Skip to main content

The Notion of Belonging in creative writing

A few months ago I spoke to a class of senior English students about the "notion of belonging" in creative writing. I was told by the head English teacher that "the notion of belonging" forms part of the curriculum so the students would be graded on this subject.

I sat down and thought about this notion of belonging in creative writing and this is the table I came up with to explain it.




Stage 1. The real (or common) sense of belonging

Stage 2. The real (or common) sense of not belonging

Stage 3. The perception of belonging vs the perception of not belonging

Stage 4. The perception of not belonging vs the perception of belonging

Stage 5. The act of belonging

Stage 6. The act of not belonging

What does the above table really mean?

It means that the sense of "belonging" or "not belonging" dictates how a character or characters behave.
These behaviours are typical of all characters whether they are human, alien, or animal. Fiction is based on a character overcoming an obstacle or challenge; therefore the character/s must change their perception somewhere in the story and move from one box to another. Happy ending stories will spend more time in the box they start in and shift to the opposite box by the end of the story. Tragic ending stories should move quickly out of the box they begin in, spend more time in another box, and then (possibly) move back to the beginning box by the end of the story.

Here are some explanations of the six stages:

Stage 1. The real (or common) sense of belonging
Example: a cop walks into a crime scene. The cop and the people at the crime scene agree that each character belongs at the setting. Therefore they act as we’d expect them to.

Typical behaviours of the cop: empathetic, driven, analytical, inquiring, efficient.
Typical behaviours of the other characters: cordial, efficient, helpful, compassionate.

This is generally where a lot of stories end up. If all the characters are acting as if they belong at the beginning of the story, it should be changed quickly otherwise there is no obstacle/challenge.

Stage 2. The real (or common) sense of not belonging
Example: a clown walks into a crime scene. The clown and the people at the crime scene all agree that the clown doesn’t belong. Suddenly nobody acts as they do in the first setting.

Typical behaviours of the clown: wary, frightened, on edge, defensive.
Typical behaviours of the other characters: suspicious, offensive, angry.

In The Hunger Games, the main characters and the readers know they don’t belong in the arena. Some characters fall into other sections as they have different perspectives. Eg. the Career Tributes believe they belong there and the people of the Capital believe the kids belong there for their entertainment. The main character refuses to conform by helping another Tribute.  This helps the lead character change other’s perceptions. A satisfying ending.

Stage 3. The perception of belonging vs the perception of not belonging
Example: a cop walks into a crime scene however the cop perceives that he belongs but the people at the crime scene don’t. Maybe the cop’s partner was killed on duty due to suspicious circumstances and the other characters believe his partner’s death is his fault.

Typical behaviours of the cop: confident, arrogant, bossy.
Typical behaviours of the other characters: resentful, reluctant to help, insubordinate, derisive, challenging, spiteful.

In Interview With The Vampire, the main character wants to die therefore he believes that he belongs to death. A vampire disagrees and instead gives him a second life. He attempts to change his sorrowful view that he should be dead and attempts to be a typical vampire, but in the end all he ends up doing is convincing a mortal that his vampiric life is to be coveted so he returns to believing that he belongs to death. This is a tragic ending in that he didn’t convert everyone into believing he didn’t belong to death.

Stage 4. The perception of not belonging vs the perception of belonging
Example: a cop walks into a crime scene however the cop perceives that he doesn’t belong but the people at the crime scene don’t agree. Maybe the cop’s partner was killed on duty while they rescue 50 people from a hostage situation. Everyone thinks he’s a hero and only he knows that he was drunk at the time so his partner’s death is his fault.

Typical behaviours of the cop: sloppy, dishevelled, moody, depressed, guilt-ridden
Typical behaviours of the other characters: helpful, encouraging, grateful, in awe, inspired

In One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, the main character enters a mental asylum for a break from hard labour. Throughout the book he is adamant that he doesn’t belong there. In fact he is adamant that none of the inmates belong there. The head nurse disagrees. He causes trouble and does everything he can to get the inmates to revolt. His actions get a few inmates to realise they’re better off away from the head nurse’s iron rule, but his actions also get another inmate killed. In the end, the sense of belonging is forced upon him when he is given a lobotomy by the head nurse. A tragic ending.
In Harry Potter, his relatives make it clear he doesn’t belong, at Hogwartz many other characters make it clear he doesn’t belong. His friends disagree. Harry remains neutral through most of the book because if Harry was to spend too much time believing that he didn’t belong, it would be the end of the story.


Stage 5. The act of belonging
Example: a kid at school acts as if he belongs with the in crowd and everyone acts as if he belongs, yet the moment the doors are closed his true character is revealed because he knows he doesn’t belong. This is typically for novels and movies as it shows sub levels. Short stories rarely have time to get to this depth.

Typical behaviours of the kid behind closed doors: nervous, sweaty, fidgety, stressed, out of character
In Not A Penny More, Not A Penny Less, the main characters have to steal money from a man who swindled them. They disguise themselves and create fake situations to rob this man. The characters must act as if they belong in the environment they’ve created, but this places pressure on them. They manage to keep it together long enough to get their money, but one character is bordering on breaking. They get the money so it’s a happy ending.
 
Stage 6. The act of not belonging
Example: a kid at school acts tough or apathetic, as though he doesn’t belong or care about school and the teachers and other kids agree, however behind closed doors his true character is revealed because what he really wants is to be accepted. This is suitable for novels and movies as it has many sub levels. Short stories rarely have time to get to this depth.

Typical behaviours of the kid behind closed doors: caring, industrious, helpful, out of character
In Stormbreaker (Alex Rider series), the main character is 14 years old and reluctantly recruited to the spy world when his uncle dies. The other spies at training resent his presence and make it known. This changes when he helps one of the spies at a training exercise. As with Harry Potter, if the character also becomes convinced that he doesn’t belong, then the story is over. He can briefly experience this sensation, but he must move quickly into proving that he does belong.


Putting this into practice
If you're writing a story, or even if you've got a great idea but you're stuck on how to start it, one trick you can do is place your character in one of the boxes and move them within the first few pages into another box.

Remember that many stories will move around the boxes and that's perfectly normal, too. Just think about a normal day in the life of a normal person who wakes up thinking they belong in one place and then a set of circumstances shifts them into a place where they don't belong. What do they do? Do they act like everything is normal, do they act like they've been treated unfairly, do they act like everyone else is right and they're wrong. Whatever they do, you can now see how behaviours are dictated by a character's notion of belonging.

Good luck!

I'd love to hear some other examples of where you've identified a character's notion of belonging and how that dictated their behaviour. Drop me a line in the comment box.




ABOUT THE AUTHOR

D L Richardson is the author of speculative fiction. She has three teen novels and one short story anthology published. Her first novel reached number 2 at OmniLit and number 38 at Kobo Books. Her second reached number 1 at OmniLit. Little Red Gem is her third novel and recently won 2nd place Best Books of 2013 Paranormal Cravings. She lives in Australia on the NSW south coast with her husband and dog.


Contact information

Email                   dlrichardsonbooks@bigpond.com 
Blog           www.dlrichardsonwrites.blogspot.com
Website          www.dlrichardson.com Facebook      http://goo.gl/560JXl  
Twitter              www.twitter.com/#!/DLRichardson1

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Latest news! I've signed up to write a post-apoc series

When I started writing, I had one set goal: to become a prolific author. At the time I was into reading Stephen King and Dean Koontz, and I wanted to write books, lots of them. 

Now I have that chance. After writing, publishing, and promoting 10 books, I've signed up to to write a series of post-apocalyptic fiction books for Mission Critical Publishing. The reason I signed up was simple. They're innovative. The publishing industry today is fast and fluid. 



I've agreed to write 3 books in 6 months. Each book will be around 60,000 words when completed. I'll need to become a writing machine. To accomplish this I'll need to do 2 things:




#1 Write fast



The only way for me to write fast is to write an overview of the entire book (or series). This can be one page per book. Then I write dots points that become the chapters. Complications, conflicts, solutions, all fit into these chapters.


Then I set a daily word count. I'm now at the stage where, provided I know what I'…

Top 10 Australian independent magazines for teenage girls

First up, I have to say that there aren't 10 blog/magazines listed, only 9. I couldn't find 10 so if you know of any please please please let me know who they are so I can include them on this list.

Flicking through the internet for stories is a bit like flicking through a pile of magazine clippings on the floor. It can be fun putting everything you want to read together in one pile, but after a while you might want to sit in a chair and have that pile put together in more manageable fashion for you to read, say maybe like the magazines or blogs the articles were cut out of.

Okay, that's enough of that analogy. This article is about finished product of blogs and magazines that compile together a host of articles on subjects a reader is interested in. I'm featured ten nine Australian independent magazines both virtual and tangible which I came across during one of my wild searches through hundreds of internet sites.

Magazines have really taken a bashing over the past decad…

Earth Quarantined virtual book tour Nov 15-30, 2018

It’s almost release day for Earth Quarantined, a new alien occupation fiction novel by the author of Welcome to the Apocalypse.
If you like alien occupation fiction, then this book is for you. It’s like ‘The Expanse’ but played out on Earth. Aliens brought peace to Earth and promised us the technology for interstellar travel. 300 years later and they still haven't given us this technology. They're lying to us. What they don’t know is that we’re lying to them...

Follow this virtual book tour for a chance to win Amazon giftcard. Follow to read excerpts and guest posts and book reviews.
Let's meet the blog hosts and reviewers?

REMINDER - THE EBOOK IS ON SALE FOR $2.99 UNTIL NOV 30
DOWNLOAD YOUR COPY HERE


http://www.books2read.com/EarthQuarantined

Nov 15 Sapphyria's Books (excerpt) Boundless Book Reviews (excerpt) The BookWorm Drinketh (excerpt + review) The Bookworm Lodge (excerpt)
Nov 16 Casey Moss Books (excerpt + guest post) Jazzy Book Reviews (excerpt) Readeropolis (excerpt + inter…