THE PATH TO OUR STORIES
In Charles Perrault's 17th century cautionary tale, Le Petit Chaperon Rouge or Little Red Riding Hood, we find a young protagonist who wanders into a dark forest with the aim of visiting her grandmother.
But Red is unprepared for her journey, is distracted by the Big Bad Wolf, and she and her grandmother end up in the animal's belly!
As a writer the take-away lesson from Red's misadventure is to start our story-telling journey with a map in hand and a well chosen path.
Audiences are fascinated by these tales because they offer hope that there is justice in the world, that we can better ourselves, that good will find a way to conquer bad, and that there will be a happy ending.
Read various versions of Little Red Riding Hood, including Charles Perrault's version, here and check out this discussion of the versions here. Also, for another classic cautionary tale, see Washington Irving's Faustian bargain tale The Devil and Tom Walker.
Now let's begin to wander ourselves through the path that will take us to our stories.
Can you name another cautionary tale (story, novel, TV show, film)? What does it "caution" against?
THE PATH THROUGH THE FOREST OF OUR MINDS
Psychoanalytic theory interprets the forest's darkness and trees' deep roots as symbolical of our minds' sub-conscious.
A forest is inhabited by trees that often seem threatening and animals that symbolize the dangers that we face as we journey through life.
The forest is linked to the life-giving mother but also, because it cannot be cultivated, to reason's death.
In the forest of our minds we house joyful memories, fears, and anxieties and in this dwelling we may discover the golden sparks for our stories!
Have you ever been in a forest or jungle? Perhaps at night? What do you remember about this experience?
Carl Gustav Jung
Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961) is key to contemporary story-telling as his work unlocked the door to a better understanding of:
- Comparative religion.
- Associative thinking and dreaming.
- Symbols of the hero, mother, and sacrifice.
Symbols of Transformation (1952) has become one of Jung's highly influential writings.
It was known in earlier editions as Psychology of the Unconscious: A study of the transformations and symbolisms of the libido, a contribution to the history of the evolution of thought (1912-1916).
Today Jung's ideas are discussed in many venues, including:
- Creative writing courses.
- Screenwriting courses.
- TV, cable, and internet show development rooms.
WHY ARE JUNG'S IDEAS SO IMPORTANT TO STORY-TELLERS?
Jung's research can help us develop our own heroic characters that readers all over the world can identify with. Let's look deeper into this!
Archetypal Heroes and the Collective Unconscious
Archetypal heroes have common attributes:
- Unusual or mysterious birth circumstances.
- Separate from family and grow up with strangers.
- A traumatic event leads to their Quest.
- Have or are given a special weapon(s) by a Mentor.
- Receive super-natural or magical help.
Linguistic, anthropological, and other social studies have shown a universal grammar underlying all human languages and there seems to be a universal grammar of stories and characters!
Archetypes are key to what makes a compelling story, a term often used in by editors and producers when a writer is developing a story. A compelling story is driven by a compelling character that is powerfully irresistible, grabs our attention, interest, admiration, and sympathy because they are:
- Cute, beautiful or ugly.
- Intelligent, experts or really good at what they do.
- Very rich or very poor.
- Young or kind to others.
- Challenged socially, physically or mentally.
- Have suffered a terrible lost as a parent's death.
Compelling characters go out into the world, overcome obstacles, and face "outer and inner monsters."
After their adventures, these characters return home transformed and with a great story to tell, or lesson or gift for their communities.
" When creating characters, you are giving birth to the illusion of this full person with complexities."
These compelling characters, based on ancient or recent history or popular or high-brow literature, human or animal, are our archetypal heroes and we react to them because we all share in the Collective Unconscious.
As a creative writer, never underestimate the vital importance of developing a main character that audiences can identify with and fall in love with!
In your path to your story, do not shy away from drawing on universal archetypes in crafting your stories and tap into something elemental in the human mind. Your main character will hook your audience into your story and never let them go until you write the words: The End!
Similar to the journey of compelling characters, creative writers must struggle through on their path to an unforgettable story!
Write the description of a Compelling Character and post it below:
What Makes Up the Collective Unconscious?
The Collective Unconscious is made up of elements we all share:
These elements seem to originate in inherited structures of the brain and all human beings, to some extent, re-act to them. If your stories include these shared elements, then many will want to read them.
According to neuro-anatomical studies, what are the three parts, or inherited structures, of the human brain?
A Dangerous Profession, A Dangerous Method
But mining for gold and other precious metals is dangerous, and creative writing, as well as psychology, has not for nothing been called A Dangerous Profession. Also, did you know there's a film about Carl Gustav Jung that explores the dangers of digging into the human mind?
Writer/Director David Cronenberg's A Dangerous Method (2011): In this documentary-type film, Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung and Sabina Spielrein (played by Keira Knightley as one of the first female psychologists) discuss their theories while exploring them.
Check out this film review and scenes from A Dangerous Method:
Digging Out the Golden and Magical Sparks
As a writer, in our own way, we need to dig in, draw a map and start on our path.
Let's take a look at the creative, or artistic thinking, process:
- Step 1: Brain Storming.
- Step 2: Drafting.
- Step 3: Peer Review.
- Step 4: Drafting Again.
- Step 5: Revision and Editing.
Step 1: Brainstorming for Creative Writers
Brainstorming can be done in groups or individually.
BRAINSTORMING IN GROUPS: Two people or more can begin to generate ideas freely and spontaneously by noting down everything that is said without any criticism. At the end of a predetermined time of working with the ideas and writing, ideas are evaluated.
In general, these are the phases of a group brainstorming session to generate story ideas:
- Write ideas on paper or better yet, large board.
- Generate as many ideas as possible.
- Do not criticize ideas while being generated.
- Encourage wild ideas.
- Cluster ideas, name them, and use this name as a story title.
- From each cluster choose a phrase and use it to write the first sentence of a story.
Finally, everyone in the group should write quickly for at least 25 minutes as recommended by the Pomodoro Technique. Take a look:
After 25 minutes of continuous writing, stop, take a break and exchange stories with the other members of your group. You are now ready for peer review. More on this step later!
Mapping or Webbing
When group brainstorming you might also try a similar technique known as mapping or webbing.
In general, these are the phases of mapping or webbing:
- On a sheet of paper write the main topic. For example, you are asked to write a story about cars. So write the word CAR in the middle of the paper. Hopefully you can find a very large piece of paper for this exercise!
- Move out from the center of the paper. Write fast as many related ideas, images snippets of remembered conversations, names and places as you can associate with the central topic. Jot down everything moving around the paper. Keep moving and associating until the paper is covered with notes.
- Now use crayons or coloring pencils and circle anything that seems related. Then draw a line connecting the circles. Keep connecting the circles with straight lines or curved lines. At the end your group should have produced a type of map or web! Don't worry if some ideas or phrases are left seemingly not belonging to any group. They might end up being the gold sparks of a future story!
BRAINSTORMING INDIVIDUALLY: Free writing, or free blogging, is done non-stop without correcting spelling or grammar for a predetermined period of time.
Free writing is not about producing a story. It is a way to overcome Writer's Block and sideline the Interior Editor who whispers into your ear thoughts of failure and negative criticism coming from inside you as well as from others.
In general, these are the phases of an individual brainstorming session:
- Set a time: 25 minutes minimum is recommended.
- Once you start, keep your writing hand moving, do not pause, or stare away from your paper or computer or read what you've written.
- Do not be concerned with grammar, spelling, punctuation or style. We are not going for publisher quality here and at this stage nobody else needs to read what you are writing.
- When you go off topic or run out of ideas, keep your hand moving and writing whatever comes into your head, or just scribble.
- At any time in the writing process, if you feel uncomfortable, quickly ask yourself why you are bothered and write about that.
- When time is up, read over what you have written and underline or circle phrases that contain ideas or images that might be worth developing in the future.
- Take a short break and start writing for another 25 minutes which is the recommended block of time to work in repeatedly by the Pomodoro Technique.
Charting or Shaping
Perhaps you are visually inclined and then your brainstorming might take the shape of charts, graphs, flow charts, triangles, paper plates or even, my personal favorite, umbrellas!
Try using phrases or words that are related to the story idea you are developing central to your topic and try different ways to arrange them in space!
Again, don't limit yourself. For example, write your ideas on strips of colored paper and glue them to an old umbrella! Take a look and then write! If no story comes of this, well, you can decorate a corner of your bedroom with your newly transformed umbrella.
This process of creating a story is especially suited to teams of storytellers working together with visual artists. But any person can storyboard a story! Take a look at: How to Draw Storyboards.
A storyboard is a type of comic book that helps us visualize a story. To create storyboards to help us develop our stories we can use plain paper, index cards or specially formatted sheets.
Your story development team can draw very detailed storyboards or just do stick figures. You can see some examples of both types here.
Storyboarding in journalism is used for developing articles. If you would like to know more about this technique in journalism, go here.
In the film industry, storyboarding is a technique used to visualize a screenplay and, possibly, to improve on scenes and plot. You can also use storyboarding to help you in your creative writing process.
Read about adapting screenwriting techniques to your story writing process at: Writing a Novel Using the Screenplay Method.
The following steps of the creative writing process and story development all naturally develop from Step 1: Brain Storming for Creative Writers.
Let's do a walk through these other steps...
Step 2: Drafting
Drafting is a matter of writing and re-writing. A first draft should be re-written several times.
The first draft is an exploration, a way to begin to bring into focus a story that perhaps has been housed in the deep forest of your mind for a long time.
Step 3: Peer Review
Peer Review, or feedback, is sharing your work with others and having them comment on it in a constructive way. This step might happen after the first, second or third drafts.
Feedback affects both the person receiving the critique as well as the person giving it. Even if at first you feel uncomfortable, keep moving through the process and you'll grow as a writer.
Professional writers tend to write a minimum of 3 drafts to "clean up" their grammar and syntax. Also, in these drafts a writer might change the structure or characters of a story to clarify plot. Main characters tend to show up early in the story, but you need to figure out who is the main character!
Check out Feedback and Peer Review and Peer Critique: Creating a Culture of Revision and think about how you can apply what is discussed in these videos to the process of creative writing and developing stories. Also, take a look at: Tips for an Effective Creative Writing Critique.
Step 4: Drafting Again
Second, third, and fourth drafts start to perfect your work and allow you to really express what you mean to say. NO FIRST DRAFT WILL ACHIEVE THIS!
Step 5: Revision and Editing
Revision and Editing continue until you feel satisfied with your story and you feel good about sending it out to editors for possible publication or sending it to writing competitions. According to Obert Skye this is the step in writing where you meet up with the "magical wizard."
Listen to Obert Skye talk about The Magic Of Revision:
In the classroom or at home, try any of the brainstorming techniques discussed above. Post below which technique you tried and summarize the result. Remember to be free and wild! And work quickly to keep the Interior Editor and Writer's Block away!
EXERCISE: OPENING THE MAGICAL DOOR TO THE PATH
Now let us brainstorm in a fun way along the path to our stories.
For this exercise we are going to use Magical Doors, a twist on the Shaping brainstorming technique.
You can use a real doll's house door or fairy door that you bring to class. Or you can choose an image of a miniature door from the internet.
After you have chosen a door in class, take a photo of your door for your records. You might want to take a selfie with your door. You might even want to outline your door on paper and color it.
Now answer the following questions as quickly as you can and at the end of the exercise write a short story about your imaginary journey:
a. Describe your door and name it.
b. How do you open your door? Do you need a special key or magical words?
c. Imagine opening and closing the door. What or Who have you left on the other side of the door?
a. On the other side of the door there's a path. Close your eyes and step on it. What do your bare feet feel? Stone, sand, mud, wood, seashells, snow, etc.
b. Start to walk on the path and describe what you see: Forest, jungle, desert, lake, ocean, mountains, etc.
c. What is the predominant color that you see? Do you feel hot or cold?
a. Do you hear anything? Voices, music, crying, laughing, hammering, something else?
b. Do you smell anything? What is it? Food, perfume, flowers, something unpleasant?
c. Are there animals or plants nearby? Do they communicate with you? What do they say?
a. Walk on down your path. Do you see a child or other person at the path's end? Who? Do you speak to them? What do you say?
b. In general, how do you feel? Happy, Relieved, Curious, Abandoned, Lonely, Fearful, etc.
c. What do you call this place where you are wandering?
ON THE PATH: THE FIRST SENTENCES OF OUR STORIES
Once you have done some type of brainstorming activity and just opened the door to your story...
I cannot stress enough the importance of the first sentences of your story because not only are you getting on the storytelling path, but you are asking a reading audience to join you.
Will an audience sign up for the journey you are offering them?
If the first sentences captures their attention, they gladly will!
Here are some examples of ways to start a story worth looking at....
Make use of a:
1. A well-known opening formula phrase which establishes the story will take place in a fantastical or magical time and location, such as: "Once upon a time...":
"Once upon a time there were four little Rabbits, and their names were-- Flopsy, Mopsy, Cotton-tail, and Peter...."
Listen to Little Red Riding Hood here and notice how it also begins with "Once upon a time..."
2. A variation of the formulaic phrase "Once upon a time" or a narrator's"The/This story...":
"There was once a velveteen rabbit, and in the beginning he was really splendid."
The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick:
"The story I am about to share with you takes place in 1931, under the roofs of Paris."
"This story begins within the walls of a castle, with the birth of a mouse. A small mouse."
“My mother believed you could be anything you wanted to be in America.”
Also, J.R.R. Tolkien in The Hobbit's stresses the word "comfort," a key factor in the hobbits' lifestyle by placing it at the end of the first sentence:
“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.”
4. A character's description that hints at how unusual or unique they are:
"When Mary Lennox was sent to Misselthwaite Manor to live with her uncle everybody said she was the most disagreeable-looking child ever seen. It was true, too."
5. A character inspired by or "borrowed" from another story, novel, play, film or even a well known painting and/or the arrival of a completely unknown stranger or group:
The novel begins as Griet's life is turned upside down by the arrival of strangers to her house:
"My mother did not tell me they were coming."
"It was a dark and stormy night; Meg Murry, her small brother Charles Wallace, and her mother had come down to the kitchen for a midnight snack when they were upset by the arrival of a most disturbing stranger.
“Wild nights are my glory,” the unearthly stranger told them..."
6. A description of the main character's family or "special" ancestral lineage:
"Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. They were the last people you'd expect to be involved in anything strange or mysterious, because they just didn't hold with such nonsense."
"These two very old people are the father and mother of Mr Bucket. Their names are Grandpa Joe and Grandma Josephine. And these two very old people are the father and mother of Mrs Bucket. Their names are Grandpa George and Grandma Georgina. This is Mr Bucket. This is Mrs Bucket. Mr and Mrs Bucket have a small boy whose name is Charlie. This is Charlie."
7. A description of one or more characters that find themselves in an uncomfortable, problematic or potentially dangerous situation, as Anton Chekhov does in his story, The Party when he describes a woman who hides her pregnancy by wearing a tight girdle at a social gathering:
"After the festive dinner with its eight courses and its endless conversation, Olga Mihalovna, whose husband's name-day was being celebrated, went out into the garden. The duty of smiling and talking incessantly, the clatter of the crockery, the stupidity of the servants, the long intervals between the courses, and the stays she had put on to conceal her condition from the visitors, wearied her to exhaustion."
Also, Lev Grossman's The Magicians, begins with Quentin, the main character, in an uncomfortable situation that makes him feel left out of the group:
"Quentin did a magic trick. Nobody noticed. They picked their way along the cold, uneven sidewalk together: James, Julia, and Quentin. James and Julia held hands. That's how things were now. The sidewalk wasn't quite wide enough, so Quentin trailed after them, like a sulky child."
"Coraline discovered the door a little while after they moved into the house."
8. A summary of an unusual relationship or situation (usually in the middle of things):
"Once there was a tree and she loved the little boy."
"Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, ‘and what is the use of a book,’ thought Alice ‘without pictures or conversations?’"
9. An unusual line of DIALOGUE or QUESTION:
"The doctor said to the Bishop, "So you see, my lord, your young ordinand can live no more than three years and doesn't know it.""
"Where's Papa going with that ax? said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast."
10. Description of a person's or an animal's memory of a past event:
Also, there are stories that are narrated from an animal's point of view, such as Joey, a young horse in England that grows up in a farm but is sold to the army and ends up in the battlefields of WWI: .
"My earliest memories are a confusion of hilly fields and dark stables, and rats that scampered along the beams above my head. But I remember well enough the day of the horse sale."
11. A child or teenager narrating a story from their point of view:
“I don't have much work to do around the house like some girls. My mother does that. And I don’t have to earn my pocket money by hustling; George runs errands for the big boys and sells Christmas cards. And anything else that’s got to get done, my father does. All I have to do in life is mind my brother Raymond, which is enough."
12. A Character's NEED, WANT/DESIRE or FEAR or even what gives them the most PLEASURE:
“I needed a manicure immediately. Six months before I had had my nails covered in silk and gel, and since then having them refilled, filed, polished, and painted had become a bi-weekly ritual.”
(From: Sanctuary by Linda M. Rodriguez Guglielmoni. Read full story in the Appendix.)
"It was a pleasure to burn."
Now choose one of the ways of beginning a story from the ones discussed above, and get on the story-telling path. Write for at least 25 minutes once you begin your story.
EXERCISE: 100 GREAT SHORT STORIES
We definitely can learn how to get on the story-telling path from other writers.
Take look at these 100 Great Short Stories.
Think about this:
- What is your favorite first line?
- Did it hook you into the story right away?
- Did the first line establish the point of view?
- Did it throw you right into the middle of things?
- Is the first line written with verbs in past or present tense or some other tense?
About point of view or POV.
It's good to know from the start if a story will be told in:
- First person: “I or WE”
- Third Person: “SHE, HE, IT, THEY”
As a creative writer you must have absolute control of your verb tenses. For more on this issue take a look at: Narrative Tense—Right Now or Way Back Then, How to Use Past Tense, Present Tense, and Future Tense in Novel Writing, and How to Choose the RIGHT Tense for Your Novel.
Now, take that first line that got you, "borrow" it partly or wholly, that is, Steal Like An Artist, and write for at least 25 minutes and find the path to one of your own stories!
Post the title and first line of the '100 Great Short Stories' you chose as your favorite. Then post the first paragraph of your own story using that first line.
On their storyteller's path, writers often face their own BIG BAD WOLF!
 Image by Kenneth Whitley under Public Domain.
 Image by Julius Sergius von Klever under Public Domain.
 Image by Unknown under Public Domain.
 Image by Sandro Botticelli under Public Domain.
 Image by National Institutes of Health under Public Domain.
 Image by Abraham Cresques (1325–1387) under Public Domain.
 Image by Richard Termine under Public Domain.
 Image by W.Briggs under Public Domain.
 Image by Margery Williams under Public Domain.
 Image by Strebe under Public Domain.
 Image by Project Gutenberg under Public Domain.
 Image by Vermeer under Public Domain.
 Image by Lewis Carroll/British Library under Public Domain.
 Image by Fleury François Richard under Public Domain.
Andrews, Jesse. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. Amulet Books, 2015.
Bambara, Toni Cade. Raymond's Run. https://www.scribd.com/document/21720102/Raymond-s-Run-Text. Accessed 31 May 2018.
Bradbury, Ray. Fahrenheit 451. https://www.npr.org/books/titles/138754189/fahrenheit-451#excerpt. Accessed 3 June 2018.
Chevalier, Tracy. Girl with a Pearl Earring. Plume, 2005.
Dahl, Roald. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. 1964. Puffin Books, 2016.
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García Márquez, Gabriel. Love in the Time of Cholera. 1985. Vintage, 2007.
Grossman, Lev. The Magicians. Penguin Books, 2010.
Hodgson Burnett, Frances. The Secret Garden. 1911. HarperCollins, 2010.
L’Engle, Madeline. A Wrinkle in Time. 1962. Square Fish, 2007.
Lewis, C.S. The Chronicles of Narnia. 1955. HarperEntertainment, 1984.
Potter, Beatrix. The Tale of Peter Rabbit. 1902. Penguin, 2002.
Rodriguez, Linda M. "Sanctuary." The Caribbean Writer, 15, 2001, pp. 81-85.
Selznick, Brian. The Invention of Hugo Cabret. Scholastic, 2007.
Silverstein, Shel. The Giving Tree. Harper & Row, 1964.
Tan, Amy. The Joy Luck Club. G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1989.
Tolkien, J.R.R. The Hobbit. 1937. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012.
White, E.B. Charlotte's Web. 1952. HarperCollins, 1999.
Williams, Margery. The Velvetteen Rabbit or How Toys Become Real. 1922. Doubleday, 2014.