Framing–A Literary Device, or just Gimmick?

Have you ever been brainstorming an idea for a story when something just hits you, and you think, “Man, this is a great idea!” Immediately, you take up a pencil, or power on the second-hand laptop you picked up from that sketchy guy at the mall, and start writing. The words flow and the idea begins to emerge. Only when you’re halfway through do you go back and read what you’ve written, only to say, “Hmmm…this story about a boy that goes to wizard school to fight an ultimate evil sounds vaguely familiar…”18lt1cjz93obajpg

No matter how original your idea, chances are someone has beaten you to it first. That doesn’t mean you should give up. In fact, take it as a challenge to write someone else’s idea, but with your own spin.

In that vein, I give you “Framing.” I’m sure there is a proper term for this technique, but I’ve been unable to find it (if anyone knows it, please leave me a note in the comments). What is framing? Think of it in terms of filmmaking. When a director or cinematographer sets up a shot for a scene, the frame that scene with the camera. In other words, it is what the camera is pointing at.

How does that work for fiction? Well, think of it as shifting the focus of an idea in such a way that you can explore well-trodden literary ground but still have a fresh angle on it.

For example, let’s say you would like to write a story about aliens. Well, you will be hard-pressed to come up with something that hasn’t been done to death on Syfy, or by the plethora of sci-fi writers since 1950. What to do? Frame the story a different way. Rather than concentrate on the aliens, turn the camera to one of the people indirectly experiencing the alien invasion.

alien-outside-car1At this point, the “camera” isn’t even looking at the aliens. They are just in the background. Your story now focuses on characters that are only indirectly affected by the main action. Instead, the story may focus on the love story happening in the midst of the alien invasion.

For me, this helps me to avoid writer’s block. Instead of trying to come up with a brand new alien story, I instead just dig into the human condition (which is fresh no matter how many times we write about it) and search for the stories that are universal amidst a story that isn’t.

This is the same approach many “indie” stories and films take in order to skew the angle at which they attack a cliched story idea. So, go ahead and brainstorm all you like about werewolves, artificial intelligence, aliens, time traveling, and superheroes. Once you’ve settled on an idea you want to explore, shift the focus and frame the story in a way that makes it more universal, and therefore unique to you as you tell it.

Write on!

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Cognitive Biases–How they affect your writing

Writing Wranglers and Warriors

PortraitThis post is by Craig Snider.

When we write, we are attempting to capture the essence of some part of the human experience. Even when our characters are animals, they serve to highlight some aspect of human nature that is brought out in relief against an animal existence. To do so, it requires the writer to have a strong grasp on psychology, both of other people, and of themselves. Writers must always be examining people, their motivations, their fears, their desires, and anything and everything that will shed light on why people behave the way they do, to ensure their writing is as accurate to real life as possible.

In that way, writers are amateur psychologists and anthropologists, mining the human mind for the ethos, pathos, and logos that determine behavior. One of those aspects of human psychology a writer must consider is our innate cognitive biases.

Wikipedia says…

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The Return…

sunset-summer-golden-hour-paul-filitchkinHave you ever heard the phrase, “absence makes the heart grow fonder?” Probably not, but I have, ’cause I’m worldly like that. And, for the most part, it feels true. Right? I mean, have you ever spent so much time with someone you just couldn’t stand to be around them anymore? I know I have. But, then when they are gone for an extended period of time, you begin to miss their annoying presence, you miss the little things they did that made you want to claw your face off.

This is how I feel about writing. I’ve taken an extended leave from writing these past couple of years. I became distracted, as I often do, by another creative endeavor, but one I now feel became more a source of consternation than creation. The benefit of such an event though has realigned my objectives. Continue reading

Art Exorcsim, or: How I learned to stop worshipping celebrity and start loving the art

Writing Wranglers and Warriors

Portrait

This post by Craig Snider

I have blogged before about Author (Artist) Intent versus Reader (Audience) Response. I won’t rehash that here, but it does lead me into another aspect of that argument. The nature and responsibility of the artist.

We live in a culture obsessed with celebrity. In a world of talking heads, celebrities float among them, dishing out supposed words of wisdom and beatitudes. Why do we listen to them?

Perhaps we have begun to elevate the artists above the art. I’m as guilty as the rest, if not more so. I’m the first to jump on Wikipedia and explore the past, present, and current love life of any actor, director, writer, musician, or other such interesting persona, especially the crazy ones (lookin’ squarely at you Cruise and Lebouf). I have this overpowering need to know more about the person responsible for creating something I love so much…

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L is for Laughter

Writing Wranglers and Warriors

Portrait

This post by Craig Snider.

When I think back on all the best books, movies, and stories I’ve ever been exposed to, there is one thing that stands out no matter what the genre may have been. Since you’ve already read the title, you know what that thing is.

Why is it that laughter has such an impact on us? Simple. Our brains are hardwired to reward certain behaviors, like food, sex, laughter, and anything that releases endorphins. Because, when we get right down to it, our brains are like a spoiled little three year old on sugar-crack that throws a tantrum until it gets what it wants. And, when it gets what it wants, it gives you a treat to

“Oh, banana. You so funny.”

keep those things coming. Okay, so it is more like a drug dealer that will hurt you unless you try their stuff, then you…

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Mysterious Stranger

Stranger

Mysterious Stranger

If he’d known it was his last night, he wouldn’t have stayed so late at the office, working a proposal he knew would get denied. Work filled the gap left by an obvious lack of friends, family, or love interests. He didn’t mind so much, but if he’d known dying was on the agenda, he would have made some changes.

He had rushed to get home after work to watch the last episode of Pushing Daisies. It was an old show, but he’d never seen it, and he wanted to find out how it all came out. The thought of never being able to touch the person you love? How terrible. Though, he never touched anyone, much less someone he loved, so he supposed he could relate. This thought had occupied his mind so completely he didn’t notice the shadowed figure as he topped the stairs to the platform. For a moment, neither of them moved. Though the air hung slack around them, the figure’s hair flowed languorously, as if submerged in water. It was a woman in black clothes. Yet, the harder he looked at her, the more she faded. Every time he blinked, she was that much nearer. As she approached, the air around him began to chill, then turned to ice, his breath bursting out in steaming jets.

Now that she was close, her face mere inches from his own, he could see her eyes, a deep shade of blue, the entire eye. Her blue lips touched upon his, freezing them at their touch. In those last few, wonderful moments of the kiss, and his life, as he sank into darkness, he wished he had known. He would have brushed his teeth.

I Am a Closet Narcissist…Or a Writer. Either One. Maybe Both…

“Ooh, I look like a writer!”

All writers are Narcissists. I mean come on. We put our thoughts down on paper, sometimes loosely camouflaged as a story, send it off and expect people to pay us money for it. Would you pay the homeless guy that hangs out under the bridge money to know what he thinks about the world? Probably not. How are writers any more qualified than lives-under-the-bridge-Paco? Well, they probably aren’t. Sure, some of you are bristling, saying “but I put a lot of time into my characters, and really researched this or that.” Yeah? Well, Paco’s been living under a bridge for the last four damn years. I bet he could write stories that would strip the spray-on tan off a Kardashian. Continue reading