The 7 ways of the tale teller
May 23, 2013

sevenDid you think there were more? Well of course there are as many ways as people but a little bit of delving around reveals a strange and perplexing truth about storytelling – all the stories anyone ever writes are based around one or the other of the following seven themes:

1.       Overcoming the monster :dagger

Think of St George and the dragon, The War of the Worlds – and so topical now – Dracula and his gluttonous vampire army. Monsters represent our fears – dark and dank, and that we have to beat to achieve happiness. So of course that is why we are buried under a ton of vampire and werewolves  YA (young adult) fiction at the moment. What more dank and drear source of fear is there than adolescence?

 colours2. Rags to riches:

Oh easy, I hear you say – I’m getting the hang of this now. Cinderella, right? Well, yes, of course – and The Ugly Duckling, Jane Eyre, Slum Dog … it crosses all genre, cultures and  centuries. It gives credence to our belief in ourselves – we may start out mundane, poor, struggling, but we can – through hardship and trial, achieve the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow and return home – bad boy done good etc. It may sound trite, but seeing the underdog triumph does us all good and gives us hope – so we love to read about it too.

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3. The quest:

Another very topical one here – Lord of the Rings is the best and most spectacular example of this – and it’s an epic journey too, but you could go for Watership Down, or Raiders of the Lost Ark as well. There must be a hero, a lure or pull to an all-important goal and thrills, spills and almost death along the way before success brings the conquering hero home again with their spoils. Uplifting, inspiring, escapism – wonderful!

4. Voyage and return:

The Wizard of Ox  – I had to have that one as it is the production my daughter is dancing in this summer, Alice in Wonderland, The Time Machine … Traveling out of everyday surroundings, the hero(ine) and the group of people traveling with them have to cope with the strangeness of another world, face shadowy threats  and make a thrilling escape back to a normality they now appreciate where they had found it boring and mundane before  – ‘there’s no place like home…’ (And of course there isn’t!)

5. Comedy:shoes too big man

Bridget Jones had us laughing all the way here and back with her, and then – if you’re a Shakespeare fan, so does The taming of the Shrew, A Midsummer Night’s Dream etc . It’s all good clean fun where the central character is blinded to the reality of things by their ego, short-sightedness, one track mind, whereas the reader/audience sees the wider picture and the humour lies in seeing the two juxtaposed. Of course our hero(ine) sees the error of their ways and All’s Well that Ends Well but not before they’ve been led a merry dance along the way. The end result is self-knowledge and reconciliation where there was harmony and unrest.

6. Tragedy:

Ironically the same as comedy – and essentially the same as all the other story lines ultimately, where there is a problem to solve, ordeals to overcome and a journey in search of the goal – but rather sadly, the outcome will involve – for some of the characters, at least – death, destruction or disaster. And if you’re watching  a Jacobean tragedy the body count on  stage will probably be higher than the numbers in the audience (I love a bit of blood and guts!).

And finally there is…

daffodils7.  Rebirth (as one would expect after death, destruction and disaster):

Again a journey to achieve self-realisation, but the enemy is often – at least in part – from within. Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, The Secret Garden are all based on rebirth. Often there is a direct confrontation between dark and light to achieve self-understanding and healing.

So let me think which of these I have written so far.

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Chained Melody has to be rebirth, with an element of tragedy involved too. Someone or something has to fail, suffer or be lost in order for self-knowledge to enable the two main characters to achieve their form of happiness.

Web Web cover design - draftis dark and dire at times, and funny and lighthearted at others, but its message is all about seeing oneself and others clearly and putting that understanding together to create a whole. Two of the characters are so immersed in their own machinations they fail to see the most dangerous aspects of the whole until it is almost too late, and the other character is dark, dark, dark – confronting themself, and allowing the darkness to take over… It has elements of a tragedy too but is again a journey towards rebirth for my two dipsy daisies in it.

Then I have left to consider Falling Awake Falling awake draft cover design 2– which is definitely all about overcoming a monster – but defining the monster is as intriguing as finding out how it is overcome – or is it? And Patchwork People, which I have just started, is a quest, pure and simple.

Job done.

Web will be released in the Autumn, Falling Awake Spring 2014 and Patchwork People towards the end of 2014 (unless I get lost on the quest).

Which one of the 7 are you working on?

Follow me on twitter @Storytellerdeb

On Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/DeborahMartin.Author

Or find me on my website: www.debbiemartin.co.uk

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14 ways to turn a true tale
April 9, 2013

Style is a tricky tale. It’s not the letters and words that count, it’s the way you put them together – a bit like size not mattering. What’s even more difficult is that appreciation of style is completely subjective – what one person likes another hates. The most important aspect of style is finding the one YOU like.

quillSomeone once told me never to compromise myself or my values as whilst someone might detest me for my principles and manner of delivering them, someone else will love me and it whilst the person who loves me will read avidly and delightedly whatever I write, no amount of persuasion will coerce the detester to read the detested.  So what useful tips are there to be passed on about finding YOUR style? Here’s a flighty fourteen that I can think of, but there will be many more if you regularly listen to other writers views on writing and styling, starting with possibly the most important:

  1. Be true to you – be authentic. No –one else is you, and no-one else will express themselves like you so be you and be proud of you, whatever your thoughts, ideas, use of language or tone. You are unique: revel in it.
  2. Don’t worry about going over the lines. When we were children we learned how to carefully colour inside the lines and follow the required rote in class. Individualism is all about throwing away the rule book and devising your own so don’t worry if you express yourself differently or unconventionally. It is that too, which makes your writing unique and fascinating.
  3. Give your ideas room to breathe. If you cramp yourself up in either thought or response, you can never let anything grow and develop. Be prepared to let your mind and imagination wander, examine new and unexpected possibilities, learn new skills and question old ways. Open your mind and your style will follow.
  4. Say it aloud. When you read something aloud you have to out in the breathing spaces and intonation. If it doesn’t flow, make sense or has little impact, reading aloud will highlight the defects very quickly indeed.
  5. Tread the hire wire without a net. If you want to be fresh and inspirational, you have to be prepared to go out on a limb, examine ideas or concepts you may be uncomfortable with yourself, experiment with styles and words and content you might otherwise fight shy of. Don’t. Embrace a challenge and ‘blow the ****** doors off’!
  6. How do I ‘sound’? It isn’t only what you say it’s how you say it, so say it in a way that is both easy for you to express and for a reader to read. Your tone is as important as your content and style. If you moralise, you will potentially antagonise. If you judge, you will potentially alienate and if you don’t approach the issue with equilibrium, you will miss valuable aspects and opportunities to engage your readers.
  7. pen and bookDon’t worry if you aren’t the first. Plagiarism is word theft, but our ideas are nevertheless all the aggregates of every book we’ve read, film we’ve seen, discussion we’ve had or experience we’ve shared. Don’t be afraid to use these influences to bring your writing and your ideas to life because the take you have on it will be yours alone, and therefore, no matter how many times it may have been considered before, your treatment of it will be brand new.
  8. Write every day. Practice makes perfect, and more writing will encourage more writing – simples.
  9. Believe in yourself, because in order to write you MUST. You are the centre of your writing universe and in order to engage your readers, they have to believe that is so too.
  10. Don’t drivel – know what you mean and your reader will too. If you’re not clear on anything, research it until you are. Your reader needs to respect you and your information must be accurate.
  11. Study yourself know who you are so you can express yourself openly, honestly and with clarity. If you don’t know your own mind, no-one else will either.
  12. Write with passion. Become an artistic beast, not a domestic pet and express yourself freely. Don’t be prim, or proper, be bold and bad – readers want to read something inspiring and riveting- grab them, hold them and take them with you.
  13. Know your own values – much like knowing yourself, but values are the outward demonstration of your inner beliefs and they need to be apparent in your writing for your voice to be authentic and your writing to be credible. Take some time examining your belief systems and values so you know what it is you are subconsciously or consciously interpreting through your writing.
  14. 14.   Don’t follow the crowd – be unpredictable. You are, after all, aren’t you? You’re a writer …chinese writing

And if you want to try a bit of fun, see which writer you write most like here:

http://iwl.me/

and check out another useful blog/handout here (if you ignore the Americanisms):

http://writingcenter.unc.edu/handouts/style/

Follow me on Twitter: @Storytellerdeb

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/DebbieMartin.Author

Website: http://www.debbiemartin.co.uk

 

Finding a style
April 9, 2013

Writing style:

What is it? Is it genre-specific – a certain format that stamps the writers presence on their prose? Is it content specific – dependent on what you are writing about? Or is it all down to intent? An underlying principle that delivers a specific impact aside from the words it is conveyed through.

Probably all of these- and more. Style is a writer’s personal signature created through their collection and use of words. It seems easy, when we refer to a writer’s style, to assume that as soon as anyone starts writing, they immediately adopt their personal style and that’s it.

Child writing Of course it’s hardly that simple. Personal style is something that develops over a period of time- like the way children grow. The five year old shows only the tantalising whisp of the promise of the adult they will become. Professor Winston, in his documentary series of ‘7 up’, ‘14 up’ and so on tried to demonstrate how the adult-to-be was clearly present in the child, and in as much as he could indicate certain traits in  them, but it was very much down to the experiences they had and the opportunities that came their way that shaped their future. It’s the old nature/nurture argument. We have latent abilities  but we have to do something with them to develop them into skills, so writing style doesn’t automatically flow from the first piece of prose we write, it grows from practice and experimentation.

How to?

Trial and error, experimentation and repetition, and wide reading help, but in the end it will be down to time, volume and feedback that will ultimately develop the style you stick with – how you feel about it, how well it delivers the message you want to give, and whether your readers get that same satisfaction and understanding from reading it in that format. That is where writing exercises and prompts and subsequent feedback and critique has most value.

To play around with possible forms, look at a variety of writing styles amongst well-known authors – the flowing-thought style of Sylvia Plath in The Bell Jar , the densely descriptive and somewhat turgid style of Hilary Mantel (Bring up the Bodies), the pacy style of Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine (most recent – The Child’s Child)  or the almost conversational style of Julian Barnes (The Sense of an Ending). These are just a few ideas – pick a favourite author, or a new one you’ve not read before – or one that is a current award winner – of the Costa etc. Now, try out writing in their style and see how it fits with you. Take any piece of prose – it can just be taken from a newspaper article, if you like, and write it in the style you’ve chosen.  How does it fit with you? Are you happy writing in that style? How have you instinctively modified it? Do you like reading that style of prose?

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Now turn it around and take a section from one of their books and try paraphrasing it into your words. What comes out the other end? It will almost invariably be the style you instinctively slip into and that will form a basis for how you style your future writing, although you may adopt several styles depending on the work you are doing at the time. For instance essays and academic articles will almost certainly have a more literary and formal style, magazine articles more conversational and fiction may have any style you like to adopt as long as it melds with the genre you are writing in. After that, it is a case of write, write, and write, and you will hone your style more and more; and invite feedback and positive criticism whenever you can.

Do not take criticism personally; take it as a means to improvement, after all, the most successful style – however it is formed – is the one a reader wants to read.

Follow me on Twitter @Storytellerdeb

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/DebbieMartin. Author

Website: http://www.debbiemartin.co.uk

Lured into the red room of pain …
July 30, 2012

Last night I got lured away from the Olympics and onto Channel 4 to watch a documentary on the rise and rise of ‘50 shades of grey’. Now I have steadfastly refused to read this literary masterpiece because, having read the first page and a half on the Amazon preview when I was in the stage of maybe I ought to find out what this is all about, I realised that I couldn’t read even more than another word of it. I openly admit here that I do not ever intend reading it – why would I want to waste any more moments of my time on it? The documentary confirmed everything I always thought but with a little more detail.

Its genre seemed to be encapsulated by the wonderful description by an interviewee of it as ‘Wuthering Heights with whips’ or ‘Mills and Boon with bondage’. The very thought turns me off, not on. Another comment – ‘I don’t know any women who want to be anally fisted before bedtime’. Actually neither do I! I listened with interest to the reviews of the language used to portray these dramatically charged sexual scenes and laughed: ‘he touched me down there’ and ‘my private bits’. Is this an embarrassed five year old straying into the world of pornography or an adult? What sexually mature woman do you know who refers to her vagina as ‘down there’? My Auntie Mable did when she told us about having to see the doctor on a personal matter, but my friend Mandy would call a spade a spade, or a fanny a fanny. I can think of a whole dictionary of suitable words, although I won’t as I’m not a porn writer. Couldn’t you have researched your vocabulary better, as well as the sexual proclivities of the submissive society, EL?

And so she came, and came and came … ad infinitum, it seems. Is this what relationships are all about? I’ve been labouring under a misapprehension all these years … Indeed Pamela Stephenson – who now describes herself as a ‘Sexologist’ – wow, when did YOU come (pardon the pun) by that trade Pam? The last I heard you were a comedienne, but I’m digressing; Pammy commented that plainly Anastasia (more on the names later) was faking as no woman comes that often. Now that would be interesting to open up for discussion, but I imagine Cosmo has already been there.

Interestingly the real BDSM devotees that were interviewed on the documentary dissed EL’s version of it all, saying that no true BDSM relationship would countenance the submissive partner being spanked until they actually needed pain killers – as Anastasia does on one occasion. Apparently, the role allocation is also unrepresentative of the BDSM community – generally it is the woman who is the dominatrix and the man who wants to submit. The theory that was being expounded by several of the interviewees was that women respond to the content of 50 shades because, in a society where women have to work hard to be independent, organised and competitive in the boardroom, they relish the idea of being able to relinquish control in the bedroom. Maybe – but relinquishing control only occurs happily in a relationship where trust, equality and tenderness are paramount, not submission and control. Any general or BDSM relationship exponent would tell you that.

So what genre would I describe this 50 shades of something as? Well, if agents and publishers go on so little as the first page and a half and a brief synopsis, so will I: first the names. Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey – apart from suggestions in the documentary that the male protagonist’s (I can’t believe I’ve called him that) name was derived from a film already made, aren’t they pure Mills and Boon nonsense? Then there’s the coy, twee language; ‘the ‘down there’ and descriptions like one of Anastasia’s orgasms (who knows which one …) ‘shattering her into a million pieces’. Christian’s cock is Anastasia’s ‘very own Christian Grey popsicle’. I can only use teenage speak to respond to that – OMG – really? Pathetic (the language, not the cock – that is said to be HUGE). And intelligent women and men all over the world in their millions are reading this? I can’t actually decide on the right genre now I have to, maybe we should create another one – although I don’t want to be insulting.

So, some of you reading this will say ‘she is just jealous of EL’s success’. Not at all. As an entrepreneur myself – as well as a writer, I applaud anyone who makes it big with an idea. Well done for the achievement EL – and I wish you many more millions of success – although what you are going to do with it beats me. The dumpy little housewife/mum who was being interviewed on American TV in the documentary claimed to only want a new kitchen and to have bought a new Volkswagon car with it so far. She steadfastly refused to admit whether she had actually tried out the many forms of spanking, bondage, whipping, nipple clamps – BDSM in its entirety, in fact – simpering that the internet was a very good research tool…

No, what I object to is this: women suffered and fought, were killed and maimed to give other women equality. We now claim to be working hard to achieve and maintain that in our society. We deplore any kind of oppression or abuse and yet this trilogy of books is glamorising – even glorifying the submission of a vulnerable woman – still a virgin at 21 so naive and unwordly in the extreme, and the media and the publishing world are promoting it – all for the sake of the big bucks; cynicism and betrayal in the extreme. Betrayal? Well, not only is it a betrayal of the great women in our history who have fought for us to have the right to say no and be believed – the suffragettes and the women who have forged a path for us to follow at their own personal expense, it also thrusts a pile of badly written sloppy porn on the reading public at large, when there are hundreds of thousands of unknown TALENTED authors out there, struggling to even be read by an agent or a publisher. They are the people who have talent pouring out of them, but they do not write what purports to be sexual fantasy, they do not write sensationalism, they write eloquent, well thought out, meaningful pieces that have something to say to the soul.

If you want something really useful to do with your millions EL, since you don’t seem to have the vision to think of anything better than a new kitchen or car, do something to help the struggling debut authors to be acknowledged and give the reading world a chance to read good fiction not mediocre porn.

Back to the real world next time and the rest of the E-publishing review …

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Where you’ll find lots more to read and information when my books are published.

Debbie Martin