Monthly Archives: January 2016

Spiritual Growth in Maturing Characters

SpiritualHow does spiritual growth relate to a deepening maturity? Continuing with age-related themes, Linda Seger offers the twenties-through-forties as yet another age-focused grouping.

Although the twenties category has been discussed separately in this blog, the overlap here points to a deepening engagement with themes that become increasingly more important as one gets older – such as those clustering around spiritual growth.

Twenties through Forties

The important thing during these years is the sharpening focus, as one matures, on spirituality versus materialism. Stories in this category tend to explore the things that are truly important in life, things that, progressively, become more meaningful as wisdom grows through age, through life’s hard knocks.

Having achieved successful careers, often at the expense of others, some characters are ready to exchange material comforts in favour of spiritual and moral values such as integrity, social conscience, wisdom, and healthy relationships.

Some characters even factor in self-sacrifice for the greater good as a viable course of action. Films such as Seven Years in Tibet, Ghandi, Erin Brokovich, and Norma Rae touch on the spiritual themes mentioned above.

The lesson is that as one moves towards a deeper maturity so does one’s attention – from the visceral pleasures of physical success to the more nascent, invisible rewards of value-driven action: from receiving to giving, loving, educating.

Stories driven by characters embodying such themes, then, resonate with more mature audiences who recognize these needs in themselves.

Summary

Stories about maturing characters weigh up the spiritual over the material and come down on the side of the spiritual as a thematic outcome.

Invitation

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Young Adults Want This in a Story

Young AdulthoodAlthough young adults may share some of the themes associated with the teen years, such as the search for love and intimacy and discovering one’s identity, this thematic category digs deeper than the former – explored in last week’s post. It tends to focus more on achievement and efficacy in the world. It not only establishes the theme as a protagonist’s goal, it scratches for the truth that lies below the surface.

Stories, such as Titanic and Elizabeth, for example, respectively explore the consequences of choosing someone to love that our parents would disapprove of, or choosing duty over love.

Young Adulthood and Story Themes – Linda Seger

Because many popular stories and films tend to cater for readers and audiences in their twenties and thirties their themes center more on success and achievement – strong driving forces in that age group.

Themes about success focus on achieving success in the world’s eyes – about public achievement. If the protagonist fails to have her dream acknowledged in the public arena it may be that the dream is unimportant or insignificant. Important achievements, by contrast, carry the stamp of public approval: John Nash wins the Nobel Prize in A Beautiful Mind, the first Star Wars ends with a ceremony, and Clarice receives an award at the end of Silence of the Lambs.

Stories in the category, can, however, be more inwardly-looking, exploring the conflict between career and family (Melvin’s Room, One True Thing), or the tension between fame, materialism and integrity – Magnolia, Jerry Maguire, Quiz Show. Here the storyline tends to explore the outer goal while the inner story, driven by a more intimate exploration of the theme, examines the inner world through subplot.

Regardless of the level of intimacy, however, stories that fall in the young adulthood category focus more on the consequences of pursuing success or fame through career, its rewards and costs, rather than discovering the themes as goals in the first instance – the first order search in teenage stories.

The young adulthood category, then, represents a maturing of the teenage dream into an ostensible set of goals that have public and personal effects.

Summary

Stories involving characters in the young adulthood category tend to explore the consequences, good and bad, of pursuing career, success, and fame.

Teenage Dreams

Teenage themesTeenage Dreams, the second in a series of articles dealing with age-specific stories, follows on from last week’s piece on childhood themes, drawn from Linda Seger’s Advanced Screenwriting.

Seger asserts that almost all teenage stories deal with the notion of identity, since our teens and early twenties are driven by our need to discover ourselves – who are we, what do we want to do, or be, when we grow up.

Teenage Themes

A teen-orientated story typically explores the themes of sexual identity (Risky Business, Boys Don’t Cry), discovering love (Titanic), finding one’s creative self in a conformist society, securing one’s individuality in a culture that often prescribes who you are or might become (Room with a View, The Cinder House Rules).

In my award winning novel, The Land Below, for example, Paulie, the book’s protagonist, who is nearing the end of his teens, refuses to accept the dictates of the Governor and Senators who insist that life on the surface of the world is unlivable and that one should not, under any circumstances, spread rumors to the contrary.

Fighting against these dictates, Paulie rejects his social status as a lowly orphan when he develops feelings for the Governor’s daughter and ends up becoming the leader of a band of teenagers seeking to escape the suffocating confines of the Land Below.

Paulie, in effect, redefines his place in society. But in doing so he threatens the Governor’s grip on the closely controlled subterranean world. It is this conflict between the freedom to choose and the impulse to control, rooted in the opposing needs of the protagonist (Paulie) and antagonist (Governor, et al.) that creates the plot of the story.

Importantly, then, the theme in any story steers the plot, turning it this way and that, as the protagonist continues to explore and test it until the end of the tale.

Summary

Teenage themes cluster around questions of who are we, what do we want to do, or be, when we grow up.

Themes and Stories

Themes and StoriesThemes are the reason we write stories – the things we care most about. Themes contain the moral message, the value-driven truth at the core of all that happens in the story.

Although the greatest themes are universal, they are also local to specific age groups. Children, for example encounter different problems than do people approaching the end of their lives. As writers, we need to understand the underlying concerns of each age group if we are to make our stories relavent to specific categories of readers and audiences.

In her book, Advanced Screenwriting, Dr. Linda Seger breaks down age groups into the following categories: childhood, teen years, young adult, twenties to forties, fifties through eighties, old age, and end-of-life. Over the next few articles, I’d like to examine each category in turn.

Themes and Childhood

At the core of every story about children are issues of self esteem, trust, and a sense of belonging. Home Alone, War Games, E.T. are good examples of stories that deal with these themes.

A child embarks on a journey which gradually builds, with all its gains and reversals, the child’s self confidence, resulting in a better sense of belonging and self-esteem. This growth is typically achieved by overcoming obstacles strewn in the child’s path by teachers, parents, bullies.

The child can deal with these problems in two ways – she can blame herself, become introverted and lose confidence and self esteem, growing depressed, or she can project the problem onto others, becoming rebellious, delinquent, perhaps deciding to live outside the law. This can effect the child’s immediate family and friends, drawing them into the fray.

Typically, in an upbeat ending, the child gradually overcomes these obstacles by engaging in purposeful action driven by sustained effort, ingenuity, and courage. The catalyst is usually underpinned by some meaningful event from the back story which surfaces at the appropriate moment to help her change direction. The result is an increase in self esteem, trust in herself and in others, and a sense of belonging.

Summary

Specific themes cluster around specific age groups.

Writerly Advice

Joyce Carol Oates ~ Writerly Advice

Joyce Carol Oates

Writerly advice is not that hard to find, especially if you’re hooked up to the Internet. Some of this advice is excellent, some of it not so good.

Further to the dictum of knowing the rules before we break them, I offer yet another list, this time from Joyce Carol Oates – Princeton University’s Roger S. Berlind ’52 Professor in the Humanities with the program in Creative Writing, and a multi-award winning novelist:

1. Write your heart out.
2. The first sentence can be written only after the last sentence has been written. FIRST DRAFTS ARE HELL. FINAL DRAFTS, PARADISE.
3. You are writing for your contemporaries – not for Posterity. If you are lucky, your contemporaries will become Posterity.
4. Keep in mind Oscar Wild: “A little sincerity is a dangerous thing, and a great deal of it is absolutely fatal.”
5. When in doubt how to end a chapter, bring in a man with a gun. (This is Raymond Chandler’s advice, not mine. I would not try this.)
6. Unless you are experimenting with form – gnarled, snarled & obscure – be alert for possibilities of paragraphing.
7. Be you own editor/critic. Sympathetic but merciless.
8. Don’t try to anticipate an ideal reader – or any reader. He/she might exist – but is reading someone else.
9. Read, observe, listen intently! – as if your life depended upon it.
10. Write your heart out.

There you have it. Excellent writerly advice to add to our toolkit. Take the time to ponder upon each in turn.

Summry

Study the suggestions of accomplished writers to glean valuable information on writing.