Monday, May 16, 2011

OPENING A STORY IS LIKE OPENING A DOOR (Lessons From High School English)

Quick Update: One week of school left. Also one week until a music video premiere. Conclusion: AH!

Song Stuck In My Head: “In Too Deep” by Sum 41 (and yes, listening to my favorite singer’s ex-husband’s band is very awkward, very awkward indeed. Sorta the fan girl’s equivalent to flirting with your BFF’s ex-boyfriend).

Hello, strangers! It’s time to bring back another short-lived segment - LESSONS FROM HIGH SCHOOL ENGLISH. Today’s topic - story openings! *cheers from make-believe class*

As writers, there is nothing we sweat out more than the beginning. The first words, the first paragraph, the first page. It’s because it’s also the first glimpse into our imaginations, our first time exposing our imaginary friends (“characters” they’re typically called), and the world’s first taste of either a flop or work of genius.

There is no cookie-cutter way to open stories. No formula one can follow to spit out a flawless opening line that will make agents shudder. Us writers are always flailing for the “best of times” or “worst of times”, or just a simple “call me (insert name here)”. Uniqueness is the key.

So, as we all struggle to carve our own sculptures of fictional art, how about I fill you in on the sort of stuff we’re learning in class?

HOW TO OPEN A STORY ACCORDING TO MY LITERARTURE CLASS NOTES (Pros/cons/examples all of my own making).

1. Start with Dialogue - I.E… “It is rather dark and stormy tonight,” I said.
Pro: Bam, voice is introduced, without even trying.
Con: “So, I’m totally talking about something that the reader has no clue about, and doesn’t care about to be honest.”

2. Interjection - I.E… Oh, no! Dark and stormy clouds are gathering outside!
Pro: Immediately ignite some action and emotion.
Con: Do you really want to be one of those writers who starts off their tale with an exclamation point? REALLY!?!!!

3. Onomatopoeia (absolutely ADORE that word) - I.E… KABOOM! Thunder had now entered our already dark and stormy night.
Pro: They demand the attention of le reader.
Con: Maybe a bit too demanding, and can easily weigh in on the “corny, cheesy” scale.

4. Immediate action - I.E… The flash of lightening bounced across the field, heading straight for mine and character two’s car.
Pro: Makes the reader feel immediately involved in a story.
Con: Some readers aren’t ready to take it fast, or keep up with a such a brand new story.

5. Character’s thought - I.E… “Why is it so dark - and stormy - tonight?” I pondered to myself.
Pro: Gives the reader an immediate first impression of your character.
Con: Not an entirely realistic way to start a story, unless it’s a think piece - not many adventures begin with a “hmm” moment.

6. Foreshadowing - I.E… As dark, thunderous clouds overcast our town, I knew something was off.
Pro: Gets the reader interested in the events going on.
Con: If done wrong, you could come off as a *cough* TEASE *cough*

7. Contradiction - I.E… Our peaceful town was usually one of sunshine and smiley faces…but as clouds gathered, I knew today would be different.
Pro: Instantly points out the strangeness of the situation in your story
Con: Can too easily come off as corny, much better for short stories.

8. Moral - I.E… They say every cloud has a silver lining…but what sort of metaphor is it when the cloud is dark and stormy?
Pro: A central theme gets your reader thinking, and prepared for your story’s message.
Con: Distracts from the introduction of your story, if it’s not that important.

Did any ways stick out to you? How many ways have you tried before, or considered trying? Which ones come off as corny to you? Which ones make you think of stories you’ve read before?

Anyhow, there’s a lesson here, and it’s this: forget EVERYTHING you’ve learned about the first page (well, not everything, keep the basics like grammar and how to hold a pen). Rules and “tricks” aren’t always vital to your story. After all, YOUR story is what matters. It’s like every novel has a gazillion doors, all locked…except one. You can try opening the others, but once you find the right one…you can just walk right in.

In this one door, your story will be introduced, with the right voice, mood, vibe, and attitude that will make it stand out, and be its own. Not just some rip-off of your favorite writer or TV show (totally didn’t do that once…well, fine, but I was young, okay?).

And when you find that door, remember that not every reader who enters it will fit. Personally, my favorite opening line of all TIME (“The early summer sky was the color of cat vomit” - Uglies, by Scott Westerfeld) is one that typically grosses people out. But according to SSF, Westerfeld’s sorta a misunderstood genius, so there you go. I love it. Others don’t.

Okay, writer friends. I somehow managed to poke fun at my literature class and compare story openings to doors in one blog post. Accomplishment of the week! So, see you all next week?

One last note though….there is one rule.




…Start your story with a “dark and stormy night”.


Friday, May 6, 2011

Playlist of the Month: Songs That Are Also Stories!

Quick Update: Finally tackling creative writing in my literature class, with a narrative to finish the year off. Pro: chance to write a non-research essay. Bad: going through a bunch of notes on the basics (point-of-view, rising and falling action) that my “peers” treat like calculus. Grrr.

Song Stuck in My Head: A lot of Paramore right now, actually. But I just found the score for my favorite movie on Youtube, so now the theme song is joining them.

It’s the first week of the month. Time to return to the only segment that SSF has so far managed to keep! That’s right - it’s the fourth ever PLAYLIST OF THE MONTH, peeps. POTM is, of course, a chance to share songs that could very well earn their way into your hearts and your own personal playlist for writing.

Today’s topic: songs that are also stories!

There’s generally two things musicians do when it comes to lyrics and such - either convey some universal, relatable emotions, or paint a picture. Both rule and work. When it comes to a story-songs though, inspiration is sorta just waiting to ignite. The musician will tell their side of the story, and let you finish or expand the full story. So go ahead and let the imagination juices flow.

And let’s help. Here’s my top TEN (as in, twice as many as usual) story-songs. Disclaimer: not all stories are true, of course, such as one about a girl killing her boyfriend, or another about nuclear warfare. No need to panic.

So...are you ready?

Florence + the Machine’s “KISS WITH A FIST” - Taken straight off from the soundtrack my favorite slasher-comedy film, “Jennifer’s Body”, this Florence indie-pop smash follows a rather violent guy and gal experiencing a medical case of lover’s spat. Example lyrics: “You smashed a plate over my head/and I set fire to our bed”.

Blink 182’s “ADAM’S SONG” - And you thought they were just brash punks. This surprisingly thoughtful alternative rock track from the popular pop/rock trio revolves around a guy - let’s just call him Adam - about to commit suicide. However, it doesn’t focus on the pain and torment of emotions. Told from Adam’s perspective, it’s very teenager-ish, talking about the things he's missing out on, and things he's thankful to leave behind. A goodbye. Him asking to give away his things, to fix up his room, and to “tell mom this is not her fault”. It feels like Adam’s closing a chapter - only it’s a one-chapter book. Very sad but more nostalgic than anything else.

Avril Lavigne’s “NOBODY’S HOME” - It wouldn’t be a SSF playlist without Avril! Hehe. Anyhow, serious business. Once upon a time, Canadian guitar \-pop star Avril had a friend. And this friend had wandered an unpleasant path, leaving Avril behind. Avril’s life went on to soar, but her friend’s only got worse. The result: a beautifully sad rock ballad that chronicles the slow but heavy fall of her friend. The music video even portrays a glamorous, famous girl and a lonely, homeless girl’s lives being compared (both of which is played by Avril herself).

Linkin Park’s “THE LITTLE THINGS GIVE YOU AWAY” - No rap/screaming metal beats here. With the mellow, but intense, vibe that LP has been channeling lately, this track’s lyrics was inspired when the band visited the site of Hurricane Katrina. The sorrow and empathy is mixed with the disbelief and resentment with our government. Very intense.

Green Day’s “GIVE ME NOVOCAINE” - Another track about a young teenager’s suicide (wow, isn’t SSF a ball of positive energy today?). This time though, it’s not Adam but St. Jimmy - the protagonist of the rock band’s concept album “American Idiot”. Prior to the track where St. Jimmy actually kicks the bucket is this acoustic number, in which our hero is overdosing on Novocain to “take away the sensation inside”. It’s depression, but numbed.

Phil Collin’s “ANOTHER DAY IN PARADISE” - What playlist would this be without one of the classics? Hopefully you all know the legendary Collins, and maybe even know this sad but beautiful song. The lyrics follow strangers as they cross paths with people in need…and keep on walking. They’ve been crying, they need a place to sleep, everything…the fact that life remains unfair for them tells a million stories.

Sick Puppies’ “HOWARD’S TALE” - Oooh, this song - an alt-rock track by my favorite group - may be the heaviest listed. Not just in terms of instruments, but in emotional weight. No mere pain here - the song follows “Howard” as he goes from a relatively normal kid to one whose life is tainted at age nine when he is sexually abused (never actually said, but implied the crap out of). Only he cannot - and will not - tell anyone. Confused and victimized, he can’t function well after. He can’t be with a girl, he lives in denial, he gets expelled from school, everything. The song teasingly ends with an ending that could be interpreted as happy or cruel. Very amazing song.

The Pretty Reckless’ “GOIN’ DOWN” - Actress Taylor Momsen’s rock band that has the energy of the classics had this spunky song on their original EP. The picture it’s painting isn’t pretty. The narrator is at confession, and telling the priest a juicy story about about a cheating lover and her having to “bury him eight feet underground”. Of course, she wants forgiveness, even if it means bargaining with a priest of all people, but she also just wants answers as she’s starting to regret the deed. Very fiery and creative song.

My Chemical Romance’s “S/C/A/R/E/C/R/O/W” - Yay, another concept album! Alt-rock/punk group MyChem’s recent album, “Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys” focused on a rock group escaping death during the end of the world (dystopia, anyone?). And this particular song, while ethereal and hypnotic, isn’t as innocent as it seems. The song is about a nuclear bomb about to go off and kill everyone, and is basically a warning to “hold your breath when the black bird flies” and “move your body when the sunlight dies”. However, it'll be a song you can’t resist listening to over and over.

And lastly…

EVERY BOWLING FOR SOUP IN EXISTENCE. You know “Bowling for Soup” right, the comical alt-rock/pop favorite? You probably know one of their hits…like one about a woman way behind in the times (1985) or a geek with a thing for a girl into wrestling and rap metal (Girl All the Bad Guys Want) or even just one about the suckiness of high school in general (High School Never Ends). My absolute favorite is “RUNNING FROM YOUR DAD”. Picture a couple swinging on the porch. Then a picture the girl’s dad running out ready to beat the life out of the boy. Ah, the romance! This song manages to come off as hilarious though.

And there’s today’s lesson! Now time for the discussion questions: what is YOUR favorite song that is only a story in musical form?

Anyhow, only the one blog post this week, but since next week is my last FULL week of school, I decided to conclude the year with a special week of blog posts on…

*drum roll*


So check for that, and have an awesome weekend! I certainly will - about to go to my first dance as a high-schooler, supporting the GLBQT community. Cool stuff.