Everything I Learned About Writing I Learned From Shakespeare

Wednesday, April 23, 2014
Today marks the anniversary of Shakespeare's birth ... and death. At Stratford-Upon-Avon, 450 years ago, one of the best-ever tale spinners made his way into the world.

As a former English instructor, I see nuances of Shakespeare's style shine through in a lot of books that I read. He definitely influences legions of scribes who create alternate worlds and unique people and shape all those wonderful elements into a breathtaking work of art.

And, when I taught the tales of love of woe to swooning or pretentious teens - Romeoo and Juliet or Macbeth  or Much Ado About Nothing - I guided students to look for the moral lessons behind the story, the applicable story elements that resonated with each of their lives. I pointed out the craftily-worded phrases that were embedded in my memory from my teenage years (when my dad was my English teacher and pointed out the same phrases).

And, one of the most important lessons I taught students was decipher how to balance good and evil within the power triangle of themes: love, power and revenge.

It's a lesson I put into practice every time I open a book or start crafting my own fiction.

For example: Macbeth - my personal favorite when it comes to Shake's work. The quest for power dominates the storyline yet within that quest, forces of good and evil work together and against each other to create tension. Think about the actions of the witches and how they create a sort of fantasy inside Macbeth's head. Once the seed is planted, a bit of tug of war begins in his mind, until ultimately, he's converted to the dark side.

Once that storyline is established, Shakespeare introduces the second predominant theme: love. A strong love story filled with conflict drives any story. Shakespeare is the master. He pits a somewhat henpecked Macbeth against his strong-willed wife. Do they love each other? Yes, but she sees opportunity and uses her warped sense of love and desire to drive Macbeth further into darkness.

Ah, the plot thickens.

For added measure, Shakespeare weaves in strands of the revenge theme. Macbeth takes revenge on those who purportedly kill Duncan. Macduff seeks revenge on Shakespeare. Good triumphs over evil.

If you think about your favorite books, most use a combo of the power triangle because it is the easiest way to set up the underlying movement that moves a story forward. That underlying movement is conflict and tension. Without these elements, a stagnate story is born.

And who wants that?

What Shakespearean writing concepts do you use?

By LuAnn Schindler 


Sioux Roslawski said...

LuAnn--Thanks for this nudging reminder. The power triangle--something that none of us should forget.

My WIP is at a crossroads, and I think your post pointed the way.

Thank you.

Elizabeth McBride said...

Thank you for this post, LuAnn! Very helpful reminder and another good lens through which to view plotlines!

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