Even before The Creative Identity existed two ideas were already germinating in my head. I wanted a lovely newsletter and I thought that a small section of the site should be devoted to free downloads. The newsletter thing is on its way and today's the day for a little gift for you writers of fiction.
First off I thought of Really Valuable Downloads, that is, spec letters, a mini proposal, a little synopsis, a checklist, that type of stuff. But then I spoke to my inner circle and got enlightened. We want our writing to be successful and to leap from closeted pages to manuscript-fit-for-an-agent, but sometimes a little light relief can take us places. Thus I sought inspiration within the pages of Aristotle's Poetics and I came to the conclusion that much can be understood by applying his principles of dramatic action.
I had already used parts of Poetics for my PhD. I spoke of the drama intertwined with horror in that section that then became instrumental for Slaughter but there was something else that made an impression on me: Aristotle's splitting down of the constituents of tragedy and explanation of how they create drama once crafted together.
In the introduction to Poetics, the author speaks of epic poetry and tragedy, of comedy and dithyrambic poetry, and while conceding that all of these are modes of imitation (of life), they differ from one another in three respects: the medium, the objects and the manner (or mode) of imitation. Then I had a flick through another favourite of mine, Aristotle's Poetics for Screenwriters, and realised that even a comedy such as Legally Blonde (my own example, not mentioned in this book) contains elements of dramatic action: character, plot, diction, thought, song, spectacle.
Character and plot are the medium of the imitation (and character is subsidiary to the action).
Diction is the manner of the imitation (and it means the expression of the meaning in words).
Thought, song and spectacle are the objects of the imitation (thought is the faculty to say what is possible under given circumstances, while song and spectacle are embellishments).
So, all fine and fair, you may think, but what is this gift I've been talking about? I've devised a deck of inspirational cards which contain all of these principles. Cut out the cards, keep the elements of dramatic action separate, pick one card from each of them and then write a story that includes all the details that the cards have handed you. And if you like to work to spec, I've also included word count prompts so that you cannot say that you don't know how much to write for.
While you do so, please do not get hang up on the proper Aristotelian meanings of all this! The cards are loosely based on Poetics and are not, in any way, rigidly prescriptive. You are not writing a tragedy in verse, you aren't trying for the next Iliad, you're using these prompts in order to think laterally about plot, drama, reversal, recognition and denouement.
Remember that the cards are copyrighted material and that you cannot reproduce, distribute, copy or sell them (and they will come out as a lovely gift set later this year!). Other than this, enjoy!