A Comprehensive Storytelling Guide: Part One
If you poke around Neopia long enough, you’ll quickly discover at least a half dozen good guides on the Storytelling Contest (and at least twice as many not-so-good guides). Some of them can even be found in... you guessed it, the Neopian Times!
“So,” I imagine you’re thinking, “what makes this guide any different? Why would I read this one when I’ve already read those half dozen other good ones and at least twice as many not-so-good ones?” To that, I can only say that I hope to combine all the good information out there on one of Neopia’s finest contests and shed some extra light on the mysteries of not only entering, but winning the Storytelling Contest. This article is divided into two parts for easier digesting. This week, I’ll cover the basics of the contest, the overall plot diagram of the entries, characterization, and tone. Next week, I’ll dive into more detail about progressing the story, making your section stand out, and a few extra tidbits. Let’s go!
The Storytelling Contest starts every Monday about noon NST when the Storyteller posts a beginning. Most of the time, this beginning is written by the Storyteller herself (apparently a rather mysterious, stunning Aisha), though occasionally the contest allows submissions for beginnings. A second part is (usually) posted around 4 pm on Monday; for the rest of the week two parts are posted every day, the first around noon the second around 4 pm.
It’s generally good advice to have your entries in an hour before the next part is supposed to be posted (11 am and 3 pm NST), to give the Storyteller time to edit and code the entries. HOWEVER, this rule is by no means set in stone. If a new part hasn’t gone up and you have an idea, get it typed up and hit submit, regardless of what time it is. You may find yourself disappointed when a new part gets posted while you were writing, but there’s no way to know that a winner had already been chosen.
But, knowing how to submit and when to submit is the easy part. It’s knowing what to submit that snares us all. There are a few rules that should govern ALL of your Storytelling entries, transcending things like what day of the week it is and who the characters are:
1. The Neopets site rules apply to the Storytelling Contest. They’re a bit looser here than they are for, say, the Times, but your entry will still get passed over for things like romance, profanity, and excessive violence.
2. Use proper spelling and grammar. If no one can understand what you’ve written, it can’t progress the story. A few occasional mistakes are okay; the more work the Storyteller has to do to publish your entry the more likely she is to just pick someone else’s. Take a few minutes and proofread before you hit submit!
3. Your section has to progress the story. This is the tricky part of the Storytelling Contest, and I’ll address exactly what it means in Part Two.
Like I said, every entry that you submit should meet these three basic criteria. Now, let’s make things a bit more complicated, shall we?
Days of the Week
This section falls into the “not set in stone” category of rules for the Storytelling Contest. It should be taken as more of a guideline than anything else. Until you’ve racked up a bit of Storytelling experience, I recommend that you stick as close to it as you can.
There are five days to the week. Each day (usually) two parts are posted. According to my amazing math skills, this means that there are ten parts a week, and the story has to begin and end in those ten parts. Since stories usually have a predictable plot line (inciting incident, rising action, climax, falling action) we can map that plot against the days of the week and get a rough idea of what should be happening in each part:
Part One: The beginning. The main characters and the problem (conflict) are introduced.
Part Two: The problem has taken shape. New major characters may be introduced.
Parts Three-Four: The problem develops. This includes complications and “this is bigger than I thought it was” moments. Usually by the end of the fourth part (Tuesday afternoon), the last of the major characters has been introduced, though minor characters may still appear later.
Parts Five-Seven: Characters explore the conflicts. Plot twists are common through these parts. The first hit of a solution develops.
Parts Eight-Nine: The characters have found a solution to the conflict and work toward it. The climax (problem being solved; big bad villain encounter if it’s that kind of story) may appear here or in the final part.
Part Ten: The conclusion. The problem may be resolved here, or the remaining loose ends could be tied up and the aftermath explored.
There are two things to mention in this section, and one of them has already been (mostly) covered. The first is that no new major characters should be introduced after the fourth part or so. Major characters on Wednesday (parts five and six) are occasionally okay, but only if the story doesn’t already have three or four major characters.
The second is very, very important. Your entries should preserve the characterization developed in the previous sections. If a character only speaks in rhyming couplets, you better write his dialogue in rhyming couplets!
It’s worth noting that it’s very difficult to exactly match characterization when multiple writers are working on a story. That is, it’s very hard to get a character’s voice to match exactly the voice the entry before you used. It’s a matter of different writing styles. You should get as close are you possibly can, and never deviate from major character traits like shy, serious, or silly. Diction (word choice) and syntax (sentence structure) may vary from part to part. Do your best to make things match up, but nail the big character traits and you should be okay.
These things are all slightly different concepts, but they’re closely related. They combine to give a story its general feeling. Is it happy, sad, silly, serious? Tone, atmosphere, and mood all contribute to the impressions readers take from stories. Like characterization, they should be adhered to as closely as possible. If a story is silly, don’t try to make it serious on Wednesday afternoon.
Tone comes mostly from the actual writing, and the choices you make: what kind of words you choose to use (for example, “towering” or “tall”), whether your sentences are long or short, etc. You can get a good idea of the tone of the story by paying attention to the kinds of choices the writers of previous entries made and trying to match them.
Atmosphere is applied to the setting of the story and is reflected in your description and how your characters react to their environment. If the atmosphere is sinister, for example, you would choose to use towering (I did mention that these are all closely related, right?) instead of tall. A character would jump at the snap of a twig rather than just turn around to see what made the noise.
Mood concerns emotions, and not just the emotions of the characters. Like the other two, mood is reflected strongly in word choice, but also in the small details of your story, like color. If the Aisha’s dress is red, you’ve set up a slightly different mood than if the Aisha’s dress were, say, yellow.
Like characterization, tone, atmosphere, and mood are difficult to match exactly between writers. Take your impressions of the previous part and stick with them. This isn’t as complicated as I’ve made it sound, so don’t feel afraid. Week 477 has a good example of this in the sections dealing with Mori and Meeka: they’ve been kidnapped, so they’re jumping at noises and quivering in the darkness throughout the story; they don’t suddenly change how they react to their environment, or how they’re feeling about the situation.
Characterization, following the general plot progression, and keeping to the tone/mood/atmosphere of the story are all important aspects to creating winning Storytelling Contest entries: if you read through a few weeks, you’ll find that all of the winning entries have these things. But, if you talk to anyone who’s ever entered, a good deal of their entries also have these things and not all of them won; they also probably didn’t hit the unofficial two wins a week limit. So, what gives?
Your entry kept true to the characters and feel of the story. You proofread for grammar and spelling errors. But, did you progress the story? More importantly, did you progress the story in an interesting way?
This is the trickiest part of the Storytelling Contest, and it will make or break your entries. In Part Two, I’ll cover in detail how to make sure you’re progressing the story and how to make your entry stand out. Until then, good luck Storytelling!