First Story Part 2 – How To Write It

mood01So how do you get a 9-year-old to write a story? Sure, it’s hard to get his butt in the chair and actually write, but once there, what does he do? What have they taught him in grade 4?

Much to my shock, it’s actually quite a bit. And yet, it’s also quite simple.

Here’s the thing. There are hundreds and hundreds of books about how to craft a story. Seems everyone has an idea. Stephen King. James Scott Bell. Dilbert.

But looking at the 5 page hand out the teachers gave The-Youngest, it made me realize that sometimes it’s actually not that complex.

Forget the 400 page books on character. Forget the tomes on plot. Forget everything about what you’ve read. Here’s how to write.

Like you were 9 and you had nothing in your head on how to actually do it.

#1. Ask what if. It’s that easy. It’s the basics of story-telling. What if you were transported to the minecraft world? What if you were an NHL goalie and you were in a shootout for the Stanley Cup? What if you were a new Stepdad and spent most the time being constantly confused and bewildered?

What if we could bring dinosaurs back to life?

What if we could bring dinosaurs back to life?

All stories can start from there. All of them. What if Dinosaurs came back to life? Jurassic Park. What if a giant shark decided to attack a beach community? Jaws. What if there was a school for wizards and by writing about it, you could make billions of dollars? Harry Potter. What if women liked porn and bad writing? Fifty Shades of Grey.

See? If in doubt, start with what if.

#2 But where can you get the what if ideas? Try, Building Ideas With Memories. I call it mining your own life, but it’s the same thing. The-Youngest looked at what he did on vacation, what made him scared, what hobbies he had, what events in his life were important.

#3 Begin with Something Happening. In the case of The-Youngest, he had to follow “The night I followed the (blank), this happened”. So, “The night I followed the cat and the cat had to fight a dog.” Isn’t this the essence of how to get a story going? A character, in movement (following), another character, (a cat or turtle or bunny) when something happens.

So, what could happen in Minecraft? Or in an NHL game? Or to some poor stepdad who has no idea how to scorekeep?

After much thinking and talking with The-prettiest-girl-in-the-world, aka his mom, he settled on a minecraft story.

#4 Figure out who your good character is. Figure out your bad guy. What traits do they have? What defines them? Make notes.

Dark Knight succeeds mostly due to its characters

Dark Knight succeeds mostly due to its characters

All stories, yes, all stories, succeed or fail on their characters. Howard the Duck sucked so bad because, well, Howard the Duck sucked so bad. The Dark Knight succeeded because it had a tortured Batman and one of the greatest villains of all time, Heather Ledger’s Joker.

So, The-Youngest made himself a list of traits. (Interestingly enough, one trait was that the bad guy was good looking, while his good guy was ‘not good looking.’ Hmmmm. Interesting.

#5 When you write, use feeling words. It’s how we connect to the characters. We need to feel what they feel if we are to feel for them. Wait, does that make sense? It sounded good in my head, but whatever, think about how your character reacts to what happens. Not just physically, but emotionally. How does it affect them?

Annoyed. Scared. Disgusted.

He made a list.

#6 Use your senses. Smell. Taste. Sound. Sight. Touch.

This is to draw us into the world. A world with 5 senses becomes real. It becomes relatable. Now, I’m not sure he actually remembered this in his final draft, but it’s something to keep in mind when writing. Eating zombie flesh tastes yucky, right? Smells bad too, right? But how does it taste? How would it feel in your hands? What details are so totally gross that you can barely stand to look at it?

He may have forgotten about this one a bit. As do I.

#7 How does your story begin? How does it end?

I always know this, but I struggle with the middle. Still, as a learning tool, it’s vital. If you know where it starts, you can, uhm, you know, start, and if you know where the story is going, where it will end, you can throw things at the characters that prevent them from getting there. Until they do. The end.

#8 Then you write.

Seriously.

So he began with an idea.

What if someone hacked into his minecraft account and destroyed his valuable supply of diamonds, blocks of gold and stacks of ender pearls?

He worked on his characters, the good guys, Florence and Flo. He worked on his bad guys who had made a fatal mistake of leaving a small electronic trail F&F could follow and exact revenge.

He knew where he wanted to start, he used a few ‘feeling’ words, and he wrote a pretty damn good story.

It is here if you want to read it.

Nothing like a good minecraft story

Nothing like a good minecraft story

FLOYD AND FLORENCE’S MINECRAFT ADVENTURE

This is a story about how 2 cousins named Floyd and Florence helped the police capture Henry and Jerry. They are wanted all over canada for major robberies. Floyd is 15 and Florence is 12. Floyd is an expert minecrafter and Florence is a noob at the game. Florence is staying for the summer break at Floyds house.

 Floyd helped Florence make a tree house. Florence learned how to place a block, how to hit, how to move, how to mine and how to craft. Together they created a giant castle with a moat.They have 3 double chests full of diamond blocks. These are super hard to get.

One night when Floyd is out with Florence at mc donalds, SOMEONE BROKE IN TO Floyds back door and went straight after the computer. They put it in their bag and they left. Henry and Jerry (the bad guys) hacked into Floyds computer and got on their server. They destroyed Floyd and Florence’s castle but they accidently left a sign there saying where their campsite is on the server. Floyd and Florence were very upset at first but then remembered that they had a backup laptop hidden in the basement.

While Florence is asleep Floyd goes on to the backup computer and gets the server. He follows the sign Henry and Jerry put there and he finds their camp site and gets their stuff back. Floyd sets up a trap at the camp site so when they go in their big main shack it will blow up. The trap is also a virus. It tells the police where they live.

When the police get to Henry and Jerry’s they arrest them. They find $3,000,000 worth of stolen things. Floyd and Florence get rewarded $1,000,000 and really good laptops. Floyd and Florence bought a lot of NERF GUNS and video games. Their parents let them play Minecraft any time they wanted.

the end

I was so proud of him. The ending even made me laugh.

It’s amazing what your children can teach you. In this case, it was to remember, at the end of the day, a story is pretty simple (and writing one can even be fun!)

What’s a hero to you?

Helga’s Post # 42 –

Theatre_HeddaGabler

Our recent posts prompted a lot of stimulating dialogue. How much should writers make their protagonist suffer, torture even, to create a hero that earns readers’ sympathy and respect. We explored the context and different kinds of suffering that strengthens a hero, and conversely, what makes some protagonists come across merely as victims.

Great comments all around.

What else can we writers do to create memorable characters? What other elements beyond making our heroes suffer can we endow them with? What tools can we use to make them even more compelling?

An even more fundamental question: When does a protagonist become a hero, and what types of heroes do readers love most? I think the answer is somewhat subjective because we don’t all like the same books. But regardless of the type of hero we like best, some just earn more of our love and respect because we didn’t make it easy for them.

Let’s say as an example, our character is a young talented fellow, about to graduate from Harvard, top of the class, excelling in sports. He finds himself in a real pickle, the perfect vicious kind. Some goons armed with knives have taken his equally gifted, talented girlfriend, also top of the class. Naturally he wants to save her and get her back. He has to fight four armed thugs all by himself, with his bare hands, but hey, what’s the big deal? Been there, done that. He knows he can do it. His parents put him in martial arts training at the age of five. He’s the fastest, the strongest and smartest of his peers. A blue-blooded A-list kind of guy. He’s been working out every day in the gym, so he’s all muscle and well prepared. Having been trained by the best, he fears nothing.

A picture book hero. An extraordinary achiever. A Superman kind of guy.

Yawn.

Nobody is interested in such a character. How then can we make him more interesting, his dilemma and quest more compelling?

By challenging him in different ways. By creating him in a way that most readers can identify with. Make him LESS perfect, not more. Maybe change his background. Perhaps he wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth. He learned street fighting in back alleys. He built his strength by working out at home and by running and hiking. He holds two jobs to get himself through college. Something like that. And give him some flaws. Some inner conflicts and temptations he can’t always resist. Make him human.

Or make poster-boy special by the way the events of the story change him. How much more effective would it be if our Harvard fellow struggles to make his grades. He falls in love with a girl from a less privileged background. Maybe a cashier at the student cafeteria. His parents object. He starts to realize that everything has been given to him. He’s had to earn nothing by himself. Not the car, not the credit cards, not the generous allowance. His parents pay for his tuition, his haircuts, his private trainer. He realizes he needs to find his identity. No more unearned privileges. He ‘drops out’. He rebels. He turns into an anti-hero.

Admittedly, it’s a fine line to draw a character most readers will like. Authors can’t please every reader equally. We all have preferences and prejudices. There are however certain attributes that our best-loved protagonists demonstrate time and again. It comes down to one important rule: No stereotypes. No perfect heroes.

Give me Batman, not Superman. I love anti-heroes.

Anti-heroes are fascinating characters. Even if the main character isn’t the anti-hero, there should be one in every story. Let’s look at some attributes of heroes vs. anti-heroes to help determine which one is right for your story.

Watts-galahad

Sir Galahad, a hero of Arthurian legend, detail of a painting by George Frederic Watts

Classic Heroes: ‘Knights in Shining Armor’.

Tend to be idealistic. They have conventional moral values. They never waver. Can be complex, but usually not ambivalent. Everything they do is perfect. Everything they say is perfect. They always pick the right option, to the amazement of everyone. They will face conflict bravely.

Examples: Sherlock Holmes, Anne of Green Gables, Jamie Fraser (Outlander series)

Anti-Heroes: ‘Loveable Rogues’

They tend to be realistic. They want whatever they can get. They are mysterious, unpredictable and compelling.  Often rough, anti-social characters who come around. If the character is male, he can be a womanizer. They won’t commit to a relationship. They will try to get around conflict with devious tactics. They are often brash but have a streak of loyalty that is heroic and admirable. They appeal to our human side.

Examples: Scarlett O’Hara (Gone With the Wind), Lisbeth Salander (Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), Chili Palmer (Get Shorty), Don Draper (Mad Men), Tony Soprano, Hedda Gabler, and of course Macbeth.

Perhaps it can be summed up simply like this:

Classic heroes get our respect.

Anti-heroes get our love.

Now it’s your turn to speak: Which type of characters do YOU love best? And why ?