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Storytelling In “F” Major

Storytelling In “F” Major, guest post by Chris Ledbetter
I know that some of you think formulas belong to the mathematics and science realm. But to me, storytelling can be boiled to a somewhat reliable formula as well. I know I said the “F” word. But by the end of this post, hopefully you’ll agree with me.

The first tenet of storytelling is to "Grab The Reader By The Nose."

What I mean is that you must write a compelling:
   first line
   first paragraph
   first 250 words
   first page
   first 500 words
In those "firsts" you must paint a picture of your character in her setting with a unique voice and tone that makes the reader care about what happens to her next.

Something in a person's brain clicks and responds to a well-written opening sentence. While it's certainly not necessary, it can give you an edge in a crowded marketplace. Think of all the people strolling through a bookstore... picking up books... reading blurbs. Once they find something that piques their interest they thumb to the first chapter.

THAT'S when you must grab them by the nose. Your words need to speak directly to them, hit a chord, and resonate. If not, they're likely to say, "Hmmm. Interesting." And put it right back on the shelf.

Once you’ve hooked them, you need to ensure your first scene wraps its arm around the reader and guides them to the couch.

Elements of a super opening scene:
Paint the picture of your character's current normal life. And, normal doesn't mean pain or angst free. Begin as close to the conflict as possible. Don't information dump. Don't give us all the backstory. Show us enough of the character to get a sense of her, just before the hammer falls.
Next, introduce the conflict... something that will Rock Her World.

Lastly, forecast the ending of the story... or at least promise the reader that your character will grow and change based upon the conflict she now faces.

***

Then, BAM! Your character's world gets turned upside down (which draws the reader in even more).

Her home is destroyed.
She discovers out that her husband of ten years is gay.
She is thrust into a death match.
She finds an irresistible boy standing in her living room, with no idea where he came from or how to keep from kissing him.
She discovers that the boy she has crushed on since 7th grade finally notices her, but it's because he's a vampire and he needs to feed off her.

You get the idea.

The conflict must be substantial enough that the reader doesn't say "ehhh, whatever." And has to be believable... at least as it pertains to the genre. The consequences of the catastrophe must… Raise. The. Stakes. (where have we all heard that before?) The crisis must be something that your protag can't solve easily, because the challenge of solving it sets the story in motion. This event may send your character on a quest or mission... even if the mission is to discover themselves or grow emotionally.

There should also be internal and external conflicts. Your character's flaws and nuances will inform how they react to the external conflict, but it's through the internal conflict that they grow. Yep, remember the promise you made to the reader in the opening... you promised the reader that the character would grow. Solving of the conflict will achieve this.

Obviously, your character has to fail… at least in the short run. After all, she's facing insurmountable odds, yes? She has to run into wall after wall, and meet frustration after frustration. You can even give her small successes and large failures. We all learn far more from our mistakes than from our victories, right?

And, by the time the protag meets her defining moment, a.k.a. The Climax, she will have made a discovery about herself, about her world, her powers, and her control of them.

***

Remember that doe-eyed optimist who was simply living her life... minding her business at the beginning of your story?  Thought you would. You began by painting her normal, run-of-the-mill life... and then an event rocked her world. She set out on a quest to discover rhyme and reason and make sense of it all.

When you first introduced her, you inherently promised she was going to evolve... for the better, of course. Just like cold, ugly iron is subjected to the fire and heat of the forge in order to become a sharply honed sword. So it was with your character. She faced insurmountable odds and met with failure on her journey.

The final piece of the plotting puzzle, is to Deliver On Your Promise.

You’ve led your character through hell and back. There should've been a physical transformation and/ or mental and/ or emotional. And then she emerged on the far side... glorious and triumphant. She's not the same little girl anymore.

That is storytelling in a nutshell. I realize that “formula” can be a bad word, but if you follow that path I’ve set, you won’t get lost.

Storytelling In “F” Major, guest post by Chris LedbetterChris Ledbetter grew up in Durham, NC before moving to Charlottesville, VA in 11th grade. After high school, he attended Hampton University where he promptly "walked-on" to the best drum line in the CIAA. And, without any prior percussion experience. He carried the bass drum for four years, something his back is not very happy about now.

After a change of heart and major, he enrolled in Old Dominion University and earned his degree in Business Administration. He's worked in various managerial and marketing capacities throughout his life. While teaching high school for six years in Culpeper, VA, he taught business management, business law, marketing, and sports marketing, and also coached football.

He has walked the streets of Los Angeles and New York City, waded in the waters of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, and climbed Diamond Head crater on Hawaii and rang in the New Year in Tokyo, Japan. But he dreams of one day visiting Greece and Italy.

He's a proud member of SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) and a strong supporter of the Need for Diverse Books. As a self-described, young reluctant reader, he writes young adult stories specifically to reach other reluctant readers. As a participant in the prestigious Nevada SCBWI Mentor Program, he was blessed to be mentored by Suzanne Morgan Williams, 2012 SCBWI member of the year.

He now lives in Wilmington, NC with his family, including three cats.


Connect with Chris:  Website  ~  Twitter  ~  Facebook 

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