Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Fiction Workshop 18

This is taken form: https://timstout.wordpress.com/story-structure/blake-snyders-beat-sheet/ and is very useful. As you can probably tell, it is really meant for the film world but it is actually useful for any story-teller.
Snyder's template runs thus:
Opening Image – A visual that represents the struggle & tone of the story. A snapshot of the main character’s problem, before the adventure begins.
Set-up – Expand on the “before” snapshot. Present the main character’s world as it is, and what is missing in their life.
Theme Stated (happens during the Set-up) – What your story is about; the message, the truth. Usually, it is spoken to the main character or in their presence, but they don’t understand the truth…not until they have some personal experience and context to support it.
Catalyst – The moment where life as it is changes. It is the telegram, the act of catching your loved-one cheating, allowing a monster on board the ship, meeting the true love of your life, etc. The “before” world is no more, change is underway.
Debate – But change is scary and for a moment, or a brief number of moments, the main character doubts the journey they must take. Can I face this challenge? Do I have what it takes? Should I go at all? It is the last chance for the hero to chicken out.
Break Into Two (Choosing Act Two) – The main character makes a choice and the journey begins. We leave the “Thesis” world and enter the upside-down, opposite world of Act Two.
B Story – This is when there’s a discussion about the Theme – the nugget of truth. Usually, this discussion is between the main character and the love interest. So, the B Story is usually called the “love story”.
The Promise of the Premise – This is the fun part of the story. This is when Craig Thompson’s relationship with Raina blooms, when Indiana Jones tries to beat the Nazis to the Lost Ark, when the detective finds the most clues and dodges the most bullets. This is when the main character explores the new world and the audience is entertained by the premise they have been promised.
Midpoint – Dependent upon the story, this moment is when everything is “great” or everything is “awful”. The main character either gets everything they think they want (“great”) or doesn’t get what they think they want at all (“awful”). But not everything we think we want is what we actually need in the end.
Bad Guys Close In – Doubt, jealousy, fear, foes both physical and emotional regroup to defeat the main character’s goal, and the main character’s “great”/“awful” situation disintegrates.
All is Lost – The opposite moment from the Midpoint: “awful”/“great”. The moment that the main character realizes they’ve lost everything they gained, or everything they now have has no meaning. The initial goal now looks even more impossible than before. And here, something or someone dies. It can be physical or emotional, but the death of something old makes way for something new to be born.
Dark Night of the Soul – The main character hits bottom, and wallows in hopelessness. The Why hast thou forsaken me, Lord? moment. Mourning the loss of what has “died” – the dream, the goal, the mentor character, the love of your life, etc. But, you must fall completely before you can pick yourself back up and try again.
Break Into Three (Choosing Act Three) – Thanks to a fresh idea, new inspiration, or last-minute Thematic advice from the B Story (usually the love interest), the main character chooses to try again.
Finale – This time around, the main character incorporates the Theme – the nugget of truth that now makes sense to them – into their fight for the goal because they have experience from the A Story and context from the B Story. Act Three is about Synthesis!
Final Image – opposite of Opening Image, proving, visually, that a change has occurred within the character.

Reading exercise:

Can you trace this story arc in a short story or novel you have read recently? Or perhaps in a film you have seen?

Writing exercise

Use the headings from the beat sheet and say what happens in your story / novel. You may be prompted to add in something new. This may well make your story arc stronger.

Would you like Fiction Workshops 11-18 as a handy PDF?  Along with some other freebies? Apply here. 

Saturday, 6 January 2018

Creative Writing in Other Languages Intro

When the National Curriculum was first introduced, the Modern Languages brief talked about creativity.  However, nobody could quite decide what that meant so the word was removed. Arguably anyway all writing is creative: it creates something in the reader. Also the writer has to be creative with the tools at her disposal to create the desired response in the reader – whether that be a poem, a letter to the paper or a tax return. 

Being able to write exactly what you want in a foreign language may seem like a very ambitious goal for a learner, particularly a new learner. 

I argue here that someone new to a language can use that of which they have mastery to achieve much if they use their knowledge and skills creatively. Watch this space for exercises that encourage that creativity. I'll be post those over the coming weeks. 

I'll also show how those who are more fluent in a foreign language can use this ability to improve their writing in their own language. 

I've used the techniques I'll be describing when I was a teacher of languages in high schools and also when I've taught creative writing in higher education.         

Thursday, 14 December 2017

Fiction Workshop 17 Bringing the story theories together

Do all of these story theories work together or do they overlap and contradict each other? A little bit of all of that really.  

I have created a spread sheet that you can download at : https://www.dropbox.com/s/wv1cawg9y7rjfdi/Story%20Theory.xlsx?dl=0
Note, you can use this for both planning and analysing.   
First of all, save a copy of it for future reference and then save another copy as “Name of Your Story Planner” or “Name of Your Story Analyser” 

There are empty cells next to each named cell for you to fill in details about your story. The first two blocks are about the characters, however, and here you fill the details in the named block.  Remember it is the tension between them that creates the story. You must establish the hero, friend, mentor and enemy. Only the hero needs to be a sentient being. The other blocks are optional and you may find you don’t have any ideas until after you’ve filled out the rest of the spread sheet. 

There is only one column of empty cells next to all of Booker’s theories. Delete all of the columns except that which best fits your story. 

The number of subplots will vary according to the size of the book. Add in cells and columns as you need to. Shorter stories and flash fiction may not have subplots.  
Now, make every effort to fill in all of the empty cells. 

Save a third copy as “Name of Your Story Spine Analysis” or “Name of Your Story Spine Planner”  
Then, delete all of the theory columns except the one with which you feel most comfortable. Now you have a good analysis or a plan from which you can create the spine of your story.

Happy reading and writing!   

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Fiction Workshops 16 A simple way of planning

This might suit those of you who consider yourselves to be "pansters". You know, you just write and see what happens. It's useful, though, if you know the outcome of the story first. You write the opening scene and then the final scene. Then you write the second scene followed by the penultimate scene. And so on.
I know of one writer of crime novels who works this way. I'm using it for my autobiography, Sunset over the Gasworks (don't ask – it becomes clear when you read it) where I'm putting together short scenes in this way. List to date:
·         Room with a View
·         Granny's House
·         Familiar Ground
·         Goodbye to the Gasworks
You can of course also use this as a planning tool.

Writing exercises

For pansters

As long as you know your outcome, use this to write a short story.

For plotters

Use this to plan and write a short story  

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Fiction Workshops 15 Christopher Booker's Seven Basic Plots

Christopher Booker has produced a great tome of a book in which he defines seven plot outlines.  These don't actually contradict Campbell, McKee, Propp or Vogler but flesh out and fine tune some story lines. The rest of Booker's book discusses story in more detail. It is well worth a read and after you've read it you may want to go back to it from time to time.

You can take a short-cut to remembering the seven plots by just looking at the cover of the book. You'll see what I mean if you look at the link below.
Here's a summary:


The Seven Plots

Overcoming the Monster
Rags to Riches
The Quest
Voyage and Return


Overcoming the monster

The call
Initial success
Final Ordeal
Miraculous escape   


Rags to Riches

Initial wretchedness at home (call)
Out in the world – initial success
Central crisis
Independence and the final ordeal
Final union, completion and fulfilment


Quest- Odyssey

Problems encountered:
Deadly opposites
Journey to the underworld

Story arc:

Arrival and frustration
Final ordeals


Voyage and return

Dream stage
Frustrations stage
Nightmare stage
Thrilling escape and return



Often contains:
  • Characters dressing up in disguise or swapping clothes 
  • Men dressing up as women  or vice versa
  • Secret assignations when the wrong person turns up
  • Characters hastily concealed in cupboards etc. 
Types of comedy:
  • Burlesque
  • Dark figure is hero themself
  • No dark figures


Macbeth (and other tragedies) 

Act One - anticipation
Act Two – dream stage
Act Three – frustration stage
Act Four – nightmare stage  
Act Five – destruction stage 



Hero falls under shadow of dark power
Threat may seem to recede
Threat approaches with full force
Dark power seems to triumph
Miraculous recovery – some input from hero, though


Some archetypes

Booker also mentions some common archetypes:
  • Good old man
  • Innocent young girl
  • Rival or “shadow”
  • Temptress


Dark figures

As well as archetypes, Booker identifies some common dark figures:
  • Father
  • Mother
  • Rivals
  • Other self 

Underlying shape

Booker also defines an underlying shape that is very similar to the ones we've met before.  
  • Initial phase
  • Opening out
  • Severe – constriction
  • Dark power dominant
  • Reversal and liberation

Reading exercise

Consider the novel you have most recently read. Which of Booker's stories does it conform to? Does it follow the underlying shape? Can you identify any archetypes or dark figures?

Writing exercises

1.Your work in progress

Take a look at your story. Does it follow one of Booker's templates? If not, would making it adhere more closely also make it more effective?
Would the inclusion of additional archetypes or dark figures make it more engaging?   

2. Start a new story

Take one of Booker's templates that appeal to you. You might like to consider one you've not used before. Now craft a story according to that template.