Coming soon: 7 Secrets of Successful Stories

I have just about completed work on a small book which takes some of the principles underling fiction and expands upon them to help writers who may be unfamiliar with my larger book, How Stories Really Work.

I’ve taken some chapters from a free book of mine called 7 Effective Steps to a Better Story and expanded on them, adding some never-before-seen material.

It’s all part of my drive to try to open the eyes of writers to what is possible.

Many writers simply sit down and write, straight from their heads, without pausing to wonder what it is exactly that they are doing, or whether or not they could it better. In fact, there is a great deal of stuff out there which says that they shouldn’t even look to see if there are techniques or pieces of craft which could help them or be used to improve their work, as that is all ‘rules’ and will obstruct them ‘writing from the heart’.

It’s true that there is such a thing as writing from the heart, and it is valuable - but it is also true that there are better ways of writing fiction, and there are worse ways. If writers want to attract more readers, produce more reader satisfaction, create more emotional commitment, generate greater sales, and perhaps end up with a book becoming a classic of its kind, they should spend some time learning what it is that they are doing. Otherwise it is like a musician picking up an instrument and hoping that, just by randomly playing it without any kind of guidance, one day they will be invited to perform in front of an audience or to be part of an orchestra.

Just like in music, there are techniques to learn that work. Not knowing or using them means ending up with fiction that drives readers away or is flat and unattractive, fails to satisfy, frustrates readers, fails commercially and is forgotten rapidly.

There are thousands of stories which have stood the test of time and there are contemporary films and plays which are huge commercial, literary and cinematic successes. Analysing them, as has been done in books like How Stories Really Work, should be able to give us some kind of template or perhaps a series of templates against which to measure what works and what doesn’t.

Projecting a template onto another work shows up ‘shadowy areas’ just like the patches which show up on a medical X-Ray picture. Knowing where these weak spots are would be the beginning of fixing them.

The new book will be called 7 Secrets of Successful Stories and will be available as an e-book soon.

One thing which it particularly focuses on is what characters are. It contains probably the most comprehensive description of the Seven Character Archetypes to date. You might be used to thinking of an 'archetype' as a very typical example of a certain person or thing, as in ‘he was the archetype of the old-style cricket club player'. Or perhaps you think of an archetype as an original which has been imitated, a prototype, as in the ‘archetype of the guitar’.

In Jungian theory, of course, an archetype is a primitive mental image inherited from the earliest human ancestors, and supposed to be present in the collective unconscious of humanity. Elements of all of these are incorporated into what I mean, but this definition comes closest: ’a recurrent symbol or motif in literature, art, or mythology.’

The word comes from the Greek arkhetupon ‘something moulded first as a model’, from arkhe- ‘primitive’ + tupos ‘a model’. And the Seven Character Archetypes are indeed models, from which almost every character in literature has been moulded to some extent, knowingly or unknowingly.