Finding Your Own Unique Voice When Writing for Nanowrimo
Learn how to connect your heart's deepest desires with the structure of your story to create a compelling and meaningful narrative.
When it comes to writing a novel or a screenplay, some writers go with the flow. They sit down, start their timers or zero out their word counts, and begin connecting to their Muse. But what if there was a way to define your heart's desire and tie that voice directly to the structure of your story?
Presumably a writer becomes a writer because they have something they want to say, some unique perspective on the world that they want to communicate to others. Why write if you have nothing to say? Many who take to writing do not feel comfortable expressing themselves and see the act as a means to extract this creative impetus. That inner drive—that inner voice—is what compels a writer to sit behind a keyboard and take pen to paper.
An Artist's Voice
Setting the Dramatica theory of story aside, ask yourself What is it that I hold most dear? What do you believe in, and what do you see as being the truth? It will be different for every man, woman, and child but there will be something—some truism that eminates from your heart.
In our Narrative First Weekend Workshops, I used to help writers find these truisms by filling in the blank for this statement:
People need ___
Some answer food, some water, others love, and others creative expression. And you don't even need to use to word "need", you can use can, want, should—anything that justifies a certain position on what is truth and what is not. People should go to church. People want acceptance. People can't reach for the stars.
But we're Authors here. And making a statement like "people need food" or "people need creative expression" means nothing unless we provide some context for it.
Finding Meaning within Context
Last year's Thanksgiving article A Method for Generating Conflict covered this very same topic:[^repeat]
Nothing means nothing without context. A grape can be round or a grape can be green, its meaning--or truth--lies in the context taken by the viewer. Insoluble arguments occur over differing contexts, not over opposites.
[^repeat]: Apparently the week of Thanksgiving is the time to prepare to defend one's point-of-view by thinking intensely about truth and context. Bring on the family discussions over religion and politics!
We will get to the insoluble arguments soon enough, but for now let's focus on giving context to our heart's truth. Context is that which surrounds and gives meaning, so let's give meaning to our truisms:
- People need food in order to survive.
- People need creative expression in order to feel fulfilled.
Adding the phrase "in order to" forces us to grant a context for what we believe. It gives meaning to our truth.
The Western Occult story we kicked Nanowrimo off with in earlier this November in the article Creating a Story from Scratch with Nanowrimo lacked a certain truth. Overall it felt cool and entirely unique, but the Artist's point-of-view was nowhere to be found. We were focused on exploring the Dramatica storyform—and the Dramatica storyform says nothing about what lies within the heart of the writer-artist. It helps the artist communicate that inner truth, but the artist must still identify what it is they want to say.
Continuing our month-long series on using Dramatica to help support a writer through Nanowrimo, we take time out this week to help develop that story by digging deep within ourselves to find a truth worth writing.
The Driving Force Behind a Narrative
The first step to grafting my heart onto the cold and impeccable storyform for our Western Occult story is to identify a truth I hold dear. Since it is Thanksgiving week here in America, I'll go with something that reflects the holiday spirit:
People need to be grateful in order to feel that they are part of a community.
Ahhh that's nice, isn't it? Very Thanksgiving-y and a very true statement within a given context. The next thing to do would be to define an alternate context in which that statement isn't true. You can do this easily by adding the word UNLESS to the end of the statement and following it with a definition of a different point-of-view.
People need to be grateful in order to feel that they are part of a community UNLESS their focus on their socio-economic status makes it impossible to feel thankful.
And with that, we start a story.
Needing to be grateful in order to feel part of a community is indeed true. However, if your priority is class warfare and the social status of one group of people vs. another then being told to feel grateful can feel condescending. Why should someone be grateful for the scraps they are served?
With the juxtaposition of these two truisms—two statements that contradict each other, yet maintain truth within their own context—we create an inequity to fuel our narrative. Arguing which point-of-view is more appropriate within the context of resolving the Story Goal becomes the duty of the Author.
This can be a difficult thing to determine at the beginning. Personally, I believe both truisms and I'm not sure which one I feel is more appropriate. Working my way back to the Dramatica storyform will help solidify my position and grant me a better understanding of what my story truly means.
A Problem to Be Resolved
Before the story begins, the world is in stasis. The first Story Driver comes along—either an Action or a Decision—and upsets that tender balance, throwing the world of the story into upheaval. The characters identify the Problem created by this imbalance and determine an appropriate Solution. A Goal of common concern arises from this Solution. Some are for it, others are against it. The Consequence of failing motivates those for and provides a rally cry for those against.
In our story Being Loose is the Problem and Holding Sway over Someone the Solution. In order to gain that control a *Goal of Wishing for the Gold to Come Into Existence** becomes a point of contention for the people of this town. Some will be all for this constant wishing, seeing it as a means to hold sway over the less educated.[^dark] Others will be against it because of the doomed future predicted by the town's one and only horse.
At first I thought it would be a conflict between those who use religion to control the masses and those enlightened by science and education, but comparing that Consequence with the Goal the story seems to be more about one loopy superstitious belief against another. Personally, I find arguments over dark gray and darker gray to be more interesting than black vs. white and therefore think this relation between Goal and Consequence to be perfect for my own artistic expression.
[^dark]: Again, such a dark and compelling Story Goal!
Assigning Points-of-Views to Structure
Having identified the Problem and Solution and Goal and Consequence, we now turn our attention towards the subjective viewpoints within our story.
Every complete narrative juxtaposes one approach towards solving problems against another. One is maintained by the Main Character of the story, the other by the Influence Character. The two battle it out over the course of the story until one adopts the other's point-of-view. This adoption leads to either Success or Failure in the efforts to achieve the Story Goal, and that outcome defines the Author's argument. In short, a story offers two perspectives on how to best solve a problem and argues which one is more appropriate by showing the outcome of one "winning" over the other.
Remember our truism statements from above:
People need to be grateful in order to feel that they are part of a community UNLESS their focus on their socio-economic status makes it impossible to feel grateful.
One of these describes our Main Character Abby's point-of-view, the other our Influence Character Jack's point-of-view. Since this is a very different kind of Western, I think I'll have Abby take the gritty "poor socio-economic status makes it difficult to be thankful" position. Jack will maintain that "a gracious attitude leads to a greater sense of community."
A Purpose to Conflict
Suddenly there is purpose to Abby's drive to Arrest the Bounty Hunter. She finds herself motivated to take this action because of her poor socio-economic status. Arresting criminals and collecting the reward for them is her way out of a life of scraping by while others sit in wealth and splendor. Most importantly, the problems and point-of-view she takes is directly connected to something personal and important to me that I want to express as an artist.
Same thing with Jack. His unpleasant and repulsive demeanor comes as a result of having to live a lifetime with ungrateful people. The fact that he feels like he can say anything to anyone at any time or place simply because they lack the ability to give thanks is a point-of-view I can really get behind.
Story as an Argument
Dramatica differentiates between a tale and a story by identifying the latter as making an argument. Two worldviews come into conflict over the best way to resolve a story's problem with one winning out over the other.
When it comes to Wishing Gold Into Existence, Jack is of the opinion that people aren't grateful enough for what they do have, and if they were they would have a greater sense of community. To him, it doesn't make sense to get on your knees and pray for something you don't even need. Be grateful and keep yourself from praying for an impossibility.
Abby sits on the other side of the argument. Why should they be happy with what they have when it feels so bad to have so little? To Abby, it's difficult to be thankful when you are served table scraps. And that's why you should fight and take whatever you can from whoever you find.
Looking back over the storyform, I am reminded that Jack will Change and adopt Abby's point-of-view and that switch will lead to Failure. By virtue of his relationship with Abby and everything that happens in and around the town with the Cattle Baronness, Jack eventually comes to the conclusion that Abby is right: you get what you take.
Unfortunately, by adopting this perspective they all Fail to wish gold into existence (which, of course, was always an impossibility) and are stuck with having their futures predicted by the town horse.
It's sad and it's dark, but it fits. If Abby had instead adopted Jack's more "positive" viewpoint then perhaps the wishing would have led to a greater sense of community spirit and a fading desire to believe in superstitions. They would have elevated themselves by holding sway over their own lesser natures.
Unfortunately he didn't, and the lesser of two evils persists. However, this failure is bittersweet as it turns out to be a Good thing for everyone—particularly Abby. Breaking out of one's socio-economic standing is difficult, if not impossible. Standing up and taking what little you can for yourself is sometimes the only thing you can do to feel whole.
Connecting Truth to Heart
By identifying truisms near and dear to my own belief systems, my motivation for writing and completing this story skyrockets. Instead of simply defining the argument to be made to the Audience, I now know what I want to argue to the Audience. Yes, being grateful can lead to a greater sense of community but really, if you want to feel good against an impossible situation you sometimes have to take what you can when you can.
By connecting what I deeply hold true to a solid and well-crafted argument, my story becomes uniquely mine. My beliefs, my experience, my desire to express myself to the greater community drives my heart to connect with yours.
And for that, I will be forever grateful.