In the first part of this series I discussed the need for a strong purpose behind a character’s goals. In this post I will be talking about competition and rivalry.
There are stories where characters are isolated or are in competition with themselves. These kinds of stories are hard to write and can easily come across as self-important and self-indulgent. Everything’s about him, nobody else counts, he has to do it all by himself.
That’s usually not the intention, but it’s hard not to come over like that if every sentence starts with the same subject.
However, once you bring in a rival to your main character, things not only become more dynamic, they also help the reader see the main character more clearly.
Brush up on your chemistry.
(More brain droppings from C on Palahniuk’s essay on thought verbs for Lit Reactor.)
I think that Palahniuk is discussing a writing exercise as well as a style choice in his essay, neither of which are gospel, but both of which are worth exploring. It might be slightly extreme to keep your character in the company of others at all times, but there is some rationale in that.
Characters on their own are in a sort of stasis. Often times, writers forget to include much action in a scene where a character is alone. Instead, the character will sit quietly in a bedroom or something and just think in exposition. This can be Boring with a capital “B”. Palahniuk argues that there must be a more action-oriented way to impart this same information to the reader.
Let’s see. Here’s an example of how to correct “Alone and Thinking” syndrome.
Ata stomped down the hallway to her bedroom and slammed the door behind her. She plopped down on her bed and grabbed a pillow to cuddle to her chest, thinking how her parents were complete dictators who had totally forgotten what it was like to be a teenager. This was important! This was so unfair! Ata wondered how she going to break it to Becky the next day at school.
becomes something like
Ata stomped down the hallway to her bedroom and slammed the door behind her. She plopped down on her bed, grabbed a pillow to cuddle to her chest, and called Becky.
The phone rang twice before Becky picked up. “Hello?”
"Becky, my parents are complete dictators!"
"Oh no!" Becky gasped, and Ata threw her pillow into her pile of dirty laundry.
"It’s like they’ve totally forgotten what it was like to be our age!”
"You said it was a done deal!"
Ata heard the accusatory note in Becky’s voice. She stood up and began to pace. “This is so unfair! They know how much this means to me!”
"Well, calm down," Becky said. "We need a plan B."
There is an argument to be made here in favor of the second (terrible) example. It moves along the plot. It gets characters interacting and strengthening their relationship in the reader’s eyes. It feels like more is happening, though the same information is being conveyed.
Furthermore, Palahniuk does not say that you can’t leave your characters alone (you can, by the way, as often as you like), just that he didn’t think it was the best idea if you were trying to purge thought verbs from your writing. And he even gave examples that seemed to concede that characters sometimes must be alone.
His point is to remove the thought verbs and let the characters’ actions convey their thoughts and emotions to the reader: ”Instead of characters knowing anything,” Palahniuk writes, “you must now present the details that allow the reader to know them. Instead of a character wanting something, you must now describe the thing so that the reader wants it.” (x)
As for your opinion that modern books are unrealistic for removing thought verbs, I would remind you that this is fiction writing, not a documentary. Fiction writers tell stories, sometimes stories that feel very true, but stories are not mere statements of fact lined up in chronological order. Stories are crafted; reality is not. Reality just happens. Stories require technique in their conveyance.
While in reality we might simply state “I feel” or “she thinks” or “he wonders”, in stories we must examine these states of being and relate them to our audience in not only an interesting way but in a way which is useful to our story and its telling.
We are the sole purveyors of our words. It is our responsibility to craft them well, to consciously strive to find our own balance between too much and not enough. That is style. That is storytelling.
Thank you for your question!
When you tell someone a story in person, you probably know the person you’re talking to. You will at least have a rough idea of how familiar they are with the people and places you’re referring to. And if you misjudge, they can always ask you questions.
In fiction, it’s much harder to know exactly how much information a reader needs or wants. And even if you did, it would be impossible to provide since you’ll have more than one reader, and each will have different requirements.
You can’t get the balance right, because there is no way to please everyone.
However, that doesn’t mean you can’t get it wrong. You may not be able to please all the people all the time, but you can certainly piss them all off.
Follow the link to get all the goodies.
littleawkwardwriter asked you:Do you have any tips for writing development? I have trouble putting in “filler” I just want to jump straight to the action! And then I don’t provide a clear enough background on the characters and it just gets messy.
Here’s why I don’t like the word “filler”: it’s filler.
Okay, here, let me explain. The term “filler” has this connotation of “unnecessary fluff”, or any scene that’s added in just for the sake of padding your important events. If you’re looking to add more filler, then you’re probably putting too much emphasis on the story arc over the character arcs.
Largely, most of the time, usually, a scene should do one of two things: develop the plot arc or develop a character arc.
- Plot Arc: the inciting incident, rising action, climax, and denouement of the story.
- Character Arc: the inciting incident, rising action, climax, and denouement of the character. More than one of these can exist in a story.
Character arcs happen within the story, which means your characters are developing at an arc separate from the plot. When an event takes place, it will ripple through the plot, but it will also ripple separately through your character(s).
This means that, while your story develops, your characters do, too.
In a sense, action is simply when stuff happens, which means development is action, and action should (largely, most of the time, usually) be happening without pause throughout your entire story. This is also why “aftermath” scenes should often be cut, because nothing furthers development in aftermath scenes (largely, most of the time, usually). Stephen King recommends you trim all the unnecessary fat of your story, which constitutes all unnecessary fluff, or anything that has zero development.
If you’re struggling with putting more of your characters in the story and making it interesting, think about these things:
- How is your story reflecting in your characters? Characters are reflections of real people, and when events happen, we tend to take them in and orient ourselves around what happened. That event becomes a part of us, influences the decisions we make, and changes us. How are the events of your story showing in your characters?
- Conversely, how are your characters reflecting the story? How are your characters’ decisions impacting what happens? How are they driving the plot? Think about how active their role is in regards to what’s happening, or how passive.
- What is your character like in the beginning, and how do they change by the end? How do they evolve and what triggers it throughout the story? How are you showing this?
- What characters stick with you and why? What are the most memorable characters in all of fiction for you? What makes them memorable?
Your plot is important, but action isn’t only when people are crossing swords or showing up for the court hearing or standing up in front of ten-thousand pairs of eyes. It’s what happens in-between, the stuff that brings us to these moments, the build or escalation, that only the characters can show us.
For more stuff on how to fatten your story, look at bulking up that word count and when a plot isn’t strong enough to make a whole story.
Hope that helps! Good luck!
As in a game, it is crucial we know what is to be gained or lost in the battle or during the journey. Literally, what is at stake? Life? Love? Money? A precious plot of land? The loyalty of an old friend? A wish? A curse? The whole world? Galaxy? Universe? All of time itself trapped in a magic snowglobe held in in the paws of a jaunty hedgehog? Further, what are the conditions of victory? What will mean loss? These don’t need to be perfectly clear (nor must they be correct), but both reader and character should be able to guess at them, even if the guess is wrong.
Urban Legends are a form of modern folklore that consists of stories that may or may not have been believed to be true by the storytellers. While the accuracy of these stories are not touched upon, it usually circulates and exhibits variation over time. They tend to carry significance within a community which leads the legend to be preserved.
Urban legends are sometimes repeated in a later time and in more recent stories. They are also distributed by e-mail or in other terms, chain letters. Most times the origin of an urban legend cannot be traced to a source and the tellers of these stories claim it has happened to a friend, or a friend of a friend.
Examples of Urban Legends:
Urban legends can also be known as urban myths, urban tales, or contemporary legends. Most sociologists and folklorists prefer the term contemporary legend due to the misconception that they originate in urban areas.
Fables are succinct fictional stories that are written in prose or verse. They feature animals, mythical creatures, plants, inanimate objects, or forces of nature that are given human qualities such as verbal communication. They illustrate or lead up to a moral lesson that is sometimes expressed more outwardly than just reading between the lines.
Examples of Fables:
- The Tortoise and the Hare
- The Lion and the Mouse
- The Boy Who Cried Wolf
- The Princess and the Tin Box
- The Emperor’s New Clothes
- Animal Farm
A person who writes fables is called a fabulist.
A fable isn’t to be confused with a parable which writes out a lesson in life that is mostly written using humans instead of giving other subjects more human qualities.
by Kelsey Ruger at TheMoleskin
WRITEWORLD NOTE: This article was originally written for using narrative to tell business stories. We think it’s pretty broadly useful, though, so when you see the word business in the titles, just know that the methods and advice found in the article are helpful for everyone. Without further ado…
When you hear the names George Lucas or Stephen Spielberg, what comes to mind? Most people would answer ‘movie director’, but with movies like Star Wars, Raiders of The Lost Ark, The Color Purple and E.T under their belts these directors are also master storytellers. How did they become so good at telling stories? While both Spielberg and Lucas are fans of Joseph Campbell and comparative mythology you don’t have to become an expert in mythology before telling your story.
The biggest lesson we can take from these two directors is that stories shouldn’t be just a string of events mashed together. The result of properly using basic elements like plot, character, throughlines, setting and mythic structure is a story that the audience can connect with on a deep subconscious level.
Good stories don’t just happen. An audience really connects with your story when the plot, characters and other elements fade together to create a unified narrative. This idea of “unification” was first discuss in Aristotle’s Poetics. In it, Aristotle says that a good story is unified and focuses on an extended action with a beginning, middle and end.
Over the centuries Aristotle’s basic definition of story has evolved and now, some stories are character driven (the character moves the story forward because of their choices) while others are plot driven (the action moves the story forward and the characters react), however all good stories still have a hero (“your main character”) and some type of mission(“journey” or “challenge”) that the hero must complete. Why? Because it still works and audiences are still drawn to story structures they can connect with.
How many times have you watched a movie only to say to yourself, “What was the point of that?” That shouldn’t happen. Great stories don’t stall, sputter or leave the audience wondering what happened. The sequence of events should make sense and assist with the development and movement of the story. You keep stories moving with what Victoria Lynn Schmidt calls a dramatic through line. A through line helps answers “what’s the point?”. There are 5 basic throughlines that you can use.
Notice that I said that the through line helps answer the question. Your story still needs structure to make the journey toward answering that question seamless.
The structure you choose helps ties the pieces of your story together seamlessly. Whether you realize it or not, stories that succeed do so because they evolve according the audiences expectation of unity (beginning, middle and end). There are lots of story structures that you could use, but I recommend the ones that are commonly understood archetypes across all cultures and can be applied easily in a business setting (e.g. they present universally understood ideas).
You always want your audience to be emotionally engaged in any story you present. The best way to make sure that happens is by creating well rounded characters. The audience needs to be able to identify with the characters because it is through them that the audience relates to the story. Look at the following example:
When I graduated from college I thought I was on top of the world. I had been in the top 10% of my high school class, done well in college, and was one of only a few college students that had been hired by the consulting firm I was working for. I hadn’t experienced a lot of work failure at that point in my life, so I felt pretty good about how I was progressing.
In this segment from the story I used in the introduction, I was the character. My goal was to give enough detail about who I was at the time to allow the audience to identify with the ‘character’ in the story. Don’t spare the detail here. Use as much detail as needed to draw your audience in.
A story must have a location or setting to orient the audience. It sets the place, time and circumstances of the story, and helps the audience gain the context needed to understand where you are coming from. As with creating your characters, don’t spare the detail when defining the location.
Again, using stories takes practice. At the end of the day if you want them to work you have to think about what people really care about. Instead of asking “what do I want to present?” ask yourself “what can I do to help them relate to the message I have?” In every case focusing on our need for connection will be more successful.