Old Geeky Greeks:  

Write Stories using Ancient Techniques

Here’s a List for You ~

Blood tragedies.

public domain image, sketch may be viewed at the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C.
Perseus displaying Medusa’s head: sketch by John Singer Sargent for his 1902 sculpture

Atonement.

I, Robot.

Harry Potter.

Ironman.

Hubris.

The 13th Warrior.

The scariest woman in all literature.

The Hobbit.

Dudley Dooright.

5 Stages of the Hero . . . and the Monster.

Jurassic Park, in all its iterations.

What do the items in this oddly-matched list have in common?

These stories all have origins with the ancient Greeks and Romans.

Sitting around fires after a day of hunting and gathering, the first writers developed techniques to influence their audiences. 

Those techniques have thousands of years of use and still hold true for capturing audiences.

The ancient Greeks (and Romans) of classical antiquity viewed the stories and dramas that were enduring.  And just like writers today, they searched and defined and classified the best techniques to create writings that pleased their audiences.

These old geeky Greeks laid the foundations.  Many of their techniques are still in use. Ideas original to them are re-packaged as glittery infographics and Wham-Pow webinars and three-point seminars with exclusive insights to Buy Now!

Clear and Quick Information

Old Geeky Greeks: Write Stories with Ancient Techinques presents such ideas as the Blood Tragedy and dulce etutile in a clear, organized method for writers who want to write rather than invest hours getting three snippets of information.

Chapters in OGG cover understanding characters to the five stages that established the modern protagonist from the ancient hero.  Aristotle’s requirements for plot precede a survey of the oldest plot formula, the Blood (or Revenge) Tragedy.  Concepts such as in medias res and dulce et utile can help writers solve sticky problems and develop new ideas.

Old Geeky Greeks (and Romans) looked at successful plays and other story-telling methods to determine what influenced the audience.

  • Which characters were still talked about weeks and months after a performance?
  • Which play structures failed—and which were consistently winners?
  • And which ideas helped writers develop their celebrated writings?
Writers today are still searching for the answers to these questions.

The bright minds of Classical Antiquity first explored these questions.  Their answers are applicable even in the age of the internet, open-source software, special effects, and infographics.

Aristotle, Seneca, Plato, Horace, and many other ancient geeks have their ideas matched to Harry Potter, Avatar, Last of the Mohicans, and Shakespeare.

Whether we’re writing novels or plays, blogs or non-fiction, poems and songs, Old Geeky Greeks (written by M.A. Lee and Emily R. Dunn) is a seminar in 28,000 words, just published on Amazon Kindle.

Buy it here!

John Singer Sargent’s sketch for his sculpture of Perseus

with Medusa’s head, provides the cover art for OGG.

 

Join Writers’ Ink in 2017 as we explore characters and plot through archetype.

There are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before.

 ~ ~ Willa Cather

A Definition

What is an Archetype?  It’s a chief type ~ a pattern or mold or model.

These are patterns, elements for the artist to use or ingredients for the cook.

The glory of the archetype :: it’s the basic form we can use when we start structuring our stories.

Why should we use Archetype?

When we understand the pattern—the archetype—then we can manipulate it—add/subtract, multiply/divide.

  • We are not going to write stereotypes.
  • Archetypes are the basic foundation—a basic technique to build a landscape or portrait or a basic recipe to center a dinner.

A writer is like an artist.

  • All artists learn basic drawing techniques: cross-hatching, smudging, scrumbling, stippling >> symmetry, depth perception, negative space.
  • Just because an artist knows and understands the techniques does not mean her drawings will always look the same.

Or consider the cook who actually wants to reproduce similar results with a recipe except as they tweak the flavors.

  • In building a meal, however, certain dishes reproduce their recipes.  Other dishes will showcase the cook’s ingenuity.
  • The guests, the drinks, the place settings, the table decorations, and the atmosphere—all of these mix together in different ways to create a unique dining experience.

So with Archetypes.

Writers build story frameworks with these patterns.  They then add concepts and personal techniques and skills.  The broad strokes of archetypes may seem simplistic, but apple pie with a lattice top is still a great dessert.

Archetype Dwells in the Audience’s Mind

Archetype of the Ruler and the Sage
Is King Arthur the Ruler or the Warrior archetype? Is Merlin the Magician or the Sage?

As part of his theory of the Collective Unconscious, Carl Jung said that the human mind over the millennia developed expectations in life and in story.  He propounds three significant areas:

  • Events: birth, separation from parents, marriage . . . .
  • Figures: sage, rebel, ruler . . . .
  • Motifs: creation, deluge, apocalypse . . . .

Jung gives us the 12 Character Archetypes.

  1. Innocent
  2. Orphan
  3. Warrior
  4. Protector (caregiver)
  5. Creator
  6. Destroyer (rebel)
  7. Seeker (explorer)
  8. Lover
  9. Ruler
  10. Sage
  11. Magician
  12. Fool (jester)

We will examine these 12 Character Archetypes before we launch into story structure.

After all, it’s the people who drive our stories, and it’s the people who engage our audience and bring them back.

Next Blog on Jan. 15, discussing background:  the 4 Who’s Who in the Development of Archetypes.  Very dry.

~~M. A. Lee

Socrates challenges our thought processes:  “I only know that I know nothing,” he famously said.

Plato challenges our view of the world.  He chains us in a cave and tells us that we see only shadows.

Aristotle challenges everything.

He wrote volumes upon volumes on physics, biology, botany, agriculture, mathematics, logic, politics, ethics, dance, and theatre . . . to name a few.  😉

Plato called Aristotle “the mind of the school”, and so he must have been.  On all topics he classified and categorized and defined, creating some of the first systems of understanding.

Aristotle on Plot Structure

Much like Freytag (see the previous blog “One Guiding Decision”), Aristotle viewed plot from a dramatic standpoint.  He didn’t initiate the structure.  Instead, he analyzed the best plays–by Sophocles, d. 406 BCE; Euripides, d. 406 BCE;  and Aeschylus, d. 456 BCE–all three of whom preceded him by two or three generations.  These three are the masters of ancient Greek drama, and their intuitive understanding of great story can affect us just as strongly over 2,000 years later.

To Aristotle, the great dramas required 5 essentials:

 

The continuation of this original blog post from  30 November 2016 can be found in the publication Think Like a Writer: 7 Tips to Change a Hobby to a Professionby M. A. Lee.

 

White-hot writing–not worrying about plot or characters, just letting the story flow–now that is fun!

At some point, however, that flashover of creativity has to be restrained.  We need to impose order on chaotic thought.

Your Guiding Decision is to determine your PLOT.

Two considerations when dealing with plot are type and method.

TYPES of PLOT

The Booker Prize people claimed that—for all the stories in the world, from the most ancient myth to the most disaffected absurdist modern—only seven basic plots exist.

Seven.  7.  Nyah, can’t be.

Let’s try it.

  1. Overcoming the MonsterBeowulf, Jaws, Lord of the Flies, King Lear, Alien, Fried Green Tomatoes, Atonement
  2. Rags to RichesCinderella, Aladdin, Oliver Twist, Great Gatsby, Prince and the Pauper, Good Deeds, Pretty Woman
  3. The QuestOdyssey, Watership Down, Raising Arizona, Willow, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Avatar, Pride and Prejudice
  4. Comedy: anything by Aristophanes, anything by the Marx Brothers, Airplane, The Blues Brothers, Animal House, A Walk in the Woods, Arsenic and Old Lace, Bringing Up Baby
  5. TragedyOedipus, Macbeth, Rebel without a Cause, Frances, Philadelphia, Cool Hand Luke, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?
  6. RebirthSleeping Beauty, Beauty and the Beast, A Christmas Carol, Now Voyager, Summertime, Avatar, Persuasion
  7. Voyage and Return: Peter Rabbit, The Hobbit, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, Brideshead Revisited, Mansfield Park, Great Expectations, The Tempest

Whaddya know?  The Booker Prize people are right.  Whether concrete or abstract, real or metaphorical, all sorts of stories do fit these seven categories.

Methods for Plotting

Method 1

Every school unfortunately teaches simplistic plot, otherwise known as Freytag’s Pyramid, which can look like the graphic at the left.

The unfortunate truth is that stories are not simple pyramids.

For Kurt Vonnegut, his stories go straight down.

Method 2 . . . .

The continuation of this original blog post from  20 November 2016 can be found in the publication Think Like a Writer: 7 Tips to Change a Hobby to a Profession, by M. A. Lee.

Challenge : Deadlines

NANOWRIMO, the National Novel Writing Month, is the internationally infamous writing challenge to churn out 50,000 words in a month, and writers do it with deadlines.

This yearly challenge is the opportunity to create a new life for ourselves, a writing life.  NANOWRIMO is a time to stop thinking of writing as a hobby and resolve to turn it into a profession, to create a New Advent.

WHO Needs to Participate?

The challenge provides a great exercise for all writers.  We should participate at least once in our writing life.  If we feel burned out, the white-hot drive of creativity will recharge us—after it drains us.  For the total newbies, NANOWRIMO forces us to work past what we think is our stopping point and teaches us how to do that.

This opportunity is especially helpful to writers stuck between hobby and job.  It’s not limited to fiction;  bloggers can benefit.  Through constant deadlines we must push to achieve, we learn self-discipline.  NANOWRIMO also touches on the many areas needed when writing stories.

WHERE to Start?

Consider these 4.

  1. Characters :: get to know the primaries. How are they going to collide?
  2. Situation :: understand the remote and near causes and effects of major events.
  3. Plot :: How will you pace the story? Many writers talk about scenes and segues or the III-Act structure.  Basically, you should know the start and the end and 5 twists between (Plot 7).  These will get you going.
  4. Research :: Special settings. Special elements (steam machines, zeppelins, etc).  Know how the things work.

If you haven’t done any of this, if you don’t even have a story prepped, just start writing and go.  As scenes develop, put them where they need to be in the sequence.  This sounds like the free-est possibility of all.  Make yourself have a deadline of the Plot 7 by the tenth of the month.

WHAT to Do?

The continuation of this original blog post from  10 November 2016 can be found in the publication Think Like a Writer: 7 Tips to Change a Hobby to a Profession, by M. A. Lee.