STORYTELLING AND WHY I WRITE
by Ken Farmer
Please welcome Ken Farmer to the Writers Journey Blog this week with his thoughts on storytelling and why he writes!
STORYTELLING What is a story? Storytelling is the oldest form of communication/education/healing in the history of mankind, dating back to the “storyteller” (the shaman) around the campfires of prehistoric or primitive villages. The stories painted or drawn on the walls of caves in petroglyphs, on animal skins and in the oral tradition, were man’s first form of education, communication, entertainment and healing, far predating the written word. Mankind has a need for storytellers that is almost as great as his need for love.
How do we tell a story? All stories have a sequence of events—one thing happened first, one thing happened second, and so on. Who tells the story? The writer? No. The narrator? No. The characters? Yes. The writer must create his characters, get the hell out of the way and let them tell the story. Stories are told by and through the characters by visualization and by coloring the events with emotions. This is why we start a novel with the story…not the backstory or a colorful description of the sunset or the weather…the STORY, beginning with the first line. If you can’t get the reader on the train ... they’ll never make the trip.
Drama is anticipation mixed with uncertainty. Without conflict, there is no drama. Every scene must have conflict. Give the audience 2 + 2. Don’t give them 4. Storytelling has guidelines not hard fast rules.
A story should start off with a well-told "promise", like a hook or sales pitch.
- Characters should have "spines" & itches they're always trying to scratch.
- Change? is fundamental; life is never static.
Writing has rules just like painting and acting … Know the rules and know how and when to break them.
- Strong unifying theme
- Sense of wonder
What is it about a story that matters to you? In self-publishing, we can make our own schedule, but it still takes THREE BOOKS—MINIMUM. I know there are exceptions, but most self-published successes hit at about book three. The ability to offer multiple titles is a huge part of why John Locke became successful. It's why it is critical to keep writing. Not only will writing more books make you a better writer, but once people discover they love your writing, they have a number of titles to purchase. Being able to offer multiple titles is how we make money at self-publishing. Even I am putting my nose to the grindstone to come out with more books in the next six months. I have written 41 novels in less than ten years. I don’t tell other writers to do anything that, I myself, am unwilling to do.
How does story distinguish itself from all those other elements of storytelling, such as description, narrative, grammar, characterization? Isn’t it all those things rolled into one? I don’t think so. Story is the underlying journey that words and images travel to unveil an adventure, an emotion, a history, a tale. As a writer, I like to visualize my story like watching a movie as I press those keys. I just watch and listen, then write down what the characters say and do.
Of course, story will change and fluctuate, morph and undulate as you go along. But, whether you’re a writer or a filmmaker, the reason you initially decided to focus your time and imagination into the context of a book is because you had a story to tell. If you’re a reader, you’re looking for a story whose images will stay with you long after you put the book down. And if it’s well told, meaning you have sucked the reader inside … all the better.
A great story is not the words you wrote on the page…but, the story you made the reader see, hear feel, taste and smell.
WHY DO I WRITE? After I retired from the film business. I still had that creative itch. My friend, Buck Stienke, read some of my screenplays and asked how much it would cost to do one. He like one I adapted from a Leslie Jordan stage play, ROCKABILL BABY, and asked how much it would cost to do it. I told him and he said, “Let’s do it.” He produced and I directed the screenplay I had written. Rockabilly Baby won a few awards, but did not achieve any distribution.
A friend of mine from the Marine Corps called when he found out we had produced a movie I had adapted, and asked if we could adapt a novel he had written into a screenplay. I said sure ... send it down. He sent a 730-page novel, some 350,000 words. I said, “Why the hell didn’t you just send War and Peace? I told him he wouldn’t like it. He asked why, I said you’ve got 350,000 words here. A screenplay is around 25,000 words...do the math. We’re going to cut stuff you love. Long story short, he said go ahead. We converted his novel, ‘A Verdict in Search of a Crime’, into a 2-hour screenplay in twelve weeks. It’s still making the rounds at Disney.
Buck and I looked at each other and said, “Hell, we can write a novel.” Twelve weeks later we finished a military action novel, ‘Black Eagle Force: Eye of the Storm’. It was published and went to #1 in Military action on Amazon. The problem was it took the publishing company a year to publish. We figured that since we already had a production company, Timber Creek Productions, we could expand that to Timber Creek Press, and publish novels. We wrote two other novels while they were publishing the first...We fired them, re-released Black Eagle Force: Eye of the Storm, plus released the second of eight in the series, Black Eagle Force: Sacred Mountain, and the first western...The Nations. It was based on a screenplay I had written in 1988.
The Nations hit #1 in the first month plus winning Best Classic Western for 2014. We wrote eight other novels, both military (BEF series) and the second western in the Nations series, Haunted Falls. It won Best Action Western of 2013.
I had the bug. The stories kept pouring out. I started writing novels on my own and published an average of four per year through our publishing company, Timber Creek Press. Now I find I have to write, the stories keep coming. I love series. I continue to add to the Nations series with ‘spin-offs’ and finally evolved into the Three Creeks Series...Still coming up with new stories.
I have an expression I use when I teach a writing workshop: ‘Do you have to write...or do you need to write?’
Writing has become my vocation and my avocation. I NEED to write. It’s the creative urge that continues to come to the front. I used to say, ‘I’m a writer...Now I say, I create illusions.’
Bio: Ken Farmer - Named to the Hall of Fame for Western Writers.
Ken Farmer's dialogue flows like a beautiful western river...it's the gold standard. - Carole Beers
Ken Farmer was born in Kilgore, Texas in 1941, the son of a Driller/Tool Pusher for Shell Oil Company. He attended 21 grade schools in 7 states, living in most of the ‘boom towns’ of the time. He graduated college with a BS degree from Stephen F. Austin State University where he attended from ’61 to ’63 on a full football scholarship.
Ken didn't write his first full novel until he was sixty-nine years of age. He often wonders what the hell took him so long. At age seventy-nine, he released novel #37 on Sept. 19th, 2020...THREE CREEKS. it just may be his opus. He has released #38, book two in the THREE CREEKS series...RED HILL ROAD, followed by #39, book #3 in the series...THE POND, book # 4, UNION COUNTY, and #5...KILGORE, released on Sept. 26, 2021.
At eighty years of age, his WIP is novel #42, another historical fiction western, THE RETURN. The THREE CREEKS series is a late ‘40s and early ‘50s Southern Noir Murder Mystery series in the vein of To Kill a Mockingbird, Where the Crawdads Sing, Catcher in the Rye, and The Rock Hole.
The first in the series, THREE CREEKS won the Firebird Award for Best Mystery of 2020 and the CLUE Award from Chanticleer Book Awards for Best Suspense Thriller of 2020. Book #2 RED HILL ROAD has won the Firebird Award for Best Mystery of 2020 and Best Southern Noir as has book #3...THE POND - 2021.
Novelist, Playwright, and winner of three Clio Awards, Robert Joseph Ahola, pened: Farmer writes with a sense of irony that is palpable and a way of twisting a plot that keeps you hooked from page one to the end. The first in a compelling series, Three Creeks is a seminal master class.
There has been an evolvement in Ken's writing from third person omniscient to first person deep POV in the Three Creeks Series. He wrote his first novel...with a friend, in 2010 after retiring from a professional film/TV acting career of some 45 years. Like most actors, he dabbled in writing screen/teleplays, so, moving into novels was not a great stretch. There's not a lot of difference, especially in dialogue, but the novel narrator has to write down what the camera would see, and the sound engineer would hear for the reader.
Ken is a pantser, meaning he doesn't outline...It's like Improv in acting. He takes the four W’s - Who, What - Where - When, and just starts writing. He says he just listens to what the characters say and writes it down. It's like watching a movie in his head. As mentioned, his first 36 novels were third person omniscient but there was this story...loosely based on his own childhood in the ‘40s and ‘50s sans the murders...that had been rattling around in his head for a number of years and the only way he could think of to tell it...was in first person.
Ken writes in modified Deep POV. If you're not familiar with Deep POV, it has to do a great deal with removing most of the narrator from the text, things like tags...said, asked, commented, opined, exclaimed, and so on. Any time the reader sees, 'said', 'asked' (Charlie said,) that it takes the reader out of the story and to the narrator. Therefore, most of his dialogue has 'action' lines that tells the reader who the speaker is.
Ken spent forty-five years as a professional film/TV, and stage actor (after a stint in the Marine Corps), and concurrently thirty years raising Beefmaster cattle and Quarter horses in Texas. Those years gave him a background for storytelling…or as he has been known to say, "I've always been a bit of a bull---t artist, so writing novels kind of came naturally once it occurred to me, I could put my stories down on paper. I don't write about outlaws, peace officers, and murder mysteries...I write about people.
He did such movies as “Silverado”, “Uncommon Valor”, “The Newton Boys”, and “Friday Night Lights”. He also performed in over fifty TV shows like, Dallas, Walker, Texas Ranger and General Hospital, plus he quit counting commercials at 260. His most famous was as spokesman for Wolf Brand Chili which ran for eight years.
Ken's writing style has been likened to a combination of Louis L'Amour and Terry C. Johnston with an occasional Hitchcockian twist.
In addition to his love for writing fiction, he likes to teach acting, voice-over and writing workshops.
His favorite expression is: "Just tell the damn story."
Writing has become Ken's second life. He’s often asked, ‘What do you do for relaxation? He answers ...’Write’. As mentioned, he has been a Marine, played collegiate football on full scholarship, been a Texas wildcatter, cattle and horse rancher, professional film and TV actor and now ... a novelist. Who knew?
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or Ken on FB -https://www.facebook.com/groups/343634849935636