Tag Archives: storytelling

Integration in Storytelling

Integrated storytelling

Integration in storytelling

I have written many articles on the craft of storytelling over the years.

Certainly, the web is chock-a-block with free and paid advice on the subject in the form of more articles, books, and courses.

Given the availability of this learning material and the willingness of students of writing to read it, we should all be absolute masters of the craft.

So, why aren’t we?

The truth is that much of the material presented in books and courses lacks a pointed approach to the storytelling craft, a focus on effective integration of the various story elements.

Yes, we learn that stories comprise of a three, four, or five act structure. And yes, we are told what an inciting incident, a turning point, a character trait, and the theme, are.

But do we truly understand, at a deep, almost subconscious level, how they work together to produce a successful screenplay or novel?

Without an intimate and near replete understanding of how one narrative component flows into another to produce a network that is bigger than its parts, we will always fall short of mastering our craft.

Having covered the most important narrative elements, often more than once, we will now turn our focus more sharply than ever before on the relations that exist between them.

Integrating your Storytelling Elements

For example, can you describe in detail the flows that constitute the relationship between theme and character? Or character and backstory? Or how the inciting incident is related to the first turning point in a story?

The answers to these and other questions are important if we are to achieve an integrated understanding of our craft.

If you’ve answered no to some of these questions, be sure to watch this space.

Catch you next week.

Summary

Integration refers to the deep level understanding in storytelling of the relations that exist between the narrative elements that form the structure of a story.

What is Storytelling?

StorytellingStorytelling, as Robert McKee succinctly tells us, is the creative demonstration of truth.

A story is the living proof of an idea, the conversion of idea to action. A story’s event structure is the means by which you first express, then probe your idea … without explanation.

The Moral Theme in Storytelling

This idea, I would further argue, must contain a moral premise – a guiding moral principle that traces the consequences of character actions in the story. We can also think of this as the theme of the story.

Think about the crime genre. What idea, or moral premise lies at its core? How about: Crime does not pay?

But how does the writer embed this theme? Hopefully not through trite and on-the-nose dialogue. Do not write:

“You see, Frank? I told you. Crime does not pay!”

Terrible.

Rather, show a character committing a crime, or crimes, then expose the consequences.

The television series, Breaking Bad is an example of powerful storytelling that exposes how crime, in this instance, manufacturing meth, draws in those directly involved to lie, betray and murder.

Additionally, great storytelling explores the theme or moral idea from several angles. The protagonist represents one angle. The antagonist another. The supporting cast of characters still more. The author’s judgment, arguably the defining angle, is revealed only at the end of the story when the theme is proved – when the protagonist, representing a specific moral idea, wins or loses the conflict to the antagonist.

In my novel, The Land Below, for example, the correctness or incorrectness of Paulie’s decision to leave his apparently safe existence in a converted underground mine, a decision which will result in his being banished from the community, can only be established at the end of the novel.

If things go well for Paulie and his followers, then the theme of the story might be: Courage, imagination and steadfastness lead to freedom. If things go badly, then the theme might be: daydreams and stubbornness lead to defeat.

As with all stories, the outcome can only be established at the end. It is only then that the reader can definitely say what the story has really been about.

Summary

Storytelling is the process of narrating events that prove a moral theme.

The Craft of Creative Writing

Pen and paper

Creative Writing:

Those who have taught, or lectured on creative writing, specifically the novel or short story, will remember being asked, at some time or another, that pertinent but most difficult of all questions: What constitutes good writing?

The question is pertinent, of course, because that’s what teachers of the craft purport to teach. It is difficult because people have been trying to provide a definitive answer to it since first picking up chisels and quills.

As this blog is primarily aimed at giving advice on how to get the structure of stories right, I thought I’d offer my five cents on the topic of good writing in order to avoid giving the impression that structure is all that’s important to the craft.

Level 1: Spirit, Heart, and Mind

In teaching the craft, I like to separate it into three areas. The first concerns learning about the spirit, heart, and mind of the times and our part in it. It concerns sharpening our powers of observation, being alert to contemporary ideas, ideals, and issues, bringing compassion to our social critiques, and learning to address old themes in new ways while acknowledging the value of the old in the new. These insights stem from our level of maturity and can not be hurried. They grow at their own pace, although they may be shepherded.

Level 2: Story Structure

The second area concerns the structure of the stories. Does your tale have a beginning, middle, and end? And if not, why not? Are the turning points, pinches, midpoint, climax, resolution, and so on, crafted in a way that encourages interest, suspense, and surprise? The trinity of spirit, heart, and mind without structure is like a ship without a rudder. The ship may be loaded with treasures, but it will eventually crash on the rocks and sink.

Level 3: Words and Sentences

The third area has to do with mastering the craft at the micro level. Are we using vocabulary and figures of speech appropriate to our subject? Are we invoking powerful textures, pictures and sounds with our words—using all five senses to do so? Words with an Anglo-Saxon origin, for example, are grittier and more tactile, depending on the context, than their Latin counterparts—so, ‘gut’ instead of ‘stomach’, and so on. Are we using short snappy sentences or long and mellifluous ones? It all depends on how we want to render our tale.

In my opinion, these three levels constitute the overall craft of writing. In different hands they give rise to the individual ‘voice’ of the author. Although most authors don’t ordinarily map out their novels in levels, this approach is, none the less, useful when it comes to studying the craft of creative writing.

Summary

Excellence in writing involves mastering three levels, the spirit, heart, and mind of the times and the self, the macro, and the micro level of the craft. Together they give rise to the ‘voice’ of the author—the mark of his or her individuality.

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Understanding Genre

Genre

Genre

Genre is a paradigm of shared characteristics conspiring to create a pliable mould that informs the work being poured into it. For a writer, it is a recipe for creating a story based on commonalities. I say commonalities, because stories within a certain genre, say, the Western, contain a number of shared elements, such as characters packing six-guns, riding horses, and drinking in saloons. Location, dress, props, and time period are important indicators of genre. Science fiction stories, for example might entail the use of non-existing gadgets, exotic creatures in equally exotic apparel, and perhaps other worldly locations, or at least, transformed or foreign spaces. I say ‘might’ and ‘pliable’, because none of these characteristics are set in stone. In the Science Fiction Western, Cowboys and Aliens, for example, alien spaceships and cowboys are juxtaposed unexpectedly, dispensing with a typical requirement for a futuristic time-line.

Genres Evolve

The evolution of genre, much like genetic evolution, involves successful stories passing on their genetic code – their characteristics, to future generations. But because there is a requirement of novelty or originality, the code is never exactly the same, but contains new inflections, which, if successful, are added to the existing genre and passed on to the next iteration. We see this evolution in the Western Hero, for example, where the protagonist of old, played by the likes of John Wayne, goes from being a tough but straight-laced man representing conservative values, to the ambivalent and racist Ethan Edwards in The Searchers, and finally, to the unequivocal anti-hero of Clint Eastwood’s William Munny in Unforgiven – a man with a violent past, a killer of women and children, who, nonetheless, expresses love for his dead wife, and whom we root for by the end of the film.

Mixing Genres

Things become at once more exciting and complicated when we mix Genres. Certain mixtures are common – Action/Comedy films such as Bad Boys, or Crime/Love Stories such as Out of Sight. Some mixtures are even more exotic, such as The Rocky Horror Picture Show – a Musical/Comedy/Horror/Science Fiction/Love Story that was concocted decades ago, yet still remains fresh.

The purpose of genre, then, is to guide the expectations of audiences and readers, as much as writers, by referencing past stories of similar ilk. Genre helps audiences and readers choose a story as much as it helps inform the story itself. Good stories inject new and unexpected elements, which help to keep the material fresh.

Summary

Genres are a groups of shared characteristics that survive form story to story – albeit with new elements and variations that are intended to keep the material fresh. Genres not only assist the reader or audience in selecting which stories to consume, they also provide the writer with a blue-print to emulate, extend, and adapt.

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.