Style and Mentality Pt. 03byPanzerFeck©
Many of us balk at the idea of storytelling being something of a clinically constructed device, but everybody has their own methods; ways of writing that work best for them. Long before I studied media I was a ball of chaotic creative energy with little conscious method beyond the dialogue and the description.
I can look back and both cringe and revel in my disorganised train of thought, laughing at how bad some of my work was, while wishing I still had the same creative energy. I was like a child in a fairground, running unchecked without thought of consequence. That's an important part of a writer's formation, but we must move on and learn how to harness the best and discard of what holds us back.
Now with further education having become a part of my creative instinct, I have more at my disposal when it comes to keeping my audience engaged. But it's not like I employ a million tricks every time I want to bash out a short story.
I am formulaic in my own ways – personally I believe we need to be - and I don't clinically construct everything as I may have formerly suggested that I do, but I have more understanding of different formulas at my disposal which help me to be constructive so that I can push my own boundaries.
The following may help you to find new ways to improve your own craft!
THE ELEMENTS OF STORYTELLING:
DIALOGUE is what's spoken by and between characters, though you might pass a First Person narrative off as dialogue at the least. But through dialogue we gain direct insight into a character's psychology and I'll be damned if I was ever entertained without the use of the spoken word when it wasn't a piece of music!
ACTION is the occurrence of events and the literal actions of characters. They do more than get us from beginning to end. They can set events in motion and bring them to a close. If you have a story that ends without some action or other, the way you close the deal on your plot may be construed as anticlimactic.
DESCRIPTION is very important in storytelling for the sake of immersion and experience. We have five basic senses and then some. And in fiction, extra senses – be they the result of science-fiction or the paranormal – are still relative to what the reader is happy to believe in, even just for the duration of a well described story. Ever wondered how a psychic employed their powers and what that felt like?
EXPOSITION is the overall craft of telling the story; conveying it in the practice of writing; processing information to the audience and the style in which you do it. This opens us up to the modes of narrative, of how we approach the story and from what direction etc.
These are forms of storytelling. There are many and they can be combined to help maximise the impact of what happens in your story and what drives the plot.
LINEAR is the mode of storytelling that travels simply from beginning to end. This is not necessarily to say that the story is chronological. It could begin in 1990 and end in the present day and still be linear because it moves forward.
It could follow simply one character or a group of characters in the same boat headed in the same direction and with the same goal. Some of the most effective stories have been told this way, such as Jaws. Those guys were literally in the same boat and always on the same page when big ol' Bruce was on the prowl.
NON-LINEAR every story has a beginning, a middle and an end, and not particularly in that order. Some stories make it clear that they take place between the past and the present, or sometimes, like in the case of James Cameron's Terminator movies, the present and the future. Others cleverly shuffle events of the present day around for more effective storytelling, such as Pulp Fiction.
PARALLEL is not necessarily the best name for this mode of narrative as it covers multiple narratives that are either destined to head in the same direction, never meeting in the middle, or to come into conflict at some point, or to head off on completely different paths.
Parallel narratives may tell of people destined to become star-crossed or to become enemies, or maybe to affect each other's stories indirectly. Take your pick of the stories out there that tell of several heroes taking their own journey to the same outcome for instance; Lord of the Rings, The Stand, or Game of Thrones...
There was a great Korean film called Brotherhood of War where two brothers grow apart from each other, taking different paths through the Korean War, and who eventually end up on either side of the conflict, fighting each others' sides. That's another perfect example.
CHRONOLOGICAL is simply to state that a mode of storytelling is linear in sense of time without flashbacks to days long gone by. We all love a progressive story that keeps moving forward.
NON-CHRONOLOGICAL stories like Stephen King's IT or Dreamcatcher tend to be caught between two eras or more indefinitely. It's important to note, however, that they had a tendency to zigzag back and forth between past and present day. Sleepers also used this narrative mode in the recalling of crimes before the court. Crime dramas and thrillers especially love to use this narrative.
FIRST PERSON puts the writer in the shoes of the protagonist – or if you're wicked, maybe you'll play the antagonist – and speaks directly from the horse's mouth. It's a popular form of narrative as it remains purely diegetic whilst allowing the writer a mainline to the mind of the lead character, which in turn makes it easier for the audience to know who they're rooting for.
"I looked in through the bakery window. There sat the saddest looking stale old loaf. He'd seen better days. But judging by my reflection? Jesus Christ, was I losing an ugly face contest with a lump of old bread? I suddenly wanted to put my head back in the oven."
The First Person Perspective is a great narrative to run with when you want to be more direct and yet introspective of a character's psychology.
SECOND PERSON is when the writer speaks directly to the reader and makes it your very own experience. They refer to the character as 'You'. This puts the writer in the position of narrator (of sorts) and HIS story is YOU. The interactive role-playing books from my childhood utilised this well.
"You're walking down the shadowy corridor when a sudden explosion shakes the building violently. You dive instinctively to the ground, covering your ears when in through the window leaps another ISIS Suicide Chimpanzee. You wonder how many virgin bananas they told him would be waiting in primate heaven. As if to answer your question, he grins fiercely and charges you with a shrill whooping scream..."
As I mentioned with those RPG books, the Second Person Perspective is like a game. And if you look to FPS (First Person Shooter) video games, where all the characters tend to do the talking and interacting, the Second Person Narrative is like the paperback version of FPS games. Any in-depth personality will belong to support characters around you, as the writer may be able to drop you into the shoes of a character, but they can't rewrite YOU.
THIRD PERSON is the most obvious use of he/she and they in relation to lead characters.
"Charlie the Chimp crashed violently through the window in an explosion of splintering glass, landing expertly on his feet and bent into a cautious crouch. Surveying the apartment corridor, there lay one of the humans, hunched over with both hands protecting his head, face down. He looked up, his eyes widening with terror. This was it. Lost in the death grip of his bloodlust, Charlie rigged his little chimp body to blow, fiercely bared his teeth, and launched himself at the human, screaming "ALLAH DA BANANAS!!!"
What I believe to be the most favoured narrative perspective, the Third Person POV is the most strategic and allows you to leap naturally from one character's mind to the next.
This allows us a broader spectrum of story with plenty verses and chapters belonging to other important characters and offers them a more rounded personality. It also allows us to invest more emotionally in them. This is where the Parallel Narrative comes into play.
You have the whole world in your hands!
It is very possible and acceptable, when you are confident enough to experiment like a true artist, to cross narratives, just as we cross genres. Like I say, the outcome is just a matter of how many you do cross. Sometimes we take too much on board and it can fail to thrill. Other times a story will essentially write itself and you've ended up with a very complex piece that actually works.
A basic story would be a Linear Chronological Third Person tale, looking into the life of a character whose story progresses from beginning, to middle, to end. Just because it's basic, it doesn't mean it won't be a good story.
On the other hand, a Non-Linear Non-Chronological Parallel Narrative wouldn't necessarily be more difficult so long as you plan first. But audiences aren't so different from their favoured writers. We all go from Novice to Expert in many respects. How many people do you know who choose not to read because they find it too time consuming and/or taxing on the mind?
Don't let that put you off, though. You'll get there if you aren't halfway there already. Anyone can do it badly. But the more you try, the better you'll become in your approach and application.
THE METHOD OF EXPOSITION:
As previously mentioned exposition is about how you write your story and convey it to the audience. Don't forget that there's annotation and then there's connotation. The diegetic elements of a story are what remain firmly in the fictional world you create. These are your characters and all that they encounter. The more you reflect on your real life, even just describing your way around a cheeseburger and fries gets a response.
In the movie industry they have a little French term. It's called Mise en Scene. Literally all this means is "In The Scene." Watch a movie and ask yourself what makes a scene. How the lighting brings out the emotions on somebody's face, the colour of the paint on the walls, the type of furniture, the books on the shelf, the food in the fridge – ALL OF IT – impacts the scene and makes it what it is.
We Anderson's movies are all colour coded and therefore carry a sense of place and time and attitude!
Before going into the story, having a clear sense of character helps to build the mood and the atmosphere. Is your home vibrant, mildly pleasant, reflective of the seasons, reflective of your hobbies, your compulsiveness or your disdain? Even frustration can come through in colours and textures and clothing and smells.
PREMISE can be accomplished in a number of ways. All you have to do is to look back to the elements of storytelling and the narrative that you chose. Do you explain everything at once or do you release it slowly? We need a hook to reel us in, though, so the first few paragraphs are essential.
Think of how you find yourself with a dilemma in reality and how you respond do it. Does the premise kick off with an action or a conversation, a physical conflict, a psychological one or a desire to seek something that you need or want?
ESTABLISHMENT goes for character, premise and fictional world. We must have some sense of character to begin with and your character must have a sense of living. In establishing your first scenes, think of these and begin as you mean to go on.
ESCALATION AND CONCLUSION is all about building up to where you want to go with your story and where you want it to end. Remembering the mode(s) of narrative that you chose, the conclusion doesn't necessarily have to be at the end. With several main characters, they may likely be several conclusions throughout that give readers more to invest in. But that sense of building towards something big is the tease, the anticipation of what we came here to see.
A satisfying end to a good build-up also leads the reader to wonder "what next?"
RESOLUTION/DENOUEMENT relates to the establishment of your ending and how your character and their world have been impacted by the events of your story. Will they ever be the same again? If not, why not give us a teaser of what has become the new normality or the remaining paths that have yet to be taken?
You can handle this any way you feel is best. Some love an ambiguous cliff-hanger ending while others love a deep and meaningful afterburn. Just do what you feel serves the story itself and maybe you'll find yourself with a series.
Genre is important to your niche, your intended market/demographic, and who you wish to appeal to with your story. It's ever possible to cross genres and yet still to appeal to just the one when you seek to define your work. And in fact it's probably best to do that, rather than to try to market to deeper subgenres.
Too many times you'll see something labelled everything under the sun like Action-Adventure-Drama-Thriller-Sci-Fi, when it's best to just stick with the one label and assure readers that they'll get what they want. When it comes to sub-genres, it's still best to cross as few as possible. Leave the arguing to your audience and just write the story.
Can you imagine, though, if Twilight (I'm not a fan so don't get me started) had tried to appeal to the subgenres by calling itself a Vampire-Werewolf-Teen-Rom-Drama-Adventure-Horror? This also explains how its fan-fiction rip-off, 50 Shades, maxed out on readers (apart from the fact that it was written by a producer with influential friends and then got ten times the marketing for free from the incessantly-outraged Internet).
Despite being a niche subgenre, it refused to be pigeonholed and stuck with the basic genres, of which there is one for everyone!
Notable genres are:
ACTION – car chases, fighting, quick wit and gunplay.
ADVENTURE – characters on compelling journeys.
COMEDY – the art of executing various modes of humour.
DRAMA – in-depth portrayals of human life.
FANTASY – other worlds and beings, and/or other realities.
HORROR – not like Kanye's Tweets. Not yet, anyway. Horror, though, is one of the purest genres, encompassing the elements of all genres and yet most often standing alone in its specific intent to frighten.
ROMANCE – love stories.
SCI-FI – conceptual tales of the future of earth/mankind/technology/the universe.
THRILLER – suspenseful tales and twisting plots.
Subgenres, subcategories of the above genres, even come with their own subcategories, which we have the countless concepts of many great authors to thank. Genre itself is like a family tree whose roots go deeper and deeper, in all directions and yet constantly intertwining.
The more original concepts we create, the greater the foundation for creativity and if the creative side of our brains had saliva ducts, we'd drown in the possibilities.
The works of Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker, H. P. Lovecraft and H. G. Wells, for instance, have been around for a very long time. Steeped in both horror and science fiction (and challenging religion where it did not utilise it) opened up a world of possibilities with the rise in popularity of both genres.
Shelley didn't write a straight-out horror tale, though. She created a great work crossing drama, romance, action and adventure. The same goes for Stoker.
Superstition, the paranormal, the occult and the concept of "the undead", and the possibility of other-worldly beings and ways of life (sometimes those of other dimensions) allowed these genres to cross and to breed their own forms of wonder, fantasy and terror but they all came from somewhere.
Horror became a mainstream genre because it relied on how humans react when they become frightened, shocked, grossed out or filled with expectant dread.
Horror, as a great example, relies on human emotion, action and reaction in the face of that which scares us.
It isn't any different from the romances that rely on our understanding of love, longing and desire.
It isn't any different from the adventures that provoke wanderlust and the need for exhileration and the glory of survival.
Genre is the archetype of storytelling in regard to the many faces of our human identity and from it we filter off into every corner of the lands and their cities and towns; every shore and every sea and ocean; under every rock and in ever cellar, tunnel and cave.
What becomes of these adventures, these worlds, and the characters within them?
Dante Alighieri and William Shakespeare's engaging dramas would not be the same had they not mastered their own forms of comedy, which gradually became its own genre by right through the art of performance.
Though comedy seems best suited to film and television, depending on what your preference is, it's all still being written by someone. Stand-up comedians still write their material before they practice it before an audience.
Movies still perform read-throughs of their scripts before they begin production phase. It's still relevant in the practice of storytelling.
Without the likes of Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes, we may never have been graced with the Noir detective thriller or the buddy-cop subgenre that pits mismatched partners against each other under a common interest.
The Erotica subgenre has Jane Austen and D. H. Lawrence to thank. We just added more frankness in the workings of human biology as the world changed and became more and more sexually liberated.
But with erotica we can cover all areas of the human condition on any kind of adventure and we can apply any tone - light or dark or both - because we the Internet are not bound by age ratings. You just have to be 18 or over.
And then what do you suppose about the likes of the Greek philosophers who showed masterful intellect in creating many of the archetypes for storytelling? I see elements of Xenophon's Anabasis in Watership Down. I see Homer's Iliad and Odyssey in Kerouac's On the Road.
And now with decades rather than millennia between them, the likes of the Western subgenre now influence art and craft around the world as much as the philosophers influenced all of civilisation.
No stone shall remain unturned in the search for a new take on a well-loved and trusted mode of storytelling.
The western has proved, probably more than anything else, that though a theme or a niche has come and gone from the height of popularity in film and literature, its impact remains and therefore influences writers of all genres and market niches in many ways.
And why? Because it has a feel of its own that no other subgenre can recreate alone.
Therefore maybe the subgenre is not only a cross reference of cultures, or the conservation of a pop culture that has come to pass, but a handing down of the torch along the genres; which is why it's important to want to cross over from one to the other.
And therefore the understanding of genre is to acknowledge all there is to take from our heritage and to help create new ones. There are ceaseless combinations and possibilities as to the subgenres you can mix and match. Whether they work well together depends on the storytelling and that's up to you to master for yourself.
How you choose to is entirely up to you, but this is why writers recommend that you always look for something old or new to read and to be influenced by. It's not stealing or plagiarising to offer your own take on a previously covered subject, otherwise we'd have nothing to go by and no familiarity by which to draw attention.
Nothing is truly original as though to stand completely alone. Just like our fellow writers, it's all one great big support system. Those who have the hefty balls to cry "cultural appropriation" have no the intellect to appreciate that we must progress from somewhere.