Monthly Archives: September 2013

How to Use Dramatic Irony in your Story

Statues of monkeys: see no eveil, hear no evil, speak no evil

Not in the Know

Dramatic irony typically occurs when the reader, audience, and perhaps, some, but not all of the characters in a story are privy to important information that the protagonist is unaware of, or presumes an opposite situation to be true.

Structuring Dramatic Irony

In order to create dramatic Irony in your story, do the following:

1. Show the reader or audience the kind of misunderstanding or deception that is being perpetrated. This could be intended or unintended.

2. Place the protagonist in that situation without revealing to her the information necessary for her to know she is being deceived.

3. Play the scene out, step by step, allowing the reader or audience to observe the protagonist suffering the consequences of events and actions, whilst thinking the situation to be precisely the opposite of what is actually happening.

In Moulin Rouge, Satin (Nichole Kidman) pretends she doesn’t love Christian (Ewan McGregor) so that he will leave her and so save his life—only he can’t know the real reason, for this to work. She pretends that she wants to stay with the Maharaja at Moulin Rouge. In other words, she has to hurt Christian in order to save him, precisely because she loves him, by pretending she doesn’t. The dramatic irony in the scene in which she reveals this to him is tragic and heart-rendering.

Satin: I can never see you again.
Christian: What are you talking about? What about last night?
Satin: I don’t expect you to understand. You don’t belong here. But this is my home: Moulin Rouge.

Christian stares at Satin in horror. Satin smiles weakly; hurries to the door.

Christian: What’s going on? Satin! There’s something wrong…

Satin battles to control her breathing.

Christian: You’re sick. Tell me the truth!

Satin gathers her last remaining strength and turns to him with cold lifeless eyes.

Satin: The truth…the truth is, I am the Hindi Courtesan Christian, and I choose the Maharaja. That’s how the story ends.

And with that, she turns and goes.

It is important to understand that in this superlative example of dramatic irony, we are made privy not only to Christian’s pain, but Satin’s as well, through our understanding that her actions are a sacrificial show of love. We get meaning and emotion from both sides, and this heightens the power of the scene.

Summary

Dramatic irony typically occurs when the audience, and one or more party is aware of the true nature of a situation while the protagonist presumes the opposite to be true. The effect on the reader and audience is one of heightened emotion.

Invitation

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Turning Points

Sharp turn sign

Turning Point

I have talked, more than once, about what constitutes a turning point. This post takes another look at this all important topic, adding what, I hope, is fresh insight.

A turning point, we are reminded, is that moment in the story, when something big happens to spin it around in a new and unexpected direction. I’ve mentioned that this takes the form of new information granted to the protagonist and audience.

I’ve also intimated that an action-orientated turn ought to be supported by a strong inner motivation and goal. I’ve further suggested that such motivation is nested in the inner journey—so, if we draw a line to represent the outer journey as the physical series of actions and events, the inner journey is the line that rides below it in parallel, with the various turning points seen as spiking intersections between the two.

But precisely what form should this new information take? Specifically, should it come from the outer journey–such as the news that a solar flare seems set to destroy the earth, in the filmKnowing, then pull the inner journey closer to it, or should it spring from he inner journey directly, as in Oblivion, when the Tom Cruise character realises that the flashes of memory that have been plaguing him are, in fact, actual memories of his wife (albeit, as we’ll later find out, through the medium of resonance, which unites his clones).

Does it really matter, which comes first, you may well ask, since the outer and inner journeys meet at the turning points anyway? My personal view is that it does. A turning point that comes from the inner journey then lifts to touch the outer journey, contains more of an “Aha” moment. It draws our attention to the character’s background and motivation and makes us care more for her predicament. It makes the action that springs from it more meaningfully, right off the bat, and invites empathy and verisimilitude in our apprehension her response.

Of course, that is not to say that action can’t initiate the turning point then drop down to the inner journey and fuse with it effectively. Action films such as Die Hard and the crop of superhero films such as Batman and Superman. often take that route. Still, letting the turning point spring from the inner journey heightens the authenticity of the protagonist’s actions and may be the more appropriate place to mine for turning points in drama-ordinated genres.

Summary

A turning point that springs directly from the inner journey increases character authenticity and verisimilitude and may be the more appropriate place to mine when writing within drama-orientated genres.

Review or Bust

Review or Bust

This post, requested by one of this blog’s subscribers, fellow author Joy Sikorski, deals with the task of finding reviewers for one’s books on Amazon—an often daunting task. Readers often don’t realise the crucial importance of reviews to the life of a book. Without a sufficient number of these, books languish and die.

One approach aimed at alleviating the problem is to ask readers for reviews, either at the beginning, or end of your book, and provide a link to the specific spot on Amazon. This can work, but it requires that a sufficient number of people read your work first. When your book first appears, however, especially if you are a new author, it tends to get lost amongst the millions of others on Amazon. It’s easy to miss. Few readers, few reviews. It’s catch-22 all over again.

Joining some of the various book clubs and establishing a dedicated Facebook of your novel may, and, does, help. Yet, there are many who promise reviews on such pages, but never get around to writing them—though we live in hope! One does occasionally strike it lucky through such channels, though.

Yet another method is to run a blog such as this. If you are offering a free service that people find helpful, some conscientious souls may be inclined to reward you by buying your books and offering honest but fair reviews of them. This method, for example, has yielded some success for me.

One surer way is to join a professional site such as the Author’s Marketing Club.

http://www.authormarketingclub.com/

I have subscribed to this site and have found it extremely helpful in a variety of ways. The site provides loads information and insight on how best to market your book. It develops and offers many tools that make marketing your novel(s) easier. The site offers a specific tool (reviewer-grabber tool) that identifies reviewers on Amazon in your genre and lists their email addresses for you. It even offers a template letter showing the ideal way to word your request. It is then up to you to email these reviewers, offer to send them your book as a gift, and request they review it. Because these reviewers have an established track record (which you can check with the tool), the chances are that you will receive a number of positive responses through this method. You do have to be a paid-up member of the club to benefit from this, though.

I’ve have discovered that the benefits offered through this club, more than make up for the joining fee.

These then are some of the methods that independent authors, such as myself, use to encourage reviews of their books. Taken together, they form a core strategy, which yields results.

Summary

Reviews are the lifeblood of your book on Amazon. Few reviews = few sales. This post offers methods to address the situation.

Invitation

If you enjoyed this post, or have a suggestion for a future one, kindly leave a comment and let’s get chatting. You may subscribe to this blog by clicking on the “subscribe” or “profile” link on the right-hand side of this article. I post new material every Monday.

Backstory Revisited

Whispering

Backstory Revisited

One of the potential problems of exposition/backstory in a novel or movie is that it may slow the action down to a crawl, show its hand, and ultimately bore us. Yet, supplying information that is essential to the plot’s progression is unavoidable. A novel or movie can’t painstakingly trace every single prior event. It has to jump around, intrigue us and then surprise us through the revelation of some connection to a past occurrence, action, or character trait. Without sufficient grounding, however, none of the above is achievable.

In deciding what information to spell out through backstory, it may help to ask yourself the following questions:

1. What is the motivation of the characters that we need to know in order to give their actions verisimilitude?

2. What is the history of the story problem?

3. What insights into the characters psychological makeup are necessary to support the authenticity of the ongoing action?

4. What evidence must you show to suggest that the characters have the resources and potential to solve the story problem?

5. What past information is necessary to give the story realism?

One of the best ways to blend backstory into the dramatic action is to slip it in when the need for it is at its highest. In Saving Private Ryan, for example, there is a betting pool on guessing what Miller’s (Tom Hanks) job was before the war. The pool escalates to $300 but Miller still refuses to divulge the information. Finally, at the end of a tense battle, an argument among the soldiers threatens to turn physical. One of the men wants to go AWOL, but the Sergeant threatens to shoot him if he attempts it. Miller chooses this moment to ask where the pool stands at the current moment and then reveals that he is a school teacher back home. As he recounts the tale of why he joined the army the men relax and a potentially deadly incident is averted.

Here, curiosity is created beforehand, and backstory is provided as a solution to a dangerous situation. By making the past pertinent to the present, the writer is able seamlessly to integrate essential backstory into the forward thrust of the tale.

Summary

Backstory is essential information the reader/audience must have in order to understand the story. Blending backstory into the drama as an active part of the ongoing plot is a an effective way of making it unobtrusive.

Invitation

If you enjoyed this post, or have a suggestion for a future one, kindly leave a comment and let’s get chatting. You may subscribe to this blog by clicking on the “subscribe” or “profile” link on the right-hand side of this article. I post new material every Monday.

Why Film & TV Need the Novel

Movie camera and book

Books & Film

Before Amazon’s Kindle revolution and the resurgence of reading it inspired, there were some that predicted the death of the novel as a viable form of entertainment. How could reading compete with the visceral pleasures of big-budget, special-effects-driven films, or the massive growth of computer games that have so captivated our youth? (Exploring the obvious connection between film and the comic book will be the subject of a future post).

Yet, the truth is that far from swimming in competing pools, novels, films and games function in a state of symbiosis, feeding off each other.

I think this state of affairs is set to continue in the foreseeable future.

Consider the various skills of the novelist: Philosopher, visionary, psychologist, researcher, casting agent, actor, director, cinematographer, set builder, costume designer, scriptwriter, editor, sound recordist. Indeed, the novelist is the prime creator of the story world—albeit in the virtual sense.

At a time when big films require even bigger budgets, testing the potential success of a film by measuring the success of the novel upon which it is based is a relatively inexpensive way of taking out some insurance against failure—although, clearly, no guarantee against it, as the movie John Carter, based on Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Princess of Mars, clearly demonstrates.

The point remains, however, that if a novel has done well in the market place, the chances are that a well-made film might do the same. The film maker might then allow the world of the novel to inform the world of the film, although, clearly, adapting a screenplay from a novel is an art form in its own right—often, to the extent that little of that world, other than the bones of the story, remains the same. Even so, the novel, does at least, act as a starting point for the film project.

In terms of benefit to the novel, people who have seen the film and enjoyed it might now read the novel on which the film is based. Sales of the Game of Thrones series sky-rocketed after the television series hit the screens.

Book-to-film/TV adaptations often go hand in hand with conversations about the relative worth of one rendition over the other. “The book was so much better than the film,” or vice versa—good publicity for all concerned, which helps to boost sales of the appropriate medium.

As an aside, I might mention that in my classes on screenwriting, I often encourage my students to write their screenplays as novellas, or short stories, first. This encourages them to explore their characters’ actions through the inner voice—something the novel, novella and short story do well. This shifts focus to character motives and goals and results in character action that is more authentic and believable, making for better screenplays.

Summary

Film, TV and the novel/novella often function in a state of symbiosis, testing and popularising the story through different media.