50 Sure-Fire

Storytelling Tricks!


Click on the book to
read it online for free

 Also available in Paperback
and for your Kindle

Free Resources



Home Mail: customer-service@storymind.com

Writing Tools


Write Your Novel
or Screenplay
Step by Step!

$29.95


Contact Us - About Us - Lowest Price Guarantee - Shipping - Return Policy


Copyright Melanie Anne Phillips - Owner, Storymind.com, Creator Storyweaver, Co-creator Dramatica



StoryWeaver Idea Spinner

Banish Writer’s

Block Forever!


$19.95

Articles on Writing Free Online Writing Classes in Streaming Video

Predicts Your Story’s Perfect Structure!

$119.95


Dramatica

Interactive
Index Cards


$19.95


Throughline Follow Us

Get our newest writing
tips and product
announcements in
our Newsletter, on
Facebook, Twitter,      or our Blog!

Movie Magic Screenwriter - Formats while you write! Movie Magic Screenwriter

$149.95


Personal help from
the Co-Creator of
Dramatica

Click for Details

Story Consultation Writing Tips

Newest Tips

Library of Tips


Video & Audio

Introduction to
Story Structure

12 Hour Story Structure Course

Secrets of
Story Structure


Free Books

Write Your Novel
Step by Step

50 Sure-Fire
Storytelling Tricks!

A Few Words
About Theme


Downloads

Story Structure
Graphic Novel

400 Page Book
on Structure

Narrative Science
Warning - Deep Theory!


Most Popular

Your Story Will Fail
(if you don’t do this)


10 Essential Tips
for Beginners


Be A Story Weaver  NOT a Story Mechanic!


Writing from the Passionate Self


The Creativity
Two-Step


A Novelist’s
Bag of Tricks!


Character Arc 101


How to Beat
Writer’s Block


How To Create
Great Characters


Character Development
Tricks!


Never Be Stuck
for a Plot Again!


Creating Characters
from Scratch


Follow Us

Follow Us at Storymind.com

Trick 40

Don’t say it if you can show it

Movies are a visual medium. The strongest impact is created by what is seen, not what is said. Although we might marvel at well-written dialog, it is the moving shadows that capture our imagination.

Before writing a dialog scene, consider the information you are trying to convey. Consider visual alternatives that would show the audience rather then tell them. Even character development can often be more effective by seeing what the character does, rather than listening to what he or she says.

If you do need to say it, try to create a visually interesting situation in which the dialog can occur. I once had to do an interview on a big-budget industrial film with a geologist about drilling for bauxite samples 50 miles outside of Van Horn Texas in the middle of a desert.

I could have just gone to the site, set up the camera, and filmed him in front of the rig. But when he picked me up at the airstrip, he was in a dusty, beat-up pickup truck, and headed down the rough dirt road at literally 100 miles an hour.

I took out the camera and did the entire interview while bouncing around in the cab. When we arrived at the site, I simply shot a lot of silent footage of the goings on. When we cut it all together, we began with the truck interview, and then cut away to the various aspects of the job as the geologist spoke. It created a riveting three-minute sequence and pleased the client immensely.

So if you have dialog to deliver and you can’t really communicate the information in a visual way, consider changing the location or engaging your characters in some activity that will at least add a visual element.

You might have them conversing during one-on-one basketball, while doing yard work, chasing after a dog that needs a bath – whatever. And if all else fails, don’t ignore the potential of a cheap cinematic trick.

You can do a scene completely in silhouette, seen from the POV of a goldfish in a bowl, from another room as a janitor stops to listen and then continues with his cleaning.

You can even get overt. There was a television program many years ago called “Then Came Bronson,” starring Michael Parks. It was noted for trying new visual techniques. For one long dialog conversation, the director shot the two characters from the side, walking along a sidewalk across the street. He shot them silent in several locations with different backgrounds, always the same distance away, walking at the same pace. In the editing room, he cut from one location to the next so that it appeared as if the characters were continuing to walk and the background jumped from one to another behind them. The dialog was then added over the sequence as a whole.

This simple technique gave power to an otherwise uninteresting scene, added the impression that they had been talking for a long walk all over town, but got the verbal information across as concisely as possible. So look for visual opportunities to enliven dialog, and if there aren’t any, make them.

Trick 41

Drop exposition through arguments

Here’s a short one… A person talking is often boring. People arguing are often compelling. If you have to drop exposition, try to do it in the back and forth barbs of an argument. Let the characters use the information you need to convey as barbs in their back and forth attacks. Then your story won’t grind to a halt just because you need to tell your audience something.


Storytelling Tricks for Multi-Story Ensemble Series and Soap Operas


Trick 42

Subplots

The least complex form of the Multi-Story Ensemble Series employs the use of subplots. Subplots are tales or stories drawn with less resolution than the principal story. They hinge on one of the principal story’s characters other than the Main Character. This hinge character becomes the Main Character of the subplot story.

Subplots are never essential to the progression of the principal plot and only serve to more fully explore issues tangential to the principal story’s argument. “Tangent” is a good word to use here, as it describes something that touches upon yet does not interfere with something else.

Subplots may begin at any time during the course of the principal story, but should wrap up just before the principal climax, or just after in the denouement (author’s proof).

Trick 43

Relationships of Subplots to Plot

Since subplots are essentially separate stories, they may or may not reflect the values and concerns of the principal story. This allows an author to complement or counterpoint the principal argument. Frequently a subplot becomes a parallel of the principal story in another storytelling context, broadening the scope of the principal argument by inference to include all similar situations. In contrast, the subplot may arrive at the opposite conclusion, indicating that the solution for one storytelling situation is not universally appropriate.

There can be as many subplots in a story as time allows. Each one, however, must hinge on a character who is essential to the principal story (as opposed to a character merely created for storytelling convenience). Each character can only head up a single subplot, just as the Main Character of the principal story cannot carry any additional subplots. However, the Main Character can (and often does) participate in a subplot as one of its objective characters.

Trick 44

Multi-Story Formats

Other than subplots, Multi-Story Series can contain several stories that are not related at all. In this case, there may be two or more completely independent sets of characters who never cross paths. Or an author may choose to interweave these independent stories so that the characters come into contact, but only in an incidental way. In a sense, this form is sort of a “spatial anthology” wherein multiple stories are told not in succession but simultaneously.

Perhaps the most complex form of the Multi-Story Ensemble Series is when both subplots and separate stories are employed. Often, the subplots and the separate stories both use the principal story’s characters as well as characters that do not come into play in the principal story.

Trick 45

Stretching Time

An over-abundance of storytelling becomes difficult to conclude within the limits of even a one-hour show. Therefore, single episodes can be treated more like acts with stories sometimes running over four or more episodes. Each episode might also contain subplots staggered in such a way that more than one may conclude or begin in the middle of another subplot which continues over several episodes.

Obviously, a lot of cross-dynamics can be going on here. It is the author’s job as storyteller to make sure the audience is aware at all times as to which story or subplot they are seeing and what the character’s roles are in each context. This is essential, since no internal storyform is controlling all of the independent stories. They are held together here only by the connective tissue of storytelling.


A Grab Bag of Tricks for All Media


Trick 46


The Rule of Threes


Many rules and guidelines work fine until you sit down to write. As soon as you get inspired, creative frenzy takes over and the muse bolts forward like a mad bull. But there is one rule of thumb that sticks out like a sore thumb: the Rule of Threes.

Interactions and the Rule of Threes

Characters represent dramatic functions which need to interact to reflect all sides of solving the story problem. The first interaction sets the relationship between the two characters. The second interaction brings them into conflict. The third interaction demonstrates which one fare better, establishing one as more appropriate than the other.

This is true between Protagonist and Antagonist, Protagonist and Skeptic, Skeptic and Sidekick — in short, between all essential characters in a story. A good guide while writing is to arrange at least three interactions between each pairing of characters. In this manner, the most concise, yet complete portrayal can be made of essential storyform dynamics.

Introductions

Each of the characters must be introduced before the three interactions occur, and they must be dismissed after the three interactions are complete. These two functions set-up the story and then disband it, much like one might put up a grandstand for a parade and then tear it down after the event is over. This often makes it feel like there are five acts in a story when three are truly dynamic acts and two have been “borrowed” from the structure.

The introduction of characters is so well known that it is often forgotten by the author. A character’s intrinsic nature must be illustrated before he interacts with any of the Objective Characters. This is so basic that half the time it doesn’t happen and the story suffers right from the start. (Keep in mind that an author can use storytelling to “fool” his audience into believing a character has a given nature, only to find out it made assumptions based on too little information in the wrong context.)

Introductions can be on-camera or off. They can be in conversation about a character, reading a letter that character wrote, seeing the way they decorate their apartment — anything that describes their natures.

Dismissals

The Rule of Threes should be applied until all of the primary characters are played against each other to see what sparks are flying. Once we get the picture, it is time to dismiss the company. Dismissals can be as simple as a death or as complex as an open-ended indication of the future for a particular character. When all else fails, just before the ending crawl a series of cards can be shown: “Janey Schmird went on to become a New Age messiah while holding a day job as a screenplay writer.”

The point is, the audience needs to say good-bye to their new friends or foes.



Trick 47


Avoiding the Genre Trap


A common misconception sees genre as a fixed list of dramatic requirements or a rigid structural template from which there can be no deviation. Writers laboring under these restrictions often find themselves boxed-in creatively. They become snared in the Genre Trap, cranking out stories that are indistinguishable from a whole crop of their contemporaries

In fact, genre should be a fluid and organic entity that grows from each story individually. Such stories are surprising, notable, memorable, and involving. In this article, you’ll learn a new flexible technique for creating stories that are unique within their genres.

How We Fall Into the Genre Trap

The first step in escaping from the Genre Trap is to understand how we fall into it in the first place. Consider how wrapped up you become in the details of your story. You slave over every plot point, struggle to empathize with every one of your characters, and perhaps even grieve over the effort to instill a passionate theme.

The problem is, you become so buried in the elements of your story that you lose sight of what it feels like as a whole. So while every piece may work individually, the overall impact may be fragmented, incomplete, or inconsistent. To avoid this, we fall back on “proven” structures of successful stories in a similar genre. We cut out parts of our story that don’t fit that template, and add new sections to fill the gaps. We snip and hammer until our story follows along the dotted lines.

And lo and behold, we have fallen into the genre trap – taking our original new idea and making it just like somebody else’s old idea. Sure, the trappings are different. Our characters have different names. The big battle between good and evil takes place in a roller rink instead of a submarine. But underneath it all, the mood, timber, and feel of our story is just like the hundred others stamped out in the same genre mold.

A New Definition of Genre

Rather than thinking of your story as a structure, a template, or a genre, stand back a bit and look at your story as it appears to your reader or audience. To them, every story has a personality of its own, almost as if it were a human being. From this perspective, stories fall into personality types, just like real people.

When you meet someone for the first time, you might initially classify them as a Nerd, a Bully, a Wisecracker, a Philanthropist, or a Thinker.

These, of course, are just first impressions, and if you get the chance to spend some time with each person, you begin to discover a number of traits and quirks that set them apart from any other individual in that personality type.

Similarly, when you encounter a story for the first time, you likely classify it as a Western, a Romance, a Space Opera, or a Buddy Picture. Essentially, you see the personality of the story as a Stereotype.

At first, stories are easy to classify because you know nothing about them but the basic broad strokes. But as a story unfolds, it reveals its own unique qualities that transform it from another faceless tale in the crowd to a one-of-a-kind experience with its own identity.

At least, that is what it ought to do. But if you have fallen into the Genre Trap, you actually edit out all the elements that make your story different and add others that make it the same. All in the name of the Almighty Genre Templates.

How to Avoid the Genre Trap

Avoiding the Genre Trap is not only easy, but creatively inspiring as well! The process can begin at the very start of your story’s development (though you can apply this technique for re-writes as well).

Step One – Choosing Genres:

Make a list of all the Stereotypical Genres that have elements you might want to include in the story you are currently developing. For example, you might want to consider aspects of a Western, a Space Opera, a Romance, and a Horror Story.

Step Two – Listing Genre Elements:

List all the elements of each of these genres that intrigue you in general. For example:

Western – Brawl in the Saloon, Showdown Gunfight, Chase on Horseback, Lost Gold Mine, Desert, Indians.

Space Opera – Time Warp, Laser Battle, Exploding Planet, Alien Race, Spaceship Battle, Ancient Ruins.

Romance – Boy Meets Girl, Boy Loses Girl, Boy Gets Girl, Misunderstanding alienates Boy and Girl, Rival for Girl throws out Misinformation, Last Minute Reveal of the Truth leading to Joyful Reunion.

Horror Story – Series of Grizzly and Inventive Murders, The Evil Gradually Closes in on the Heroes, Scary Isolated Location, Massive Rainstorm with Lightning and Thunder.

(Note that some genre elements are about setting, some about action, and some about character relationships. That’s why it is so hard to say what genre is. And it is also why looking at genre, as a story’s Personality Type is so useful.

Step Three – Selecting Genre Elements:

From the lists of elements you have created, pick and choose elements from each of the genres that you might like to actually include in your story.

For example, from Western you might want Lost Gold Mine, Desert, and Indians. From Space Opera you might choose Spaceship Battle, Exploding Planet and Alien Race. Romance would offer up all the elements you had listed: Boy Meets Girl, Boy Loses Girl, Boy Gets Girl, Misunderstanding alienates Boy and Girl, Rival for Girl throws our Misinformation, Last Minute Reveal of the Truth leading to Joyful Reunion. And finally, from Horror Story you might select Scary Isolated Location, Massive Rainstorm with Lightning and Thunder.

Step Four – Cross Pollinating Genres:

From this Master List of Genre Elements that you might like to include in your story, see if any of the elements from one genre have a tie-in with those from another genre.

For example, Indians from the Western and Alien Race from the Space Opera could become a race of aliens on a planet that share many of the qualities of the American Indian. And, the relationship between the boy and the girl easily becomes a Romeo and Juliet saga of a human boy colonizing the planet who falls in love with an alien girl.

Step Five – Peppering Your Story with Genre Elements:

Once you’ve chosen your elements and cross-pollinated others, you need to determine where in your story to place them. If you are stuck in a Genre Trap, there is a tendency to try and get all the genre elements working right up front so that the genre is clear to the reader/audience.

This is like trying to know everything there is to discover about a person as soon as you meet him or her. It is more like a resume than an introduction. The effect is to overload the front end of the story with more information than can be assimilated, and have nowhere left to go when the reader/audience wants to get to know the story’s personality better as the story unfolds.

So, make a timeline of the key story points in your plot. Add in any principal character moments of growth, discovery, or conflict. Now, into that timeline pepper the genre elements you have developed for your story.

For example, you might decide to end with a massive spaceship battle, or you could choose to open with one. The information about the Alien Race being like the America Indians might be right up front in the Teaser, or you could choose to reveal it in the middle of the second act as a pivotal turning point in the story.

Because genre elements are often atmospheric in nature, they can frequently be placed just about anywhere without greatly affecting the essential flow of the plot or the pace of character growth.

As you look at your timeline, you can see and control the reader’s first impressions of the story genre. And you can anticipate the ongoing mood changes in your story’s feel as additional elements in its personality are revealed, scene-by-scene or chapter-by-chapter.

What about Re-writes?

Not everyone wants to start a story with genre development. In fact, you might want to go through an entire draft and then determine what genre elements you’d like to add to what you already have.

The process is the same. Just list the genres that have elements you might wish to include. List the elements in each that intrigue you. Select the ones that would fit nicely into your story. Cross-Pollinate where you can. Pepper them into your existing timeline to fill gaps where the story bogs down and to reveal your story as a unique personality.

Summing Up the Sum of the Parts

Genre is part setting, part action, part character, and part story-telling style. Trying to follow a fixed template turns your story into just another clone. But by recognizing that genre is really a story’s personality type, you can make it as individual as you like. And by peppering your elements throughout your story’s timeline, you will create first impressions that will capture your reader or audience and then hold their interest as your story’s one-of-a-kind personality reveals itself.



Trick 48


Genre – Act by Act


Many writers have a misconception that genre is something you “write in” – like a box. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Genre is the overall mood of a story, created through structural and storytelling elements and approaches.

This mood isn’t simply set at the beginning of the story and then continued through the conclusion. Rather, the elements of genre are sprinkled into the story, establishing an initial mood, and then developing it over the course of the entire story.

Genre in Act One

Your story’s genre is its overall personality. As with the people that you meet, first impressions are very important. In act one, you introduce your story to your reader/audience. The selection of elements you choose to initially employ will set the mood for all that follows. They can also be misleading, and you can use this to your advantage.

You may be working with a standard genre, or trying something new. But it often helps involve your reader/audience if you start with the familiar. In this way, those experiencing your story are eased out of the real world and into the one you have constructed. So, in the first act, you many want to establish a few touch points the reader/audience can hang its hat on.

As we get to know people a little better, our initial impression of the “type” of person they are begins to slowly alter, making them a little more of an individual and a little less of a stereotype. To this end, as the first act progresses, you may want to hint at a few attributes or elements of your story’s personality that begin to drift from the norm.

By the end of the first act, you should have dropped enough elements to give your story a general personality type and also to indicate that a deeper personality waits to be revealed.

As a side note, this deeper personality may in fact be the true personality of your story, hidden behind the first impressions.

Genre in Act Two

In the second act, your story’s genre personality develops more specific traits or elements that shift it completely out of the realm of a broad personality type and into the realm of the individual. Your reader/audience comes to expect certain things from your story, both in the elements and in the style with which they are presented.

If the first impression of your story as developed in act one is a true representation of the underpinnings of your story’s personality, then act two adds details and richness to the overall feel over the story. But if the first impression is a deception, hiding beneath it a different story personality, then act two brings elements to the surface that reveal the basic nature of its true personality.

Genre in Act Three

It is the third act where you will either reveal the final details that make your story’s personality unique as an individual, or will reveal the full extent of its true personality that was masked behind the first impressions of the first act, and hinted at in the second.

Either way, by the end of the third act you want your reader/audience to feel as if the story is an old friend or an old enemy – a person they understand as to who it is by nature, and what it is capable of.

Genre Conclusion

If you’ve ever seen the end of a science fiction movie where the world is saved, the words “The End” appear, and then a question mark appears, you have experienced a last-minute change in the personality of a story’s genre.

In the conclusion, you can either re-affirm the personality you have so far revealed, alter it at the last moment, or hint that it may be altered. For example, in the original movie “Alien,” there are several red herrings in the end of act three that alternately make it look as if Ripley or the Alien will ultimately triumph. In the conclusion of Alien, the Alien has been apparently vanquished, and Ripley puts herself in suspended animation for the long return home. But the music, which has been written to initially convey a sense that danger is over suddenly takes a subtle turn toward the minor chords and holds them, making us feel that perhaps a hidden danger still lurks. Finally, the music returns to a sustained major chord as the ship disappears in the distance, confirming that indeed, the danger has past.

Keep in mind that your reader/audience will need to say goodbye to the story they have come to know. Just as they needed to be introduced to the story’s personality in act one and drawn out of the real world into the fictional one, now they need to be disentangled from the story’s personality and eased back into the real world.

Just as one wraps up a visit with a friend in a gradual withdrawal, so too you must let your reader/audience down gently, always considering that the last moments your reader/audience spends with your story will leave a final impression even more important than the first impression.



Trick 49


Genre: Revealing Your Story’s Personality


Your story’s genre is its overall personality. As with the people that you meet, first impressions are very important. In act one, you introduce your story to your reader/audience. The selection of elements you choose to initially employ will set the mood for all that follows. They can also be misleading, and you can use this to your advantage.

You may be working with a standard genre, or trying something new. But it often helps involve your reader/audience if you start with the familiar. In this way, those experiencing your story are eased out of the real world and into the one you have constructed. So, in the first act, you many want to establish a few touch points the reader/audience can hang its hat on.

As we get to know people a little better, our initial impression of the “type” of person they are begins to slowly alter, making them a little more of an individual and a little less of a stereotype. To this end, as the first act progresses, you may want to hint at a few attributes or elements of your story’s personality that begin to drift from the norm.

By the end of the first act, you should have dropped enough elements to give your story a general personality type and also to indicate that a deeper personality waits to be revealed.

As a side note, this deeper personality may in fact be the true personality of your story, hidden behind the first impressions.



Trick 50


Characters – The Attributes of Age


Introduction

Writers tend to create characters that are more or less the same age as themselves. On the one hand, this follows the old adage that one should write about what one knows. But in real life, we encounter people of all ages in most situations. Of course, we often see stories that pay homage to the necessary younger or older person, but we just as often find gaps of age groups in which there are no characters at all, rather than a smooth spectrum of ages.

In addition, there are many considerations to age other than the superficial appearance, manner of dress, and stereotypical expectations. In this lesson we’re going to uncover a variety of traits that bear on an accurate portrayal of age, and even offer the opportunity to explore seldom-depicted human issues associated with age.

The Attributes of Age

People in general, and writers in particular, tend to stereotype the attributes of age more than just about any other character trait. There are, of course, the physical aspects of age, ranging from size, smoothness of skin, strength, mobility to the various ailments associated with our progress through life. Then there are the mental and emotional qualities that we expect to find at various points in life. But the process of aging involves some far more subtle components to our journey through life.

Anatomical vs. Chronological age

Before examining any specific traits, it is important to note the difference between anatomical and chronological age. Anatomical age is the condition of your body whereas chronological age is the actual number of years you’ve been around. For example, if you are thirty years old, but all worn out and genetically biased to age prematurely, you might look more akin to what people would expect of a fifty year old. Nonetheless, you wouldn’t have the same interests in music or direct knowledge of the popular culture as someone who was actually fifty years old. When describing a character, you might choose to play off your reader expectations by letting them assume the physical condition, based on your description of age. Or, you might wish to create some additional interest in your character by describing it as “A middle-aged man so fit and healthy, he was still “carded” whenever he vacationed in Vegas.” Such a description adds an element of interest and immediately sets your character out at an individual.

Jargon

Far too often, characters are portrayed as speaking in the same generic conversational language we hear on television. The only variance to that is the overlay of ethic buzzwords to our standard sanitized TV through template. In other words, characters act as if they all through alike, even if they had completely different cultural upbringings. But aging is an ongoing evolution of culture, rooting the individual into thought patterns of his or her formative hears, and tempered (to some degree) by the ongoing cultural indoctrination of a social lifestyle.

Characters, therefore, tend to pick up a basic vocabulary reflective of both their ethnicity AND their age. For example, a black man who fought for civil rights along side Dr. Martin Luther King, would not be using the same jargon ad a black man advancing the cause of rights today. And neither of these would use the same vocabulary as a young black man in the center city, trying to find his way out through education. To simply overlay the “black jargon” template on such characters is the same kind of unconscious subtle prejudice promoted by “flesh colored” crayons.

Sure, we all learn to drop some of the more dated terms and expletives of our youth in order to appear “hip” or “with it,” but in the end we either sound silly trying to use the new ones, or avoid them altogether, leaving us bland and un-passionate in our conversation. Both of these approaches can be depicted in your characters as well, and can provide a great deal of information about the kind of mind your character possesses.

Outlook

Speaking of character minds, we all have a culturally created filter that focuses our attention on some things, and blinds us to (or diminishes) others. Sometimes, this is built into the language itself. When it is hot, the Spanish say, “hace calor” (it makes heat). This phrasing is due to the underlying beliefs of the people who developed that language that see every object, even those that are inanimate, as possessing a spirit. So, when it is hot, this is not a mindless state of affairs due to meteorological conditions, but rather to the intent of the spirit of the weather. Of course, if you were to ask a modern Spanish speaking person if they believed in such a thing, you would likely receive a negative reply. And yet, because this concept permeates the language (making everyday items masculine or feminine), it cannot help but alter the way native speakers of the language will frame their thoughts.

As another example, the Japanese population of world war two was indoctrinated in the culture of honor, duty, and putting the needs of society above those of the individual. Although most countries foster this view, in war-time Japan, it was carried to the extreme, resulting in an effective Kamikaze force, and also in whole units that chose a suicidal charge against oncoming forces, rather than to be humiliated by defeat or capture.

Corporate Japan was built around these Samurai ideals, and workers commonly perceived themselves as existing to serve their companies with loyalty and unquestioning obedience. But when the economy faltered, those who expected to remain with their companies for life were laid off, or even permanently fired. This led to a disillusionment of the “group first” mentality, especially among the young, who had not yet become settled in their beliefs. So, today, there is still a gap between the old-guard corporate executives, and the millions of teenagers to whom they market. Age, in this case, creates a significant difference in the way the world looks.

Continuing with the notion of generation gaps, I grew up when the rallying cry was “Don’t trust anyone over 30.” Of course, now we’re all in our fifties or even sixties, so we are forced to admit that we, ourselves, have in fact become “the Establishment.”

But that is what is visible and obvious to us. The real difference between my generation and the post Yuppie, post GenX, GenY, Gen? Generation is far more foundational. In conversations with my daughter I discovered that while I see myself on the other side of the generation gap, she does not perceive one at all! This is due to primarily to the plethora of high-quality recorded media programs, which capture so many fine performances and presentations when the artists and great thinkers were in their prime. We live in a TV Land universe in which no great works ever die; they are just reborn on Cable.

To my daughter’s generation, it is only important whether or not you have something worth saying. How old you are has nothing to do with your importance or relevance. In short, the difference between my generation and the younger generation is that we perceive a difference between the generations and they don’t!

In summary then, the age in which you establish your worldview will determine how you perceive current events for the rest of your life. When creating characters of any particular age, you would do well to consider the cultural landscape that was prevalent when each character was indoctrinated.

Comfort Symbols

We all share the same human emotional needs. And we each experience moments that fulfill those needs. Those experiences become fond memories, and many of the trappings of those experiences become comfort symbols. In later life, we seek out those symbols to trigger the re-experiencing of the cherished moments. Perhaps your family served a particular food in your childhood that you associate with warmth and love. For example, my mother grew up during the Great Depression in the 1930s. Her family was often short of food. So, as a snack, they would give her a piece of bread spread with lard and mustard! Now the thought very nearly sickens me, but she often yearned for that flavor again, as it reminded her of the love she received as a child.

Once we have locked into symbols that we can use to trigger emotional experiences, we seldom need to replace them. They are our comfort symbols upon which we can always rely. This has two effects as we age: One, we latch on to performers and music, as an example, that age along with us. We recall them at their prime when we first encountered them, and also have spent years aging along with them. This leads us to suddenly wake up one day and realize we no longer know who they are referring to in popular culture magazines and entertainment reporting televisions shows. In other words, the popular culture has passed us by. Two, we see many of our symbols (favorite advertising campaigns, a restaurant where we went on our first date, etc.) vanish as they are replaced with new and current concerns. So, the world around us seems less relevant, less familiar, and less comfortable, just as we seem to the world at large.

When creating characters, take into account the potential ongoing and growing sense of loss, sadness, and connection between characters and their environment. And don’t think this is a problem only for the elderly. My 24-year-old son laments that there are kids growing up today who never knew a world without personal computers! He says it makes him feel old.

Physical Attributes

Babies have a soft spot on their heads that doesn’t harden up for quite a while after birth. Cartilage wears out. Teens in puberty have raging hormones. Young kids grow so fast that they don’t have a chance to get used to the size and strength of their bodies before they have changed again, not unlike trying to drive a new and different car every day. I can’t remember the last time I ran full-tilt. I’m not sure it would be safe, today! Point is, our bodies are always changing. Sometimes the state we are in has positive and/or negative qualities – other times the changing itself is positive or negative.

When creating characters, give some thought to the physical attributes and detriments of any given age, and consider how they not only affect the abilities and mannerisms of your characters, but their mental and emotional baselines as well.

Conclusion?

Sure, we could go on and on exploring specifics of age and aging, but since it is a pandemic human condition, it touches virtually every human experience and endeavor. The point here is not to completely cover the subject, but to encourage you to consider it when creating each of your characters. It isn’t enough to simply describe a character as “a middle-aged man,” or “a perky 8 year old boy.” You owe it to your characters and to your readers or audience to incorporate the aging experience into their development, just as it is inexorably integrated into our own.


*******************


Postscript


I hope you have enjoyed these storytelling tricks.  If so, please stop by my web site at Storymind.com for many more.  And while you are there, try free demos of our software products for writers to help you develop your story’s world, who’s in it, what happens to them, and what it all means.


Melanie Anne Phillips



Read All 50 Storytelling Tricks