An author would be lying or would perhaps suffer from severe attention deficit disorder if he or she claims that they do not have a message. This message sometimes overlaps with the “one story” an author has to tell and often retells.
We get it. You are the type of person who would engage with strangers about your beliefs and loudly advocate your position with little hesitation. The problem with being too direct is that most of your readers will either not care enough about your philosophical musings or the more avid readers may feel like you are patronizing them. The author’s job is to disappear among the many characters and the narrative, commanding the theme in a subtle way.
Actions speak louder than words
This is a strange thought to put down on a blog about fiction writing. What does it matter if people can repeat your theme but not connect it to their lives or thoughts in any meaningful way? It doesn’t. If a characters speaks about morality without that line making him out to be a rookie lecturer, there is no danger posed. If the environment and atmosphere convey a deeper meaning it does not matter if most people miss it. The art you create will often attract false ideas by lovers of literature and yet be admired. The point is that people who search for meaning will find meaning, whether true or false. If a small aspect of your theme made an impact on a reader so as to change his position or embolden him, what have you lost if he cannot recite your boring lecture?
It is up to you how you want to present your theme. I won’t deny that preaching about a theme is fun for the preacher, but it has to fit the story. The inverse of an idea can be examined in the arc of a teacher character for example, opening a story him advocating an idea and letting the story unfold with how his worldview might be challenged. At the end of the day an author will either torture himself with lack of beauty in his or her work and satisfying the readers thirst for entertainment or indulging too much in himself or herself. There should be balance here and it should be noted that what is beautiful for you is not necessarily ugly for someone else, but it can be. Think about all the times you had to put down a book when the themes came out slightly too obvious. Perhaps this does not happen to everyone, but use yourself as your own biggest fan and realize how self aggrandizing that is. Most readers won’t be a tenth as interested in your ideas.
Bait your readers. I discussed this in the “Hook” series about the importance of a good introduction. Once you have dragged readers in with what they really want or think they want you can slowly crawl towards them in your hunt for their hearts.
I realize this blog was rather preachy, but this is a blog… what did you expect? Or was it just preachy? (ques dramatic music) Keep writing people. Your sanity depends on it.
It has been a while since my last post, but let me get back into this talking about a cliche. This may seem like coming out of left field, but bear with me. I am not a fan of romance, especially not as a the central plot for most of my stories. I have some romantic backstories or subplots but I tread carefully not to let it take over, but that is mostly because of my main genres. Romantic triangles however is something I have studied recently because of how it has affected me in polarized ways. Many romantic stories that have used romantic triangles have both bored me and some have touched me deeply.
Romantic triangles are seen everywhere perhaps because of how common they are in the real world. As with all cliches it should be said that motivation and perspective give them their bad name. By that I mean we often see the worst examples repeated the most. Romantic triangles often give romance a bad name. They give characters bad names and it waters down motivation. I am convinced however, that with the right approach to using this device that you would never be discouraged to use it, but rather carefully aware. Cliches can be used to perfection with the right perspective or if it addresses a theme.
I have seen most romantic triangles play off of one of the worst motivations ever- indecision. Now indecision isn’t a theme many people are fond of. I have indecision every day when deciding about which food I should eat. I am not saying people are likened to those daily struggle of choices, but rather that it can feel that way to the audience. The reality of romantic triangles is lost in most novels since authors have their focus where there is no tension or a false sense of tension. In most of these cases the story is told from the perspective of the party longed after by the other two parties. That is that the focal point of most of these tales are from a girl (usually) having to decide between boy A and boy B and then first making a wrong choice. The plot then is about the fixing of this error or the failure to fix this error. Now there is something somewhat unrealistic about romantic triangles that seem to take precedence in novels and that is that the biggest struggle, the thing authors want from stories, is the whole choice between two people thing. There should be no if you had just moments. What is frustrating to readers is that the authors somehow try and use the worst of the worst when using romantic triangles. Instead of being one between 3 friends (which allows some true conflict in a choice) rather they opt for the newcomer coming between two friends. (cheapening your main character) Now I will show that by using it this way authors are wasting a chance by not using the most realistic drive force in a romance and that is unrequited love. Let me put stories in a question form to help show the importance of perspective and ask you which one sucks?
Should I choose my best friend Scott or the new guy Thomas? vs How will I ever be able to win her heart? vs I lost my best friend, how do I deal with this loss? vs How will he cope with the unrequited love?
One of these plots sticks out like a sore thumb. It has no theme. It is hollow. Did you notice that in each case there was a theme and a closeness lost or love not gained? Characters and relationships are crucial. In some of those plots lies themes of loss, depression, drive to build a relationship and in the typical one lies a choice that breaks a character. Now I understand that characters have flaws but basing an entire premise or central part of your character on the flaw of not being able to choose loses focus on things that in the real world could matter. Loss and gain and potential loss and gain are probably some of the most important things you need in any story. Now even with the worst case of a romantic triangle there springs forth loss that is rarely visited, because someone loses. That is a new starting point and if that is where you start your story it takes a whole new meaning.
I end with a simile. Robert Beaker is competing with Frost & Co for a lucrative business deal with JI Dynamics. Gain and loss. Potential gain and potential loss. Most people will tell this story from the perspective of the newcomer. The guy fighting to get in or even the second company. So I am left with a mystery. If this is clear to see in other plots about money or power, why do we struggle when it comes to love?
With red propaganda filling with rage young beasts
with want and screams of terror drown into the night.
Where is light and to what page do they turn?
Does the terror of true faith now come through the major carrier of green flag run
in nations that fill with rape and horror?
These men are beasts tamed by much worse.
At schools, media and public play, one cry: coerce!
And though mad young boys terror commit,
why through Babel does this world commit.
The crafty snakes hollowed out the truth, with faith and tribe an empty recluse
and maybe now few wake up
as the shell is crushed.
This heap of trash will compact and my people’s peace with death may come.
And we cry to God in praise at Heaven’s gate
where only God can unite what He hath divided.
Before that day, I still declare
that true faith is good in each tribe and tongue,
but now we all have differences to know
and as good neighbours, we shall sow.
And in this dark night, my people may end
and it is up to the rest to hold the last stand.
It has been a long while since I wrote on this blog. So I am back at it and am also going to finish of my second novel’s first draft.
A friend of mine asked me to write a short story for her birthday, so naturally I started thinking immediately.
“What kind of short story?”
I have written an absurd tale in the past, but knowing that she had also enjoyed some absurd stories I did not think I would be able, but out of the blue an idea popped into my head. This time I had no clue where it came from. I took something my friend loved, turned into an antagonist, and figured out a moral of the story.
Then for the first time in a long while I decided to write in the first person point of view. Usually it is something I avoid in favour of the third person limited point of view, however this would turn out to be good practice for me. When I showed her a sample, she thought it was already a short story. That is, dear reader, because most non writers do not use the word short story like writers do. For them it can be five hundred words and perhaps that is true when short is used adjectivally, but I meant the real deal. I would write her ten thousand words about a man who finds himself stranded and who has to make questionable decisions when a “good” Samaritan shows up.
I am almost at a thousand words now and this is starting to entertain me a lot.
Have you ever written a gift for a friend?
Today I will discuss backstory and why it is very important to a story. Very important. Both backstory and lore are the best ways to display honesty in fiction.
Honesty is camouflage that makes the author disappear. It is what makes stories believable and there is no way to make a protagonist more believable than adding a backstory. You must always have a backstory. Always. It is, however up to you to write the backstory or not, for honesty in fiction affects both reader and writer… even when it is not included.
It is easier to tell a lie believing it than to tell the lie and know it for what it is. By adding a backstory it will be easier for both author and reader to connect to a character even though it might not be included in the novel. Adding it may affect pacing, but go on ahead if you feel it is important to the story.
You can add a backstory in implicit and explicit ways. Keep in mind that there is power in subtlety. Backstories have a way of making characters seem more real, because every human being has a backstory. It may not be grand, but we do have backstories. Another thing backstories accomplish is that it establishes motive. When a character acts, the reader will gasp at certain stages and say that it fits in with who the character is.
In other instances it may be better to hide a backstory. The Joker may be the best example of this as this leaves people with questioning his motives. This establishes his anarchism. He lies about his past, because his main motive is not his past. Most stories have their heroes grounded in past experiences. Some may be related to childhood.
This spine is to a character as lore is to a world. Next time I’ll discuss lore.
What are your thoughts on backstory? When would you include it? Is it important to you? Let me know.
I believe in multiple arcs in stories. When doing a story with round characters, one arc is the minimum for a character. This title may be a reference to math, but believe me stories are anything, but mathematical. It was just a cute way of asking whether you wanted to build all arcs from the bottom.
Sin 0=0. You know the curve (it does not apply to most stories) but stories change and only authors know where arcs end. They surely do not end at the same place… mostly. However if a story has multiple arcs, this title becomes very important. For example one arc is a previously ruined romantic relationship and the main arc has the protagonist stepping up as a hero. Now, you may well want to show the relationship for starting at ground zero, however you have limited time and space your story may not be about that relationship. Here you will be dealing with backstory.
It all depends on the author. If stories’ character and relationship arcs were to be put on a single graph you would have some weird form of modern art. It would look just like a jungle of ups and downs. However if two of these points are dealt with in a story and their difference is great…well we have a new ball game. Say arc A and arc B are both developing, but arc B is rising and arc A s dropping. Here you have some serious internal and external conflict going on. Dramatic kaboom!
When those lines meet. Man get ready for some hard hitting stuff. To most people reading this, what I am saying may not make sense, but that is since I am vague and I am only trying to ramble my journey. Stories can not be put into boxes. That is a lie we tell ourselves to keep us safe. Many authors have a formula and one arc and it works for them. All these terminology are just made up as well.
Maybe I am imagining another dimension, but hey… this is fiction.
Keep on writing, dreaming and plotting. Next up I will discuss the spine of a story. Do not worry…. it won’t be vague like this.
Let’s face it. We remember childhood fables all too well. You may think that it is simple at first, because it is, but it is also a strong tool writers’ can use now and then. The other day I replayed a videogame that used a fable to characterize its protagonist. Now, I don’t mean to spoil any story you may or may never know, but it was powerful. Let me just say that the whole story’s emotions could have been summed up by all the jackdaw’s fables.
The jackdaw fables all depict negative qualities in man: vanity, pride and overconfidence. The bird also loves shiny things which ties in well with the character. Using fables in other stories may seem like a cop out. I mean there surely are more subtler (subtlety is key) ways to show your characters, but here the symbol needs to be revealed slowly. How so? Many people are not aware of the fable of the jackdaw and the eagle and it is never mentioned until the end. The protagonist liked the bird and called his ship, the Jackdaw. So this is a matter of knowledge. People who know the fable would easily see the foreshadowing, but the beauty of this symbol is that it has different meanings and does not have to be applied directly.
Let me put it like this. In the end you may call the protagonist a jackdaw, but you may only be right to a certain extent. Those thoughts of why will linger with you. This is because we easily attach meaning to symbols. What impressed me most was the fact that there are subtle hints at the fables and that this story reminds you of the fables while being a complete story on its own.
Using imagery, both known and personal is a clever way to characterize, period. We use animals in our everyday language. You know the similes.
What are your thoughts on fables and use of imagery? Share if you will.
The alarms had cried wolf
in the past of the city of art.
War waged on the outskirts,
but inside the warm cheers
were for circus men.
Merry songs were drowned out by the sirens.
The sirens sang a horror line,
but joy burned fear.
Then the dark heat came.
With blasts so stark to peaceful town-
jitters and titters changed into screaming.
Doves- phoenixes, shattered glass, crying,
wailing, sulfur cast ruled the air
and broken ground.
People were trapped in the tar cauldron.
Merciless British heaped hellfire on civilians.
Evil Nazis screamed in fear.
Children, orphans. Mothers, childless.
Dead families. Broken ones gathered on the dump, but
the second wave would melt them too.
Royals, chin up.
It is Winston Churchill’s porcelain cup.
Have you ever wondered why people cry when they are happy? So have I. Some people do not get the idea of crying at all, but certainly it would not be necessary if there is nothing to cry about.
Well, too much, is enough said. Too. That word right there is the key to all imbalance. Too much of anything is a bad thing. Fortunately your body is equipped with state of the art homeostasis which also makes you look like a pansy or a misty eyed warrior when you are too happy. Shocker. How can a person be too happy? That’s probably the only thing that we can not get enough of, but apparently we can.
I am convinced that this is the reason that people embrace sad films or novels. Either they do not want the homeostasis or they suppress it. They then proceed to need a way to combat the happiness. That is also the reason some artists believe they have to be sad to make art. It is not that they need to be sad, but rather that they don’t want the high too high.
I first started my quest of uncovering the mystery of crying when happy, after I had watched soldiers’ homecomings. Many times kids and wives cried. There was this one soldier who’s seven year old daughter got out of class early. Her mother got her out of a math test. She was already on a high. Then around the corner waited a hero.(unbeknownst to her) When she saw him, they embraced. She started to sob. She repeated three times that she had missed her dad.The logical man that he is, he asked a clever question, “Why are you crying?”
“‘Cause I’m happy.”
Why was I even wanting to see this? I don’t know. I wanted to see the bonds that other people had.I then wanted to crush it. I wanted to write some sad ending.
This brings me to writing. Wow, that took a long time. Writers love to write either happy endings, sad endings or a good old mixture of both. Now you have a good idea why. People love change. Boredom is static. Sometimes happy readers want you to do what their bodies should be able to do. You need to make them sad. Some authors do it too well. Then the work sinks in, leaving a reader in a state of melancholy. This works particularly well with great characters. On other occations you will lift their spirits and if you are real nasty you will drop it again. Maybe I have said it before, but here it goes again. Happiness is speed. We experience it detached. We feel the smile just as we see speed by looking at the road. We just do not feel it in our bodies. Change in emotion is acceleration. That can be felt. That is your rollercoaster. So go make people laugh with sadness and cry with hapiness. That is what we are paid to do.
(I am crying now, because I am not being paid yet, but I’ll laugh soon. You know, because there is one too that is okay. Balance.)