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Vita Murrow: In a World …

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“In a world; where the classic and modern collide, is a place where our favourite fairy tales depart the familiar path and stride into uncharted woods. Heroes will be forever changed; leaders will claim new crowns, and stories will be born anew.”

Does this sound like the start of an enchanting new movie trailer? I hope so, because that is where I look for the start of great stories. A movie trailer is a short advertisement for a film.  Historically were played at the end of a movie, hence the name trailer; trailing at the end. Now they are most commonly found at the beginning, to capture an eager audience. Which is the same goal I have when I sit down to start a new story.

One of the most well-known genres of trailer are “In a World…” trailers. The voice of a man named Donald LaFontaine created this iconic form and brought to life more than 5,000 movies. Legend has it, he got his start by filling in, when the voice actor who was supposed to do a trailer that he had written, didn’t show up.

I think about La Fontaine’s serendipitous start when I get bogged down by a blank page.  I remind myself to seize the opportunity and jump into the unknown by imagining a trailer of my very own. Try it with me!

I start with the words; “In a World. . . or In a Place” I imagine the environment where my story will take place. Is it cold or hot? Dark or bright? I envision the most dramatic and impactful aspects; gritty urban streets, a shimmering lake or a moody forest, so that I may begin to describe the keys places right away.

I add details about time to place the story in history, the present or the future; “When snow covered the land. . .” or “In a time not unlike today. . .” In setting these parameters, I determine what cultural codes or signs I need to access in order to place my story in a specific moment in time.  Will my environs and characters wear certain clothes or speak a certain way? Will there be gas streetlamps and horse drawn carriages, or flying cars and neon?

Next I identify my characters. “One Person/Woman/Man/Girl/Boy. . .” or “The family of. . .” or “two old friends. . .” This is when I can decide how many characters I will follow in the story. And how they are related.  Will my story be about siblings, friends, wizards or witches, cats? You name it.

Then I set my course for adventure by adding a layer of urgency like “must” or “race to” to build the pacing.  This gets me thinking about the needs of the characters and allows me to consider what might motivate them to meet these needs. Are they on a mission, solving a mystery or righting a wrong?

I may hint at the characters motivations with a phrase like; “Will change the world…” or “Will embark on a journey. . .” or “Make history. . .” This helps clarify the action of the characters; are they escaping or seeking?  Are they out to save the world or save themselves?

Lastly, I plant the seeds of resolution.  Which pushes me to ponder how the characters will reach their ultimate goal. Here I can preview what they will have to overcome in order to reach the big conclusion. I call this the turning point. I use words like; “Things get dicey. . .” or “Until now. . .” or “A hero will rise. . .” or “a kingdom will face its fate. . .”

The best part about writing a trailer is that I can leave things hanging. I use my trailer as an outline to be sure I have a story that starts me off with the important plot parts. This method of starting writing also helps me set up characters that I can mould and shape as my story evolves.

I hope the next time you or your students are getting started as writers, you’ll take trailer crafting out for a spin, and channel your favourite cinematic storytellers.

Vita Murrow is an artist, educator and CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway nominated children’s author, reinventing old stories for a new generation. Vita’s latest book, High-Five to the Hero (out now from Frances Lincoln Children’s Books) is a collection of 15 classic tales retold with added boy power. Get reacquainted with the caring, considerate and responsible heroes!

You can also listen to her interview with Nikki Gamble on the Just Imagine website here