Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Mastering the Art of Imitation and Enhancement

From the moment we were born, imitation has been our first response to learning. 

We hear a sound and attempt to repeat. We imitate laughter that pleases us (notice small children have several different laughs before they stick with one). We see an object, are told it is a tree, then are shown a similar object and know it, too, is a tree.

Even in respect to our Christian life, God set up rules but knew we needed someone to imitate. God sent His Son, Jesus to not only be our Savior, but to demonstrate God's ideas, laws, and intentions for us. We are told to be imitators of Christ for a reason. Because when we do, we are meeting the standard intended for us.

The best way to become great or accomplished is to first imitate those who have been great or accomplished before us. 

This rule can, oddly enough, be done in many ways. For example: I remember hearing one of those behind the scene stories telling how Paul Simon from Simon and Garfunkel or Paul McCartney from the Beetles walked the streets of New York one morning. He heard a bird's song and liked it. The melody stuck with him the rest of the day. From that bird's song, he wrote one of his group's best selling melodies.

The second step is to enhance what we have witnessed and make it our own.

The songwriter didn't write the melody exactly like the bird's song. He used the melody as a base, then added his own ideas to form the words and tune he performed. The performing group Stomp does the same. They hear rhythms in the city and country and compose rhythmic music.

One day I walked out of a hotel elevator and rounded the corner toward my room. As I did a man past me. He went to the elevator but missed getting on. How did I know? A musical sound came as the doors closed. He imitated the notes with a whistle. The first time he tried the sound didn't match. He tried again three times then seemed satisfied with what he did. Later that day, I walked back toward the elevator. From the alcove ahead of me, I heard the same whistle, this time, the man added notes and made a little melody. I stayed out of sight to listen, knowing he'd probably stop if he saw me. The short tune was nice to hear.

Several years ago, a writing contest judge told me what she felt was the main problem with my writing. "You need to read more in your genre. Imitate what other successful writers are doing." Ahh, these were good words. 

This was only step one, though. Because once I imitated, I needed to enhance what I saw to make it mine.
My daughter's third grade rendition of
Vincent VanGogh's painting, Starry Night
(I couldn't legally download a copy of the real thing
If you want to see it, click here

Think of famous paintings. 

Vincent VanGogh's Starry Night is not the image we would see with our eyes or take a picture of with our cameras. Yet, he started with the imitation of something we the viewers knew and enhanced it with a deeper meaning to produce his work of art. 

This is what our stories need to do. We cannot create something from nothing, like God. But we can imitate to provide a link for our readers then enhance the story to form our unique, rich work of art.

Literary researchers have found that in all the stories that exist, there are only seven main plots. Imagine a single large oak tree with only seven main branches. From those branches are many smaller branches, twigs, and leaves. The seven main plots are:

1. Overcoming the monster
2. Rags to riches
3. The Quest
4. Voyage and Return
5. Comedy
6. Tragedy
7. Rebirth

The story we write forms a smaller branch growing from one of these seven main branches forked from a single tree trunk call fiction. 

Can you place some famous stories into one of the seven on this list? Sure. Cyclops, Cinderella, Robinson Crusoe, Lord of the Rings, Romeo and Juliet, etc. 

Which of the seven plot does your story imitate? 

Once you figure out which of the seven main plots your story matches, you can read stories that are in that category and snatch some ideas to enhance your story and morph them to fit your work. 

Consider all the stories that have rags to riches story idea like Cinderella. I'm not talking about Cinderella remakes. The Beverly Hillbillies is one. The backwoods hunter goes out one day, shoots at what he thought was a critter. Up from the ground came black oil. The oil company paid them millions. They moved from their shack to Beverly Hills. An entire television show was built around this comedic idea.

What can you see to imitate from a story in your category? How can you enhance the idea to make it unique and appropriate to your story?

This is a great tool to use when you need help deepening your story. 

I can't wait to read your comment!

Photo Courtesy: - modified for this purpose

If you found any typos in today's post...sorry about that. 

Mary has moved to Michigan with her husband, closer to her three college kids. She misses the mountains of Montana, but loves seeing family more often. She writes young adult mystery/adventure Christian fiction, is honing marketing and writing skills, and loves to pen missionary and Bible adventure stories on her ministry blog, God Loves Kids.

Visit Mary at her website and her ministry blog to families: God Loves Kids. Or chat on Facebook or Twitter


Sue Coletta said...

Love your explanation of this! It's so true, especially about reading in your genre. There's no better way to learn what works and what doesn't.

Mary Vee Writer said...

Thanks Sue!
I regret that I hadn't figured this out earlier, but am glad I do now. What an amazing difference it has made in my writing.

Unknown said...

Great post, Mary! I also agree that reading in your genre is so important. As a writer (and also in life) we are never too experienced to keep learning from what others are doing. Thanks for that reminder. Blessings.

Mary Vee Writer said...

Thanks, Janice. Recognizing the benefits is one of the first steps, right?

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

I love your take on the seven main plots. So interesting. Nothing is new under the sun... and yet our stories are each unique.

Anonymous said...

This is so helpful...kind of feeling lost with my own WIP which is a sequel. Thinking perhaps I need a good edit of the first book to rediscover the heart of the story I have yet to finish.