This blog is about storytelling and story development. We examine how fiction works and what stories really consist of, concentrating especially on plot and character development. Many of the posts are inspired by functions and features of our outlining software. It’s all about the craft of creating stories. (more…)
This is an age of faster, faster, more, more. At the latest since the advent of the internet, everything seems to be speeding up. Processes that took weeks a few decades ago now take only a few hours, things that in the twentieth century took hours now take place within minutes or seconds. You can get from A to B in less time than ever. The requirements on most of us for most of our work call for ever greater efficiency. We must not waste time. We must be quick.
Composing a story is a painstaking process. And yes, here at Beemgee we built our fiction tool in order to make the process of composing a story more efficient. We want to make it easier to organise a plot and determine the characters’ motivations – for the authors themselves, and for all the people communicating about the story, so between interested parties such as authors and their editors or screenwriters and producers.
But though we might want our authors’ efficiency to increase, let’s not kid ourselves. Composing a story is still a painstaking process. Because most of the time is spent thinking.
Thinking takes time. And that is mostly what plotting and outlining a story really is, thinking. (more…)
Here at Beemgee, we’re into the thought behind the writing of stories more than the writing itself. So we’re all the more pleased that Writer.com approached us to talk about character development. While their speciality is AI-assisted text generation for companies, in their guest post, they have some good general advice on creating fictional characters. Thanks to Nicholas Rubright for this article. Nickolas is a digital marketing specialist and expert at Writer. In his free time, he enjoys playing guitar, writing music, and building cool things on the internet.
Writing characters with whom readers can identify and empathize should be the goal of every writer, but it’s not a simple task.
To fully grasp a character’s motivations, desires, and anxieties, writers must dive deep into the character’s psyche. Character flaws and strengths work together to build a solid character.
But what is the most effective way to develop a character? And how can you establish a connection between your character’s dramatic decisions and the story itself?
Your characters are the heart and soul of your story. Thus, before you can write a single word, you must first understand your characters.
When it comes to character creation, you have several choices to make, and each choice affects the story in its own way. You must, however, choose what works best for your character.
While an unexpected detail can make the character more interesting, if it isn’t chosen carefully it can damage the character’s believability and ruin your reader’s immersion in your story.
Here are some guidelines and tricks to help you successfully create mouldable character templates for your story.
What a character might know that others don’t – including the audience
Some characters have secrets. We are not talking here about their internal problem or the need that arises out of it (they may be aware of such a problem or not.) We are talking about information that makes a difference to the story once it is shared.
Character secrets are intimately bound to the scene type called a reveal (which does not necessarily have to entail a revelation).
In terms of story (or rather the dramaturgy of the story), if a character has a secret that is never revealed, the secret is irrelevant. Only if the secret is made known at some point in the narrative does it really exist as a component of the plot.
For authors, the main aspects of character secrets to control are:
Does the character share the secret with another character at any point, and if so when (in which scene)?
At what point in the narrative (in which scene) does the audience receive knowledge of this secret?
Who are you, really?
If it is so important the character has a secret, then, often, the secret becomes part of who this character is. Their role in the story, their identity within the story, is determined by their secret. So secrets are dramaturgically important. (more…)
The midpoint is structurally the most significant point in a narrative.
Given that stories have a tendency to symmetry, the centre of a narrative should mark the zenith of the story arc, and with that, the pivotal point of the story.
So, to get to (mid)point: What happens in the middle of a story?
Here are some typical midpoint events:
Something searched for is found (Star Wars IV, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Lolita)
A hidden truth is unveiled (to the audience, at least) – if not yet understood (Matrix, Pride and Prejudice, The Gruffalo)
A dramatic event thwarts all plans made hitherto (James Cameron’s Titanic)
The centre of the narrative may be the discovery of something missing – in crime stories a vital piece of the puzzle may be revealed here (either to the audience or to the audience as well as the protagonist).
In any genre or dramatic category, the midpoint may be a moment of truth. This might be just a clue for the audience or perhaps an initial revelation of the true state of things.
If a character realises or finds out something that has so far been hidden, then this is the point at which the character begins to gain awareness. This counts in particular for the recognition of the character’s own internal problem. From here on the story might possibly lead up to a moment of choice at the crisis, when it becomes clear to the audience whether the character has learnt from this new awareness or not. In other words, the real need begins to overcome or supplant the character’s initial want due to what happens at the midpoint.
Stefan’s favorite genre is visionary fiction – stories that have an enlightenment dimension. Enlightenment and storytelling have interesting parallels, which prompted Stefan to write a book about storytelling – The Eight Crafts of Writing.
Get a glimpse of his approach to story craft in his article.
Art and Craft
Storytelling is both art and craft, authoring and writing, plotting and pantsing.
1.1 Art and Authoring
Art is creativity. Creativity requires receptivity to the Muse and its inspirations.
Inspirations arrive as thought-images, which writers put into words. How to turn thought-images into words and assemble those into a structured story with vivid characters and an engrossing world is a matter of craft and skill.
1.2 Craft and Writing
The literal meaning of Kung Fu is a discipline achieved through hard work and persistent practice. Writing is Kung Fu.
Craft gives form to inspirations. Forms limit. Writers love the artistic side of writing, less so crafting, in particular, Story Outline. Writers are prone to procrastinate crafting.
But no limitations, no story. No canvas, no painting. No net, no tennis.
Understanding the difference between freedom and dominion helps to appreciate the constraints of craft. Freedom is a means to an end. We want to be free to do something, for example, to write a book. That’s all there is to freedom. Dominion, on the other hand, is mastery of structure. (more…)
We read a lot of books on writing, and here is a selection of books we can recommend to budding authors on the craft of storytelling.
Aristotle, Poetics. Oxford University Press, 2013. – Influential in the west, though to be read and interpreted with some care.
Baxter, Charles, Burning Down The House. Greywolf Press, 2008. – Very interesting essays on storytelling.
Booker, Christopher, The Seven Basic Plots. Continuum, 2005. – Much more erudite than the title would suggest, and somewhat controversial since he favours classics and disses almost every story of the last 200 years.
Boyd, Brian, On The Origins Of Stories. Harvard University, 2009. – The world’s foremost Nabokov expert with a brilliant and comprehensive – though occasionally quite dry – explanation of why stories are an integral part of the human species, an evolutionary adaptation we couldn’t live without. (more…)
Stories should take three people out of their comfort zone: The heroine or hero, the audience, and the author.
This is an excerpt from a talk we gave for Jericho Writers. We delve into the idea of taking the protagonist out of their comfort zone, the details behind characters’ wants and needs and how they effect the plot and character transformation, and how all that can relate to plot points and pinch points. Most importantly, we remind authors (whether plotter or pantser) that it is always not only about the protagonist, but also about the authors themselves, and about making the audience experience emotions.
Universal storytelling principles behind the most successful movie series ever.
The sumptuous music of John Barry, the stunning set designs of Ken Adam, the directorial skills of Terence Young or Guy Hamilton, the innovative editing of Peter Hunt, the screen presence of Sean Connery, the zangy theme tune by Monty Norman, memorable actresses, spectacular stunts, and exotic location scouting – a fortunate convergence of individual talents built up the abiding popularity of Ian Fleming’s literary creation, the British MI6 agent James Bond.
Most writers don’t have access to such a talent pool, nor do most authors write action-packed spy capers. Also, 007 stories in particular seem so specific a category that authors might not consider that their own works have much in common with them. So one might be tempted to think that most writers can’t learn anything useful from James Bond.
Many people say there is a James Bond formula. Guy Hamilton, director of four of the early Bond movies, has said not. But there are certainly recurring scene types and structural elements that bear examination. A closer look reveals at least seven dramaturgical principles that any author could consider applying.
Take a look at your book shelf. Chances are there are European and North American authors there. Perhaps you have some Central or South American writers too. And maybe some Indian or Pakistani novels. And perhaps some Russians.
All of these authors wrote or write in the tradition of European storytelling, via colonial or cultural influence. Modern African authors writing novels, for example, have adopted this written prose text form although African storytelling traditions are primarily oral.
What most of us, at least in the western world, know about how to tell stories is influenced heavily by Aristotle’s Poetics. In this rather thin book, Aristotle describes some basic precepts of dramatic composition that continue to be circulated in creative writing classes and how-to books today.
Another strong influence on western storytelling is the protagonist/antagonist duality which arose along with Christianity. Would there be a Sauron without Satan? A Darth without the Devil? A Voldemort without Lucifer?
So what about stories that were created without any knowledge of Aristotle or Christianity? How are stories that had no contact with the western way of composing narratives different?
You have likely heard of The Divine Comedy, of Don Quixote, of Shakespeare – but have you heard of the Three Kingdoms? Of Sun Wukong? Of Cao Xueqin?
We asked ourselves, how are stories that had no contact with the western way of composing narratives different? Are the principles of storytelling really universal across cultures? Our idea was to find out by taking a look at classical Chinese literature. We discovered a number of interesting aspects to the Chinese way of telling stories, and have summarised them here.
In this post, we’ll tell you about the novels we read. Each was a revelation in its own way. The long-form novel came along quite suddenly in China just over 500 years ago. Generally recognised as the first great Chinese novel is Three Kingdoms, which appeared around 1494 CE. The most modern of the novels we’re considering here was published around 1760. That means we’re looking at Ming and Qing dynasty literature.
So which classical Chinese novels should you read? Here’s our list of favourites.
Nothing should be more important to an author than how their story makes the audience feel.
As an author, consider carefully the emotional journey of the reader or viewer as they progress through your narrative.
The audience experiences a sequence of emotions when engaged in a narrative. So narrative structure is a vital aspect of storytelling. The story should be touching the audience emotionally during every scene. Furthermore, each new scene should evoke a new feeling in order to remain fresh and surprising.
The author’s job is to make the audience feel empathy with the characters quickly, so that an emotional response to the characters’ situation is possible. Only this can lead to physical reactions like accelerated heartbeat when the story gets exciting. We have to care.
This “capturing” of the audience, making the reader or viewer rapt and enthralled, requires authors to create events that will show who the characters are and how they react to the problems they must face. The audience is more likely to feel with the characters as the plot unfolds when the characters’ reactions to events reveal something about who they really are – and how they might be similar to us.
One Journey to Spellbind Them All
Here we present a loose pattern that we think probably fits for any type of story, whatever genre or medium, however “literary” or “commercial”. It’s not prescriptive, just a rough checklist of the stages in the emotional journey the audience tacitly expects when they let themselves in on a story. The emotions are in more or less the order they might be evoked by any narrative.
KT Mehra knows a thing or two about writing from her own experience, not only as an author but as a supplier to writers and authors of fine stationary, in particular fountain pens. Not only that, she is digital savvy too.
Back in 1999, KT and her husband Sal started a small web company to create websites for local businesses and provide internet access. They both had a passion for fountain pens, and one day KT, in an excess of enthusiasm, ordered far too many from a pen company. Just for fun, she decided not to return any of them and instead asked her team to design an e-commerce website to sell the extra pens.
To everyone’s surprise and just like that, the website came together quickly and was an instant success.
KT believes that in the modern digitally saturated world, it’s more important than ever to stay true to your thoughts and create something tangible. In that spirit of creation, she feels that something as elemental as putting pen to paper is ever more essential.
Despite offering a digital tool for authors, we couldn’t agree more!
Develop a romantic relationship that your readers will engage with and root for.
Most of the romance novels you love so much use certain secrets to hook their readers in and keep them engaged.
Learning the secrets to create such compelling romance novels will help you perfect your characters’ love story.
The best way for your readers to relate and root for your relationship is for you to make it realistic and dynamic. To build the foundation of any great love story, you need to have a few things down first. (more…)
Do use the Global Menu (button top left) and choose the project you want to work on under “All Stories”.
Do log out after every session, and then close the project window! That’s right, don’t be surprised to see your project still open after you have logged out – it is possible to view Beemgee projects even if you are not registered. This means you can send your project link to friends, colleagues and collaborators. More about this below. (more…)
Rachael Cooper is the Publishing Manager for Jericho Writers, a writers services company based in the UK and US. Rachael has a Masters in eighteenth-century literature, and specialises in female sociability. In her free time, she writes articles on her favourite eighteenth-century authors and, if all else fails, you can generally find her reading and drinking tea!
What is a manly novel, or a womanly novel for that matter?
Does it matter that 1984 was written by a man, or that a woman penned Harry Potter?
Like anything, people lump writers into stereotypes and groups, along with their work. In some ways, this makes it easier to categorize and begin understanding their novels. In others, it can handcuff an audience’s reading and pigeonhole writers.
Women have been writing, and out writing, men for millennia. From Sappho to Toni Morrison, Jane Austen to Virginia Woolf, myriad women writers have changed the world with their words.
Out of all the novels written by women, these are three of the most “manly” of all, the ones you’d bet were written by men.
The Beemgee character-builder asks you a series of questions about each of your main characters. Answering them will help you find their role and importance in narrative.
Always try to keep your answers as concise as possible. And above all, always remember that knowing the answers to these questions is not enough. You must show your audience what you have answered through scenes. That means there must be plot events that convey what you have answered here to your readers or viewers.
Working on Characters
Click into the CHARACTER area of Beemgee. By the way, stay in the same browser window, whether you’re working on PLOT, CHARACTER or STEP OUTLINE – having one project open in multiple windows may result in some of your input being lost.
In the CHARACTER area you’ll land in COMPARE-view, where you can add a character card for each of the major figures in your story.
Outlining a story means developing the characters and structuring the plot.
Beemgee will help you outline your plot using the principle of noting ideas for scenes or plot events on index cards and arranging them in a timeline. This is a separate process from actually writing the story. Most accomplished authors outline their stories before writing them, because it saves rewrites later.
“I am contemplating my 12th novel. I’m hopeful it will be my best because of the marvellous tools inside Beemgee.”
“Such great service. I’m enjoying exploring Beemgee. I love the ?. It provides so much valuable information, it’s like taking a graduate level class. You provide a great deal of helpful story development advice. I think I’m addicted.”
“Thanks again for all the work you invested to produce such a great story development tool.”
“A good tool to make a pantser plot!”
“I think your site is brilliant.”
“This one is outlining way better than any other story I’ve outlined. I’m going to assume this is in part due to using Beemgee. Best tool I’ve ever used.”
“Thank you for this awesome platform. I really enjoy working with it. … I really like beemgee because it makes writing complex stories a hell of a lot easier.”
“Your resource is amazing. What an amazing tool. I’m … now very much a fan of this new software. Although I write using Scrivener, I can see how I can do all my planning through Beemgee, and then slide everything into Scrivener.”
In the summer of 2015 in a run-down part of Berlin, three guys made their way to a notary.
They were in the process of founding the company Beemgee GmbH. There was no product yet, but they did share a conviction and a vision: to help writers and storytellers everywhere conceive, develop and outline their stories.
Today we are proud to celebrate five years of Beemgee with a whole host of new features. Premium users can now access a dozen new attributes in the PLOT and PITCH sections of the Beemgee story development tool.
> >NEW PLOT FEATURES
How ever you work, whichever is your favoured process, you can do it in Beemgee. The additional plot attributes live now are:
Five years ago, three guys met at a notary’s office in a rather run-down part of Berlin.
They had decided to found a company, and on this day were making the declaration official – although they had no backing and no product. Why?
The circumstances of each of the three guys were quite different. One was employed, the other already ran his own business, the third had just left his job. Two were techies, one was the content guy, the one with the idea.
Looking back on it, what they had in common was the desire for a sense of purpose. Each of them wanted their working life to follow a vision, rather than a loop.
For let’s face it, most work is repetitive. You end up going through the same motions again and again, whatever they are.
But found your own company and you’re aiming at something. You’re pursuing a vision. You set yourselves goals, milestones. You have an ideal state you wish to achieve. And probably no idea what you’re letting yourself in for.
In short, when you found a company you become the protagonist in your own story. (more…)
A blurb is a short text on the back of a paperback book designed to get you to purchase that book.
Received wisdom in the publishing industry has it that the cover design triggers browsing bookshoppers to pick up a particular book from the table, after which most people will turn it over to read what’s on the back. The short text on the back cover must then arouse so much interest about the content of the book that the impulse to purchase is triggered. Many customers might glance into the book first before actually going to the checkout.
The blurb text is also used to advertise the book in some print magazines and online shopping platforms. Again, the cover is likely to determine whether the blurb text gets read, but in most cases a sale is unlikely without the blurb having done its job of persuading the prospective customer that this is the right book for them.
Films also have blurbs, which are usually placed in combination with the film poster or a film still.
A blurb is therefore a marketing text. It is not a brief synopsis of the story! The blurb is not really designed to provide information, but to create interest. So the job of the blurb is actually to give just enough information to make withholding more information effective. Not saying quite as much as the recipient wants to know is how to arouse curiosity.
What this often boils down to is answering three key questions about the story in the blurb: (more…)
Joseph Campbell’s study of worldwide myths, The Hero With A Thousand Faces (1949), has become massively influential in commercial storytelling. Campbell was not the first to consider the concept of the hero and mythological or archetypal stories, but his work consolidated what others, including Carl Jung, had suggested into a theory specifically about storytelling.
George Lucas read The Hero With A Thousand Faces as a young man, and we may assume that Francis Ford Coppola and Steven Spielberg were also familiar with the book. We can see the influence of Campbell’s ideas on some of the most successful movies of the 1970s and 80s, and ever since.
Christopher Vogler studied film at the same school as George Lucas, and subsequently while working at Disney wrote a seven-page breakdown of Campbell’s book. This in time developed into The Writer’s Journey, which has become the basis of the popular conception of The Hero’s Journey.
Campbell was an expert on James Joyce and a professor of literature with a particular interest in comparative mythology and comparative religion. The Hero With A Thousand Faces is by no means a how-to book or a storytelling manual. Rather, it posits the theory that all the myths of the world have elements in common and propounds the idea of the “monomyth” as a basic structural model of traditional storytelling. (more…)
George Lucas had already stated his debt to Campbell in the development of Star Wars, and the idea that there might be a template for stories that are so successful they last over centuries and across cultures caught on quickly in Tinseltown. (more…)
There are two definitions of story beat. Both of them refer to a change.
One use of the term beat refers to the subtle change in the dynamic of a relationship that a line of dialogue brings about in a scene. There are usually several beats within a scene, each a marker for pushing the scene forwards dramatically.
The other meaning of the word beat in storytelling applies to changes in the plot brought about by scenes. A plot is a succession of events linked causally, a narrative chain of cause and effect. One event effects a change, determining what happens in subsequent scenes. Writers might arrange these events on a board or “beat sheet” during the planning phase. (more…)
One of the many experts on storytelling to have attempted in a book to describe the essential elements of a story is John Truby.
In The Anatomy of Story (2007), Truby identifies 22 steps in any protagonist’s narrative, which may play into four aspects of the story: character, plot, story world, and moral argument. Thankfully, Truby does not insist that every story must follow the template strictly and contain all 22 steps. He does, however, identify as critical that the story show seven attributes of a main character and their storyline: (more…)
A synopsis is a summary of your story intended to be read by industry professionals.
This makes it a different text from a blurb, which is designed to be read by the public.
In both cases, you probably want the reader to purchase your story. But the reader of the blurb is merely buying a book or a movie ticket. The reader of the synopsis is taking a much greater risk if they decide to invest in your story.
An editor or publisher or a movie producer or director is accustomed to hearing story pitches. They want to find out as quickly as possible if your story is something that they might be interest in. So they need certain questions answered fast. These questions usually concern the premise(more…)
You might think that your story could be enjoyed by anyone. But most stories particularly appeal to more or less specific target groups.
When you’re developing a story, it helps to have an idea of kind of people who are going to be enjoying it. The more specific this idea, the more likely you are to conceive and form the material in a way that will appeal to them.
The Ideal Audience
So while you are writing a story, you may have an ideal reader or viewer in mind. This might be your projection of a particular real individual, or just a vague idea of a type of person. Your ideal reader or viewer gets every joke, spots every reference – no matter how obscure –, and feels just the way they should during each scene.
The ideal audience is a figment of the author’s imagination. Picturing this figment in as much detail as possible in your mind’s eye might be a good starting point for finding out who your target audience is. Is the ideal reader a gentleman sitting in an armchair? Or a teenage girl lounging in a café?
Specifying your target audience to industry professionals you’re pitching to can make it easier for them to judge whether your work is something they can invest in. Typically, the criteria for target groups are: (more…)
Dramaturgy means “the craft or the techniques of dramatic composition”.
In other words, everything to do with the story except the words with which it is told. If your story is about two people in a room, dramaturgy tells you who these people are and what happens in the room. In terms of storytelling process, the term dramaturgy refers to the planning or outlining stage rather than the execution or writing.
The study of dramaturgy has produced a nomenclature that is used by dramaturges, script consultants, story advisors, editors and publishers, producers and filmmakers, as well as authors. Some terms may seem more familiar than others, and often their definitions are not entirely agreed upon. (more…)
Hayley Zelda is a writer and marketer at heart. She’s written on all the major writing platforms and worked with a number of self-published authors on marketing books to the YA audience. She loves working with teen writers and working with schools on literacy programs.
Writing is a craft that cannot be easily taught and from a young age, many students associate writing with homework and essays. By the time high school swings around, many teachers tell me they’ve given up on getting the majority of students excited about writing.
But I believe there is always a way to motivate and inspire young minds to get excited about writing. After all, storytelling has been in existence since the beginning of the human race. And who doesn’t love stories?
If it were a simple task, I probably wouldn’t be writing a blog post about it. Through trial and error, I’ve found a number of ways to help teens have fun while writing. This doesn’t mean that every teen will fall in love with writing forever, but at least some positive association can be built with the act of writing.
Here are some of my top tips on how to get young people excited about writing.
1. Use writing prompts relevant to what young people care about.
Writing prompts are a great way to get creative juices flowing. The more relevant you make the prompt, the stronger the response you’ll get from a student. (more…)
If you dont know what your story is really about, start finding out now (and don’t stop).
By Amos Ponger
The human ability of creating stories and the consumption and absorption of stories are very deeply connected to the core of our civilizations. Our efficiency as a species and cooperation in all scales of human endeavor rely on our ability to tell, decode, understand, and believe in stories.
Story has been so important for mankind’s cooperation, development and the way humans have understood themselves that all of our grand evolutions and revolutions – from the agricultural, religious, economic and cultural revolutions, the invention of money and law, the renaissance and humanism, the American, French and Russian revolutions, modernism, to socialism and capitalism – have actually happened through processes of rewriting collective Story. Revolutionaries and evolutionaries from Moses through Jesus, to Buddha, have actually risen upon a grand scale transformation of how humans understand themselves and cooperate with each other. And that has been done by story. Often the seeds of politics of whole centuries had actually been sown by poets, philosophers and prophets. STORYTELLERS.
Now, even if you don’t plan on a revolution(more…)
It is the complexities of these types of relationship that authors present to their audiences.
At least two of the three types of relationships are likely to be depicted in any story, cooperation and conflict. To make the story feel complete, authors especially of popular stories such as Hollywood movies often include the third type in the form of a love interest. (more…)
Three sorts of opposition, and two things to remember.
Opposition causes conflict
For any character in a story, there may be opponents, not just for the protagonist. So while the protagonist-antagonism struggle may be at the forefront of the story, actually there is a whole system of opposing forces.
Let’s examine how characters in stories work against each other.
Opposition can come from striving for the same or for opposite ends.
Opponents can be antagonistic or incidental.
There are two sorts of opponents, those from without, and those from within.
Same same or different?
An author might take each character at a time and arrange their opponents, which means characters who are either trying to get to the same thing first or whose success in attaining something else would thwart the character’s efforts.
In other words, the opposition (unless it arises by chance, see below) takes the form of either competition or threat. Competition for the same goal: Who will reach the South Pole first? Threat, because the goal of the opponent is opposed to the goal of the other figure: a nature reserve or a hotel complex. Imagine this for yourself using your own example: Your opponents strive for the same goal as you, and if your competitor wins, you get nothing. So your opponents are competing with you for the same goal, for example the same person. Or your opponent wants something completely different from you, and if he achieves that, it means you cannot get what you want. The success of the opponent is therefore a threat to your own well-being.
Want to see what a completed Beemgee project looks like?
Click one of the links below.
When the project opens, feel free to drag and drop or edit whatever you want – any changes you make will not be saved. It’s the perfect way to explore Beemgee functionality. Try the FILTER function, for instance, or the NARRATIVE-CHRONOLOGY switch. Go to the CHARACTER tool, mark your favourite character and hit DEVELOP in the tool bar. Or read the STEP OUTLINE.
If you don’t have an account yet, you’ll still see all the PREMIUM features, such as STORY QUESTIONS in the STEP OUTLINE section or the detail views of PLOT events or CHARACTER sheets.
Despite their complexity and diversity, there are essentially only three different kinds of human relationships.
That’s right, if you take a step back and try to categorize human interactions, you’ll find three distinct types. Biologists know this, because the principle applies to any species that lives in groups. Within the group, three types of behavior may be observed:
individuals cooperate with each other
individuals compete with each other
Evolutionary biologists describe a spectrum of individual to group selection. Some animals will typically try to maximize their individual gain, as exhibited in behaviors such as taking the biggest share of food or the best space for offspring, without regard for other animals in the group. On the other hand, some species have evolved social organizations in which individuals may act purely for the group’s benefit rather than individual gain. Think of ants, bees, or termites.
Interestingly, on this spectrum between profit maximization and altruism, homo sapiens sit pretty much exactly in the middle. Humans are genetically programmed to selfishness, to seek what is perceived as best for oneself and one’s immediate family, and at the same time have a strong and innate instinctive and natural urge towards cooperation and social behavior – which ultimately also increases our survival chances.
Cooperation, neighborliness, charitable behavior, acts of kindness – even if they costs us, they generally make us feel better and they make life in the tribe, clan, or community so much easier. Mind you, we do like to look after number one. We’re not going to simply give up our salaries, our homes, our lifestyles. Our own needs and those of our families come first. Who is not aware of this dichotomy?
The pull in opposite directions between egoism and altruism is perhaps one of the specifics of human beings as a species that has caused us to evolve abstract thought processes as well as complex societal and cultural forms. It also sheds light on basic principles of storytelling such as conflict. (more…)
Where a character comes from may determine their values.
It is not always necessary to explain where a character comes from. Knowing their origin may not help the audience to understand a character.
But for some stories, origins can be vital.
As an example, take a contrast story like In The Heat Of The Night. Police Chief Bill Gillespie lives in the USA’s deep south and is a racist bigot. Such are his values, and for the purpose of this story also his internal problem. That he is a racist does not surprise the audience at all. It is completely credible given his origins. He comes from an area where, at the time at least, such bigotry was rife, and when the African American detective Virgil Tibbs turns up, their conflict is utterly plausible.
What we’re getting at here is that the values of a character have to be made plausible to the audience, which may be achieved by making the origins of that character explicit. In many stories, where a character comes from has to be fitting to what that character is like. Their origin produces the character’s values.
Lucia is a writer with Reedsy, a marketplace that connects authors with editors, designers, and marketers. In Lucia’s spare time, she enjoys drinking coffee and planning her historical fantasy novel.
Whether we’re piecing together the timeline for a homicide or puzzling out the intricacies of Newtonian mechanics, cause and effect are crucial to how we make sense of, well, everything. Of course, I say “we” loosely. As writers, most of us won’t actually be catching killers or solving the coefficient of fiction. But still, stories are no exception to this rule: without cause and effect, they fall apart.
At the end of the day, writers should have as tight a grasp on causality as any detective or physicist. It doesn’t matter if you’re working on a doorstopper to rival War and Peace, or a breezy picture book for baby bookworms: you’ll need to craft a storyline that makes sense. This makes your readers want to spend time in the world you’ve created — and ensures they’ll leave it feeling enlightened and satisfied.
Of course, you can get there haphazardly, writing juicy scenes as they come to mind and attacking the chaos of your draft with a merciless red pen. But if you want to save time during the editing process, keep cause and effect in mind as you plot. (more…)
Silvia Li Sam is a storyteller, blogger, writer, and marketing expert. She has built communities of millions of people in education, tech, and non-profit. You can see some of her storytelling credentials on Medium at silvialisam.com, or connect with her on her LinkedIn.
What’s worse for an aspiring writer than to sit in front of their laptop with every intention of writing a great story, only to discover you can’t think of a single idea?
Don’t worry: we’ve all been there. All you need is a dash of inspiration, and you’ll be penning that story – or that novel! – in no time.
But how can you brainstorm great ideas? In this article, we’ll give you a few tips to battle writer’s block and never lose to it again!
1. Write down everything that comes to mind!
You might be asking yourself, “What am I supposed to write about? I don’t have any ideas!”
Don’t worry, the objective here isn’t writing anything exceptional, it’s just getting rid of the white page sitting in front of you. So type into your computer (or write down if you still use a pen and papers) anything you can think of. (more…)
The Writer’s Craft Super Stack is a collection of digital tools, training, and resources that should help you improve your writing. In it you will find ecourses, ebooks, printable workbooks, access to 7 world-class pieces of software (yes, including Beemgee Premium), and lots more. (more…)
Why a Picture Book Manuscript Always Benefits From Systematic Planning
by Vincent Teetsov
Residing at the crossroads between songwriting, picture books, and non-fiction with a cultural focus, Vincent Teetsov is a communicator with the ambitious goal of inspiring the world to innovate and live meaningfully through multimedia creations. Since 2013, he has released several music albums and books, relating to topics of history, language, and the passage of creativity through time. This has been particularly impacted by his time living across the United States, Italy, and the UK. Since 2015, he has collaborated with illustrator Laani Heinar in creating the children’s stories, comics, and songs for Pumpkin and Stretch.
Admittedly, there is less text in a picture book than you will find in a novel. In a picture book, printing specifications typically dictate that there should be 32 pages. This even number allows for the story’s pages to be folded up neatly into a single stack, called the ‘signature’. After printing, the signature is then cut and bound together. Novels have less specific requirements.
With these differences in length, sometimes outsiders to the process of writing will assume that creating a picture book is easier. This is compounded by the fact that most picture books are written for children and use simpler language. Actually, it’s even harder to get this language right than when writing for adults. (more…)
What does meaning mean? When is a tale meaningful? A few perspectives on imbuing your plot and characters with a subtext.
It’s no mean feat to make your audience feel they have learned something through your story.
Meaning is that which is intended or understood. The audience draws significance, relevance or profundity out of a story when it understands the deeper implications, reasonings and causes behind it. The meaning of a story depends on the standpoint. An author may mean something different from what the audience understands.
Let’s try to unravel this tricky but essential element of stories. We have noted that stories cannot help but exhibit four distinct elements:
Style (aka language, or “voice”)
The interplay of characters and their actions form the plot, and all this is brought into a story structure, or narrative. Since there is always an author writing the novel or a team of people making the film, their stylistic choices determine the language of the work. In this post, we’ll skim the surface of the fourth element. Meaning is, of course, a broad term for something very hard to pinpoint.
Let’s break down how we might look for the meaning of a story. (more…)