by Connie Jasperson
We all want to create intense moods and evoke strong atmosphere in our work. This can range from subtle hints to Sturm und Drang, but either way, the intention is to captivate the reader.
What is Sturm und Drang? The English translation is literally, Storm and Stress.
Google defines it as: a literary and artistic movement in Germany in the late 18th century, influenced by Jean-Jacques Rousseau and characterized by the expression of emotional unrest and a rejection of neoclassical literary norms.
What does this mean in simpler terms?
Sturm und Drang as a literary form evolved during the time of the American Revolutionary War, which a period of global unrest and great hardship, especially in Europe. The main feature is the expression of high emotions, strong reactions to events, and often, rebellion against rationalism. It is characterized by violent individualism and complex reactions. Literature and music written in this style were aimed at shocking the audience and infusing them with extremes of emotion.
Classical literature in this style began in 1772 with "Prometheus," a poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, in which the character of the mythic Prometheus addresses God (as Zeus) in misotheistic accusation and defiance. Misotheism is the hatred of God or the Gods. In literature, it’s described as stemming from a moment in a person’s life where one feels the gods have abused and abandoned him. One can’t hate what one doesn’t believe in, so misotheism requires a firm belief in a God or Gods.
Again, Wikipedia tells us this: Prometheus is the creative and rebellious spirit which, rejected by God, angrily defies him and asserts itself; Ganymede is the boyish self which is adored and seduced by God. One is the lone defiant, the other the yielding acolyte. As the humanist poet, Goethe presents both identities as aspects or forms of the human condition.
A parallel movement in the visual arts occurred as artists began producing paintings of storms and shipwrecks, showing the terror and irrational destruction wrought by nature. These pre-romantic works were fashionable in Germany from the 1760s on through the 1780s. Additionally, disturbing visions and portrayals of nightmares were gaining an audience in Germany as evidenced by Goethe's possession and admiration of paintings by Fuseli capable of 'giving the viewer a good fright.'
The image for this post is by Philip James de Loutherbourg. It is called Coalbrookdale by Night and was painted 1801. It depicts a burning slag heap and shows the true conditions impoverished laborers and their families were forced to live with, in English coal and steel towns at the time of the Revolutionary War.
You may wonder why I’m discussing something as off topic as classical art.
The difference between classical Sturm und Drang and modern Cyberpunk is that technology and industry are the Gods whose knowledge the mortals desire, and whom they seek to replace. All aspects of classic Sturm und Drang can be found in Cyberpunk.
Wikipedia defines cyberpunk as: a subgenre of science fiction in a future setting that tends to focus on the society of the proverbial "high tech low life" featuring advanced technological and scientific achievements, such as information technology and cybernetics, juxtaposed with a degree of breakdown or radical change in the social order.
It features post-industrial dystopias that have wide divisions in the social order, with the largest class in extreme poverty, a small middle class, and at the top, a minority holds incredible wealth. These societies have fallen into extreme chaos.
The MacGyver effect is in sway here: Protagonists acquire and make use of technology in ways never anticipated by its original inventors. One common trope of this genre is "the street finds its own uses for things."
Much of the genre's atmosphere is heavily film noir and employs techniques and style reminiscent of detective fiction. It is fast-paced, atmospheric, and where alcohol is heavily abused in classic detective fiction, drugs are the recreational mood elevators of choice in many cyberpunk novels.
Cyberpunk began as a niche rebellion by authors like Phillip K. Dick, and is now mainstreamed and growing in popularity. Authors writing in the early days of speculative fiction were Indies who were finding success getting short stories published in popular sci-fi magazines, and who were fortunate enough to have some farsighted editors take chances with publishing their longer work. They formed publishing companies and became giants. That opportunity will always be out there.
We indie authors have a great deal of latitude in our choice of what to write, as we can write and publish edgy work that would be deemed too chancy by traditional publishers.
Authors always engage in artistic rebellion, and society always appreciates it—usually, years afterward.
by Connie Jasperson
When I read a book, I connect to the sense of wonder that each event or plot twist in a story evokes for the protagonists. I am extremely partial to those books in which the protagonist faces his/her own demons and finds a hero within themselves, a person who faces the unknown and finds the courage to do what he/she believes is morally right.
This is a literary theme, and is called the heroic journey.
Consider J.R.R. Tolkien's LOTR series. Personal growth and the many forms heroism can take are central themes of his stories, and while there are many side-quests taking the different characters away from the physical journey of the One Ring, Tolkien never strayed from the concept of the hero's journey.
What is the "hero's journey"? The concept of the heroic journey was first introduced by the American mythologist, writer, and lecturer, Joseph Campbell in The Hero with a Thousand Faces (published in 1949). In this ground-breaking work, he discusses the monomyth or the hero's journey. He describes how this motif is the common template of a broad category of tales that involve
In my own work, personal growth and the hero's journey are often the central themes. This is because those are the stories that intrigued me most as a young reader, and they intrigue me now as an adult.
These concepts are important to me on a personal level, and so they find their way into my writing. Ask yourself what is important to you? When you look for a book, what catches your interest? I am not talking genre here, I am speaking of the deeper story. When you look at it from a distance, what do all the stories you love best have in common?
Political thrillers: Set against the backdrop of a political power struggle. Political corruption, terrorism, and warfare are common themes.
Romance Novel: Two people as they develop romantic love for each other and work to build a relationship. Both the conflict and the climax of the novel are directly related to that core theme of developing a romantic relationship, although the novel can also contain subplots that do not specifically relate to the main characters' romantic love.
Literary fiction focuses on the protagonist of the narrative, creating introspective, in-depth character studies of interesting, complex and developed characters. Action and setting are not the points here, although they must also be carefully developed in such a way they frame the character, and provide a visual perspective.
Science Fiction: realistic speculation about possible future events, based solidly on adequate knowledge of the real world, past and present, and on a thorough understanding of the nature and significance of the scientific method. Science and technology are a dominant theme but based on current reality. Characters are still subject to sub-themes such as morality and love, but setting and science are the main themes.
Fantasy: Often set in an alternate, medieval, or ancient world, common themes are good vs. evil, the hero’s journey, coming of age, morality, romantic love. Can also be set in urban settings with paranormal tropes.
On the surface, these types of books look widely different, but all have one thing in common--they have protagonists and side characters. These people will all have to deal with and react to the underlying theme of the book. Morality, love, coming of age--these ideas can be found in nearly every book on my shelves or on my Kindle.
In my mind, the genre and the setting in which these characters react to the wider concepts are just a backdrop. The world they are set in is the picture-frame, a backdrop against which the themes of the story play out, and characters are shaped by a force beyond their control--the author.
Keeping in mind the underlying theme of your story while you are laying down the first draft is important. If your inspiration seems to faint somewhere in the middle, it may be that you have lost track of what you originally imagined your story was about and your characters no longer know what they are fighting for. Was it love? Was it destiny? Was it the death of hope?
When we are constantly prodded to make our work focus on action instead of introspection, it becomes easy to wander way off track. Ask yourself if the action has been inserted for the sake of the shock value, or if this scene is necessary to force change and growth on the protagonist. How will her fundamental ethics and ideals be challenged by this event? If there is no personal cost, there is no need for that scene.
Writing these blind alleys is not a waste of time. You never know when you will need those ideas, so don’t throw them away—always keep the things you cut in a separate file. Remember, just because that idea doesn't work for this book, doesn't mean it won't work in another book.
I label that file "outtakes," and believe me, it has come in handy when I need an idea to jump-start a new story.
Sometimes we are so busy setting traps and roadblocks for our protagonist and his nemesis that the action takes over and becomes the theme. The action should be there to force the character to grow, not simply for the sake of action. If you absolutely must have that action, find a way for it to change or otherwise affect the characters involved in it. When we are deep in the creative process, it's easy to forget that characters must evolve.
Remember, there was a fundamental theme in your mind when you first imagined you had a story to write, and once you identify that core concept, you may find you are no longer stuck.