personality traits, we’re left with the function: give the hero someone or something to save, i.e., an archetypal function.

Archetypal Characters from The Hero’s Journey

Joseph Campbell discovered archetypal characters that exist in stories throughout time and across space. He presented his findings in the Monomyth (or Hero’s Journey), and Christopher Vogler later adapted Campbell’s findings in his book, The Writer’s Journey. Let’s take a look at the eight archetypes of the Hero’s Journey:

  • Hero: Protagonist who undergoes a meaningful transformation over the course of a story and who often changes the conditions of the story world for the better.
  • Herald: Signals that an adventure (or change) is imminent.
  • Mentor: Teacher and guide.
  • Threshold Guardian: Blocks a threshold that the Hero must pass; tests the Hero.
  • Shadow: The villain and other characters that stand in the Hero’s way; often they embody the Hero’s negative or undesirable traits.
  • Shapeshifter: A character or entity whose motives or intentions are unclear.
  • Trickster: Comic relief; Tricksters are often catalysts for change.
  • Allies: The Hero’s friends and helpers.

You’ll often see these archetypes in various combinations in storytelling. Some stories may not use a shapeshifter while others might have more than one trickster. A single character can embody multiple archetypes. For example, the character that performs the function of the Herald might also be a Trickster. The Mentor could act as the Threshold Guardian.

Other Archetypal Characters

The Hero’s Journey isn’t the only source of archetypal characters. There are other types of stories and other archetypes in fiction. Here’s a small sampling:

  • Anti-hero: This is an inverted hero, the protagonist is not likable or engages in despicable or immoral behaviors.
  • Audience surrogate: A stand-in for the audience, to inject questions and thoughts on behalf of the audience.
  • The Chosen One: A type of hero who is destined for greatness or tragedy rather than earning it.
  • The Cynic: This untrusting character often provides skepticism or challenges the status quo.

This is just a small sampling of archetypes you might find in fiction. You can have a lot of fun identifying archetypes, but make sure each one performs a function rather than represents a behavior or personality type. A common archetype I’ve noticed is The Oppressor, a character who uses their power to rob other characters of their rights, freedoms, and justice. The Misfit is a character that doesn’t fit in with mainstream society and either learns to fit in or eventually learns to be true to who they are.

Using Character Archetypes

Character archetypes can come in handy during the story development process. You might write a draft or outline and feel that it’s missing something. Maybe your story needs one of the character archetypes to mark the stages and progress of your protagonist’s journey.

Have you ever intentionally used archetypes in your stories? Are there any character archetypes you’ve noticed in fiction that aren’t mentioned here? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment, and keep writing.

By Melissa Donovan
Source: writingforward.com

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Your Story Matters (Or… What a Reader Wants You to Know)

Hi, dear Villagers! *waves*

Let me take a brief moment to introduce myself. I’m Carrie, aka MeezCarrie, of ReadingIsMySuperPower. And I LOVE STORY!! I love short stories. I love epic stories. I love in between sized stories. I love contemporary stories. Historical stories. Mystery stories. Amish stories. Even some speculative and YA stories.

But most of all? I love THE Story. The one that starts with the ultimate ‘once upon a time’ – “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1) – and ends with the best ‘happily ever after’ ever (Revelation 21:4)

Because we are all part of that Story.

Yes, we all have a story in progress that is our own life. But everyone we meet does, too. And all those stories-in-progress are part of the Big Story that God is telling. Let me tell you – that is SO exciting to me!

I’m one of the new Seekerville bloggers, but I’m not seeking publication. I’m content to read other people’s stories and talk (incessantly) about them. But that up there? What I just said about being part of God’s Story?

That means I’m sorta like all the rest of y’all.

In a small way.

Ok.. not at all the same.

BUT… I am part of the greatest Story in the world. And so are you. That’s pretty stinkin’ incredible. The Author and Finisher of my Faith is telling a Story about me and about you. And He has promised to keep writing it until it’s completed – not when I die or when you die, but until the day Jesus returns. (Philippians 1:6)

Back in November, I had the pinch-me privilege of speaking with Cynthia Ruchti at the Art of Writing Conference just ahead of the 2017 Christy Awards gala. We talked about the darts of author discouragement and how to dodge them. After our session, a woman came up to me in tears. She whispered, “I didn’t know anybody else knew how I feel.” And then we both were in tears lol!

Author friends – can I encourage you a moment? You’re not alone. Writing may be a solitary career but the discouragements are consistent. Fear of rejection. The reality of rejection. Fear of the  possibility of a bad review. The depths of despair over an actual bad review. Your family doesn’t take you seriously. Your friends don’t take you seriously. It doesn’t pay the bills. It barely pays for coffee.

Oh… wait… I was supposed to be encouraging you. LOL.

I really was headed here, I promise.

You’re not alone. And you’re not left defenseless.

God has given you each other, and He has given you His Word. Community and grace wrapped up in a safe place like Seekerville.

You want to know another secret? YOUR STORY MATTERS.

Yep. I went there: all caps.

Because it’s so incredibly true and so incredibly important to understand.

The story you’re writing matters.

That story you’ve agonized over. The one that’s kept you up all hours of the night. The one that may or may not currently be taunting you with a blinking cursor of ‘I got nothing’. It matters. Even if no one else ever reads it. Even if no agent or publishing house wants it. Even if your beta readers and editors send it back with more tracked changes than you had words to start with.

Your story matters. Believe it. And believe in it.

But you know what? The story that God is writing in you and through you matters most of all. He is making you more like Jesus every day. He knew you before He formed you in your mother’s womb, and He had already had plans for your life. (Psalm 139, Jeremiah 1) He created you as a writer before you even had fully developed hands to hold a pen or tap away on a keyboard. Even better – He knew your role in His Story before you ever made your grand arrival on planet Earth. And that story matters on a scale we can’t even begin to imagine.

Maybe you’re like me and the only thing you write is a blog post… or a grocery list. Your story matters too. God placed you in His Story at just the right time and in just the right place so that you would come to know Him (Acts 17). He pursued you with an everlasting love and has engraved you on the palm of His hand. (Jeremiah 31, Isaiah 49). Think about that for a second – you matter so much to the God of the Universe that those nail-scarred Hands have your name on them.

Your story matters. Believe it. And believe in it.

I know good stories. I’m surrounded by them, à la the Dr. Seuss method of decorating. All the crannies, all the nooks, etc. This Big Story that God is telling is a good story. It’s the best story. It’s the standard by which all other stories are measured (whether they realize it or not). It’s also a true story. This fairy-tale to beat all fairy-tales – a prince on a white horse come to vanquish the enemy and rescue his bride – that’s OUR story (Revelation 19).

So when you’re tempted to throw in the towel and give up on your story – the one you’re writing or the one you’re living – remember this:

Your story matters. Believe it. And believe in it.

By Carrie Schmidt
Source: seekerville.blogspot.com

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