The Power of Storytelling Part Two: The Basic Framework of a Story

As mentioned, I’m attending a three-evening course on storytelling taught by Adam Lebor, a published author and journalist.

The first session examined creativity – and in particular, the key elements of a good story.

The session kicked off with us reading excerpts from our favourite books to get a feeling for different writing styles, as well as what draws us to particular tales. These excerpts were then used as a launching pad to discuss story structure.

THE BASIC FRAMEWORK OF A STORY

Adam Lebor has a tidy, memorable formula: COCR.

You may think I (almost) typed a rude word — in which case, go to the corner of your room and have a quiet giggle.

Immaturity aside, it stands for Conflict, Obstacle, Climax, Resolution.

These four elements are the key to narrative drive; they make your story compelling, addictive, and just generally awesome. If you are struggling with your WIP and the story seems flat, it could be missing one of these elements.

Let’s start with conflict.

In order to have conflict, you need a protagonist and an antagonist.

In my novel Above Ground, the protagonist is clearly Lilith. The antagonist, however, is not a particular individual but society at large: the hatred and separation between humans and those living above ground is the source of tension in the story.

So what’s Lilith’s obstacle?

What does Lilith want or need — and what’s stopping her from getting it?

Lilith wants to get home alive, and the dangers she faces are the obstacles preventing her from returning safely. As she surpasses each obstacle, a bigger one shows up, driving the story forward.

Here comes the climax!

At the climax, all the events in the story come to a head. It’s the turning point in the story, and often a key moment in the character arc. (More about character arcs next time.)

If you’re anything like me, the climax is one of your favourite bits to write.

In Above Ground, the climax is when Lilith is offered the chance to go home whilst having to confront who she really is. The self-realisation puts her main objective of getting home into question — and she has to decide where her priorities lie.

On to the resolution

How does the story end? How does the protagonist overcome the obstacles and where does he/she go next?

In Above Ground, Lilith reaches her new home. It is not the home she was aiming for at the beginning of the novel, but it’s a home that suits the person she has become.

Conflict. Obstacle. Climax. Resolution.

A simple yet effective framework to get the creative juices flowing.

NEXT TIME

The next session of Adam Lebor’s storytelling course will look at clarity, focusing on character development of both protagonists and antagonists. I’ll let you know how I get on.

In the meantime, what’s the COCR in your story?

Two Months. One book.

I have a plan.

It is a good plan, an achievable plan. A fun one too, all going well.

I need to get back into writing, but the novel is refusing to cooperate. So my plan is to recapture my enthusiasm by revisiting the short story format.

More specifically, I’ve decided to release a short story collection in December.

I toyed with the idea of a werewolf follow-up to Hungry For You, but it didn’t quite take hold of my imagination. I needed a new challenge.

What could I write about instead?

I’ve done fantasy scenes with showy set pieces, but what about the quiet moments in between? The slices of life, the intimate times when we are most ourselves?

Those precious minutes are what I’m going to be exploring for the next two months.

And, all going to plan, I’ll have something to show for it come December.

Two months. One book.

Wish me luck.

There Be Pirates!

The other day I came across the following forum post:

Where to download above ground a m harte?

I have been looking for a reliable way to find and download this book for free, but I so far I got nothing solid. […]

I am looking for specific titles, and usually they are not classics, like Dorian Gray or Wuthering Hills, but new literature of fact, like above ground a m harte?

So, is there something I am missing, or is there no reliable way to find such interesting books to download for free?

My initial reaction was annoyance.

How could someone want to steal from the “little guy” – the indie author? How could someone want to steal at all?

Buying Above Ground will set you back all of £2. It’s cheaper than a Sainsbury’s meal deal. Come on.

But the calming effect of time has given me a different perspective.

People are working hard to pirate my book, and there is nothing I can do to stop them. While it’s unfair that they want to enjoy the fruits of my labour for free,  they do want to read my novel. Is that not the tiniest bit flattering?

So to all you pirates out there, I say this:

Torrent Above Ground. Heck, ask me for a free copy. I’m glad you want to read it.

But if you can’t — or won’t — pay for my books, then I ask for your support instead.

Post an honest review of my book on your blog, Goodreads, Amazon… anywhere. However long, however short. Just spread the word.

It’ll cost you nothing, and will make a difference to me.

There be pirates, yes. But pirates can have honour too.

We Had Stars Once

What an excellent title for an anthology, don’t you agree?

I’m sure you’ve already heard of We Had Stars Once. Organised by some of the folks from io9.com, this anthology celebrates three years of Thursday Tales (a weekly writing meme).

Why am I telling you this?

Firstly, because the cover is so damn cool. Check it out:

* * *

perf5.000x8.000.indd Join a girl discovering her true, supernatural origins. Follow a famous babysitter into space. Journey through dystopia with a man who has lost everything, and experience the exhilaration of finally making it home.

Aliens, cocky knights, and superheroes do battle with inner darkness and things that go bump in the night. From the writers of Thursday Tales comes an imaginative anthology of darkness, adventure, betrayal and mystery. From sixteen minds come sixteen tales of fantasy, horror, and science fiction.

A world of worlds awaits.

* * *

Secondly, because it includes my (silly) story “Rescue Missions”.

I have read every story in there and can guarantee you’ll like some (if not all) of them. My story acts as comic relief amidst excellent speculative fiction tales of action and adventure and danger.

What are you waiting for?

You can grab the hardback or the paperback or the ebook! Woo!

(Or if you run a book blog and are interested in review copies, give me a shout and I’ll see what we can do!

Teaser Excerpt: FTSB

Every door in the village was barred shut, every window sealed from entry. The red dirt of the main street was baked dry and clouds of dust stirred with their footsteps. If it weren’t for the scent of the people hiding behind closed doors and the sound of their heartbeats—fast and frightened, like hummingbirds—Fang would have thought they had wandered into a ghost town.

He looked over at his companion Jake, who was weary and covered with dirt but still handsome somehow, and felt a stab of guilt. It was his fault they were in this state, his fault they were fleeing further and further away from Jake’s home.

“This is the third village like this,” Jake remarked grimly, untying the sweat-soaked bandana from around his neck. “Where’s a werewolf going to get a shower and a drink these days?”

“Perhaps the next village will be better,” Fang said. The skin between his shoulder blades was crawling with the weight of the villager’s stares. They knew what he was; Fang was sure of it. “We should keep moving.”

“Fuck that. I’m tired, I’m thirsty, and I’m all out of cigarettes.” Jake continued down the road, hunting for an inn. When he spotted a likely door he strode up to it and knocked. “We know you’re in there,” he called. “We’d like a room for the night.”

Silence. Fang hung back, alert for trouble.

“We’ve got cash,” Jake added.

Now there were murmurs from behind the door. The summer drought was at its peak, and judging by the fine dust permeating the air this village had been hit worse than most. There wasn’t a hint of green as far as the eye could see—even the weeds growing in the shelter of the house were twisted and yellow.

“Step back,” a woman finally said.

Jake backed a few steps away from the door, keeping his hands slightly away from his sides to show he wasn’t armed. The door opened a crack.

“Turn around.”

Jake turned on the spot, looking amused. There was no place to conceal a weapon in his baggy trousers or vest top, but he had no need for weapons. Even without shifting to wolf form he was stronger than the average human. They both were. Fang put on a smile and did his best to look harmless.

The inn door opened fully. A girl barred the doorway, human by the smell of her. Her dark brown hair was tied up in a bun and she was wearing tight trousers under a loose shirt. In her hands was a long broom, held before her like a weapon. Her breathing quickened as they looked at her but she stood firm, and there was something about the way she lifted her chin that reminded Fang of his little sister. His heart twisted painfully in his chest and it took all his focus to keep on smiling.

“Hello,” Jake said, his voice sinking that little bit lower as he smiled at the girl. She flushed under his attention and Fang suppressed a flash of jealousy. “Could we stay the night at your lovely establishment?”

* * *

An except from my current WIP, which is set in the Above Ground universe. I’m aiming for novella length and am having good fun with these characters.

5 Reasons Why Not To Write A Sequel

Now that the initial flurry of publishing Above Ground has died down (and the subsequent post-publication I-hate-my-writing stage has passed) my thoughts have turned to writing the sequel.

Ideas keep bubbling. The excitement is returning. What can I do to the characters THIS time? How can I raise the stakes? How can I give the readers who’ve enjoyed Above Ground more of what they love?

And yet…

Even though I’ve jotted down every idea and drafted a rough outline, I cannot bring myself to sit down and begin writing.

It took me over three years to write Above Ground. In that time, I’ve learned where I went wrong. I’ve learned how to write better and faster. I’ve learned that I CAN write a novel.

But what I haven’t yet learned is if I can write ANOTHER novel. A sequel doesn’t count: it’s the same characters I love, the same stories, the same threads.

Can I write something unrelated? Can I build a new world and fall in love with a new cast of characters?

The idea of starting afresh terrifies me.

And yet…

5 Reasons Why Not To Write A Sequel

  1. Only people who like Above Ground will want to read the sequel.

  2. Diversifying my offerings will introduce my work to new readers.

  3. Creating a new world, plot and cast will improve my skills.

  4. It will prove that I can write unrelated novels.

  5. Most importantly, because it terrifies me.

Yes, those waiting for the sequel will most likely throw rocks at me. But I believe that a writer who only sticks to writing what they find comfortable will never grow. And I want to be the best writer I can be.

And when I do go back to write the sequel to Above Ground, the story will be all the better for it.

Above Ground’s Futuristic Technology

One of the reasons I enjoy straddling the science fiction / fantasy line with Above Ground is that I have the chance to play with werewolves and high-tech gadgets at the same time.

Much of the world building and gadgetry of the story has existed in my mind for years… so it gave me a very strange sense of deja vu when, throughout the course of writing, I stumbled across the same concepts.

Take Google’s Project Glass.

In Chapter 10 of Above Ground, Emma is harassed by a blogger/journalist called Mike, who suspects her of being involved in a government plot. He wears a pair of sunglasses that double up as a computer, very similar to what Google envisioned.

Excerpt from Chapter 10:

Mike touched his glasses, adjusting whatever screen he was reading. “You touched out on this level,” he said, “but there was no record of you touching in.”

“You got that information illegally,” Emma said, nervous. “The privacy acts—”

“So you don’t deny it?”

“I’m not a fare evader,” she replied. “I paid for my fare in cash, and forgot that I didn’t need to touch out.”

“In cash?”

“It’s archaic, not illegal.” Or so Emma hoped. If Liam had lied to her….

“Either way, I don’t really care,” Mike said, dismissive. “I’m not writing that piece anymore, not when there’s a bigger story out there. The theatre,” he added, once again flipping through screens on his glasses. “I ran checks. You’re the only one who went above ground this morning who has come back. The only traceable one, anyway. If you hadn’t touched out, I wouldn’t have found you.”

He pulled his glasses down for the first time. His eyes were small, bloodshot, the blue pupils fixed on Emma. “You bought two tickets to the theatre; I know you were there. Tell me what you saw. Give me the exclusive, and I’ll make you look like a hero.”

Check out Google’s version:

Then there’s the Nokia 888

In Above Ground, phone are flexible, adaptable, and shape shifting. Snap them onto your wrist. Project holographic screens. Unfold them into normal phones. Clip them onto your belt.

Excerpt from Chapter 4:

King’s phone beeped. He glanced down, read the message without unsnapping the phone from his wrist. He’d opted for the latest model—a thin, flexible strip of smart plastic which could be worn almost anywhere—and the sight of it made Emma long for her own phone, as inconvenient and bulky as it was. She felt naked without it, defenceless. The thought of being locked up in this tiny room, cut off from the world with no means to call for help, was terrifying.

And lo and behold:

Rather than feeling bummed about my ideas lacking originality, I’m intrigued by how similarly people think. It is pretty incredible how quickly technology develops.

Although, really, if all our predictions came true, we’d already be driving around in flying cars.

…maybe next year.

Resolutions For 2013

New Year’s Day.

I’m feeling pretty rough.

It’s hardly the best day to have to travel back to London on a crowded train, but I don’t have much choice – I’m back at work tomorrow.

So. I better start the new year properly.

A few days ago I reviewed my accomplishments for 2012… and now it’s time to think about the future.

What do I want to accomplish in 2013?

It’s easier to start with what I DON’T want to accomplish.

I’m NOT going to set any reading goals, because reading distracts from my writing. (Besides, that time I read 120 books in a year? I had no social life.)

I’m NOT going to set any blogging targets, even though I would like to update this blog more regularly. Every year I resolve to update more often, and every year I fail. Clearly this tactic isn’t working.

So what AM I going to do?

Resolutions For 2013

  1. Write one book to completion.
    If I tell myself to finish a particular book, I won’t. My brain is silly like that. So I’m keeping the goal general enough to make sure I at least write something.

  2. Participate in a short story anthology.
    Last year I appeared in Best of Fridayflash: Volume 2. The year before in Tales for Canterbury. And the year before THAT I was in 12 Days 2010. I’d like to keep up this tradition, so if you’re organising an anthology get in touch!

  3. Find balance.
    Last year I fell off the tweeting/blogging wagon, my writing output was fairly consistent but too slow. Rather than set impossible individual targets, I want to organise myself to make time for writing, online stuff, my day job and a social life.

Yes, that’s it.

Ultimately all I want to achieve in 2013 is to fairly accomodate everything, without feeling like I’ve let something slip. I’m a Libran, after all. We like balance.

What about you? What are your resolutions?

The Year In Review

This time last year I was making smug comments about gym attendance in January.

I re-read the post with a tiny smile, then realised that – gasp! – I’d made resolutions of my own:

  1. Get Above Ground done and dusted. Finish serialising it, get it out in print and ebook form, and close the chapter on that novel.

  2. Plot/plan the next book. I haven’t decided which, yet — I may run a little poll and get you guys to vote on which I should work on.

Success rate = 75%

#1, obviously, is done.

But rather than fully plan the next book, I’ve half-planned the next four. Maybe I should have run that poll after all.

Too bad I forgot I’d even made any resolutions.

What else did I accomplish in 2012?

The reason I only set two goals was because I generally end up involved in all sorts of crazy unplanned things, such as:

  • MERGE.
    I adored co-writing this series of stories and wouldn’t mind dipping back into that universe.

  • The LAST book of The Antithesis series.
    Terra was one of the first authors I brought on board for 1889 Labs, and it’s been really rewarding to edit her kick-ass series. The fifth and last book came out in August.

  • The FIRST book of The Legion of Nothing series.
    I was thrilled when Jim Zoetewey accepted to publish LON with 1889. We’re already working together on the second book in the series.

  • Editing other cool 1889 books.
    Like Gangster by Melissa Jones and Ventricle, Atrium by Gabriel Gadfly. I feel an almost auntlike pride over 1889 books.

  • A month-long blog tour!
    Writing that many guest posts and interview answers has got to count for something.

  • Redesigning this website.
    Okay, okay, I’m clutching at straws now….

As of October, I also started a new job, which I’m pretty chuffed about.

But of course in a few days it will be a new year, and time to accomplish new things. I’ll post some goals in a few days.

In the meantime: what have you accomplished this year?