Month: February 2014

The seven stories: the themes all plots have in common

Christopher Booker tried to identify the seven plots in The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories. His idea seems to have stuck! This time, I’ll be drawing on his ideas, discussing them, and developing these ideas in fiction.

Jung and the Collective Unconscious

Jung believed in archetypes and universal concerns/themes which all humans experienced – love, freedom, death, etc. And the most important factor is the Self. He placed great emphasis on archetypes, and the same can said of characters, plots and themes. Various examples might be The Tree of Life, the seven circles of heaven/hell, The Elixir of Immortality/Life and the Fountain of Youth.

1. The Quest

The protagonist goes off on a journey, usually to do or obtain something, and travels to various places and meets new people. It is very popular in myths and legends, such as the Arthurian legends.  The Odyssey, The Neverending Story and Sexing the Cherry are considered notable examples.

2. Rags to Riches

This is the ‘zero to hero’ story. The hero tends to become popular because of their newfound riches, wisdom or beauty. Will they manage without it? It might cause Popular types include Cinderella and Aladdin

3. Rebirth

This is where a character undergoes a transformation and becomes a new person. They might be a villain who redeems themselves. One might think of a Phoenix, since they are reborn time after time. The Passion of New Eve, Beauty and the Beast and A Christmas Carol are popular examples.

4. Overcoming the monster

Dracula is a notable example of this plot type. It normally focuses on binary oppositions between a protagonist and an antagonist. The ‘monster’ can be psychological, supernatural, mechanical, human or something non-physical like cancer or society. It has what is considered a fundamental part of fiction: conflict.

5. Voyage and return

One or more characters go off on a journey, return and come back with only memories. It’s usually a fourth dimension, mystical world/planet or even time travel that the characters go to. There is usually a travelling companion in this story. Peter Pan, Sand Alice in Wonderland all fit  the bill.

6. Tragedy

Where a tragic hero has a tragic flaw, and goes downhill. It might be exposed by a villain, circumstance or a revelation. It’s often very heartfelt and includes strong emotions such as passion, anger, revenge, jealousy and fear. In Renaissance drama, nearly everyone is dead.  Hamlet, Tess of the d’Ubervilles, Carmen and Romeo and Juliet are all tragic stories.

7. Comedy

A lighthearted piece of fiction. It’s not the same as satire, which mocks and ridicules. Clown figures, irony, caricatures and ridiculous scenarios are often in these stories. A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Limericks and arguably Catch 22 might be ‘comic’ forms of literature. 

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30 facets of the spoken word in fiction

I have chosen spoken word, because dialogue is too limiting. In fiction, all the words are either out of speech marks or not.This can be either monologue or dialogue, but most cases will apply to dialogue. And today we’re looking at language within speech marks .

1. Lexicon

That’s vocabulary to you and me. It can be influenced by a variety of things; family, beliefs, age, class, gender and race. This is one of the most essential building blocks of people’s speech, because it varies between where you live and how you’ve been brought up. Your character’s vocabulary will be very personal and unique; no two people talk in quite the same way. Common phrases or contractions are included in this category, such as “tinternet”; a Yorkshire colloquialism for “the internet”.

2. Diction

This is word choice; which is a step up from vocabulary. No two words mean the same thing, even if they are used in the same context; such as fate and destiny, or pink and rose. Why did you choose one word over another? Sometimes, being choosy about the right word to pick can help us think about the type of effect you want to convey. “Blue” is a very broad, whereas “azure” is a lot more precise and is more, well, “creative”. You should only be specific if it’s significant though.

3. Dialogue tags

They’re used to indicate who’s speaking, and are usually used at the start of a conversation if it’s between two people. If it’s between three or more, you might need to use them along with a character’s name – or the narrator if it’s first person –so the reader can keep track. Try not to make them too fancy, otherwise they tend to pull the reader out of the action.

4. Why you should only use ‘said’

It’s tempting but only use “said” and “asked”. Reason? It doesn’t reveal too much; let the reader create some meaning of their own. It can be very tempting to break the status quo with others, but this is quite difficult. You might get away with whispered or called, but only use them occasionally. Dialogue tags other than “said” and “asked” are like condiments; use sparingly

5. Eloquent prose

This might be baroque prose, rhetoric or simply beautiful language being used. It might work better with quirky, intellectual or old-fashioned characters. Otherwise it’s quite hard to pull off. The Victorians and Renaissance poets loved it, because it delivered much passion into the passage. Use sparingly, otherwise it’ll dilute the effect it has on the reader. It’s a spice to, well, ‘spice’ up your fiction.

6. Slang

Obviously this depends on age and social background of your character(s), but it’s considered informal. It tends to either informal or euphemistic, and is generally used by young people. Common examples include “weed” for cannabis, or “sick” for something that is considered great. Outside its usual context, it tends to be quite baffling. It’s another thing to pepper your prose with, so use wisely.

7. Syntax

This is sentence structure, and tends to include a variety of word order, sentence length, syllables and sometimes paragraph structure. It’s different to morphology, which is concerned with the internal structure of words. Sometimes, grammatical/linguistic structure and meaning go together, but the sentence “colourless green ideas sleep furiously” proves otherwise, because it makes no sense whatsoever. The word which is actually spoken is different to the written word, because there is no gestures, expressions etc., and the two collide in drama. Various literary techniques involving syntax include juxtaposition, rhyming couplets, and rhetoric.

8. Prosaic speech

This is simple speech, that we use in everyday life. Its meaning varies, and can mean anything from dull to blunt. Characters who use prosaic prose are either of a low intellect or tend to be quite forthright; so when they do “beat around the bush” or say something clever, it’s very noticeable. The same applies for characters who normally speak poetically.

9. Subtext

This is words beneath words. What’s being said and what’s being meant. For instance, “I’m busy” usually means “I don’t like you but am too polite to say so” . The trouble with subtext, though, is that it’s usually interpretative. Meaning that it isn’t always easy to discover the ‘true’ meaning.

10. Length

Older novels and plays tend to have characters speaking at length without interruption. More modern fiction tends to have much shorter sentences. The length of the word can indicate the pace and action. For instance, a long sentence would sound like this: “the water danced and flowed over the rocks, glittering under the sun”, creating a poetic, sensual description and mood.

11. If it’s dialogue, it goes in quote marks

Otherwise, it’s Free Indirect Speech, or Interior Monologue. It sounds obvious, but sometimes writers exclude quote marks when reporting speech. This is very difficult to get away with

12. Monologues

Not the same as an interior monologue. Academic lectures, sermons or speeches are a good example. Who might give these monologues? Perhaps a vicar/priest, a professor, a politician, stand-up comedian? Or, they could be orally narrating their story to a scribe, particularly in historical novels. Perhaps a ghost story, or journalistic account?

13. Soliloquies

Not the same as a monologue, since they are usually alone (or think they are). When writing a piece of dramatic script – yes, including film – everything is dialogue. Why? It’s all performed, and there’s definitely no voiceover in a play. In a piece of prose, or narrative poetry, it’s used to mean a character revealing their thoughts, plan (often evil) or emotions. It doesn’t mean the character likes talking to themselves.

14. Sounds

“arghh”, “ugh”, “Ooh”, “Ah!” and various others are just phonetic sounds you make, and they’ve been made into a word. They are more commonly used as Interior Monologue, but can be used in dialogue too.

15. Action tags before dialogue

This is so the emphasis is still on the actual words themselves, and helps to contextualise the sentence. “She smiled ‘Please, come in'” is a good example.

16. The comma

Sometimes you can have a piece of dialogue with a dialogue, and a beat serves as a pause before continuing; “No,” Joe said “a fish is related to a reptile…”. This lets the reader know who is speaking.

17. Two sets of quotation marks

If your character is quoting what another character said in their speech, use ‘ inside “, or vice versa. This is so your reader knows how to distinguish between reported speech, and speech which is already occurring in the plot.

18. Phonetic speech

Eliza in Pygmalion speaks phonetically, because of her thick Cockney accent. Shaw writes how he imagines Eliza might sound in real life, because Higgins is highly interested in dialects. And it emphasizes how difficult it is to misunderstand her. Shaw probably listened to others speaking in real life – and may have had one person in mind – when he wrote his play. Anything that involves

19. Text is also dialogue

As in, an email, IM and text messages. This is because it carries a conversation, unlike a letter or journal entry which is one-way only.

20. On-the-nose dialogue

This is speech that’s too blunt, unnecessary and is thought of as bad writing. my fellow blogger Chuck Wendig uses the example of a man saying; “I cannot love you, elf-lady, because I was once touched in my no-no hole”. Even ‘I’m gay’ sounds better than this. Trust your reader to know what you mean.

21. the trouble with real-life speech is?

Real life conversations tend to be quite boring, and include stuff like “I dunno”, “umm”, and other useless words. All monologue and dialogue is used to further the plot, rather than to fill in space on the page.

22. Punctuation

This goes beyond using full stops, commas, exclamation marks and question marks. Like using grammar, you have to get its usage right in order to be an effective user of English. Also like grammar, you can bend the rules (within reason)

23. It’s no good for riddles

Meaning, nobody asks rhetorical questions out loud. Unless your characters are scholars or wizards having a battle of wits, nobody talks like this – not even eccentrics. If you include riddles, they’re usually in a poetic form or part of something your character might read, rather than say. And the mystical creature who asks riddles is kind of clichéd – like Golem in The Lord of the Rings.

24. Idiosyncracies

Peopke have certain speech patterns that are fairly consistent – even if they have MPD or amnesia. They might have favourite words, a way of pronouncing certain words or a catchphrase. It tends to more obvious with minor characters, because they usually have one strong trait, but it works well for other characters too.

25. Reported speech, or ‘scare quotes’

This is used to for words that are “so-called”, which implies a certain level of sarcasm, irony or scepticism about something or someone. It’s usually used for deliberate – and often humourous – effect, to indicate that either the author or one of the characters doesn’t buy into what’s being said. Be careful of how you use them, as it can say quite a lot about the tone of the

26. Uniquely coined words

Have you coined a phrase which nobody has used before? If so, that’s great! It indicates that you’re being creative with language and that you have original thought – despite what Postmodernists seem to think.

This is when English refers to itself as a language. Basically, it’s a language that describes language. Various examples include “the term “hypnosis” comes from the greek ‘hypnos’ meaning ‘sleep'”. Unless you’re a linguist or extremely academic, it’s not normally necessary.

28. No pun intended

Yeah, right. Anagrams, acronyms, innuendos and various other forms of wordplay might count as a pun. No clichés ( although this sounds easier than it is) and nothing too obscure. Shakespeare is the epitome of puns and wordplay; just read Romeo and Juliet and Othello to see for yourself.

29. Lost in translation

Does your character speak a different language? Have you translated a foreign work? Or do they have a thick accent? If so, your reader might misunderstand your original intentions. You could do this deliberately

30. Grammar

This kind of falls under syntax and wordplay, but it’s quite important. If you as a writer do not have good grammar, your reader won’t be very impressed. Slang and colloquialisms are no exception to the rule either 9 or nit I most cases anyway). Try to use dictionaries and grammar books, rather than just using your Word/ Pages spellchecker.

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Valentine’s day special

Hey all! Love and romance are a common theme in literature, and Valentine’s day is evocative of all things lovey-dovey. I’m not slapping this label on all romance fiction, but there’s something we tend to notice, right? Here, let’s talk about some common things we notice in romance fiction. I’m aware a lot of this sounds very trite and cliched, but I suppose they’re there for a reason.

1. The lovely rose

What is it about the rose that is linked with romance? It seems to be a symbol of love, and Floreography may have something to do with it; red roses being romance and white are pure love. The phrase sub rosa may also give a clue – implying where secret lovers meet (it literally means ‘under the rose bush’, and dates back to Roman times). But in an Aestheticist light, red roses symbolize red cheeks and lips, as well as their fragrance and silky petals.

2. Beauty imagery

Creamy skin and emerald eyes? Yep, nothing new here. Naturally, you want someone to make you feel special, right? And when someone’s in love with you, they see your beauty shine through; it’s usually a woman, but can be a man e.g. Edward Cullen, Dorian Gray and Angel Face.

3. Pretty scenery

Those gossamer cobwebs? That sparkling sunshine? Everything just looks so much nicer when in love, doesn’t it? Or so the Victorians, Renaissance and Romantics would have us believe.

4. Poetic language

This doesn’t necessarily mean rhyming words, but can include similes, metaphors, hyperbole and aesthetically appealing words like chrysalis. It’s usually quite lyrical, in the sense that there is a lot of emotional/personal words or references.

5. Smut

Anything remotely sexual, from language to imagery.Whether it’s implicit or explicit, it’s there.  Physical attraction is what separates loving our parents or a pet to being in love with a man/woman. It might just be lust, or it could even be someone who is, ahem, unusually observant.

6. Rose coloured lenses

A sense of optimism and nostalgia, with ‘hopeless romantics’ applying. Perhaps it’s the endorphins? Or is it just feeling appreciated?

7. A “fairy tale” ending

I blame Disney here, more than the Brothers Grimm. Because Disney changes everything; and makes it all airy fairy. Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy, Jane Eyre and Mr Rochester, to name a couple of couples, all fit this fairy tale ending. In defense of the fairy tale genre, it’s not all about romance; it’s just what Disney made popular.

8. Divine figures

Cupids, Venus, angels, you name it. This could possibly be related to the point about beauty, with similes and metaphors. Or, perhaps more likely, how we feel love is out of our hands – and so look to a ‘higher’ force for an explanation.

9. The senses

Sight, touch and sound in particular. You can almost hear a harp playing and the touch of a silk garment. Supposedly, we have learned to associate certain sights and sounds with romance, because of their aesthetic appeal.

10. Emotions

Of every kind. Jealousy, hatred, fear – these all become mixed up with love somehow. Love seems to make us act in many strange ways, and it’s not always clear to distinguish between desire, affection, love lust and admiration.

11. Colour

Red, white and pink being the main three. Red because it symbolizes passion, white for purity and pink because it’s soft and is the mixture of the previous two. Pastel colours in general are used, because of their aesthetic appeal.

12. Mythology

Tales as old as time; Echo and Narcissus, Apollo and Daphne, Eros and Psyche, et cetera. Or any other epic tale – such as the Arthurian legends – seem so how tied in with love.

But where did we get our ideas from? That is what I will address now. Valentine’s day, like Christmas, is a mixture of culture and not just consumerism. The trouble is, sometimes we don’t get the whole picture and we may never. But here’s where we think the roots came from…

13. Saint Valentine

The Roman catholic church adopted – or superseded – the pagan tradition Lupercalia (like they did with Yule) and so invented this new holiday to make it holy. But has been suggested that Geoffrey Chaucer made the link with romantic love.

14.Winged creatures

This is because of Cupid and the angels surrounding Saint Valentine. And in particular the cupids are shooting arrows into lovers’ hearts, like with Cupid and Psyche. The arrow might symbolize the pain of love sickness that is associated with the feeling.

15. Heart symbols

In the 13th century, the heart became a symbol of love. It seems to have connections with the Sacred Heart of Christ, which was about the passion of divine love. The actual geometric shape comes from the resemblance of ivy and water-lily leaves. The most obvious would be the silphium seed and plant, and it was used as a contraceptive and aphrodisiac.

16. Swans

this is because their heads come together in a heart, and they stay with the same mate for life – unlike most other creatures. Which is quite sweet, if truth be told; it shows a more humane quality that we share with animals.

And there we have it! A brief history and analysis on one of the world’s oldest and most influential traditions today. Like any festival, it’s evolving, and the media shoves these in our faces.

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30 facets of…scenes in fiction

1. How long is a scene?

Ideally, up to 100 words. There needs to be enough in the scene to create a picture, which will move on to another scene. A scene is like a moment or a freeze frame. A proposed word count could help, but only if you are working within a specific limit. Looking at photographic storyboards is a good way of determining how long a scene should be, because the focus is on one thing. Or comics might work just as nicely.

2. How many scenes in a chapter/act?

If you are writing a play, this is quite easy to define. In a play, scenes are normally longer than in a novel, because a play is usually set in the present tense and is therefore fast paced. In a novel, you can either have a few short scenes or a couple quite long ones. Basically, a scene is a link in the chain or sequence of events; and these sequences make up the chapter.

3. The difference between a flash and a scene

A flash might be a very brief flashback, or an image in the character’s mind. Alternatively can be something exterior, like the sudden focus of one’s surroundings e.g. a bird going past or a portrait on the wall. A scene might –  or might not – develop this second, or if it doesn’t it will have some kind of reason for being there. Length is a big defining aspect.

4. Sketches

This is like flash fiction, but with much less plot. The pace will be quite fast, and it might be a particular event or a character sketch. Because of its style, the audience might feel as though they are looking from the outside in. But you can still say something about the characters in the scene. Great for cameo characters.

5. Vignettes

These are like a sketch, only with less structure. They tend to focus on one thing; a motif, a character or a mood. ‘The Snow Child’ by Angela Carter is quite a good example. Whilst there is a chain of sequential events, it sis a snapshot. And the focus is on the recurring motifs of blood, raven feathers and snow.  It can be hard, but the key is to focus on one thing, and the significance of it.

6. Macro elements

And now back on to plays, novels and long short stories. Macro elements include the “Who? What? How? Why? When? Where?” questions, the link between previous and upcoming scenes/events and the significance. The things you cannot ‘see’ in the story, or the small parts in relation to the whole. This is what will help drive the plot forward.

7. Micro elements

This includes description, dialogue and other technical elements. These are the finer details that you’ve got to get right, and are the things which immediately jump out at you on the page. Work your lexicon, tone, mood, POV and narrator’s thoughts around the form, style, structure and genre; if you’re writing a romance novel, will you want to use baroque prose and engage the senses in certain scenes?

8. What’s going on here?

Try and be clear what’s happening in your scene. Where and when is it set, for instance? The whole point of a scene is for the reader to get a mental image of what’s going on, like watching a film in their head. So try not to wander off topic, but stay quiet as an author.

9. A scene is largely focused on setting

Put another way, it’s about the tangible world. It could be a dream, but mostly it’s set in real-time. The landscape, the sounds and smells, the geography and the even the weather are some things. But what people are doing sets a scene too; are they drinking coffee, or talking? If you build this mental image, you give the reader an impression of a place or culture. It’s not all about reporting events though

10. If it’s just a man driving his car, it’s not a scene

Like I said before, description and commentary are only half the story. However, if this man is driving his car, goes into a time portal that takes him back to the Middle Ages, it is a scene. Because this scene is going somewhere; what happens when he gets to the medieval country he’s just been dropped in?

11. A memory can be a scene, so can thinking.

It all depends on how you address these thoughts or memories. If someone has dementia and only remembers the past, the past becomes significant. Thinking is harder to pull off, because the type of thinking which might constitute a scene might be a meditation, Interior Monologue (rather than Exterior Dialogue) or a discourse.

12. Scenes  take place in the same time

You can’t just jump backwards and forwards in time. Even time travel fiction stays in one place long enough for the reader to gather an impression about it. If you keep jumping to different moments in time, they are flashes, not scenes. And events in the day tend to unfold slowly over a period of time.

13. And at the same place

Whether’s on the tube or at the beach, we don’t tend to move locations. Moving to another place signals the end of a scene and the start of another. Plus, are people really dashing around the place like sonic the hedgehog? And since we can’t teleport, we need to gradually move from one place to another. It needs to reflect real life.

14. Even if your work is past tense, it’s kind of present tense

This is because the scene focuses on what’s happening at a particular moment in time. So any true ‘past tense’ is outside the story, implied. And the future has yet to come. Scenes are all about the here and now, rather than what went on before. For instance, if you are writing a flashback narrative, like in Fight Club, the things that happened in the past are the focus of the story.

15. Scenes come in various packages

They can be emails, diary entries, letters or just in-the-moment conversation. Anything that spurs change or a move forward in the story can count as a scene. Don’t focus on the mechanics of the method, but what’s inside; the words, the imagery, description etc. Make sure you involve a character and an action of some kind – making coffee, going to the supermarket etc.

16.  The future scene

This is known as the sequel. It is the aftermath of the last scene, what’ll come next. You need to build up some tension or suspense in each scene to keep your reader longing for the next installment. You can give hints, or not, but it’s up to you.

17. What a scene must have

There must be a goal or purpose in this scene. It can either be elaborate; an archaeologist or adventurer – like Indiana Jones or Aladdin – must disarm or avoid the booby traps in order to get the treasure. Or it can be quite simple, such as two lovers meeting up in private. But, there are problems; what if somebody sees the couple, or Dr Jones falls into a pit? This is the conflict; something, whether good or bad, must happen to disrupt this goal. It might be winning the lottery, discovering you have blue blood, or a torrential downpour.

18. Go back to the basics

Let’s take a fairly simple, familiar game which everyone knows; Super Mario Bros. First we have the fairy tale genre; the damsel in distress (Princess Peach), the evil sorcerer (Bowser), magic objects (mushrooms, fireballs, etc), and various mythological creatures (Bowser, Koopa Troopa et al). Then we have a goal; get to the end of the level. But each time we think Mario will find and rescue the princess, she’s not there. So, each “scene” is either a level – defeating Bowser, stamping mushrooms and tortoises – or talking to a character. And each has a setting; the bricks, the dungeon, the castle, etc.

19. So scenes are a bit like stages, right?

Yes, that’s one way of looking at scenes. Let’s say our story type fitted into “Voyage and Return”, like Alice’ Adventures in Wonderland . So each chapter might be visiting a new place; the Queen’s castle, the Mad Hatter, the Caterpillar, etc. So a scene might be Alice falling down the rabbit hole, or the Pool of Tears. (I’ll talk more about the 7 basic plots another time)

20. Types of conflict and tension

Okay, so we might have some kind of binary oppositions; rich and poor, beautiful and ugly, good and evil, civilised and primitive, east and west. Claude Levi Strauss thought that binaries existed in all plots (do see my post on narrative theories).  These are some obviously conflicting forces, because they are opposites and work against each other; each cancel each other out, work against each other and should be enemies. But that’s on the surface. Other types of conflict might be a task to complete; finding pieces in a puzzle, a character’s flaw, an antagonist plotting, a battle.

21. Time frame

The events should take place over around the same time scale. Ideally within the same day, or possibly over a few days.The chapters and parts of the book can take place over longer periods of time, but scenes should be chronological. By chronological, I do not necessarily mean same location, but each event must tie in with the next; the robber’s plan, robbing scene, and investigation of the crime. They’re like pieces of a puzzle

22. A few key scenes

No matter what type of story you’re writing, you’ll probably use a few of these scenes: disaster/fight scene, love/sex scene, epiphany scene, denouement scene and the transport scene. These are just a few quite common scenes that people often include. Why? We experience these in everyday life.

23. The disaster/fight scene

This could be a battle, a volcanic eruption, a tsunami, a deadly disease or a train crashing.These are all on quite a big scale, but you get my point. This can spur action and drama; how will our characters react and what will result from this conflict?

24. The love/sex scene

Delete as appropriate. This ranges from our character seeing their love interest unexpectedly to proposing marriage. We all fancy someone, and it can drive us haywire. Who are they? Have they noticed me? Why doesn’t he like me? Or, on a more basic level “she’s got nice legs”. (Read: 30 facets of sex in fiction)

25. Epiphany scene

So I finally figured out what Old Man Jones was carrying in his briefcase! We all have a bright moment, or a moment when everything makes sense in the world.This can be, but is not always, an important scene in fiction just before the major climax. A flashback, or sight og a person/object may accompany this scene.

26. Denouement scene

In Freytag’s pyramid of dramatic structure, the denouement is after the falling action. It is where all of the loose narrative threads are tied together. Traditionally, it is the ending; involving the resolution and new equilibrium, where the characters are usually better off. More modern fiction, however, seems to deny this, because of the grand narrative.

27. Transport scene

On a train, plane, boat, bus or on foot, we are always on the move. To get from A to B, be it another town, school, work or on holiday. What are they doing? Are they watching the scenery, or reading? Where are they going? What’s the mood? Things you need to engage with.

28. Emotions

These can be revealed in the dialogue, with word choice and vocabulary. If you’re very subtle, you could use action or dialogue tags, such as “she weeped” – but this is an acquired skill. Is there tension i.e. anger, fear, excitement, anxiety, etc.?

29. Mood

Sometimes called atmosphere, this is how certain things – decor, props, the weather, colours and setting – indicate the mood and tone of a scene. It’s one part of “show, don’t tell”. Thomas Hardy seems to do this quite a lot in Tess of the D’urbervilles, emphasizing the idyllic pastoral imagery when Tess is with Angel at the dairy.

30. Action tags

a.ka. beats, these are actions placed after a piece of dialogue, which can be “said” or “he walked across the room”. It denotes who’s speaking, so the reader is not too confused. They can also break up long passages of dialogue quite nicely. Don’t let it disrupt the flow of dialogue though.

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A psychoanalysis of fictional characters

This is according to Psychoanalytical theory, where different characters represent the Id, ego and superego, unconscious, subconscious and conscious mind. Symbolism, dreams and strange character behaviour are used in order to understand characters, motifs and imagery. In this case, we’re looking at characters. This is relevant to creative writing because it will help you see characters as flawed and as people, rather than as figures or props. And fictional characters are not supposed to be perfect, so don’t write them this way.

1. Sociopathy

Sherlock Holmes is a classic sociopath. He feels no embarrassment, regret or remorse and has extreme difficulty in saying sorry. He comes across as being quite appealing; charismatic, spontaneous. and intelligent, but is introverted and doesn’t let anyone get close to him. His intelligence is probably due to his intense interests, and might explain why he’s introverted. He may speak poetically, but stay away – he won’t love you back. Fortunately, his job requires him to be quite objective.

2. Multiple Personality Disorder

The strange case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is a good  example. Dr Jekyll crafted his alter ego by using magic potions, thus creating his opposite Mr. Hyde. Technically, this is actually a split personality, but it is more commonly referred to as MPD. Freud might say Mr. Hyde was created from repressed evil desires, since this is what Dr Jekyll feels he has been battling. Thus, his “good” and “bad” moral sides are imbalanced.

3. Paedophilia

Humbert Humbert desires 12-year-old  stepdaughter Lolita. He still seems to love her as time goes on, but she is only 17 at her oldest. In particular, this is Hebephilia, which is a specific form of Paedophilia to pubescent girls. Humbert may be looking for someone who has not been corrupted by age and experience (perhaps not sexual, since she had sex with a boy at camp before Humbert). It is suggested he is attracted to her because of her resemblance to Annabel, thus suggesting that he may want a better relationship with Annabel. Failing to do so, he creates a “new Annabel” in Dolores.

4. Peter Pan syndrome

Peter Pan is the founder of this disorder. It incorporates immaturity, juvenile behaviour and wanting to stay young forever. Peter Pan does not seem to like the idea of growing into an adult, because he is afraid of the responsibilities, duties and could be insecure about his own abilities. Therefore, he’d rather stay young forever. Whilst he is brave and fearless, he’s also reckless. Characters like this often think they’re right. What can start off as a simple quirk or habit can be interpreted as being part of this syndrome.

5. Narcissism

This comes from Narcissus, who actually saw a water spirit where his reflection in the water would be. Now, it is applied to someone who is quite vain. Jay Gatsby is often  thought of  narcissistic. He seems to be under the impression that he’s so brilliant, Daisy will love him. And yet nobody’s good enough for him.

6. Bipolar disorder

Carmilla seems to have sudden mood changes, and can be very “languid” at times. These are symptoms of bipolar disorder, and her crazy nighttime behaviour might suggest bipolar tendencies. Katy Perry’s ‘love bipolar’ seems particularly relevant to Carmilla, especially since a lot of her sudden mood changes are due to Laura’s influence on her.

7. Narcolepsy

Sleeping Beauty is surely a classic example. She sleeps for a long time, without waking up, which might suggest her sleeping habits are amiss. Whilst the spell is broken once the prince lifts the spell, we don’t know what happens in between. How would she be fed, for instance? Perhaps she gets and eats in her sleep, but does not remember doing so.

8. Schizophrenia

Renfield? He seems largely delusional, in particular about eating animals alive in a hierarchy, so he can absorb lives. He’s quite unorganized and often talks nonsense, which may be because he has a disorganized mind. He doesn’t experience many emotions, and has no desire to form relationships with other people.  Plus, he’s under the impression that if he worships Dracula, he gains immortality.

9. Insomnia

Edward Cullen and Fight Club‘s “Joe”. Neither of these characters can sleep, and have dark circles around their eyes. For Joe, it’s probably his very boring job and lack of masculinity. For Edward, he may be distressed about Bella – and having no soul. Unfortunately, it’s a difficult cycle to break, and may cause the appearance of having dulled emotions.

10. Invisibility

Harry Potter puts on the cloak of invisibility.This is normally to complete a fairy tale task, but he wishes he was normal to begin with. Perhaps he just wants to blend in with the background and not have his scar brought up…

11. Icarus complex

Anderson’s The Little Mermaid seems to fit all of Henry Murray’s criteria. She has a garden in the shape of the sun, which is a ball of fire. And she wishes to rise up to the human world, and falls from grace. Because she lives in the water, there is a lot of water imagery. She wants an immortal soul, which is another symptom. And, she is disobedient and seeks attention, dissatisfied with her life as a fish.

12.  Napoleon complex

In Shrek, Lord Farquad compensates for his diminutive stature with a massive castle. It’s an ongoing joke that everything must be brought down to his height, and he deals with this by trying to be a ruling king.

13. Haemophobia

Bella Swan literally faints at the sight of blood. She can’t stand it – yet she is dating a vampire. It’s even weirder when she says she can smell blood – no wonder she feels faint. She feels anxious and nauseous at the sight or thought of any blood being shed

14. Dissociative fugue

Doctor Who seems to suffer from this. It’s prevalent when regenerates, if this is what we shall call it.  He creates a new identity, goes away for long periods of time and forgets who he is, some of the symptoms of this. He has even forgotten what he did whilst he was human for a while.

15. Factitious disorder

Marla Singer, like the narrator, pretends to have various illnesses in order to boost her self-esteem and ease her depression. She may be doing this because she feels unloved, or it might be to attract the attention of the narrator. But any character who has this is indeed ill, because it is a compulsion for them. Other types include school skivers,like Bart Simpson.

16. Attention Deficit Disorder

Perhaps the Tasmanian Devil might be appropriate? He dashes around everywhere, is easily distracted and is never tired. This disorder is normally characterised by endless energy, a short attention span and never seem to pay attention.

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30 facets of clichéd plot twists

Think you’d know a cliché if it smacked you in the face with a fish? (yep, we’ve all seen the fish-slapping scene) Think again! Sometimes, we think we can spot a “classic” of clichéd character, plot or scenario, but sometimes it’s subverted. This is known as a clichéd plot twist; something surprising which is supposed to be clever and subversive, but it’s so overused they become dry and dead. They aren’t as clever as they sound, as you’ll find out. Try and avoid them at all costs.

What to avoid….

1. The entire story was made up

Like in Alice in Wonderland or The time at sea in Life of Pi, it was all imaginary. Now I understand that it’s fiction, but it has to be believable and convincing. Otherwise, the reader will start shouting “you bugger!”

2. OMG, you’re my long-lost relative!

Luke Skywalker and his father.

3. I’ve fallen in love with a man (and I’m a straight man!)

Or the other way round. Perhaps the person is a transsexual, or a gender bender? Admittedly, this might be a rare scenario – which is why it’s a lot twist – but you just never know who you’ll fall for.

4. OMG, I’ve fallen in love with my mother/sister

As old as Oedipus, who is the most notable example from Greek mythology and tragedy. Put differently, it’s a tale as old as time (yes, this is another cliche). I get that there are certain attractive features you might find in your sibling, but most of us are put of by this. There’s also Luke and Laia in Star Wars. Oh dear.

5. I’ve faked my death/ I’m not really dead

Everyone from Volpone to Juliet has done this. Perhaps Jesus sparked this trend off with his resurrection. And it’s either pointless or causes trouble. Don’t even bother writing it. See the reason for someone escaping their own funeral.

6. I’m accusing you of something I did

A la Legally Blonde with the young teen’s stepmother, or the narrator in A Minute to Kill. Frankly, as a reader our time has been wasted by some utter rubbish. No wonder they were so secretive and touchy.

7. I’m escaping my own funeral

Jack Sparrow does this in The curse of the Black Pearl. He escapes mainly out of sheer luck, making it a Deus et Machina. Because of course our protagonist can’t die, can they?

8. Yeah, me and Spiderman are the same person

Rather like Tyler Durden and “Joe” from Fight Club. Or Clarke Kent as Superman. It’s supposed to a super-shocking, pent-up secret that nobody can find out about. Inventing your own alter-ego may sound interesting, but it’s kind of over-used.

9. You’re really adopted

Again with Star Wars(they seem to be the king of clichéd plot twists). We all sometimes wonder if we’re adopted, but do actually do this is just plain ridiculous. The adoption line can be a hard one to pull off, especially since a lot of kids know at some point they are adopted. Why leave it so late?

10. I never really knew my parents

Tarzan is a particular victim of this. And so is Rudyard Kipling’s Mowgli. It’s not just feral children raised by animals though, there are plenty of other children like this raised in human society. Yes, we all have an identity crisis at some point, but puh-lease!

11. Don’t go into that secret room!

Ever heard the story of Bluebeard? It’s pretty gory, and is a common trope from Romantic/Victorian Gothic literature – think the dungeon or the torture chamber in the castle. If you tell someone NOT to do something, they will do it.

12. I fall in love with my best friend

Of course, because they’re the perfect match. The friend you’ve known since you were four years old. The reason why this is a plot twist is because we expect the protagonist to fall in love with Prince Charming (or Princess).

13…Or I have an unknown frenemy

Ah yes, keep your friends close and your enemies closer. Of course your arch nemesis might be someone who is close to you; they are so close and they know your every strength and weakness. And there’s always one “friend” we might doubt in real life. But fiction is slightly different to real life.

14. Holy shit, aliens/fairies exist

And you’ve got to keep it a secret, right? Boring! The hell you’d be able to keep it quiet for long anyway, and who knows if other people have seen them? And there’s always someone who wants to study them, like Madison in Splash! Give the reader a break!

15. Yeah, I’m not actually a bad guy…

Like Professor Snape out of the Harry Potter series, who is actually a good guy (he was trying to protect Harry from Prof. Quirrel who was cursing him, for instance).Or when we find out he was supposed to kill Dumbledore. Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice is another good example. These scenarios often come from misjudgment or “first impressions” – which are often misleading. But the hard on the outside, soft on the inside analogy is quite common.

*Another common one is “Uh-oh, I’ve gone back in time and screwed everything up!” or “I’m visiting an alternative reality to see how life would be different – now I’m no longer born!”. I’m thinking of Fry I’m-my-own-grandfather from Futurama; not only is this biologically impossible but it’s stupid too. Yes, it may be tempting to change the past as a writer, but it’s poison to the reader. In most cases, they want to know about the future and the present, not the past!

How to avoid it:

I;m not saying ditch plot twists. But, there is a better way to address them than the shit-crapper ones above. Or, even if you don’t fancy a plot twist, you can still know what makes a good story.

16. Watch Hollywood films/ read popular fiction

This will teach you to look for patterns or trends. And, if you know what others are doing, you also know how to set yourself apart. It can backfire, because

17. Suspense vs surprise

It can be hard to draw a line between these two. If you go for suspense you give the reader what they expected. But if there’s a twist ending, it turns out be a surprise. This move can be risky, as the reader might not get what they want.

18. Don’t just hand the info on a plate!

Drip feed the reader with hints and clues. Give them a reason to keep on reading, and give the plot a purpose

19. No melodrama

One way you could possibly cause less damage with a plot twist is acting like it’s no big deal. Most of the time, they are written for you to turn around and go “say whaaat?!”. If you act like it was meant to happen – with hints and false clues – it doesn’t seem so farfetched.

20. Think bout what wouldn’t happen

And then write it. This is what makes a plot twist, right? Create your own spin on a classic tale.This doesn’t mean lead your reader up the garden path and end with something completely different. But try to write about an unlikely situation. Like what if the antagonist defeats the hero? Or Superman can’t save the world?

21. Hybridity!

Create a mish-mash of genres, narrative threads, styles etc. That’ll keep them on their toes. Plus, conforming to heavily on genre conventions is quite tying, so break free a little. The key here is mixing two unlikely genres and finding common ground in them. Try and allow the reader to guess what “type” of story this is though.

22. Put it in the middle

Most plot twists are near the end, right? In the denouement, when everything is supposed to come together. If you put the twist in the middle, like Psycho, the score changes completely. If you’re writing horror, this might be good; the character we all think is the best or who might live gets killed, for instance. Or the criminal is revealed halfway through. “But what’s the point of writing the rest?” I hear you shout. Well, you can always write about the reactions, consequences and how it all goes down…

23. don’t be too radical

It’s quite easy to get away with not having an antagonist; it can just be something general like society, or nature, or several minor oppositional figures. But, don’t try this with a protagonist; they are our link throughout the narrative. There tends to be one “minor” exception with this (it’s not poetry because we still usually have a speaker, with the exception of some haiku). It’s a montage of unrelated or seemingly unrelated events and/or figures. But there is usually someone who takes centre stage for each sketch. There’s being original and there’s being mind-blowingly confusing and crazy. Know the difference.

24. Pure creative writing?

Okay, I know we all have been influenced or inspired by other writing. But if it’s not based on or adapted from something else, you can be quite fresh. This isn’t great if you’re just starting out as a writer, because there’s still a lot to learn.

25. Try and use a variety of colours and fonts

You could use images too. This will help give your story a mood or an air to it, if done correctly. If your choice seems to “obvious”, it might be clichéd. But you can reveal more about a story than just character, plot and style.

26. Do you need a plot twist?

Might there be other ways to add spice to this story? Motifs or language perhaps? A section in verse, if you are writing in prose? Point is, there are hundreds of ways a writer can engage a reader’s attention, and it’s not always about plot.

27. Why not include a puzzle?

You could have a series of seemingly disconnected words, an anagram or an acronym in your story. Hint to the reader their significance and encourage them to find and uncover their meaning. It can contribute to plot, like having a message which reveals something about a character. Good for murder mysteries.

28. Don’t ramble

The reader might think “And you’re talking about this at length, why?” Verbose description about a table, for instance, will cause your reader to close the book, or burn it. The phrase “couldn’t see the table for the wood” somehow springs to mind…

29. Or be too brief

If it’s micro length, then what was the point of including it? Enough said.

30. Be careful about red herrings

These can make the reader feel idiotic, because they might feel like they misinterpreted something or missed a detail. Give some kind of sign post, or make the link between the decoy and the real thing logical.

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