In Uncategorized on March 6, 2014 at 4:52 pm
The Fellowship of EWKASWLFLOTR: Nine Rules for the Kings of Men
(guest post at www.csfg.org.au on behalf of the CSFG Hivemind)
Earlier in 2014, we had a discussion at CSFG about the storytelling lessons we collectively learned from The Lord of the Rings (both the books and the movies). Parts II and III will follow in due course, but here’s Part I:
I: The One Ring to Rule Them All Rule
Let’s get this one out of the way right up front: for a supervillain to put all of their power into one small and easily misplaced object is really, really, really fucking stupid. What the actual fuck was Sauron thinking? The dude’s effectively the evil Superman and he goes and turns himself into evil Green Lantern instead. It’s such an utterly transparent plot device it’s laughable.
So why does it work?
In Uncategorized on February 26, 2014 at 4:11 pm
A discussion cropped up in the CSFG novel writing group just recently on the topic of point of view and tense (ie, past, present, future) in prose. A question was asked about a decision to write in third person point of view and present tense, for the sake of greater immediacy in the storytelling while also handling several characters’ points of view.
The dominant convention in modern English language prose fiction is to write in third person point of view (him, her) and past tense. First person point of view (I, me) is relatively common, present tense probably slightly less so. Second person (you) tends to exist only in choose-your-own-adventures and occasional literary quirks. Future tense is virtually unseen.
All of the possible combinations of point of view and tense are (at least in principle) legitimate options. However, decisions to deviate from the dominant convention should always be based on the needs of the story at hand – for example, if the story needs an unreliable narrator, you’d choose to tell it in first person or, if you need to disguise whether the protagonist lives or dies at the end, you might opt for present tense, and so on.
There’s a trap here, though, which is that, for the writer, first person point of view and present tense can both seem like they give a story a greater sense of “immediacy” – like the events are happening right here and now, and you’re right in the thick of it. Sure they do, when you’re writing it, but that might not be the case for someone else reading the story.
In Uncategorized on February 21, 2014 at 9:43 pm
I’ve written before about the lessons in Andrew Stanton‘s excellent TED talk on storytelling and, in particular, about his characterisation of storytelling as joke telling.
I think Stanton’s right, that there are strong parallels between jokes and stories, both structurally and in terms of how they operate. Elsewhere in his talk, Stanton puts forward the idea that the endings of stories should be “inevitable, but not predictable”. That is, the ending should be set up by the story that precedes it, and the story should contain all of the information necessary to make sense of the ending, but the ending should still surprise the reader. Sounds hard? Well, that’s how the punchlines of jokes work, isn’t it?
I was reminded this week of Christopher Green’s story “Father’s Kill“, which you can follow the link to read at Beneath Ceaseless Skies. (Incidentally, this story was co-winner, with my story “Once a month, on a Sunday”, of the Aurealis Award for Best Fantasy Short Story in 2010). It’s pretty short, and well worth taking five minutes to read. It’s also a very clear and succinct example of an ending that’s “inevitable, but not predictable”. This story is nothing at all like the joke at the beginning of Stanton’s TED talk, but it works exactly the same way.