on writing

Story 101, Ep. IV: Events, Embryos, Essentials

The original source of these ideas remains sketchy in my memories; perhaps this bit was a talk on divine artistry by Tim Keller. But if your story holds most or all of these elements, I could almost guarantee it automatically rocks. These are the seeds of existence–and the stuff that addicts us to your narrative world.

  • a birth: an actual birth, a beginning of a dream, a newness
  • a death: a real death of someone we love or someone we have just met or someone who affects someone we love—because life is fragile, is it not? And ends are as vast in meaning as beginnings.
  • a marriage: a great love, a union against all odds, the meeting of souls in an otherwise chaotic realm that is Real Life–because be it, as it is, fraught with meaning, it is also chaotic, and love is a time-space-and-spirit miracle.
  • a redemption*: a making of peace, a cycle back to the beginning of the events and a renewing of what was once new and went wrong, a happy ending (*note: a tragedy will never come round to this, but we sit, reading, waiting, wishing for what could have been, and in this way, redemption is alluded to. I think of Nick’s green light at the end of Gatsby: a longing for a dream that never delivered.)

These are like the meat-and-potatoes of your story. If you avoid these in the name of “not getting too heavy,” you lose what may be called “Stakes.” What are the consequences of Ivy not retrieving that medicine in time? Oh gosh darn it, she gets a big headache is not nearly as compelling as then her true love dies. 

Modern and postmodern tales toy with these elements in order to pose questions against our narrative expectations. I recall my sister’s fascination with Hitchhiker’s Guide and the detritus of events that made her laugh (or cry) in their brutal nonsensicality. But the stories that inspire and incline earth-folk to greatness–at least, so I would argue–echo the Monomyth structure and involve each of these elements, literally or metaphorically.

On another note, I’ve also been toying with Dan Harmon’s Plot Embryo method (see Rachael Stephen’s practical application of it here and Harmon’s succinct explanation here)—and loving it.

Keep your eyes open for Episode V (concerning bullets 6. and 7.)!

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Design concepts for the brand. Brainstorm with your team on how you want to develop your brand visually. This is a crucial step in getting your brand noticed!

 

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on writing

Story 101, Ep. III: Humans vs. Characters

“Characters” smell of stereotype and fiction.

If you met a character at a bus stop, you wouldn’t want to have a conversation with him–it would feel as forced as sitcom dialogue–and you’d wonder what was wrong with his face. Humans, on the other hand, have quirks and patterns of behavior that fit within the scope of their humanness. They wouldn’t try to talk to you at a bus stop or they most certainly would; they’d talk to a fence post and have a good time at it. But they’d be real. And given the number of examples we have surrounding us, I wonder why it’s so hard?

Collect people like stamps and try to capture their essence in as few of words as possible. If you read it later and can’t remember who they were, how they made you feel, then you can’t use it, which is too bad. But the pretty people aren’t usually memorable anyways, and the ones carrying Rottweiler puppies or a beard to their knees are so striking as to be astounding. You couldn’t possibly have a motiveless character who wears Undertaker shirts and bounces fat babies on their hip.

Don’t be afraid to borrow and don’t so much as write your characters as find them.

Look for Episode IV (concerning bullet 5.)!

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on writing

Story 101, Ep. II: Problems and More Problems

Don’t give it to ’em easy.

I’ve come to think of problem-invention as a parallel to my experience befriending people in Southeast Asia. American culture affords the sort of fast best-friendship that springs from extroverted social norms and bonding over sports teams or favorite authors, which immediate heart-to-hearts follow. This is not the case, though, for “cold cultures” — like introverted quiet sister Thailand. Culturally reserved but friendly, Thais accidentally feed the lie that you are not only friends but good ones. In a little bit, with some effort and time, you will be invited for dinner. You’ll think: “We’re totally friends!” But you’re not. When a wall comes flying up from a trapdoor in the ground, it’ll nearly clip you, and you may feel angry. Around the third or fourth time this happens, you’ll get discouraged at the thought of ever becoming as good of friends as you think you are. But still, you plow onward, and then another wall nearly takes off your nose. You may be in the jungles for a good few years before one day your Thai “acquaintance” will look at you and think and look at you and think and finally ask you what your favorite color is.

As soon as the main problem dies, your story is over.

The temptation as a creator is to invent the world you wish you had and make your characters flourish in it. But this is where we may mirror Real Life, which may not make a living off it but does enjoy a good dabble of thwarting. We learn through struggle, so let your characters struggle. Give them a problem relevant to their goal and let them want it so bad, their wanting bleeds through the pages and makes us match our breathing to theirs. Then thwart them.

On your character’s road to actualizing his or her goal, there are spring-loaded doors in the ground. But the more walls, the bigger the pay-off. I’ll never forget how happy I was to answer: “It’s green! Green green green!”

Keep an eye out for Episode III (concerning bullet 4.)!

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Design concepts for the brand. Brainstorm with your team on how you want to develop your brand visually. This is a crucial step in getting your brand noticed!

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on writing

Story 101, Ep. I: Bullets from an Unknown Source

One night while brainstorming, I rediscovered some old notes on my phone.

There were piece-y observations from my people-watching days: an old pilot whose laugh came in chopped “ha ha ha”s that, if it weren’t so real, would sound fake; a white man speaking fluent Spanish with his Latina girlfriend and refusing to look at the other Anglos, though I could hear him translating their sale pitches under his breath; a wraith thin girl with symmetrical lip piercings, whispering hush hush to the puppy laying in complete silence in her arms…

There were a few sermon notes and a series of the briefest seventh sense type sensations. You know, those odd psychosomatic feelings that happen in everyday life and you know you have to record it, or you won’t get just the right words next time it happens to your created humans.

Then there was the untitled note with bullet points and ideas from who-knows-where.

It read–

“Storytelling:

  1. there is always a problem

  2. begin new strings where old have ended

  3. main characters are always learning new things, about each other, about themselves

  4. HUMANS, not characters

  5. birth, death, marriage, redemption

  6. ‘you can charm the critics and have nothing to eat'”

  7. who is this for?

I have the vaguest suspicion that these thoughts sprang from an interview with Stephanie Meyer, the author of Twilight, that I read in some writing forum or other. And while Ms. Meyer has been brutalized in the literary world for her writing skills (or, some argue, lack thereof), I will defend her in the case of storytelling. Which is of course what we’re talking about. She made her millions because she could tell a story that kept you reading. And that’s more than can be said for a number of writers I’ve read.

Keep your eyes peels for Episode II (concerning bullets 1., 2., and 3.)!

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Design concepts for the brand. Brainstorm with your team on how you want to develop your brand visually. This is a crucial step in getting your brand noticed!

 

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on writing

on story: an introduction to Story 101

As a matter of fact, non-stories annoy me.

Perhaps it was Donald Miller’s A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, but–I’m blanking–whatever other culprits there were (some Sundance person or other starts to grate in memoriam), the writing world got artsy about the concept of storytelling. But in the brouhaha of feel-good artistry, the more concrete concepts behind “What Makes a Story a Good Story” were abandoned. It’s not popular to be black-and-white these days.

The problem with artsy-fartsiness isn’t the amount of white people involved. Rather, it’s the sphere of the writing world that well-to-do hipsterdom and postmodern-storytelling represents, a fancy cover on the book that is The Lack of Story. It’s intellectual to tell non-stories because life doesn’t have a meaning. Because we wake up and we make coffee and we go about our days trying to make enough money (or steal it) to accomplish the something-more-that-we-want, but always always Real Life thwarts it for all but the lucky point two percent and then we die.

I disagree with the former statements because I believe in many things, God for one and that life has a meaning, and also—stories. As soon as the answer is that we have no answer, we’ve set a limit on possibility, and Possibility is meant to be endless.

I love my dog. She makes you feel like the most wonderful person as soon as you come home from anywhere, even the two second walk to the mailbox. But this silky-eared critter doesn’t sit with a pen in hand, puzzling over the twist in a suspense novel–or wonder if she has the right to write a human character, as she’s never had such experiences. She lives to love without condition and be petted every waking moment, and as the vet told us today, that’s her job.

But as a race, unlike our animal coinhabitants, we have the unique tendency to deal with our earthy mediums in rather pointless ways. We do puzzle over plotholes and villains we’ve botched. We fresco ceilings and carve immense marble statues, and while we don’t have to do these things for our living functions of respirating and surviving to carry on, we do it because we want to. Because sometimes we feel we must to be truly living.

“We are infinite” (Chbosky), and within us is the infinite: our stories. Stories compel. Stories move. Stories shape. Stories don’t muggle about in actionless introspection unless your character is then moved to do something and fight and perhaps, at long last, achieve a happy ending. Because–as such endings lie within the realm of endless possibilities–those happen too.

Keep an eye out for Episode I — coming soon!

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Design concepts for the brand. Brainstorm with your team on how you want to develop your brand visually. This is a crucial step in getting your brand noticed!

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