Month: January 2014

22 signs you should be a creative writer

Are there “signs” in particular? Or do you just know? This might be useful if you’re about to take a course in creative writing or want to publish a novel, or perhaps you want to take it up as a hobby. Either way, you’ll probably encounter these questions at least once. And I’m shedding light on them…

1. You had imaginary friends as a child

Impractical in most walks of life, but this is great for developing characters. On another note, it means you have empathy – which is great for looking at the world through a different lens! Try fan fiction first – think about your celebrity crush (if you have one) – and see where that leads.

2. You play role-playing games

Hmm, maybe WoW could have its uses after all. Apart from actually designing the game itself, it doesn’t get much closer than this to building your own world and characters. On the other hand, however, it could be symptomatic of the digital generation, and perhaps you need to get out more…

3. You put yourself in a character’s shoes

Ever thought of what you and the protagonist might say if you met each other? The things you would talk about and the places you’d go? It’s the author within you speaking! Try keeping a travel diary, if it’s not too time-consuming, and record key moments from your excursions. The Neverending story seems to address this quite well; imagine if the characters in your book looked up and noticed you exist? You already are part of the character’s journey, because you are being led by the narrator and being drip-fed information about them.

4. You imagine yourself in the plot

I think everyone’s done this at least once. Whether it’s shouting at the tv watching a film, or just thinking “if I were there…”, we all try to speculate ourselves where the action and characters are.But what separates you from other audiences is how you might rewrite these characters. How might you react if you were in the same position?

5. You invent unusual places and names

Think Napoleon Dynamite’s Liger that he keeps drawing. Or, perhaps a better example, Wonderland from Lewis Carroll’s series. It’s not just reserved for fantasy/magical realism/ science-fiction though. Try not to turn into Mr Dynamite though – he really should have a been a minor character….

6. You critique other writers’ work

Think you could write it better? Go ahead, have your say! Try turning all the worst moments from fiction on their head, how they could be made better. it doesn’t normally work the other way around, unless you are trying to prove someone wrong. Or, there might be a gap or missing perspective, which John Milton noticed when writing Paradise Lost. Unfortunately, in recent years, fallen angels and vampires appear to be analogous, which wasn’t his point…

7. You have a metaphorical mind

Meaning you keep creating connections with other ideas.Virginia Woolf was said to have a metaphorical mind, and this is evident in her fiction. It sounds obvious but the “meta” in metaphor indicates that the subtext and meaning should transcend the context of the passage in which it is written. Basically put, you are creative.

8. You and Socrates have something in common…

You both ask “why?” (albeit about different things). Why does Bertha Mason never speak? Why does Aunt Margaret have an incestuous relationship with Francie? Why has the author done this? It’s natural to want to have answers – and trust me, you have power as reader to create meaning (as Roland Barthes knew). But creating power as an author is different, because only YOU know what you meant.

9.  You enjoyed writing as a child

Every child has a strong imagination, and nearly all of them love to write. Think back to a particular experience which first sparked your interest in writing fiction. Was it a class assignment? Or were you studying a novel? Whether you had bedtime stories read aloud to you, or you spent a lot of time in the school library, you would be an author at heart.

10. You have vivid dreams

Nothing indicates a creative mind more than strong dreams. If you remember them well, they could get your juices flowing. I don’t particularly recommend using them as plot ideas, since this tends to be the reason why Surrealist film and literature rather confusing and fragmented (watch “Un chien Andalou” or “L’age D’or” and you’ll see what I mean…)

11. You figure out what will happen in the film/novel

This is you thinking as a writer, and not as a reader. As an audience member, you tend to focus on the denouement of the story, and expect something to happen. But as a writer, you think about how the story will progress.

12. You believe you have something to say

Have a burning desire to tell the world something? Do you have a secret you want to share? Or fantasy you’d love to indulge in? You may as well express it in writing. Start small, such as a poetic Valentine’s or Xmas card, then move on to more ambitious things.

13. Your mind tends to drift

Whether it’s wishing you were somewhere else, or daydreaming, you do it. Half the time you seem to live in your own head. You might even visualize the angel and devil sitting on your shoulder.

14. In another life…

We all wonder whether the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. Would being a man be better? Should I have been a Victorian? What would it like be a noble? Well, when you create characters, you can try to answer these questions.

15. You’re an observer

Do you sit on a park bench in September, watching the kids play ball and the autumn sun shine through the dappled trees? Omniscient narrators are there to observe – and comment on – the things they see going on around them. Try listening in on someone’s conversation in a café,or watching a film. See how you feel.

15. You kept a diary

Biographical, epistolary first person narrative anyone? This is kind of like being a narrator sharing your first-hand experiences, and commenting on your thoughts and emotions. It isn’t mandatory, but if you still have your diary, look back to it. Reading your own thoughts from many years later, you might feel as though you’re reading a stranger’s life.

16. You usually have an interesting anecdote

If you are the one telling your guests at a barbecue how you wrestled a grizzly bear, then write it down. It helps if you can put on different voices, use your facial expressions and try to “act out”what happened.

17. You are true to your account

Contrary to popular belief,being a liar doesn’t make you creative. This might actually suggest the opposite; your mind plucks at straws to get you out of trouble.Sometimes, it’s more about the way you deliver your story than the actual content. Frankly, if you have a story you want to share, you’ll want to tell it exactly as it happened.If you are a “fabulist”, however, being a lawyer might suit you better than being an author.

18. You write deeply emotional letters or emails if you feel angry or upset

Writing can be cathartic. Not just for the reader, but for the writer too. Any piece of prose is laden with thoughts, feelings, sensations, opinions and ideas. Perhaps a poem or memoir would be a good outlet?

19. You imagine your own life events

Had your dream wedding planned out since you were 5? Or do you imagine your own death and funeral? Perhaps you wonder about the afterlife? I think we both know what that means…

20. You keep visiting baby name websites

There’s a thick, blurry line between desiring a child and creating a character. To a certain extent, being an author is like being a parent watching your own child grow up. Or, perhaps more accurate, being the closest thing to God.

21. Could you imagine yourself on a talk show?

In this case, you’re the host! And say you have several people turn up to chat about politics or femininity, like “Loose Women” or “The Wright stuff”? Or maybe you’re imagining yourself as the next Oprah Winfrey, or Jonathan Ross? As the writer, you are a journalist!

22. You can converse for hours on end

Being able to talk for England is probably quite a good thing. Sure, you might be giving them the 20 questions, but at least you can keep the fire going! And yet, you never seem to run out of things to say.

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30 facets of plot

With your structure, it’s all about authenticity isn’t it? Your reader needs to absorb this story and think “can I imagine this happening?”. There must always be a mental map, with landmarks along the way, so YOU know where this is going. But you can’t let the audience know this; if they already know the plot it’ll be dull!

1. the story still goes on after the book ends

Unless your character dies at the end, there will still be events in the character’s life that have not been recorded. Even though your story is only fictional, you must treat your story like it really happened to make it seem believable.

2. the backstory

This works better in past than present tense. When writing in the past tense, everything has already happened so the entire story is history. However, when writing in the present tense, the action has yet to be revealed and any background information comes in the form of a brief anecdote. Backstories are not always necessary,m but if you do use them, it would be to provide some missing links to a character, not just do a complete biography a la David Copperfield.

3. the prologue

Ah the prologue, great for suspense. What tends to happen with prologues is that they are used to bring a novel  up to speed to where the character is now, like the narrator in Fight Club (although the novel is mostly in present tense). In short stories, there’s not usually much need for a prologue, since it’s about the length of a chapter or two in a novel. In a play, the chorus gives a summary of what’s about to happen, or where they are now since there’s no author.

4. epilogue

personally, it’s best used if the ending is unclear, or if you don’t want to write a sequel. In a play, unless everyone dies in a tragedy, it’s used to convey the moral of the story. In a novel, it’s used for extra information that would otherwise be unnecessary, but it still interesting to know. The epilogue doesn’t need to be an official ending, like in Dracula, but it is often considered another chapter in some way.

5. chapters

How many chapters do we need? And how long does a chapter need to be? Generally, a chapter should convey an event or a couple of events in the book. It’s up to you when they start and when they end, but think about what should be included ad what should not. You can title your chapters if it helps, but sometimes “chapter 10” will be enough. If you want to use diary entries and letters as your narrative form, such as “The perks of being a wallflower”, the entries should be on a regular basis.

6. parts

This is especially useful if the novel takes place over different periods of time, or the novel is set in different locations. It is also useful if your story is actually a single volume in a series of consecutive events, like “A series of unfortunate events” or “Paradise Lost”

7. the equilibrium

This is the status quo, or state or harmony before our real action begins. Although it’s often at the start, this part can last up to halfway through the novel. But something must change.

8. disequilibrium

This disrupts the status quo, and it tends to be an event that triggers that action. It’s often a bad thing, but it doesn’t need to be bad; if it’s good, then the character’s life was bad before, and there may be challenges.

9. conflict

What’s our character’s dilemma? This where they encounter their antagonist and must overcome this problem set by the antagonist, or be defeated if this is a tragedy like in Tess of the d’Urbervilles. Unless your character is Napoleon Dynamite – which is a bad idea since it was unpopular – everyone will experience change in their life

10. climax

It’s make or break time! The moment where there is the most intensity and drama, this is the moment to either win or lose in our story. After this, our audience has some cathartic release and can either cry, cheer or fly into a rage.

11. resolution

Is there one? it’s more satisfying for the audience to have a resolution, but sometimes it’s more realistic not to have a clear ending. Some issues, like a terminal disease, can never truly be resolved so it’s difficult to provide the audience with loose ends tied together.

12. new equilibrium

Okay, what’s better than it was before? This is when our story goes back to a harmonious state, and our characters have changed in  some way to face another conflict. Even though this marks the “end”, your characters’ lives will keep on evolving.

13. themes

Are there any recurring topics, patterns or concerns in the writing? This might be partially influenced by style and Genre e.g. Gothic or Science Fiction, but there could be less obvious themes like love.

14. motifs

A motif is a recurring symbol or image, such as a serpent or phallic imagery. This could come in the form of a talisman, and is linked to theme of superstition, for instance. Motifs often reinforce a theme or idea, but don’t deliberately place it there. It will look to melodramatic.

15. flashback

This is where our character, often old, tells the significant parts of their version of the story. Our character’s tale has already ended, so everything that occurs is in retrospect. Our author or narrator does not normally intrude or comment, except at the end or in the epilogue. foreshadowing often occurs.

16. flashforward

This is where the plot jumps from the present to the future, or the past to present, in either character or general timelines. This is often done in time travel fiction on a more extreme scale, especially to link the relevance of other people’s lives. `The rest of the story will be about where the character is now.

17. frame narratives

otherwise known as a story-within-a-story, and it can be either fictional like Pyramus and Thisbe in “A Midsummer night’s dream” or the monster in Frankenstein. If the stories occur within actual events, it shows the relevance of how the characters relate. If it’s not, it’s to parallel already occurring events.

18. who is the narrator?

is the narrator omniscient or a character in the novel? Often, even in 3rd person, the narrator is usually the protagonist. If the narrator is unreliable i.e. has biased views or might not be representing an accurate portrayal of the events, this complicates matters even further. because of the preference for subjective reality, most narrators are unreliable.

19. voice

First or third? Second is more common in poetry, but in a novel or short story it’s usually first or third. Third person allows us to enter another character’s head, but first person reveals what the protagonist is truly like. Third is often good for multiple narrative threads with more than one protagonist, but first is good for that too.

20. subjective or objective reality?

Subjective reality is thoughts, opinions, criticisms and emotions. Objective is about balance, facts, history and “reality”. There’s usually a mixture of both in there (unless your story is about artificiality and illusions, then it’s mostly subjective) . Unless you are retelling a historical event, it’s often better to be subjective in order to identify with the characters — but even then it’s faction. Because grand metanarratives have been done away with, stories are usually subjective.

21. everything is fantasy

As in, everything is within the realm of possibility. You don’t need pegasi or aliens to convey this, but it is an interesting way of doing this. Things can be surreal, dreamlike or absurd, which is the true magic of fiction; conveying an almost transcendental view on things. Even the Realists like Charles Dickens had their moments.

22. two sides, same coin

The plot revolves around the character. Protagonist is what drives the plot, and you must bear this in mind. Like with pro and antagonist, one cannot exist without the other. if we had no characters, there would be no plot.

23. 14 different stories

there are two different categories that stories can be grouped into. The first is about plot, such as the quest or rags to riches, and these indicate what will take place. The second type is about conflict, such as man vs supernatural or man vs self, which indicate which will be our antagonistic force. Sometimes, these story types will overlap, but both are about character and plot. A story about how a character is taken to another world or country can symbolize parallels with our own world, whereas rebirth indicates how someone’s identity can change.

24. why tell this story

Ok, so we’ve established that no story is 100% original. Some stories that are seemingly new have roots in the past, whereas others need a modern update. This doesn’t necessarily mean a retelling, but sometimes the same building blocks can be used to deconstruct a story. Point is, what makes you unique?

25. morals and wisdom

Are there any truths acknowledged in this story? Perhaps it’s a modern fable, or simply a speculation on what could happen in the future. Or do you have a belief that you want to shed light on? Try for something off the wall rather than “love makes the world go round” because it’s been said before.

26. what changes

Who or what changes? and if not, why not? Whether its politics or a building destroyed, something does usually change.

27. universality vs mass culture

Universal stories, or classics, are relatable to most people. Popular fiction, however, normally focuses on one specific audience in a particular era, usually the present day. Whilst both experience popularity, only a classic will stand the test of time. Plus, a classic can be compared to other cultures or writers.

28. past, present or future

This isn’t just about the tense of the book, but also about when your story is set. The future is hard to write about, but just take a few things from the present and do your research into what might happen 50 years from now. The past may be simple to write about, but try to draw upon an aspect which was in the sidelines. As for the present, it’s still fairly tricky but read the news and stay up to date. Your work is a time capsule, believe it or not.

29. world-building

Is this a utopian world? A world with aliens? a parallel universe? a tribal community? You should include culture, tradition, holidays, social norms, religion, politics and all the rest of it. You don’t need to be an encyclopedia but you should think about how you want to represent this world. Genre, such as magical realism and historical, might influence this but others like romance shouldn’t necessarily intervene.

30. prequels and sequels?

A prequel is often more successful than a sequel because it is relevant information as to what has gone on before the story started. With the exception of Through the looking-glass and Women in Love, A sequel usually only works if it is a direct continuation of the plot, such as The Lord of the Rings. Otherwise, it seems somewhat pointless.

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