Fundamental human journeys (tip 73) Reply

Michael Scott has written novels, films, and plays in a variety of genres for adults and children and teens. He’s learned that it doesn’t much matter what sort of story you’re writing, or for whom your writing it: “A good story is always a journey. It is about the people the hero meets along the way and how they change him or her.” Now that we’re thinking about the themes of stories, it becomes apparent that a character’s journey is inextricably bound with a story’s theme. And since the theme has to be something general and powerful, something universal and impactful, it’s not surprising that there aren’t that many journeys that really matter.

Have a look at this list of fundamental human journeys, and let me know in the comments whether there are any that I’ve missed:

Fundamental human journeys

Material

(simple transitions based on external changes – these are more likely to work in, say, a young adult genre novel than in a literary short story, but often in genre fiction a material transition will be made possible by a psychological transition)

Peril <-> Safety

Single <-> Married

Powerless <-> Powerful

Poor <-> Rich

Obscure <-> Famous

Picked on <-> Popular

Psychological

Not seizing the day <->  Seizing the day

Isolation <-> Human connection

Love <-> Loss

Despair <-> Hope

Obliviousness <-> Awareness of mortality

Innocence <-> Loss of innocence

Inhibition <-> Boldness

Desire <-> Contentment

Self-doubt <-> Self-acceptance

No sense of sublime <-> Sense of the sublime

Search for meaning <-> Accepting meaninglessness

Fear <-> Acceptance of death

Faith <-> Lack of faith

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Theme: why your story matters (tip 70) 2

Why should anyone care about your story? After all, they’ve never met the people you’re writing about. In this introduction to the importance of a story’s theme, I’ll make reference to David Foster Wallace’s short story “Forever Overhead.” You can read this story online here.


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Zadie Smith’s ON BEAUTY: telling the story through sensory detail Reply

In this video we look at two descriptions of the same place, which appear at different stages of Zadie Smith’s On Beauty. Although the place is the same, Smith is able to advance the story just by changing the sensory details on which she and her characters focus. Being able to do this, to show rather than tell, to use concrete description as an essential part of the story rather than a background, is central to how most writers work. But do remember that mimesis is not the only way to tell the story: there are many alternatives to the cinematic mode of narration.

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Creative Writers, free yourselves! Alternatives to the cinematic mode of narration (tip 62) 4

In the beginning, cinema took its inspiration from older forms of narrative including literature. But even in the 19th-century, realist writers were comparing their work to photography, and during the 20th-century many prose authors, including Wyndham Lewis and Christopher Isherwood, took inspiration from film. Published in 1960, John Updike’s present-tense novel Rabbit, Run was subtitled originally, “A Movie”, and he was explicit that “The present tense was in part meant to be an equivalent of the cinematic mode of narration.” From what I’ve seen, the cinematic mode of narration often dominates Creative Writing classrooms. But what is it? What are its limitations? And what are our alternatives?

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