«Mark, Mo, Alan and Kate and the magic stone bowl portal from “The Snowmelt River” Page 1 In many ways a fantasy story is just like any other ...»
Page 7 Hidden Themes. Stories often have a more subtle theme running through • them. I don’t just mean the storyline. This may well be the true engine behind the telling of the story. This hidden theme can also be integral to the characters and their motivations within the storyline. Sometimes even the writers themselves don’t realise that this theme is present until after they have written the story. Think about the books or films you have really loved, and try to recall what it is about them that made them so special to you. Maybe you sensed and identified with this hidden theme without ever realizing it. In Lord of the Rings, the hidden theme is the death of magic.
Tolkein uses a metaphor for this when the elves, and Frodo, get on board the fleet that is “sailing west”. In my own fantasy, The Snowmelt River, the hidden theme is metamorphosis – the fact that beings can change, dramatically and radically, like a caterpillar turns into a butterfly. I imagined that people could metamorphose in this way.
Hopes and fears. Maybe you long for an experience that would normally be • out of your reach? Maybe your life hasn’t encouraged you to think you can write anything that would interest anybody else? Maybe there has been pain or hurt in your life that you think about a lot? Maybe you have been bullied, or told you were unattractive? Maybe you suffer from a disability?
With hopes and fears such as these, it’s far better to let them show in the plot and dialogue than just to state them. How different would the perspective of a scene be if it was through the senses of a young girl in a wheelchair? But don’t just say she’s in a wheelchair – have her push the wheels round, or stare up at somebody from the sitting position, or reveal it in conversation. Now you’re getting the knack of it. Maybe somebody has told you that you weren’t capable of writing a word that might be useful or interesting to anybody. Now’s your chance to prove them wrong. Although you might not have thought of it this way, deeply felt experiences, whether for good or for bad, are food and drink to a writer. Just writing about it may feel satisfying. In the opening chapters of The Snowmelt River we discover that all four of the main characters have suffered bereavement, a sense of uselessness, pain – even physical abuse. This unites them into a profound friendship. That theme, although not always directly expressed, drives everything they do throughout every page of the book.
Ya gotto have rhythm. Did you know that language has a kind of rhythm to • it? This depends very much on the way that sentences are constructed, with short and long sentences in the right kind of order or sequence within a paragraph. Why don’t you try reading a paragraph or two of your favourite book out loud and you’ll see what I mean. You always hear Page 8 rhythm better if you speak it aloud. Most writers of short stories actually speak them aloud at stages as they go along. You’d be surprised what you gain from this. Action scenes will often be written in a series of short, abrupt sentences. More flowing scenes will involve varying the sentence length, to break up the flow, and so on. By far the best way of getting a natural feel for the rhythm of language is to read books by people who know how to write well. Just by reading them you will naturally soak up a kind of feel, an instinct, that will help you get into the groove of writing well yourself.
Thinking up characters. Creating vibrant, believable characters is • essential to fiction. So think about your characters for a while before you put anything onto paper. Get ideas from interesting people you know, borrow a mannerism from here and there, a feeling about somebody, the colour of hair, a telling small habit. See your characters in your mind’s eye, including their body language. When they are moving around inside your head, doing things that surprise you, you know that you are ready to start writing about them.
I have one final tip to help get you up and motoring.
The narrative hook. I never cease to be amazed that other people will sit • down and bother to read from cover to cover a book I have written. It’s kind of weird, but also a very satisfying feeling, that they will have the patience and interest to do this. But if you want to seduce your readers into reading your story, you must capture their interest right from the start. This cunning strategy is called the “narrative hook”. One of the most famous of all narrative hooks is the opening line from the novel, The Go-Between, by L.P. Hartley, which reads, “The past is a foreign country;
they do things differently there.” Think about why this is so powerful; why, for example, did Hartley use the present tense? Assuming you have decided what your fantasy story is going to be about, and you already have your characters popping out of your head, do you have something you could put in the opening paragraph – it could be a strange question, or a minor observation that seems out of place, something that is likely to startle or intrigue your reader and make him or her want to read on?
You do? The magic has begun…
All text copyright 2010 Frank P Ryan – All images copyright 2010 Mark Salwowski