Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Your Story's Harmony Of Theme, Tone And Mood

In the world of story craft, you might have heard someone ask the question, "What's your story's theme?"

And for a long and awkward moment, you had to stop and think...gee, what is my story's theme? In some cases, when people ask this question, what they might be really asking is, "What's your story's point?" 

Theme and point often get confused concerning what their roles are in a story. From elementary school through high school, teachers have given us the task of writing one. The dreaded question teachers often asked when giving such an assignment is, "What's the theme of your story?" 

Why did we dread this question so much? Because oftentimes we had no idea what our teachers were really asking for.

Remember back to your grade school days when you once sat at your desk in class? The moment your teacher mentioned the word "theme", panic arrested your thinking. Sweat poured from your forehead. The room seemed to close in on you; breathing became nearly impossible.

You had no earthly clue what "theme" was, much less what the specific theme for your story was going to be. 

So with your head spinning, you spent the next hour in class trying to conjure up an interesting story with an equally interesting theme. Yet, you hadn't written the first word on your blank sheet of paper.

Forgive me for making you relive the horrors of grade school. But hopefully you see where this is going. If your sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Snodgrass, had simply asked, "What's the point of the story you intend to write?" instead of "What's the theme?", your memories of sixth grade would probably be a lot less traumatizing. 

In an effort to make sense of this perplexing word, let's give the word "theme" a closer look as it relates to story . Is it important? Extremely. But what exactly is it?

Let's examine a spot-on definition stated by Lisa Cron in her book, Wired For Story, which is in the form of two questions.

  • What does the story tell us about what it means to be human?
  • What does it [the story] say about how humans react to circumstances beyond their control?

Some authors and story coaches refer to theme as the "universal theme", which is also true. But the universal theme refers more to general motifs of a story such as love, acceptance, survival and respect. 

If we adopt Lisa Cron's definition of theme, then the theme for your story must be more specific. What your story says about human nature, and how humans react to circumstances beyond their control must be fleshed out in order to escalate the struggle between your protagonist's greatest goal and longstanding misbelief, otherwise known as the protagonist's "third rail".

In other words, use theme to shed light on the specific ways your characters treat each other, and how your characters respond to circumstances they can't control. 

For example, in a love story, the characters might argue, fuss and fight. But at the end of the day, they'll act amiably toward each other, and love will cover a multitude of sins. In a taut suspense story, the characters will tend to be suspicious of each other. Tension mounts among them as one character sets a chip on his shoulder, daring anyone to knock it off. And in a horror story, the characters will kill each other without hesitation--just to survive.

This is theme at work in a story.

In addition to theme, there are two other forces at work. They are tone and mood. So, how do theme, tone and mood work together in perfect harmony to tell a compelling story?  

First, let's look at what tone is as it relates to story. Tone is the overall feel, vibe or attitude of the narrative. Characterization, dialogue and setting all play a part in setting a story's tone. 

What does theme have to do with tone? Theme determines how the characters will act toward each other on a human level. The characters' interactions with each other will have an effect on how you craft the plot, dialogue and setting. 

Will the characters forbear and love each other? Will they examine each other with skepticism, or suspicion? Will they be so filled with primal rage that they desire to kill each other? Tone is the resulting sentiment in each of these scenarios, whether it be lighthearted, tense, or primal.

These are questions you should think about, then answer in as much detail as you can. Be specific. And keep in mind your protagonist's inner struggle as you write your notes. Once you've worked out your characters' interactions, you must craft everything in your story, especially your protagonist's overall story arc, to set the tone you define (lighthearted, tense or primal) for it. 

So, where does mood come into play?

Mood is the overall emotion or vibe your reader feels when she reads your story. What kind of atmosphere does the reader find herself in as she reads your narrative? Is the atmosphere uplifting? Is it somber? Is it dark?

If you set your tone effectively, your reader should subconsciously feel the resulting atmosphere, and even immerse herself in it. Will the tone make her happy, sad or angry while she reads your story?  What kind of mood will it put her in? This is part of what gives the narrative its enchanting power. 

Your reader will have no choice but the feel the overall emotion, or mood, that your tone sets. 

Remember this handy rule of thumb given by Lisa Cron in Wired For Story: "Tone belongs to the author; mood to the reader. In other words, your theme begets the story's tone, which begets the mood the reader feels."

The harmony of your story's theme, tone and mood is a key element in your narrative. You can evoke powerful emotions from the reader that will engage her, drawing her into the tale. Just be sure to take your story's point and your protagonist's greatest goal and longstanding misbelief into account while you craft the theme and tone.

You can deliver any message about human nature you choose when you craft your theme and tone appropriately to set your reader's mood. You can persuade her to adopt your point of view. With the right mood, she'll see things your way as she reads the story.

To get an better idea of how these three things work together, read the first few pages in some of your favorite novels. Try to identify the overall mood you begin to feel as you get lost in the narrative. 

Does the story make you laugh, cry or make you bite your nails down to the quick? How is it influencing your emotions as you read? Write your observations down. Then, find ways to implement the devices you observed in those novels into your own work to set the desired tone.  

Remember: Tone belongs to you, the writer. Mood belongs to the reader. 

Crafting the right harmony of theme, tone and mood in your tale will make it a book readers will want to read over and over again. It takes work, but your efforts will pay off in the end when you craft a novel readers can't put down.

Here's to your story writing success,

L. R. Farren
Author of From Bad Girl To Worse 
and The Dangerous Way Home

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

How To Be A Master Storyteller - Quick Start

You want to write.

You have a fascinating story to tell. You're captivated with the idea of becoming a bestselling author. The thought of seeing your work in print sends shivers of delight up and down your spine.

So, how do you get there? How do you publish that next number one bestseller? How do you share your story with the world?

By becoming a master storyteller.

How does one become a master storyteller?

Let me share with you the roadmap I essentially took to write my first novel, From Bad Girl To Worse, and my first novella, The Dangerous Way Home. I may still have so much to learn about the craft of story, and I'm nowhere near achieving master storytelling status. But I believe that by following this roadmap, I'll get one step closer each day. The path is clear. Won't you join me on this journey?

Here are some ways to pursue storytelling mastery.

Know what a story really is.  

The best way to know--or learn--how to define the word "story", and apply the correct definition to writing one is to study two epic story craft books. They are Wired For Story and Story Genius, both written by Lisa Cron.

In my humble opinion, Lisa Cron is one of the world's true story experts. She's a story genius. 

Reading Wired For Story made everything about story crystal clear. For the first time ever, I truly understood what a story really was. I was able to apply the knowledge I'd learned from this epic book in my own writing process.

Lisa Cron's second book, Story Genius, made the entire concept of story even clearer. It fastened the nuts and bolts on the conceptual principles of story covered in Wired For Story. 

If you could only read two books on the craft of story, I would highly recommend Wired For Story and Story Genius. 

If you're serious about becoming a master storyteller, study these two books intensely.  By gleaning the valuable information contained in these books, you'll know beyond the shadow of a doubt what story is, and how to write a great one. 

Use story structure to your greatest advantage.

In order to put story structure to the best use, you must possess a deep understanding of it. The Save The Cat! book series covers story structure in great detail. It explains structure in ways the average layperson can understand. Though the Save The Cat! series targets primarily screenwriters, many novelists have also used the Save The Cat! story paradigm to write and publish their novels.  

Here's the complete list the Save The Cat! series:

- Save The Cat! by Blake Snyder
- Save The Cat! Strikes Back by Blake Snyder
- Save The Cat! Blake's Blogs by Blake Snyder
- Save The Cat! Goes To The Indies by Salva Rubio

Oh, and coming in October 2018, Save The Cat! Writes A Novel by Jessica Brody

These books are a must for every storyteller.

Take advantage of more free story craft resources on the internet.

Read Lisa Cron's articles on the 12 Hardwired Expectations Every Reader Has and the 15 Hardwired Expectations Every Reader Has For Every Story. Know these expectations backward and forward. Memorize them like the Ten Commandments. Also, visit the Wired For Story website for more free resources.

Visit the Save The Cat! website and study the beat sheet analyses for some of the most popular movies ever made. One of the best ways to master storytelling is to see how other great storytellers tell their stories. Save The Cat! is one of the best places to study examples from the storytelling pros.

Study my How To Write A Novel Readers Love letter series. Start with the first letter and continue on through the whole series. Here, you'll discover how I synthesized and employed the Wired For Story, Story Genius and Save The Cat! principles in crafting my first novel. You can see for yourself that the principles really work. 

Understand the real reason why people love story so much. 

Read articles on the psychology and neuroscience of story, like Why Your Brain Loves Good Storytelling and The Neuroscience Of Storytelling Will Make You Rethink The Way You Create. Read books like The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human by Jonathan Gottschall. Lisa Cron also covers the subject of story related neuroscience in great detail.

One of the most important things you need to know in order to become a master storyteller is how story affects the brain. Story is so much more than just entertainment. It's a necessary part of our survival. Knowing how story affects a person mentally and emotionally, and applying this knowledge in your creative process will make you a master storyteller.

Write. Write. Write.

Ultimately, the only way you can ever be a master storyteller is to tell stories. Take advantage of the resources listed in this post, as well as any others you may find, master the principles you've learned and employ them with great skill.

Make a list of points you'd like to make by telling great stories. Create compelling "what if" scenarios. Craft conflicted characters who overcome longstanding misbeliefs and achieve their goals. 

Do these things every day, and over time you might well become a master storyteller. 

These are just a few things that will set you on a course to storytelling mastery. Just remember that becoming a great storyteller is a journey, not a destination.

Happy crafting,

L. R. Farren
Author of From Bad Girl To Worse 
and The Dangerous Way Home

P. S. - One of the most valued and coveted skills a person can possess is the skill of storytelling. From creative fiction to business management, communicators are wielding the awesome power of story to deliver messages to the world. What message would you like to deliver?


Thursday, July 5, 2018

A Moment Of Encouragement For Writers

"I can't think of an opening sentence that grabs the reader."

"I have no captivating finale."

"My story drags and sags in the middle."

"My ideas are horrible."

"I'm not cut out to be a writer."

"Whatever made me think I could write anything anyone would enjoy?"

You're a writer. You've probably heard one or all of these statements at least once in your career. They echo in your head like bat wings scratching the walls of your skull. You're haunted by that critical inner voice saying you stink as a writer. It taunts you with jeers like: 

"You'll never make it in this business." 

"Why don't you just quit before you make a complete fool of yourself?"

"You're a fraud. And a hack."

Don't pay heed to any of those negative thoughts. Banish them from your mind. Don't listen to that inner voice. Tell it to shut up. Now.

You are a writer. You're creative, talented and skilled. You can do this. 

You have great ideas and greater vision. You can see your captivating story playing out in your head, as if it were a major motion picture. Your characters are living, breathing people with unique desires and fears. They're literally walking down the street. Even your setting tells the epic tale you want to share with the world.

You've crafted something magnificent--you've crafted a story. That makes you a storyteller. What does that mean?

You are one of the most powerful people in the world!

You have the incredible power to persuade people to adopt new ideas, or look at things in a whole new way. How? By changing how people think. You have the power to actually rewire someone's brain. Contemporary neuroscience proves this phenomenon.

With the power you possess as a storyteller, you can change the world. 

Knowing this wonderful fact ought to make you climb to the highest rooftop you can get to, and scream to the top of your lungs, "I am a storyteller. I am the most powerful person in the universe."

You are so brave. Who else would even attempt the seemingly insurmountable task of crafting a novel? Who else would take such a bold step?

Writing a book is one of the hardest things anyone could ever do. Yet, you're doing it. Keep writing. Finish strong.

You are a storyteller. You are awesome. You will succeed.

From one writer to another, I believe in you. I know you can do this. You can write a story that changes people, and changes the world. And you will.

Don't you dare give up! Claim the prize you're striving day and night to win. Be the greatest storyteller you can be. 

Success is yours,

L. R. Farren
Author of From Bad Girl To Worse 
and The Dangerous Way Home

P. S. - When you give someone a story, you're not just entertaining her. You're giving that person the necessary equipment she needs for her very survival--useful information that will help her make it through the night. How's that for the best job you've ever had?

Your Story's Harmony Of Theme, Tone And Mood

In the world of story craft, you might have heard someone ask the question, "What's your story's theme?" And for a long ...