On our podcast, Firsts In Fiction, Steve and I look at archetypes, how they can inform our story, and how to use them effectively without falling into stereotypical character and plot structures. You may download the podcast here.
To begin, we need to understand what an archetype is. Long story short, we can think of archetypes of as shapes that our characters and stories fill. These are repeated patterns that we see in literature, television, movies, plays, and poetry. One of the greatest examples of modern cinema that relies heavily on these archetypes are Star Wars (which George Lucas wrote based on The Hero's Journey, a book by Joseph Campbell outlining the most common archetypes). The Lord of the Rings is also another classic example, though I'm not sure how much Tolkien consciously used Campbell's work. To understand archetypes, you may want to reference this site, which has a list of archetypes compiled by Lisa Lawrence of Jenkins High School in Oklahoma.
Archetypes are great if we use them as blueprints. However, we fall into a trap if we don't flesh out our character. What good would a building be without insulation, dry wall, and stucco siding? These can give us the bones of our stories, but they are not our end. If we end with these descriptions as-is, we fall into stereotype, which leaves our stories and characters feeling one-dimensional and unexciting. They're too easy to predict.
We want to borrow from these, but we also want to mix and match. We want to turn these tropes upside down. When we do, our audience will subconsciously understand what we're doing, respond to the archetype by recognizing the familiar elements, but still be surprised throughout the story.
In previous episodes, we've talked about originality coming from the unique combination of ideas. I often refer to Twilight as Romeo and Juliet with fangs. However, Stephanie Myers' inspiration was Pride and Prejudice. While she enjoyed quite a bit of success, I won't be able to write Pride and Prejudice or Romeo and Juliet with fangs because it's been done. People would compare me to Myers' in a negative way. However, I can combine Twilight and X-men if I were so inclined.
Christopher Paolini is often criticized for "ripping off Star Wars." They call his Eragon series "Star Wars with dragons." The criticism is well-founded, but instead of condemning him for it, we should celebrate the combination of those ideas. We recognize his use of Archetypes, so the story feels familiar, and we instinctively are drawn to the characters and shape of the story, but are surprised at some of the turns the story must take in order for it to work.
Bible stories are great to pull from, as they're the basis for most of our archetypes. Imagine a popular story, and put it in a new setting, or a new genre. How might it look? When so many stories are written about the Young Hero from the Provinces, we read it with great interest not because we're particularly drawn to the hero, but to the originality of the province. Star Wars, Eragon, Lord of the Rings, and the Wheel of Time series all utilize the Hero from the Provinces archetypical structure, but the provinces from which they come vary greatly.
If you're stuck in your novel or story, try to find which archetypes you're using. Tapping into that instinctive story-telling well might tell you what step your hero must take next.
Until then, good writing.
About Aaron D. Gansky
Aaron D. Gansky is a novelist, teacher, and writing mentor. He is the author of the novel The Bargain (2013, Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas) as well as The Hand of Adonai, a YA Fantasy series. Additionally, he’s written two short books on the craft of fiction; Firsts in Fiction: First Lines and Write to Be Heard (with Diane Sherlock). To find out more about his books, visit his book page here.
Twitter for Firsts In Fiction: https://twitter.com/FirstsInFiction
Twitter for Aaron: https://twitter.com/adgansky
I have been in quite the pickle lately. I have been so incredibly busy that I haven't had time (or energy) to write. I have just finished a block of clinical placement for my medical imaging program at university, which is basically me working full-time without pay (in fact I pay for the privilege). Then I have my martial arts commitments which I try to attend twice a week. Along with assignments and study for uni exams which begin in a few weeks, completing my paid work, and trying to sleep, I find I have very little time to myself. In the little time I do have, I find myself too exhausted to even think half the time (the other half I nap, trying to catch some of my lost sleep). Hence, why my blog posts have lately been few and far between (sorry by the way). Therefore, I am writing this post now to attempt to nut out my life and find time to write!
Image courtesy of debspoons / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Unfortunately, university takes preference. Unlike many writers out there, writing is not going to be my full-time job, radiography will be. Therefore, my focus needs to be on completing university and then finding a job. Luckily, my placement has now ended and I can starting focusing a little more on other aspects of my life. But, next year will be filled with clinical placement… back to square one.
Secondly, I need money. Therefore, my paid job takes the next spot in the preference list. I currently freelance as a desktop publisher come marketer and what I earn is proportional to how much time I put in. It isn't the type of job I can rock up at and get paid for sitting at a desk (pretending to work). However, I don't have time for a job where my hours are locked in. Damn, so that's several hours of my week taken.
My next commitment is martial arts. I'm sad to say I was forced to leave taekwondo behind since I could no longer afford to do both that and my new love, ninjutsu. Martial arts takes a fair amount of work, and compulsory attendance, in order to see a good, steady improvement. Attending classes twice a week is really the minimum I should be doing. Other than that, I need to go to the gym more often. But that is another thing that is being left behind for the moment.
Then there is writing. Writing is my hobby and my release, however it does take a certain amount of mental dexterity. When your mind feels like it is filled with goo and your body is trying to shut down on you without permission, writing is practically impossible. Here is my issue. The time I do have to write, I am too exhausted to use and usually turns in to a nap or watching anime.
Now then, I think I found somewhat of an answer. Obviously, I won't be able to write as much as I would like, such as the 1000 words a day which I have previously written about. However, after mentally searching through my activities I found hidden pockets of time. For instance, my lunch breaks at clinical placement can be used for assignment writing or story writing. My weekends manage to appear busy but in reality, between the few hours used for work and assignments, there is quite a bit of time. Until now, I had mostly written at night, feeling more inclined to do so at this time. But now I realize that those 'me-time' pockets that are usually filled with reading or watching anime, can be split with writing. What I have also managed to forget is that these blog posts, my drawing, my random note taking, and my online marketing, are also part of what a writer does. I haven't been doing as little as I thought.
I think what I am going to have to do is formulate a timetable. There is so much happening at the moment that it is difficult to decide what I can or should do at any particular time. So, I am going to dedicate certain hours to university work, paid work, and writing around my other commitments. I probably won't stick to the plan too soundly but it will at least give me a good idea of what time I have.
If you have any time management tips I'd love you to leave a comment. Thanks for reading.
Scarlett Van Dijk
I’m delighted to be invited back to Scarlett’s blog to continue a discussion I began last month. http://scarlettvandijk.weebly.com/2/post/2013/09/guest-post-bernadette-rowley-6-tips-on-becoming-a-successful-writer.html
Writing is about building on your strengths and I think most of us who write have loved to write stories as children. I certainly did. I described writing as ‘like breathing’. How wonderful it would be if it were that easy now. As children, our imaginations are limitless and free to roam. I think this changes as we grow older and the reality of life sets in.
So, it’s important to suspend that inner critic we all have and let our imagination and our right brain have free rein as we draft our stories. I’ve discovered my muse (right brain) responds well to questions and if I ask the right questions and wait long enough she will solve the plot problems that inevitably crop up. She’s also really good at helping with that all important story outline, which forms the basis of your synopsis.
I think mentoring is a very important part of success as an author. My most important mentor has been Louise Cusack. Louise set me up for success in my writing life and I hold tight to what she taught me.
The above three points are what has made the difference for me and I am so lucky I happened across Louise. She remains in my life, a constant source of advice and support, and she is the reason I began writing romance.
Finally, for this blog, I now understand the need for plotting. Princess Avenger was written without anything more than a vague plot and then I wrote the synopsis after I completed the story. Now I work differently. I write the synopsis of a new story with the basic plot points of a romance and this is where my muse helps to come up with ideas that will increase tension and twists that the reader, hopefully, doesn’t expect. Once I have the synopsis, I go ahead and write the story. This ensures that my story structure is fundamentally sound but still leaves enough room for new ideas as I draft. It also helps to avoid getting stuck or blocked a few thousand words into the story.
My second book, The Lady’s Choice, was released on the 14th October by Penguin Group Australia and tells the story of Squire Ramón Zorba, a secondary character from Princess Avenger. Ramón created such an impression on me that I knew he needed his own book. I love reading series and I love the fact that as I’m writing these stories I keep creating secondary characters that are demanding I tell their story. I now have a list of new heroes and heroines whom I can base stories around in the coming books; and my readers get to catch up with their favourite people from previous books.
The Lady’s Choice is the first book where I used my ‘write synopsis then the story’ plan and I think it worked well. I also set about really understanding my characters before I wrote the book, writing reams on their likes and hates, their past and their dreams. Once that is done, you know what your characters will do in any situation and the story follows. It makes for less editing and that’s what you want at the end of the day.
About Bernadette Rowley
Bernadette Rowley is a writer and veterinarian who was born on the Sunshine Coast and now lives in Townsville. She has been immersed in the world of speculative fiction since her early teens and remembers being spellbound by Tolkien and Brooks and their epic quests. It is not surprising that her stories contain more than a little magic.
Bernadette works part time as a vet, allowing her five days a week for her passion, writing. Her other interests are reading (fantasy and romance), singing (a capella), cricket and music.
Bernadette’s blog – http://bernadetterowley.com
Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/bernadetterowleyfantasy
Princess Avenger http://www.destinyromance.com/products/9781742538013/princess-avenger-destiny-romance
The Lady’s Choice http://www.destinyromance.com/products/9781743483978/lady-s-choice
I've done quite a bit of fiction writing, but perhaps the surprising thing is not how much I've written (my big epic is 13-books long, at 5.2 million words total), or the quality of it, but that the only classes in writing that I ever took were your standard high school English classes. The rest I taught myself, picking up by simply reading novels and picking out the little things that I liked. Yes, I am entirely self taught, which means that while I do not know how other writers may have been taught to do things, I am also not limited by those teachings either. People read my stuff, marvel, then ask me for a few tips. I guess I must be doing a few things right.
So, in the course of writing 8 million some-odd words of stories, I've come up with a few ways of doing things that seem to work quite well for me and may even work for others as well. Since top-ten lists are all the rage, I've managed to sum things up in my own Top Ten Writing Tips, but being who I am this means, of course, that this Top ten list has an 11th item on it that I just could not resist including (It's a good one). So without further ado, here are my own tips for writing a good story, be it short story or epic novel.
And lastly my favorite that I came up with all on my own that also makes for a great quote...
11. One picture may be worth a thousand words, but the job of a good writer is to make one word worth a thousand pictures.
About Mark Tierno
Mark is not only the recipient of degrees in Physics and Mathematics, but the author of his own Fantasy-SF epic "Maldene", spanning 13 novels and over 5.2 million words. He has also authored the forthcoming Cyberdawn series and the Inspector Flaatphut stories, for a grand total of over 8 million words worth of storytelling written through a 10-year period, and he still has much more to write! All this conceived and written while helping his mother care for his Parkinson-stricken father as his full-time job, he has displayed an amazing ability in both the creative and intellectual.
There is a question I have often seen on forums: How do you name your characters? I personally have never had an issue with naming characters but I would say that is because I know how. Everyone has their different methods for coming up with names. So, in this instalment of 'Guide to Fantasy Writing' I'll be talking about how I come up with character names for your ordinary characters and your more out-of-this-world character.
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net".
My number one tip for coming up with character names is to look on baby name websites. You can search for hundreds of names on these sites until you find one that fits your image of your character. If you're like me, you can also search name meanings in order to find a meaning which matches your character. There is also the possibility of searching for names from a particular geographical origin, which you may be interested in if you are setting your story in a particular country.
If you don't want to name your characters using pre-existing, 'human', names then try mashing names together. Take a couple of names you like and try sticking together pieces of them. For example:
Take 'Sarah' and 'Ellie'
You could get: Sarlie, Rahel, Lierah, Elsarah etc.
The process is pretty fun too!
What I mean by 'Out-of-this-world' is completely fantastical. This includes creatures and aliens and strange races such as elves. You can use the technique mentioned above, mashing names together, to create some cool sounding fantasy names. Instead of joining existing names together however, you could join syllables together. This is almost the same process except that you just make up sounds. Ah, il, kah, der, bin, ley… it's endless. This is the process I used to come up with the name for my keer character, Ilyarahh (Il – Yah – Rah).
WARNING! When creating names by either joining existing names or using random syllables always make sure that a reader will be able to easily read the name. It can be very frustrating trying to read a name that doesn't easily flow. Make sure you can say it out loud and that it isn't too long. It may also be an idea to show a friend and see what they think.
However, depending on your personal preference you may choose to name them using descriptive words. For creatures this could be a good idea. For instance you could name a dragon character Wind Strider, Dancing Flame or Ashen Cloud. There are so many possibilities.
My last tip for creating names is to make sure your character's names are quite different. It gets confusing to read a novel where two characters names start with the same letter or sound similar.
Thanks for reading!
Scarlett Van Dijk
What names have you created?
Why do authors need a pitch? Have you tried explaining what your book is about to an agent or publisher, let alone regular people? Most times, authors will stammer something like, “Well, there’s this boy, see? You know, like a teenaged boy, and he has no friends—a real loner, right?—and he meets this girl…” That sound familiar? Before you know it, people’s eyes are glazing over and you’re slack-jawed and embarrassed because you realize you have no idea how to describe your story, worse, how to do it succinctly. Some of you know what I mean. Hey, I know I’ve been there.
Whether it’s to hook an agent or editor, knowing how to ‘pitch’ your story is essential. These people are plied with requests at workshops, and at the office they see tons of queries every day. How will they know your book is better than the rest if your ‘elevator pitch’ (a very short description of your work intended to hook an editor/agent) is generic or your query letter is lost amidst the growing pile on their desk? Right now, the market is flooded with books. No one can predict which one will be a success but you can do everything in your power to make sure that your book gets considered to be published and promoted as ‘the next big thing.’
So what is a pitch? In her post on the subject, paranormal author Jami Gold puts it simply: “…they all perform the job of letting an agent or editor ‘speed date’ through many submissions,” and adds, “Pitches aren’t about selling a manuscript. Their sole purpose is to get to the second date—a request.”
Another very helpful ‘how to’ resource on the subject is The Writer’s Toolkit, where authors Penny Grubb and Danuta Reah break down the short pitch (short and focused pitch) into simple steps, focusing on a) the main character, b) his motivation, c) the problem/stakes and d) closing the deal. The point is, in a very few words, you have to convince extremely busy agents/editors that your story is worth sacrificing their precious time. Usually, you only have one shot at this so you must do it right.
Some practical tips?
Even if you never plan on querying, knowing how to ‘break down’ your story into simple yet interesting terms can be helpful in other ways. After writing 60-100K of complex relationships, generational conflict, and numerous characters, trying to identify a story’s basic parts can be hard. Knowing how to think of your story in simpler terms can make the task of writing a synopsis (which you’ll need if an agent asks you to submit your book for consideration) and planning subsequent books, easier. Lastly, be kind to your friends and family. They love you, but ever wonder why the room suddenly goes quiet, even empties, when the subject of ‘the book’ comes up? Good luck!
About Dyane Forde
Dyane Forde’s love of writing began with an early interest in reading and of words in general. She was always amazed at how linking words together in different ways had unexpected and pleasing results on others. This sparked a life-long desire to write all types of things, from short stories, novels, flash fiction, poetry…every story or book represents new joys and challenges. Dyane views writing as an amazing and intimate communication tool, meaning that it becomes a means through which she seeks to connect with others on a level deeper than intellect.
For more information about Dyane and her writing projects, see the following links. Please write! She loves to hear from her readers.
Her writing blog: www.droppedpebbles.wordpress.com
A Writer's Tale
Scarlett Van Dijk
Writer of young adult, fantasy series, the Sky Stone series, poetry and short stories.
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