Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Narrative Mode ~ #3 Coming of Age

The Coming of Age format is often used for YA novels because the main character is often a young character, usually on the verge of coming to terms with the difficult realities of life.  It is also not unusual for the main character to be an adult, one with a rather innocent view of life.  A writer can certainly make numerous tweaks to this narrative mode, but below is a fairly standard plot.
  • The young character finds his/her current life is understandable and carries demands that can be managed.  There may be struggles, but these are challenges to be expected and he/she is prepared for them.
  • A sudden event changes everything.  This can come in the form of a death of a parent, the loss of economic stability, grave illness or injury, any major tragedy of which the child (or innocent adult) cannot negotiate easily.
  • This young person has personal strength and a strong sense of self and the rules of his society.  But these beliefs come into questions as he/she works through the rising difficulties.  People he counted on may fall short.  Rules long reliable may lose power.  Places always safe are not.  He/she must revise the solid set of values that have been a part of life for as long as he/she can remember.  Consider Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Huckleberry has believed and followed the law of slavery.  He views slaves as a subgroup that are appropriately under the control of their slave owners.  As a result when he comes to know an adult slave he has always viewed as lacking intelligence and sensibilities, he must questions these recognized laws.  In fact, as he spends more time with Jim, he finds him a caring man, a substitute father, and unexpected life guide, limited only by opportunity and education. 
  • Negotiation of the often negative demands of the new order become a necessary action of the main character.  In some way, the character must come to terms and establish a new sense of ethics or hold the original ethics as inviolate.  Huck had to make a decision: live by the rules he has always accepted or proceed to break those rules knowing what the consequences will be.  He chooses to view Jim as a human deserving of the same rights he has, and he works to give Jim a chance to acquire those rights through getting him into non-slave territory.  He knows he is working against society and the laws of his group, and he accepts he will be punished for this.  He was guilty of treating Jim as less than human, but he has learned the true value of friendship and promises.  He has come of age.
Well, I am still thinking about what will be next week's narrative mode.  I'll let you know then.
The Little Handbook of Narrative Frameworks available on Smashwords and Amazon.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Tuesday prompt: #9 2013

Regional stories are wrapped around the cultural, traditional, and environmental qualities of the area.  Often dialect is a feature, but not a requirement.  So work on a few paragraphs of a story that can only happen where you are.  Make it utterly dependent on the locale, can't happen anywhere else but there.

Read Faulkner's "Barn Burning" or Wolfe's "Only the Dead Know Brooklyn" for example.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Narrative Modes ~ #2 Faustian Legend

Fame & Fortune, but at what cost?
Using a tried and true narrative mode to set up a story, as mentioned in last week's post, is quite useful.  The Faust Legend is another popular format.    If you are familiar with the old movie Oh God, then you have seen it used in the more modern gentler form: the Faustus character escapes his fate.  More recently, the movie Meet Joe Black used the Faustian legend, and though the main character did indeed die, is was still far gentler then in the original Christopher Marlowe version The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus: the main character gives up his soul to satisfy his thirst for knowledge and as a result of his hubris is damned to Hell for all eternity.

  • First you need the Faustus character who is well-learned, highly respected and incredibly thirsty for knowledge, fame, social position, take your pick.
  • The main character reaches a point when there is no more to gain and he remains unsatisfied.  At this point, he is vulnerable to corruption.  (The alternative is the character has been pursuing his dream for so long but has failed to achieve it and is therefore ripe for making the tragic choice.)
  • He or she is approached by people posing as trustworthy or at least viable sources of advancement.  What they offer is 24 years of fame/money/position/power, etc., in exchange for the soul or some other valuable item (though not necessarily to the main character at the time or at least not in comparison to what is being offered).
  • He spends 24 great years getting everything he wants (the 24 years is not mandatory, but it is the standard time span).  For Faustus this is largely knowledge, but there is fame and power thrown in now and then to hold his attention.
  • During the agreed upon time, the main character does suffer from periods of remorse, guilt, fear, conscience, etc., and waffles back and forth about pulling out of the deal by the one means that was provided.  Faustus could have repented and asked for God's forgiveness, but though he considers it numerous times, he never does.  So, there are necessary periods of reconsideration that open up all sorts of opportunity to trifle with the character's resolve and integrity or lack of.
  • In the Faustus tragedy, he does not believe that he will actually have to give up his life.  In essence, he thinks the devil or death or ? is a fool, Hell doesn't really exist, no one can actually take someone's soul or remove fame and fortune at a tip of the hat, etc.  He is so full of himself, he thinks even God, the devil, death, or any magic provider can be controlled.  And he goes into denial or willingly accepts blinders to avoid seeing the danger.
  • He is dead wrong (literally in Faustus), but in Oh God, there is wiggle room, and in Meet Joe Black, well, he goes willingly and almost appears to have gained from having to follow through with the promise, and Death isn't as bad a character as originally thought.  Having the devil switched for the personified Death is what makes the Joe Black story not so frightening, since everybody must yield to that ultimate end sometime.
  • In the end, Faustus is dragged into Hell body and soul for eternity.  In Oh God, he is saved in the nick of time (no pun intended) and I already gave away the ending in Meet Joe Black.

The Little Handbook of Narrative Frameworks available on Smashwords and Amazon.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Tuesday prompt: #8 2013

Pick out a room in your house or apartment that you would love to remodel.  Imagine the changes you would make.  What different furniture would you prefer, paint scheme, layout, window type?  Think about every detail: baseboard, electrical switches, trim around the doors, what is in the vase of flowers, scent. 

capture the details
When you have the vision clear in your mind, start writing it down.  Be as clear as you can with what the room looks like now and then blast away at it, always maintaining a steady sense of the place.  If necessary, keep your vantage point from one place in the room, i.e., the entrance from the front hall or a corner where most of the room is viewable, even a glimpse of other rooms to add contrast.  Most importantly, don't let your reader get lost in the room. 

This could take a bit of time and writing. When you have it all, go back through and remove everything that is unnecessary to maintaining the overall look. Keep trimming until you have it down to a page of overall change, with enough close detail to set the effect of the room as down to the tiniest point, and enough general description that the room is not centered on details.  Sort of like matching your earrings or cufflinks to the dress or suit you are wearing. No piece sets the tone alone, it all works together.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Narrative modes ~ #1 the Heroic Journey

Organizing your novel or story around a narrative mode can help your story follow a reliable framework and ensure you maintain your reader's interest.  The heroic journey is a great narrative structure to follow and is one of the most popular in use, just check out every Pixar movie.

The heroic journey calls for several elements and in a fairly standard order.  There are variants in the structure, but this is one in common use.
  1. The main character, in this case the average Joe or Joelyne (potential hero) arrives on the scene.  
  2. An event occurs which forces Joe to leave his home and go in search of something important.  This is known as the call to adventure.  The event can be falling in love, having someone he cares about become sick, a favor asked for by someone, something taken away he must retrieve, or a trick used to get him out out of the way.
  3. What Joe needs can be a magic item, forgiveness, a physical quality, knowledge, a person, any number of things, a.k.a., the boon.    
  4. He need not go alone.  He may bring along friends (known as companions) to aid him in acquiring his boon.  The companions come in several archetypes: the simpleton, the loyal friend, the trickster, the guide, and there are many others.  They also can be acquired in the course of the journey.
  5. Frequently, the hero is not recognized as a hero, but he/she may already have a secret weapon.  This is known as a talisman and is used to give the hero strength.   It can be anything you can imagine: an object, a physical quality, intelligence, a innocent token carried for sentimental reasons, an inherited object.  The talisman must play an important role in the course of the journey, though it starts out innocent of any value.
  6. He must leave what is known and enter the unknown.  This is a case of crossing the threshold.  He has lived in a world where the rules are obvious and normal (the overworld).  When he crosses, he will find himself in the underworld where everything he has known will no longer apply.  The locations are often jungles, forests, desert, but could be just as easily, a country the hero has not been to, an experience, such as bungee jumping.  He will have to face several trials as he travels to acquire his boon.  These trials are challenges that strengthen the hero as he wins each one. Tests of strength and intelligence are the usual fair.  Traditionally, they are monsters, riddles, and puzzles that force the hero to mature for the final feat required to earn the boon.  For non-fantasy stories, personal fears and weaknesses can supply plenty of challenges.
  7. Along the way, he may face a challenge that is too great for him.  In this case, supernatural intervention is available to come to his aid.  The source of this intervention can be his talisman, the guide who is a companion or an outside force that provides the necessary time he needs to come up with his own means of meeting the challenge.
  8. After the final challenge, he receives his boon.  This can be a crucial event.  A nice twist at this point can be that he gets the boon he needs rather than the one he sought.  So the fellow searching for money and fame, finds the girl of his dreams instead or the woman determined to find independence and individual freedom, gives it up for someone else's needs, but it gives her satisfaction.
  9. The last step is the hero recrossing the threshold, returning to his original home and integrating into society as a recognized hero.
And so the story is told, and the reader's attention maintained. Next week, is the Faustian Legend narrative mode.

 The Little Handbook of Narrative Frameworks available on Smashwords and Amazon.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Tuesday prompt: #7 2013

Probably everybody has the sleeping dream of flying, usually without wings, airplane or other standard materials.  I know I once flew in a chair.  If I raised my legs straight out in front of me I went up, bending down them sent me to the ground.  I have flown in a car up and down incredible vertical runs. 

Your prompt, if you choose to accept it, is write your character into a flying experience.  Don't worry about using conventional means to enable flight, just get them into the air somehow with at least some means of control, however rocky it might be.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Writing workshop: taking the risk to grow as a writer

A couple of weeks ago, my creative writing class held their monthly workshop.  I have ten students working on various writing forms: poetry, short story, prose essay and novel.  What I noticed is they did not seem to know what to tell each other.   Each one knew what he or she wanted from the others but did not have confidence that the others would want the same.  There were so many, "Hey, your story is just great.  I like all the comic moments.  You really made me laugh."  No substance to the criticism.  No chance for growth.  And then big, bad teacher thing had to sit there and attack failing description, pages of telling without concrete, sensory imagery, dialogue that offered little characterization, weak construction and a complete disregard for punctuating dialogue and paragraphing.  These students know better.  So why the sudden regression?

This was the sixth workshop we had this year, and my students had gotten over shyness and taking things personally.  But a new student joining us from another school and choosing not to speak at all when poetry was on the floor seemed to take a lot of the earned confidence away from those who were gaining familiarity with the forms they felt less comfortable with.

Turning the light on in workshop
Today we sat down and talked about what each writer wanted to know to improve the work submitted to the workshop.   There were some revealing moments.  There had been a real division between the poets and the prose writers, a strong belief that there was little they had in common.  But as they added to the list on the board that each wanted feedback on, so much turned out to be the same: imagery, purpose, viewpoint, consistency, tone, tense, timing, conventions.  Sure there were areas that had greater need:  my novelists needed to know that they were consistent with the details, and my poets' main concerns were imagery and message.  But they still all needed this feedback to improve and most importantly wanted it.  By the end of our discussion there was a better sense of how not just to use the workshop to benefit oneself, but how to provide the best assistance to the other writers.

This one class discussion brought back the chance for growth in all of them and put a stop to the belief that there was any good reason to sit out when a less familiar form was needing feedback.  It is two weeks before our next workshop.  I will probably have a briefing the day before we start so they can recapture this new view of criticizing each genre and how they can assist their peers in growing as writers.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Tuesday prompt: #6 2013

banana peals - sweet, heavy vapor with bitter undertones.
Work on sensory details by focusing on the sense of smell.

Write about something that smells really bad, corrupt, nauseating even.