Friday, August 24, 2012

What is a Story?

by Stanley Klemetson

A writer’s workshop can open up new ways to think about how you write and how you live your own life. At the Utah Valley Writer’s Workshop E.J. Patten (The Hunter Chronicles) taught us that a story is a series of questions that we may ask about our characters. The four questions are: 1) Who are they?; 2) What do they want?; 3) How are they going to get it; and 4) What is stopping them from getting what they want?

A personal analysis might go as follows: 1) I am a writer who wants to be published. 2) I want to be published. 3) I will do this by learning the craft and writing on a regular basis. 4) Other commitments will consume my time and prevent me from achieving this goal, but often those commitments are activities I chose over writing. If I want to achieve my goal I need to determine how I will spend my time. In our writing our characters will face similar conflicts so we need to answer those questions for them before we begin to write.

In a character-driven plot there may be many different roles, such as protagonist, antagonist, fear provider, tempter, comic relief, romantic interest, information giver and more. If I write an outline of the story I may have a good start and good end, but a horrible middle because there are no subplots. The relationships between the characters can provide those subplots needed to flesh out a story and keep it interesting.

Lisa Mangum (Hourglass Door Trilogy) used an exercise with Mr. Potato Head to create all of the characters. Each participant was given a brief description of a character and they selected Mr. Potato Head features to reflect that characteristics of that character. As a caricature the important feature stood out. You can start to visualize what the eyes might see, what the ears might hear, and etc.

Karen E. Hoover (The Wolfchild Saga) provided a different approach to character development. She keeps a photo album of people faces. A simple place to get some of these is modeling sites. She even gives them names, but not their real names. Then she prepares a Character Sheet for each one with the personal information plus abilities, physical anomalies, clothing, habits, quirks, and personality. She will not use all of this information in her story, but provides a solid base for character actions. Then when they are faced with a conflict we know how they are motivated and what their goals might be.

Tristi Pinkston (numerous books on Amazon) talked about the expectations of our audience. Each genre has specific requirements as to the characters, settings, and conflicts. The characters we have in our stable may not be suitable for all types of stories, but the four questions are relevant to all characters, and to ourselves.

You can learn more about Stanley Klemetson here.

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