Thursday 27 June 2013

Better Storytelling Part One


We all have an innate sense of what makes a good story. Even as children we can discern between what’s interesting, what’s interesting to just us, and what isn’t interesting at all. If a kid comes home and you ask him what happened at school today, nine times out of ten the answer will be, “Nothing.”

But sometimes the answer will be, “Charlie brought his pet tarantula to class and it got out of its cage and Mr Sellers screamed and jumped on the table and then he lost his balance and fell out of the window and broke his arm so now we have to have Miss Reedy for the rest of term.”

My point being not only that kids don’t seem to speak with any punctuation, but also that a kid knows when he’s got something to tell you.  We all do. We all have the urge to find someone with whom to share a story when something remarkable happens.

Monday 24 June 2013

The Complexity Of Complex Characters



A glass slips out of Mr A’s hand and smashes on the floor. He sighs and sweeps up the pieces and then gets another glass out of the cabinet.

A glass slips out of Mr B’s hand and smashes on the floor. He lets out a howl of rage and stamps the pieces into dust under his feet.

The different reactions of these two men are both perfectly plausible. But in this case both men are the same person. The only difference is that these two events occur on different days when Mr A-B is in dealing with life in different ways.

Again, perfectly plausible. We all have our moods. We all have good and bad days.

However, in fiction, having characters react in a variety of ways to more or less the same stimulus will make them appear to be acting out of character. But when is it distracting and unnecessarily convoluted, and when is it a reasonable depiction of the richness of human interactions?

Thursday 20 June 2013

Important In Story: What Happens Or Who It Happens To?

For most readers, once they finish a book that they have enjoyed, it is the characters that make the strongest impression on them. They may well read more stories about these characters based on their affection for them.

But this is how they feel at the end of the book.

When you’re reading a book for the first time, you don’t know whether you will feel that way.

Monday 17 June 2013

The Power Of Yes To Ruin A Story


A character in a story will want something. In order to get it they will at some time or other need the assistance of other characters. Information, permission, objects or help of some kind will be required and the character will have to ask for it.

If the person holding the power just says yes to the character, giving them what they need, it won’t make for a very interesting story. Getting what you want quickly and easily, while certainly preferable in real life, leads to a simplistic and dull tale in fiction.

But that doesn’t mean a flat ‘no’ and slamming the door in the character’s face will make things any more interesting.

Thursday 13 June 2013

Characters Are Developing All The Time


A reader follows a plot by the changes that occur in a character’s life. If their aim is to find the lost treasure of the Incas, then how the situation develops—if they seem to be getting closer or further from the goal—will be the primary way to tell how things are progressing.

Changes in the physical world indicate that people are acting in order to realise their goals. If the scenario remains static, then you have no plot.

But as things change in the physical world, they have an effect on the character instigating them. If things are going well, if things are going badly, if outside forces are getting involved—all these variables not only change the external situation, they also change the character internally.

Monday 10 June 2013

The Pace Race

There are two elements to pace that you need to be aware of. There’s the sensation of pace and there’s contextual pace.

If I put you in a vehicle travelling at 1000 mph, then you will feel you are moving quickly based on how it feels to you personally.

If I tell you the journey you’re on is to another planet 10 million light years away, then 1000 mph doesn’t feel so quick after all.

This is true in story terms too. It’s possible to create the sensation of moving quickly, but to get a true sense of pace you need to know where it is you’re going.

Thursday 6 June 2013

Starting With Subplot

There are stories where you start in the middle of things and keep going. In the case of thrillers and books that are part of a series the reader doesn’t really need an explanation of what’s going on, they’ll work it out on the fly.

In most cases, though, readers prefer to get an idea of characters and setting before things really take off. The inciting incident that propels the main character into adventure may not occur for several chapters.

When you’re trying to establish the world so the reader has an idea of who they’re going to be following for the next few hundred pages the approach is often to show ordinary life, important relationships, interests and activities. And this can be quite dull.

Monday 3 June 2013

Complications Of Storytelling


All stories get more complicated the further you get into them.

This isn’t a bad thing, it’s just inevitable. The reader starts off knowing nothing, and over the course of the story they get fed more and more information.

If it’s a properly written story anything the reader is told will be relevant to further developments. That means they have to remember everything that’s happened so far and how it relates to everything else that’s also happened and everything that’s going to happen.

This network of events, consequences and reactions will get ever more intricate. To the point where it can become so overwhelming that when a character says, “Hey, Mary’s back!” all the reader thinks is, Who the hell is Mary?  
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