Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Narrative Part 3 - The Hero's Journey

Now that you've chosen your cast of characters, it's time to choose a starting point for your story.  Stories are snapshots of time and experience, and rarely start "at the beginning."

Be careful about creating too much "back story," but it's all right to set the stage.  Who, what, where, and when are great questions to address in your setting.

Now, the hero is usually some regular guy - or gal, of course! - who really isn't looking do to anything particularly heroic.

But he wants something, or something is required of him, and he soon finds himself 'called to action.'  If you are thinking of Frodo Baggins, Luke Skywalker, or Harry Potter, then you're on the right track!

The hero makes it on his own for a while, and it seems as though his objective might not be that hard to achieve after all.

But soon, the antagonist enters the picture, and suddenly the hero requires backup.  Enter a few allies.  (Samwise Gamgee, Han Solo, Ron and Hermione, for example.)

But unfortunately, the antagonist (Lord Whatshisname - the one with the giant eye; Darth Vader; Voldemort)  has allies, too.  (ring wraiths; stormtroopers; Helena Bonham Carter's hairdresser)

The hero and his companions overcome as many obstacles as possible, but it's getting increasingly difficult to do so.  We need more allies!  Let's get Strider, Princess Leia, and Dumbledore in on the action!

But wait!  The antagonist adds allies, too!  The evil white wizard, that ugly corrupt Emperor, and that rat-guy show up to cause trouble. 

Struggle, struggle, battle, battle, overcome, overcome.

FINALLY, the hero emerges victorious, having conquered his foes.  His allies are rewarded, his enemies vanquished, and the hero himself is usually crowned king (or elevated above the status of a king).

That is essentially the hero's journey.  It also follows what is known as "narrative arc," so we won't spend a lot of time on that arc in this little series.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Narrative Part 2 - Protagonists Et Al

So now that you've decided what story you're going to tell, you need to narrow down your cast of characters. 

It's often easy to become sidetracked by the players who come and go in your story but who don't really do enough to move the action along to justify giving them much play. 

The questions you might ask yourself are: 
  • From whose point of view am I telling this story? 
  • Should the POV character (the one telling the story) be the same as the protagonist or 'star' of the story?
  • Who is the protagonist?
  • Is there an antagonist?  (Hint: Neither protagonist nor antagonist have to be people, but for beginning writers it's best if they are.)
  • What does the protagonist want?
  • What does the antagonist do that prevents the protagonist from getting what he/she wants?
  • How does the protagonist overcome the obstacles placed in his/her way by the antagonist?
Can you see how it would be easy to add character after character, one for each time the protagonist tries to get closer to his/her goal?  They are important, these incidental characters, but they don't need more 'face' time than is necessary to carry the narrative.

Choose your hero, his enemy, and a few allies for both sides.  Your POV character might be one of these allies.  Or it could be a third-person narrative, where the POV comes from the narrator.  That's tricky writing, by the way, so again, for beginning writers try to choose a POV character who is likely to be on hand for most of the events in the story.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Narrative - Decide What Story You're Telling

Whenever I speak at writing or blogging events, my subject is almost always "Narrative Arc and the Writer's Voice."  I love helping writers tell the story they want to tell, and giving permission to just go for it to anyone hoping to write.

Over the next few days, I'm going to lay out a very basic tutorial in storytelling.  Make no mistake, however: there are dozens of ways to tell a story.  This is just one framework to use.

Decide What Story You're Telling

This may seem obvious, but often a story is really multiple stories, with multiple protagonists and antagonists, and multiple endings.  One evening, after a six-hour drive, my son became car-sick just as we pulled into the driveway of our destination.  We had arrived, but he couldn't contain his nausea one second longer!  As if that weren't enough, he vomited on the one person in the car who was not a member of the family.  That's right; he threw up on my son's friend, Tim.

Seems like a pretty simple (if not disgusting) story, right?  But everyone in that car experienced it differently.  There were seven of us, plus the parents of the victim, who came out to greet their son only to find him, er, somewhat befouled. This means there were at least nine different ways to tell that story.  And nine different endings. 

The victim, while taking the initial brunt of the assault, was able to walk away from the car, clean up, and essentially be finished with the experience.  His mother, however, had to decide what to do with those clothes (he was a teenage boy; he would have opted for 'barbecue.')

The rest of us were left in the car for a week of traveling.  I won't go into detail, but suffice to say, we all had a story to tell.

So in preparing to write your story, make sure you know what story you're telling.  Choose your main characters.  Outline a few essential details, including the who, what, where, when, how, and why of your story.  Get your chronology straight.  And decide where you think the story will end.  (Hint: One of the joys of writing is having a story take you some place you didn't expect, so don't be surprised if it ends differently than you anticipated.)

Tomorrow, we'll talk about heroes and journeys.  Journeys that, hopefully, end more cleanly than Tim's.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Write Words Weekend - Conference Style

I'm at a writers' conference this weekend! Learning so much about the craft and meeting so many wonderful people.

This means, however, that I'm going to postpone WWW until next week.  Beginning on Tuesday, I'll be posting a week-long series on narrative arc.  You don't want to miss this!  Seriously, it's going to be like the chocolate raspberry mousse cheesecake of tutorials on narrative arc.

Find a mom this weekend and give her a hug!  See you Tuesday!

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Write Words Weekend

I've got change on the brain this week.  What is it about spring?  I learned a long time ago that I should never make a life decision in March, because I'm so tired of winter I just feel like tossing off old routines like all those layers of wool.

Does it mean anything that I got married twenty-six years ago -- in March?

Fortunately, we made that decision in August, so I think we're in the clear.

So this week, let's write about change. 

Spring Break
Old Friend

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Write Words Weekend

Kurt Vonnegut said - and I'm paraphrasing - that people love stories because they're filled with drama, passion, and extremes of emotion and experience.  And for the most part, life is not.  This, he said, is one reason that people create 'drama' where none exists.  They want their lives to be like stories.

I don't know if I completely agree with him, but there is no question that as writers we're often looking for the 'hook' that turns a simple narrative into a captivating story.

So this week, our Write Words are all about Story for Story's Sake.  If these words don't connect with something out of your real life experiences, then take a stab at some creative writing. 

After more than ten years as a writer of narrative non-fiction, I began writing a fiction novel.  It has taken me more than a year to get through the first draft, but I haven't had this much fun writing in a long time.

Explore a new kind of writing this week.  Really stir up the waters of that memory well, or tap into a different well altogether.  If you normally write personal essays, try Fantasy.  If you're most comfortable with introspective observations, go for something funny.  Accustomed to journalistic reporting?  Try your hand at poetry. 

Just get creative!  Tell us a story! 


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Write Friends

A moment with my dear friend, Annie Valentine:
Professional writer, excellent speaker, and closet wedding planner.

Writing can be a wonderful means of self-expression, an outlet for creativity, and a terrific way to earn a living.  

But it can also be isolating, which isn't always good for the writer or for their material.  Writers should take opportunities to get to know and associate with other writers.  Following blogs, attending conferences, joining writing groups in real-life and online - these are all ways to connect with others who share your interests and passions, and who know the joys and frustrations of the writer's life.

Some of my closest friends are people I've met through writing networks.  Pictured above is Annie Valentine, one of many talented writers I've met over the years.  Annie is a great ally and support, both in my efforts as a writer and in my non-writing life.  She even took over and put together my son's wedding reception!  (Believe me, that was a very, very good thing.  Until then, I was in charge.  I won't share the details, but if the words 'plastic table cloths' strike fear in your heart, you can see how Annie's intervention was timely.)

In a recent post about the importance of editing, I introduced you to Emily and Jenny. These are also people I've met through writing, and who have made a difference in the quality of my work as well as the quality of my life.

Jenny and Emily, panelists at a recent conference.

The list goes on and on. 

The importance of having relationships outside your writing life is also incredibly important, but that's a post for another time.  Today might be a good time to examine how your career, your skills, your productivity, and above all the quality of your life could be improved by having a few friends in the writing business.

If nothing else, you have me!  Whatever your questions, whatever encouragement or suggestions you're looking for to help you keep plugging away at your craft, you can bring to this web site, or to my e-mail.

And if you're in the market for a good wedding planner, have I got a writer for you!