Paul Welch

On Fantasy, Writing & the Journey to Publication

Tag Archives: theatre

Time to Update

Hi friends,

I sincerely apologize for not being very active on the blog over the past two months. I’ve been a busy boy – working full-time at a job that gives me tons in tips, rehearsing full-time for a show that’s in the Edmonton and Vancouver Fringe Festival, and launching my own theatre company – Third Street Theatre (www.thirdstreet.ca).

So I have been quite busy, with so many projects on the go. Last count had me at 95 hours/week of work, and I don’t think I’ve had a day off in six weeks. It’s a pretty rigorous and exhausting schedule.

That being said, I have had continued interest from the literary agent in my book, and he is working with me on fixing some of the issues regarding pacing. My only challenge is to grab some time to dedicate to revisiting the manuscript.

I have had a seven month break from the book, which I am sure has given me loads of perspective. I am hoping that in the next couple of months I’ll be able to find a couple of days to really dedicate myself to editing again, so that we might be able to continue on this path.. and hopefully lead to official representation.

There are so many exciting things going on in my life, and the Universe seems to keep sending more projects my way. It’s hard to complain about it (although, I find myself complaining that I am tired, have no time, and no social life.. which isn’t a fun story to be telling all the time).

I can make no guarantees that I will be blogging every day, but I will do my best to write a post now and then – especially as I move forward with editing the manuscript.

All the best, and cheers.

Paul

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What Makes a Good Story?

I have had a very busy year.

A rough estimate would suggest that I have seen over 110 plays in the past 12 months. In a way, it has been fantastic: I have been exposed to so many differing types of stories through the medium of the theatre. In another way, it has been a chore. Most of the shows have been perfectly acceptable pieces of theatre, with a few true “stand-out” pieces. And the elements of those stand-out pieces vary. In some instance, it was the direction, and in others it was design that made it stand above the rest. In yet others, it was the performance – the skill and craft of the actors involved. And in precious few, it was the story – the elegance and execution of a perfectly crafted script.

That definitely gets me thinking: What is it that makes a “good” story so hard to tell?

We can and do spend countless hours trying to understand and master structure. We struggle to perfect the rhythm and the pacing of the piece, and we try to create compelling characters. We throw them into interesting worlds with challenging, believable conflicts, and we hope and pray that we will succeed, that someone will be moved by our work.

So why is it that we so often come short?

I do not have the answers.

I am still learning this myself, and while I have theories, I cannot claim to have true knowledge as to what makes a good story. Indeed, when I read, watch, or experience what I would describe as a “good” story, I often find it challenging to explain why. I find myself saying that it touched me, moved me, excited me, or surprised me. In other instances, it inspired me, sparked something in my imagination that took me to another place, that caused my own ideas to multiply and grow. All good things, but definitely not tangible – and certainly not universal.

The elements of a good story are something I am exceptionally curious about. I do my best to read other people’s take on the subject in an effort to understand what it is, what that magical trick might be, that allows a storyteller to weave a tale that will have an impact.

So I wonder: Can we ever truly master the elements of a good story? Do good stories exist that defy the logic, the “formula,” as it were? And when that happens, why does it happen?

Is it voice? Artistry? A certain je ne sais quoi?

The curiosity lingers.

But we are curious beings, so I can only conclude that this is a good thing.

Have you read any articles that have given you an “ah-ha!” moment when it comes to what makes a good story? What resources have played important roles in the development of your craft? What are some examples of good stories that defy the logic, as it were? Please share your thoughts in the comments below – I’d love to hear them!

Quick Update

Hi friends,

I apologize for being a little MIA lately. I’ve been busy teaching at the college, seeing a ton of local theatre (I’ve pretty much caught all but a few professional shows playing in Calgary this season, and let me tell you – it’s a lot. I’ve seen over 50 productions since September), and trying to get a handle on work for next year. I’ve also been recovering from a couple of colds and a bout of salmonella poisoning. Very not fun.

I’ve also been watching a lot of television – Modern Family, Parks & Recreation, Secret Circle, and re-runs of old episodes of Charmed. It might seem like a lot of slacking off, but in a way it is also research – watching how stories are being put together, how the protagonists and antagonists are defined and developed, and how the conflict unfolds.

And lately, I started picking up books again, too. I don’t read books near as much as I would like to.. it seems like they’re reserved for when I go on holidays, and unfortunately when you’re a professional actor and writer, you can’t really afford to holiday very often. But I’ve been reading The Hunger Games, and I wish I had written this book. I certainly understand the mass appeal, and I am thrilled that it’s a part of the canon.

Regarding my manuscript:

I have received a couple of e-mails back from agents who are interested in my query, but are hesitant to request a partial read of the manuscript due to the size of the book. It is currently sitting at 140,000 words. If you take a gander at my last post, you’ll see that the book was originally 198,000 words long and received some massive cuts. The target for fantasy is 90-120,000 words, and this is what the agents are wanting to see. More of them are suggesting I cut it down to 120k – or preferably 110k – words before they’ll take a peek.

I am also still waiting to hear from the NY literary agent who received the first 110 pages of IN THE SHADOWS OF THE DAWN on January 6th. I am tempted to follow up, to see what he’s thinking, but I’m not ready to rush it just yet.

And I am starting to think about plays again, too. Perhaps it’s time I tackle one of the projects that has been on the back burner to experience a change of pace. To be determined, I guess.

In the meantime, it’s hot yoga and 10km (or 6 miles, for you non-metric types) runs as the city struggles to shed winter and embrace summer.

Have you read any good books (or plays) lately? What’s on your night stand? What are the top television shows that grab your eye? I’d love to hear what you’re up to these days, so please feel free to comment below.

The Joy of a Good Story

Just a quick blog post tonight.

I have just come off a 5-week children’s theatre tour, taking a 50-minute show to Kindergarten-Grade 6 students throughout northern Alberta. I had a blast, even though it was exhausting (picture doing jumping jacks while giving a speech for an hour.) The show took tons of energy, but the pay-off was worth it: excited, happy, transcendent children.

Why did this happen?

Because we’re brilliant, of course. But seriously, the reason why it really did happen is that we were given an incredible script to work from. The story of this play was beautifully constructed, with the perfect amount of exposition leading up to a wonderful inciting incident. Add to that a great rising action, a rewarding climax, and a brief – yet poignant – resolution/denouement, and you’ve got the recipe for success. All we had to do was show up.

Well, not true. We had to show up and get out of the way of the story – and add to it in our own, unique way. In the writing world, this is viewed as ‘voice’ – something that can’t be forced, but happens naturally. The show was a two-hander, and I am fortunate enough that we both had enough faith and trust in each other to surrender wholly to the honesty and authenticity of our own unique voices.

I think the most rewarding thing about sharing a good story is the number of people who will be profoundly affected and changed as a result. This is why I act, and this is why I write. I want the stories I tell to make a difference, and, when I have the chance to do just that, it’s an incredible thing.

Learn about story structure. Figure out what it takes, and why. Understand it. Master it. It will never serve you wrong.

What are some of your all-time favorite stories? Have you ever seen a movie or a play that has had an incredible impact on you? What was it? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.

And a good story? It never goes out of style.

Alchemic Nameology – The Challenge of Fantasy Names

When reading or writing fantasy, we’re often faced with the challenge of character names. Some names roll off the tongue, while others trip us up and become recurring problems throughout the duration of the text.

There’s an expectation in the fantasy genre for names to sound a little heightened – a little more exotic – and if a name is too common, it’s scoffed at and frowned upon. If it’s too complex and missing vowels, it’s equally dismissed as distancing. So we must find the right balance.

Some family friends recently read the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and Stieg Larson’s subsequent books, and most of them commented on the challenge of keeping track of all the similar-sounding names. Far too many character names began with the same letter, or had nearly identical construction with l’s and j’s and b’s. I know I’ve seen similar problems in some fantasy novels (particularly those involving a non-humanoid race), so I understand the complaint.

The names just don’t work. Or rather, they create obstacles for the enjoyment of the story – and that’s never a good thing.

During the beta reads of my novel, I, too, received some feedback that two character names sounded too alike, and it became a challenge keeping track of who’s who.

Both were secondary – or perhaps tertiary – characters, and they appeared in the same locale. In a couple of instances, I even made the mistake of typing the wrong character name – which definitely added to the confusion. In case you were curious, the names were Corella and Corinna. I’ve since changed Corella to something else.

Part of the problem stems from how our brains read English text. Our brains don’t read every single letter. They’re highly efficient (or perhaps lazy) so they try to make sense of the word based on an image-capture of the word. The order of the letters within the word doesn’t seem to matter – the brain gets a “hit,” makes sense of it, and moves on. If you’d like to see for yourself, check out this example at Help.com.

On the flip side of the coin, readers would also comment on a name sounding “too common” – that it would take them out of the mythic realm and send them crashing back to the real world.

We’ve likely all encountered some characters with unpronounceable names, or names that simply roll poorly off the tongue. There has to be a balance. But what is it, and what’s a writer to do?

Fantasy Faction posted an article back in September, 2011, called What’s In A Fantasy Name?, and they brought up some valid observations.

“The temptation is to develop names that are imaginative and unique to the created landscape. That’s a great idea but remember to keep the names pronounceable. Imagine someone reading your work aloud. Will the names detract from the flow of the story? A short common name can often allow for a character’s formal title to be a little more imaginative.”

So how do we go about choosing a name?

Some authors choose historic names or names from mythology, and tweak them – changing the vowel sounds, adding in additional letters here and there, etc. Some will scour foreign-language dictionaries or documents, looking for names that have a specific meaning in another language. Others will seek out names with sounds that evoke the character personality – or the base stereotype or archetype they’re trying to conjure. These are all valid tools, and can lead to some wonderful names.

For me, I look for names that suit the style of my writing. Some cultures in my world have very specific name constructions (and name lineage), while others are vowel-heavy. And as a voice, speech, and text specialist in the theatre, I understand the impact of vowel and consonant sounds, so I tend to make use of them to help underscore or produce meaning. Sometimes it’s effective and sometimes it falls flat. But for the most part, I’m always game to tweak the names until they’re just right.

Have you ever encountered names which turn you off? What are some examples of overly complex names? If you’re a writer, how do you choose your name – and how much does that name define the character for you? Would you be heart-broken if a publisher asked you to change the character name? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.