mbarker: (ISeeYou2)
[personal profile] mbarker
Original Posting March 27, 2017

Oh, ho, to the purple prose we go! Over here

you'll find a collection of the 2016 Winners and dishonorable mentions for the contest to see who can write like Bulwer-Lytton (of "It was a dark and stormy night..." fame).

Now, your job is to run your eyes across these beauties, and then pick one, and use at least the kernel of that as a seed to write your own sketch, scene, or even a whole story. I mean, take a look at this:

“Penguins, damnable penguins,” Cooperman muttered bitterly, staring hard into the maelstrom of cheap gin and bargain-basement vermouth swirling hopelessly in the low ball glass he held in his pale, doughy hand, the shards of rapidly melting ice crystals cruelly reminding him of those endless winter nights in the Antarctic weather station, and of Kwakina, with her lithe, lubricious figure, and tuxedo-feathered form.

One of the dishonorable mentions, but what does poor Cooperman dream about? And what is going to happen to the mismatched couple? Go on, you can tell us!

Pick one of these somewhat excessive bits, and make the core of it yours. Then tell us all about it!


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[personal profile] mbarker
Original Posting March 23, 2017

Writer's Digest, March 2001, had an article by Nancy Kress on pages 10-12. The title was "Out Of the Frying Pan and Into the Fire." The subtitle was "Why bad things should happen to good plots: creating problems for your characters keeps your plot moving and your readers entertained."

Nancy starts with a short anecdote about novelist Maureen McHugh. Apparently Maureen has a sign above her computer. She says, "It is the only thing I know about how to plot."

Wow! What do you think the sign says?

Actually, it says, "THINGS GET WORSE."

All right! Nancy reminds us that "stories are about things that went wrong." The basic story plot is first, something happens that someone doesn't like, second, the problem gets fixed or it doesn't. Of course, that's not quite enough to build a plot about. So what should you be looking at? Nancy recommends thinking about four questions.

1. What can go wrong for the protagonist? Your character want to do something positive, reasonably straightforward, and knows how it's supposed to go. Then the writer gets into it. What can go wrong? And let the character deal with that.

Nancy gives the example of a woman on her way home from work with just enough time to go to the bank and cash a check before she picks up her son at daycare. What could go wrong? Some possibilities! An accident on the way. At the bank, a robbery, and Susan is taken hostage. At daycare, the little boy doesn't want to go home. No matter which one you introduce, now the character has some extra things to do and think about.

Now admittedly, lots of stories have built-in problems. Mysteries usually start with a murder, and someone's trying to find out who done it. Along the way, lots of things can go wrong.

2. How can solutions make situations worse? Well, suppose that your character tries to do something to fix the problem. And in the process of fixing it, makes things worse.

For example, Susan could drive away from the accident to call for help. But when she gets back, the police and ambulance are taking care of things. Should she tell them she caused it? Or, as a hostage, Susan might try to escape. And get shot in the process! Whoops. Or maybe thinking about her little boy not wanting to go home, Susan quits work to spend more time with him. But… Now she doesn't have that income.

3. What else can go wrong? Novels often have multiple unrelated troubles. Pile them on! Make sure they have some natural relationship, but adding problems can keep the story going.

4. What can go wrong for the other characters? Your protagonist has got lots of other people around. "Sometimes, you can generate interesting plot developments by asking what can go wrong for these people."

That poor woman trying to cash a check and pick up her child? There's a husband who certainly might have some reactions to all that other stuff. But he could also have some problems in his own life. An affair, new job, heart attack, being arrested? Those are certainly going to affect Susan.

Clearly, these questions are not a formula for mechanical plotting. Instead, they're to help you brainstorm, to take that idea for a story and turn it into a full-fledged plot. Go ahead, use them to find your own personal exciting combinations.

So that's the article. But, there's a sidebar on page 11 that summarizes these four questions. Here's how Writer's Digest put it.

– Think about what your character is trying to accomplish. What are some of the things that can go wrong?
– Don't let your character off the hook too easily – think of how solutions to the character's problem can make the situation even worse.
– Once you've established a primary problem, throw your character a few curveballs by developing additional woes.
– Allow your secondary characters to have problems of their own. How do these troubles affect your protagonist?

So, there you go. What can go wrong, how can fixing it make it worse, what else could go wrong, and who else can have problems?

Lots of ways to build up that fire!

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[personal profile] mbarker
Original Posting March 22, 2017

I've lost track, I may have written about this before. James Scott Bell, who has been teaching writing for over 20 years, has a pile of books, articles, and so forth out there, and... he says, "I believe this may be the single most powerful writing strategy I have ever developed."

The title of the book is "Write Your Novel from the Middle: A New Approach for Plotters, Pantsers and Everyone in Between." It's by James Scott Bell. I got mine from Amazon, on the Kindle store.

Basically, Bell was taking a close look at the midpoint. He was trying to figure out just what belongs in there, and why everyone had so much trouble with it. So he started by looking at movies and novels, and seeing what was in the middle. What he found was a moment within a scene that "tells us what the novel or movie is really all about."

One moment that defines the whole story? Wow!

Now, his whole book is talking about how this works and why this works. But, let me pick out some of the highlights. Then you can decide if you want to read the book yourself. I do recommend it, in case you can't tell.

So, Chapter 1 kind of throws down the gauntlet. Here he sketches a plotter, carefully outlining, a pantser, scribbling away with artistic freedom, and even someone in the middle, and promises to help all of them! Then, in chapter 2, he explains where he found this new insight. Right in the middle!

Chapter 3 talks about stakes. "A great novel is the record of how a character fights with death." Simple, right? Life or death. But… Bell admits, there are three kinds of death. Physical, especially for thrillers and such like, is pretty obvious. However, professional death is also a possibility. Where failure means your career is down the toilet, there is no future. Mysteries often use this. Or, perhaps the death is psychological. Dying on the inside. Romance, oddly enough, is probably about facing psychological death – if you don't get together with your soulmate, you're going to die on the inside.

Now, chapter 4 adds in the two pillars. You've probably heard of the three act structure. Between Act I and Act II, between the introductory bang and the middle turning pages, you need a doorway of no return. You tell us who the characters are and the situation, and then something happens that forces that character to deal with the major problem of the plot. Something that makes sure that "there is no way back to the old, comfortable world." Something that forces the main character to confront those life-and-death stakes!

You want to check your first doorway of no return? Bell gives us a checklist!
1. Does your introduction give us a character worth following?
2. Do your opening pages have a disturbance?
3. Do you know the death stakes of your story?
4. Is there a scene that forces the character into the confrontation with those death stakes?
5. Is this strong enough? Can the lead character resist going into battle?
6. For novels, does this scene occur before about 1/5 of your total page count?

The second pillar, as you might've guessed, is another doorway of no return. Bell labels it the "Doorway of No Return #2." Guess what? This time, the doorway makes inevitable the final battle and resolution. That's right, in the second act, we have "a series of actions where the character confronts and resists death and is opposed by counter forces." Then the second doorway looms! This might be an event that feels like a major crisis or setback. It could be a clue, discovery, revelation. Whatever it is, it pushes the lead character into Act III – the climax, the final battle, the resolution.

1. Have you created a major crisis or setback that the lead must overcome?
2. Is there a clue or discovery that makes the final resolution possible?

There you go. Two doorways. And, in between them, you'll discover…

Chapter 5. The magical midpoint moment. Bell calls this the "look in the mirror" moment. What happens here? Well, basically, the lead character looks at himself (in the mirror). There are two basic thoughts that occur here. In a character-driven story, the lead looks at himself and wonders what kind of a person am I? What kind of person am I becoming? What will happen if I overcome my faults? What do I need to change? In a plot-driven story, the lead looks at himself and considers the odds he faces. Typically, death seems certain! So, transformation or facing the toughest odds. Either way, the character looks in the mirror and thinks about what to do.

That moment, and it's not even a whole scene, is the magical midpoint moment. Bell lays out a golden triangle based -- well, peaked -- with that mirror moment. That's right, take a triangle, and put the mirror moment at the top. That's the middle, and everything else in your story fits around it. On one side, the ending, you know the ultimate transformation that the character is headed for, and on the other side, the beginning, you know their pre-story psychology, where they came from.

So that's the middle. One little moment that makes a story! With a look in the mirror (or whatever your character uses to reflect on their situation), and either a thought about who I am and how I am going to change OR a thought about just what kind of odds I have to overcome. And then...

Chapter 6. Backup and think about the pre-story psychology, how did your character get here.

Chapter 7. Look ahead, and describe the ultimate transformation that your character is headed for. Show it to us. Make it visual. Bell suggests a two-step process.

1. Write a paragraph about the inner realization. Free write this, how does the character feel, what kind of thoughts go through their head?
2. Brainstorm actions that prove the transformation has taken place. Not just an internal change, what do they do that shows they are a new person?

Chapter 8. Whoosh! Mirror moment, back story, and ultimate transformation. Simple, right? And yet, it provides a framework to help guide your writing. In fact, in this chapter, Bell walks through how each kind of writer might use this. First, for the outliner, the plotter, Bell suggests starting with a set of "signpost scenes." Here's his list of 14 signpost scenes.

1. Opening disturbance. The ordinary world, and a change, challenge, trouble, or difference.
2. Care package. Someone that the lead character cares about at the beginning of the story. Show the lead doing something.
3. Argument opposed to the transformation. The lead character states a belief that will be overturned by the end.
4. Trouble brewing. Things may settle down after the initial disturbance, but now a greater trouble is coming.
5. Doorway of No Return #1. Something pushes the lead character into Act II, where they face death!
6. A kick in the shins. While trying to solve the problem, achieve the objective, do something, there is a significant setback for the lead character.
7. The mirror moment. This is where the lead character faces what's going on.
8. Pet the dog. During all the turmoil of Act II, the lead character still takes time to help a person or animal weaker than themselves.
9. Doorway of No Return #2. A major setback, crisis, clue or discovery that sets up the final battle.
10. Mounting forces. The opposition brings in even larger opposition!
11. Lights out. Alone, in the dark, all is lost. The dark night of the despondency!
12. Q Factor. Something gives the lead an emotional push, the courage to fight on, to make the right choice. Often a memory or reminder of emotional impact from Act I, or a trusted character recalling the lead to the need to fight for the right.
13. Final battle. Will the lead overcome the forces of evil (outer) or will the lead make the right choice (inner)?
14. Transformation. Show us the change to a stronger or different self, and build the emotional resonance for the audience.

There you go. With the golden triangle, you can focus on the mirror moment, transformation, and back story, and lay them out against this list of signpost scenes.

Pantser? All right. Go ahead and start writing. Meet the characters, try out a few scenes, see what happens. After about 10,000 words or so, stop and take a look at this checklist:

1. Who is the main character? What is their problem?
2. Do they have a moral flaw that is hurting others? If not, could you give them one?
3. How did they develop it? What's the back story on it?
4. Do you want to write an upbeat ending? If so, how will they overcome the flaw and be transformed? What will that scene look like?
5. Do you want to write a downbeat ending? If so, show how the character has a chance to be transformed, but rejects it.

Think about the mirror moment for the character. What do they see in the mirror? Write their inner thoughts.

There you go. You've got the big pieces, the back story, the transformation, and the mirror moment. Write around that! Keep going!

In Between? Use what you like. Probably, start with the outline of the mirror moment and the transformation. Then go back and fill in some pre-story.

Bell also takes a look at how genre, character, theme, and even parallel plots (or multiple subplots?) fit into this approach. If you like to start with a genre, go ahead. He suggests you might start by filling in the sentence, "My XYZ is about (character/vocation) who is (death stakes situation)." XYZ is the genre, and of course, the character, vocation, and death stakes situation describe your story. Next, brainstorm your mirror moments. Do you want it to be internal or external? What is the moral flaw of your character? What are the odds that they face? Third, brainstorm transformation and back story. Your genre work is going to sizzle with that golden triangle in the middle.

How about character? Well, you might want to start by thinking about transformation. What does this character want to achieve, how do they need to grow and change? What will they do to show how far they have come? Then go back to pre-story, and finish up by thinking about the mirror moment to tie that together.

Theme? One of those grand statements about life, the universe, and how it all fits together? Go ahead, pick your statement. Now, who would be a good character to reflect that. You probably want to go directly to the mirror moment, and focus on the kind of death they are facing. What's a scenario that puts them face-to-face with death and that thematic statement? Come up with several versions, and then pick the one you really like. Then lay out the transformation, and go back to the backstory. Bam!

Parallel plots, subplots – guess what. Put a golden triangle in each one, and work out the pieces.

That's it! You've got the writing from the middle insight firmly in your grasp. Now, go practice it.

An exercise? Sure. Take a story, or a novel, that you know well and like. Now, what is the mirror moment in that story? What's the transformation, and what is the backstory? Study how your favorites have done this, or even how you have done it yourself.

By the way, Bell finishes his book with chapter 9, Some Writing Tips. He's got a pile of good information there, so don't think it's all done yet. But the writing from the middle insight really seems to be pretty much wrapped up at the end of chapter 8, so I'll stop here for now.


mbarker: (Fireworks Delight)
[personal profile] mbarker
Original Posting March 15, 2017

Writer's Digest, February 2001, on pages 24-27, had a piece by James Scott Bell with the title "Burn & Build." The subtitle is "To write fiction from the heart, you've got to come up with an explosion of ideas, then sort through the rubble."

Bell starts by reminding us that "great fiction is an emotional experience for readers." So you need to get involved, too. How do you do that? "Look into your heart, and find what makes you burn. Search for emotional sparks. Set off an explosion of creativity. Then step back, and see what your heart is telling you to write."

So how do you explode? Here are eight different ways!

1. Make a list. Ray Bradbury is famous for his list. You can do it too! Think about things that excited you in the past, and just quickly make a list of one or two word reminders. Memories! "Each of these is the germ of a possible story or novel."

2. Find the outrage. What issues trigger you? What really upsets you? Make a list of your issues. Pick one, ask what sorts of characters would care about it, and put them on opposite sides.

3. See it. "Let your imagination play you a movie. Get in a quiet spot, relax, close your eyes." See what your imagination shows you. When you get a compelling image, follow it.

4. Hear it. Listen to music that moves you, and see what develops.

5. Research. Start reading. On the net, or even in books. Interview people. Travel. See what you find.

6. Write what makes you burn. First thing in the morning, after you've been dreaming all night, sit down with the paper or computer and write "What I really want to write about is…" Write for 10 minutes without stopping. Just follow the thoughts that come to you, stream of consciousness.

7. Find your obsession. Obsessions push characters. What do people obsess about? Ego, winning, looks, love, lust, enemies, career… Create a character. Give them an obsession. And watch where they run.

8. Open up. Write an opening. Then see what possibilities, choices, characters that suggest to you.

Now, look at the pieces. These exercises, or any other exercises you like, can spark ideas for you. Once you've got something that you are excited about, what do you do with it? Well, calm down, and think about it. Take the pieces from the creativity, and put them in a pattern. Consider the following checklist:

– What sort of leading character does my idea suggest?
– What sort of character might oppose the lead? Why?
– How can I make these characters fresh, exciting, and original?
– Is there enough at stake here to sustain a novel? Or would it be better as a short story?
– What plot springs from the characters? What does the lead want, and why can't they get it?
– Am I still excited about this?

Explode, then play the pieces. You'll never run out of ideas.

Now, then. What are we gonna do? Right, write!

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[personal profile] mbarker
Original Posting March 9, 2017

On March 11, 2011, the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami changed quite a few lives forever. One of those was a four-year-old boy whose father died that day. He does not remember his father. He has grown up with his mother, and an older man who has taken several of the quasi-orphans in that area under his wing. But... whenever the boy meets someone who knew his father, he has one simple request.

"Tell me about my father."

So, imagine that you are one of those people he asks. What do you tell him? Feel free to ponder what his father was really like versus what you are going to tell this youngster who is looking up at you, trustingly. His mother stands nearby, watching you, a bit anxiously. What do you say?

Write that scene. And the dialogue.

mbarker: (Fireworks Delight)
[personal profile] mbarker
Original Posting March 5, 2017

Writer's Digest October 1995 on pages 35-37, and page 60, have an article by William H. Lovejoy with the title "Creating Action Scenes That Move." The subtitle is "The two worst things that can happen in action scenes are for the events to be unbelievable or to have the action come to a screeching halt. Before your hero takes a step, learn the techniques to keep the action moving."

That sounds exciting, doesn't it? William starts off with two heroes – well, a hero and heroine. The hard-boiled detective is in a fistfight. But, with one punch he knocks out his opponent, and readers just don't believe it. On the other hand, our tired heroine is running through the dark forest, and runs, and runs, and the reader just get bored. So what happened? Well, here are the tips from William.

Get Real. Unless you're writing science fiction and fantasy, you need to obey real physical constraints. Hand-to-hand personal confrontations usually are short. Make sure you remember the physical capabilities of your character. Even the greatest hero, probably gets hurt a little bit. Deal realistically with weapons. Most of us need research.

Get their hearts pumping. Words and pace make speed. Keep it moving. Paragraphs, sentences, words get shorter. Make it faster. Simple words. Read it aloud, and make sure the pace and rate go faster and faster and faster…

Make them talk. Dialogue! You can inject uncertainty, keep the readers aware of what's happening, and dialogue is just more interesting. It needs to sound right.

Use some restraint. You want unusual, one-of-a-kind action scenes. Don't just repeat things. No gratuitous violence, all right. There has to be a reason for an action scene that's violent. "The purpose of the scene must be clear – to evoke a response and readers, to move the plot along, to reveal character traits, or whatever."

Prepare the reader, research the weapons, and pump up the pace! Avoid unbelievable or boring, and make your readers happy!

There we go. An action scene! Let's see. Sports, war, avoiding the runaway sheep, even chopping and dicing vegetables for dinner, there's plenty of action to go around. So if you want to practice, pick your action, lay in a couple or three characters, and... ring the bell, and may the best pepper steak win!

Go ahead. Write my day.

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[personal profile] mbarker
Original Posting March 3, 2017

This morning, walking in to work, something dropped this line into my brain:

Under the morning sun, burning through the fog, it was just a rusty bench on a beach where a prince sat, staring out at the waves, his flippers curled underneath him.

There you go! Feel free to use, abuse, or even transform this line, and tell us about this prince and his flippers. Merman? Someone looking for that littlest mermaid? Well, you think about it, and then...

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[personal profile] mbarker
Original Posting Feb. 23, 2017

Over here,

Sarah Hoyt contemplates what makes a good book. Historically, we have seen classical references, advancing change, and so forth. Ludic? Oh, that means are they fun! So...

Sarah suggests that there's popcorn books, the ones that are just a short escape (pulp fiction? Who said that?). Then there are the ones that make your voice heard. The ones that have something in them that's unforgettable! But, suppose that's what you want to write. How do you do that?

Well, Sarah suggests looking towards mirrors and the point of pain.

What? Yes, that point where the world shatters, and it's never the same again? That's what she likes to write.

That doesn't mean the popcorn books aren't good. If people enjoy them, great. But… If you want to go for the gold, try a shattered mirror and pain.

Mirrors? What does that remind me of? Oh, now that reminds me of James Scott Bell’s book, Write Your Novel From the Middle. Over here, he talks about it

Where the key is the mirror moment, where “The character is forced to look at himself. As if in a mirror, only it’s a reflection of who he is at that moment in time. Who am I? What have I become? What do I have to do to regain my humanity? Sometimes, it’s the character looking at the odds. How can I possibly win? It looks like I’m going to die—physically or spiritually. Now what am I supposed to do?”

And the mirror cracked….

So, there.

mbarker: (ISeeYou2)
[personal profile] mbarker
Original Posting Feb. 21, 2017

Recently, at an international gathering here at the university, someone performed a lengthy song/poem. I think it was Malaysian, but I could be confused about that. Anyway, behind them there was both the original words and what was supposed to be an English translation. I'll admit to not paying a lot of attention, but one verse caught my eye. Here, let me show you what the English words said...

If there is a well on the farm,
We can take a shower.
If we live long enough,
We can meet again.

Somehow, that juxtaposition of thoughts -- okay, if there's water, we can take a shower. And, if we live a long time, maybe we'll meet again? What?

So, here's your challenge. Take those lines, and consider them as dialogue. Now, build a scene where the characters use these in a way that makes sense. Does one person say them, or two? Why are they saying them?

Go, write!
mbarker: (BrainUnderRepair)
[personal profile] mbarker
Original Posting Feb. 13, 2017

Digging through some old papers, and stumbled across this fragment. Feel free to finish it up, okay?

This is a story of long ago, when magic walked the Earth, and Luna was a young goddess who watched over her people. This is a story that cannot be told, and yet it must be. This is a story of...

Go on. A rope of straw? A ragged beggar's fondest wish? What do you want to tell us about?


mbarker: (Fireworks Delight)
[personal profile] mbarker
Original Posting Feb. 7, 2017

That's right! Over here Sarah Hoyt talks about what to do when your novel has been through the wringer and needs to be sewn together again. Obviously, not all novels need this level of surgery, but, consider these points:

1. Is your ending the strongest possible? You want to make a deep emotional impression on the reader. If not double check:
– Who is the most affected or changed by what happened? Can you get the reader in that person's head at the end, or at least get their feelings about it?
– Does your ending drop an elephant from the ceiling? It may be meaningful, but you need to foreshadow it. So, go back and add foreshadowing!

2. Is there a lot of nonsensical running around? Action is good, but it needs to be meaningful. So,
– Look at the scenes. Are they advancing the plot, do characters get closer to the goal, do they learn something?
– If not, can you change the scenes so they push the character towards the goal?
– If not, can you write new scenes that do that?
Try-fail cycles! Just like the three in the middle of every fairytale. Not random, building towards the final climax.

3. Is the final climax satisfying? Did it get lost in a swamp of minor squirmishes (Sorry, I loved that word so much, I had to borrow it!). Doublecheck:
– The final encounter is not a bang but a whimper? Whoops! Start adding more detail.
– The big battle is just a bunch of little battles? Choose one, and make it the focus.

4. Lots of other goodies to check:
– Every character gets a character arc! Even minor ones.
– Every large change/idea/reveal is foreshadowed and motivated.
– Vary the locations for your scenes. Everything shouldn't happen in the same place.
– Avoid killing characters twice, unless they are vampires or other undead.
– Brilliant ideas? If it's a series, make sure it's consistent.
– Make sure character descriptions are consistent, especially minor characters. Watch those hair colors, speech tags, and so forth.
– If it's a series, try to let new readers enjoy the books too. Not always possible, but try.
– Watch out for characters who acquire persistent habits.

And of course, the biggie. Keep writing!

mbarker: (Burp)
[personal profile] mbarker
Original Posting Feb. 1, 2017

Writers Digest, March 2001, had an article on pages 32, 33, and 51, by Steven James with the title, "Put Punch on the Page." Basically it's about converting oral stories to written stories. I'm sure most of us have a personal story, a joke, an anecdote, some kind of a story that we tell people. However, when we go to write it down, somehow it just fizzles. So Steven lays out a way to go from the story we tell to the story we write.

1. Record your ideas. Brain dumping! Just get it out there on paper. Write it the way you tell it. Don't mess with it. And then take a look at what's missing.

2. Restructure your story. Find the hook, or as Steven prefers to call it, the gaff. Grab their attention. Start with action, energy, emotion, suspense, something to make the reader want to keep going. Hold off on the background and other stuff.

3. Reshape your story. Oral language tends to be immediate and informal. But now you're going for more complete sentences. Dialogue, keep it short and snappy, interruptions and all. Descriptive and narrative parts? Here you want sentences with detail, complexity, link. Be precise, make it good readable text.

4. Reveal your emotions. You've got emotion or an idea that you want to express. Show the reader through action and reaction what is happening. Remember, readers can't see your expression, so you have to give them the written hints. When you tell it, how do you convey the emotions, what do you do or say? Now, how do you translate that into text. You want the feeling and the mood, not just the same words, but through the story.

5. Reduce the confusion. Telling a story, we separate characters through inflection and expressions. Writing dialogue, you've got to add speaker tags. You may need to add new dialogue, additional transitions, details and descriptions. Don't get carried away, but do create images.

6. Remember the audience. Make sure your story is clear for the audience. Get someone else to read it, and give you a honest opinion about how it flows. Are there gaps, unanswered questions, unclear transitions? Now, reread it, and revise it until it's as exciting as the oral version was.

Incidentally, page 33 includes a "creativity starter." It's almost an exercise! So, put your writing hats on, and try this:

1. Select a personal anecdote you enjoy telling friends. Write it down.
2. Add structure. Is there extra background you should eliminate? Try making a brief outline of the story.
3. Review that outline. Do you need to revise some of the sentences so they work better together? Rewrite!
4. Add texture. Is there information about the characters or the setting that you can add to make this a richer story?
5. Check the transitions. What about those adjectives and adverbs? Can you drop some, make some more specific, or otherwise tweak them to help the story read smoothly?
6. Think about the audience. Who do you want to read this? What are they likely to have trouble understanding? How can you clarify? Go ahead, clean up your story and make it read like the wonder it is!

There you go! An anecdote, a personal story, turned into words!
[identity profile]
Original Posting Jan. 30, 2017

Yesterday, we went to a small performance. An opera singer and her husband, a pianist, and a belly-dancer with her husband playing drums. About 30 people in a local coffeeshop, enjoying the performance. But one of the pieces caught my attention.

See, they did the Copacabana. By Barry Manilow. Instrumental, with the pianist and the opera singer playing a keyboard, the drummer thumping away, and the belly-dancer happily shimmying and shaking. But... I was trying to remember the lyrics. It seemed to me that this was one of those songs that has a happy tune, but lyrics that are a bit less upbeat? I mean, I enjoyed the melody, and the dancing, but... what was the story in the song?

So when I got home, I checked it out. Google immediately turned up the lyrics. OH! That's right.

Lola and Tony! The showgirl and the bartender, "They were young and they had each other, who could ask for more!"

And Rico. "He wore a diamond. ... But Rico went a bit too far. Tony sailed across the bar. ... There was blood and a single gun shot. But just who shot who?"

And the last verse... "Her name is Lola, she was a showgirl, But that was thirty years ago... She lost her youth and she lost her Tony. Now she's lost her mind."

With that trailing advice in the chorus, "don't fall in love..."

Oh! Three verses, about 200 words, and there's a whole story there! The two lovers, Rico and the fight, and... the aftermath, 30 years later. Whoosh. That's storytelling.

And the setting, in the driving rhythm and happy melody.

Can you do that in a short story? Why not! Hey, go ahead and tell us the story of Lola, Tony, and Rico. It's a well-worn tale, but there's still a few times to run it around the ring of tales.

Music and passion were always in fashion...
[identity profile]
Original Posting Jan. 28. 2017

I'm sure you've all seen the books of pictures for writing and such? Well, if you go over here

or over here

or over here

or... wow, almost anywhere! How about over here (and enter a word, a thought, something... )

Anyway, lots and lots and lots of random images out there. So all you need to do is think about:

What is happening?
Who are the people?
What happened before?
What do they want?
What will happen next?

Then let that stew briefly, and write! A picture is worth a thousand words, more or less? So here are the pictures, now, you add the words! Tell us all about it!

(word provocateur in chief, or something like that)
[identity profile]
Original Posting Jan. 11, 2017

Writer's Digest, January 1996, pages 35 to 37, have a short article by Darrell Schweitzer with the title "Finding Your Short Story's… True Beginning." The focus here is on finding the right place to start your story. Darrell starts out with the proverbial Western writer's advice, "Shoot the sheriff on the first page." He adds "The science-fiction version may involve denting the sheriff's carapace, but it's pretty much the same." However, a common problem for stories is starting in the wrong place. So how do you tell where the beginning of the story is?

Well, Darrell suggests starting with Krazy Kat! Ignatz Mouse, in that old comic strip, kept throwing bricks at Krazy Kat to get her attention. So... you got it! "The story starts when your character gets hit in the head with a brick."

Not a long description of who the character is, a history of the world, or even what daily life is like. Short stories start "when the protagonist's life is disrupted. When the routine changes. When something extraordinary manifests itself."

Often, this is just a very obvious change. However, some stories do start with a description of routine, showing what life is like before the interruption. Why? It depends on the theme. But even there, it's kept tight. Basically, the archetype is:

"Routinely, Harold Hero went through the motions of his life, doing what he always did. And then, one day…"

Conflict. Get to it quickly. "So, to begin a story, think of the hurled brick: the intrusion, the disruption, the sudden explosion of conflict that yanks your character out of his daily routine, the extraordinary happenstance that gives him a story worth telling."

Now, a short story means everything needs to do multiple tasks. In fact, along with that brick, we need to introduce the tone, the emotional flavor. We need to present a point of view, how are we seeing the brick. And don't forget the setting! Along with some characters. So we're looking at:

1. Introduction. Who is the narrator, what's the point of view?
2. The hook, something unusual to get our attention.
3. Premise. A hint about what's coming.
4. Tone. What kind of a story is this? What emotional strings are going to be played?
5. Conflict. Internal, external, what's wrong?

So, if your beginning doesn't seem to have what you need, where should you look? Well, Darrell suggests looking at your ending. "All too often, the amateur story stops where the professional one starts." That's right, that climax might be the best place to start!

Darrell has an exercise to check this. Write a sequel! Suppose all the characters know and take for granted what happened in the original story. But now they are going on. Write that story. Don't build up to an idea, use that as the beginning.

And don't forget to throw a few bricks.

All right? WRITE!
[identity profile]
Original Posting Dec. 31, 2016

Watching the New Year's Eve show here in Japan. The theme this year was yume no uta (song of dreams? Or maybe dream of songs?) Anyway, I was thinking you might take that as a writing seed. Or perhaps just the change -- we're headed into the year of the chicken, if you feel like twisting that ancient notion. A bird, at least, although you might prefer the Phoenix or peacock or some other more elegant bird. Chickens, well... when the rooster crows?

No matter what, take a few moments and think about what you want to do with your writing this year. Not great vows of undying effort, but just set your own goals.

And, as I tend to say, write!
[identity profile]
Original Posting Dec. 29, 2016

Digging into the stack of slowly browning sheets, I find… Writer's Digest, June 1996, pages eight, 10, 11 or thereabouts, had an article by Nancy Kress with the title "The Four Ps" subtitled how to keep your fiction effectively dramatic – and keep your readers from snickering in the wrong spots. Drama, melodrama, parody? How do you get the emotion and the drama without going too far.

Well, Nancy starts out by reminding us that these three categories often are quite close. "Drama means a scene depicts events that evoke strong emotions in the characters, the reader or both. Melodrama means the events and emotions are exaggerated past the point of real credibility. And parody means everything has become so exaggerated that the only emotion now evoked is laughter."

So how do you control this? How do you control the emotions, making them dramatic, but not overdone? Four Ps! Placement, preparation, point of view, and precision. Here you go...

Placement. Nancy reminds us "no passion on the first date, please." At the very beginning of your story, we don't know the characters well enough to have a very emotional scene. Give us some time to understand the situation and the characters, and the scene might very well play. "Save your emotionally juicy scenes for placement in the last half of your short story. Or at least the last two-thirds."

Preparation. Here we're going for ripeness! Prepare us for the emotional reactions. Foreshadow that the characters are capable of strong dramatic reaction, and convince us that the trigger event, the thing that they are reacting to, really would push them into that strong a reaction. "To earn the right to a dramatic scene… Concentrate on foreshadowing. Both characters and situation must have demonstrated the capacity for losing control."

Point of view. Carefully pick who we are witnessing the drama through. An observer, standing outside the dramatic explosion, may help us feel balanced. Even a participant may be more rational and thoughtful than the characters who are exploding. A calm point of view can be an anchor in the midst of the storm.

Precision. Finally, tone down the melodrama with careful word choice. Avoid clichés, use fresh and original phrases to convey the emotion without slipping into parody. Details, precision, sincerity can help make your drama dramatic without going overboard.

Nancy ends with a warning. Some readers are going to find parody and melodrama in everything. After all, the reader interprets, and they may simply not want to invest themselves that deeply. But, do your best, put it in the right setting, foreshadow it nicely, use the best point of view, and pick your words carefully.

Let's see. This is kind of an interesting one to try to dream up a good way to practice it. Perhaps the easiest is to take a scene, from your own work or someone else's, that you consider dramatic, that has that emotional punch that Nancy is talking about. Now, try rewriting it, at least two different ways. First, push it over into melodrama. Yes, let the villian twist his black moustache, and let the cliches fall where they will! Second, try turning it into a parody! Can you make us laugh at the ridiculous lengths that this scene is going to? Then, of course, you might want to try a rewrite as a pure and simple dramatic highlight, with the words and emotions intended to work with the reader.

All right? Write!
[identity profile]
Original Posting Dec. 27, 2016

One fine morning recently, I woke up with this line running through the little grey cells...

The steeplechase that day killed three of them, and...

Go ahead. Finish the line, or perhaps just use the line as is? Beginning of a tale, or perhaps embedded in it? Heck, even just a seed for you to think about, and then write your own tale.

Just write, okay?
[identity profile]
Original Posting Dec. 20, 2016

Okay. We're still talking about Outlining Your Novel by K. M. Weiland. Chapter 10 has the title Abbreviated Outlining: Drawing Your Roadmap. The key point here is that when you finish outlining, you should make an abbreviated or perhaps condensed version. That lets you see the whole picture at a glance. It's the highlights.

But, why not use the extended outline from chapter 9? Well, K gives us several reasons:

1. Skip the rambling. Remember, the extended version has all the options and pondering, questions, and just about everything else in it. The abbreviated outline is just the key points.
2. Make it legible. K does her extended outline by hand, so turning it into something a little more easy to read is worthwhile.
3. Distill the pertinent points. Pick out those highlights, the key parts that you want to keep in mind while writing.
4. Save time. Getting this all straight before you start writing makes the writing easier.

K gives a couple of examples. One is a straightforward set of one sentence summaries. Another is somewhat more in-depth scene descriptions, but still focused.

So besides boiling it down into a roadmap, K points out that another benefit is that this is a time to really analyze and organize things. Cut out the extra stuff, strengthen what's needed, and go ahead and rearrange if you need to.

Finally, K points out that you can at least begin to divide your material into scenes and chapters. This is a good time to look for dramatic high points and breakpoints. You can start working those into cliffhangers, or other transitions that keep your readers going. K recommends 11 different possibilities:

1. A promise of conflict
2. Keeping a secret (hinting that there is a secret!)
3. Making a major decision or commitment
4. Announcement (Revelation) of a shocking event.
5. A moment of high emotion
6. A reversal or surprise that turns the story upside down
7. A new idea (or new plan)
8. Raising an unanswered question
9. A mysterious line of dialogue
10. A portentous metaphor
11. A turning point (a big change!)

The point is that this is a good time to start to decide your pacing. Short sentences, paragraphs, scenes, chapters – and lots of them! – Probably means a fast pace. Longer, more leisurely development, and perhaps less scenes and chapters, most likely implies a slower pace. In any case, don't forget to cut out the fat!

So, K summarizes this as really doing three things. First, pick out the highlights, the pertinent notes that show the way your story is going to go. Second, check out your scenes and ideas to get rid of extra stuff and organize it all. Finally, at least begin to set up your scenes and chapters. In particular, start working on those transitions! What kind of hooks, cliffhangers, or other tools of suspense are you going to use to keep the reader going?

All right? So now we've got our extended and abbreviated outlines in hand! Time to put it all to work, and start writing? We'll see, in Chapter 11!

[identity profile]
Original Posting Dec. 19, 2016

It's late, I know, but… Walking around the mall the other day, I was reminded that it's Christmas! Enormous bright colored boots filled with who knows what, racks of Christmas and New Year's cards, there was even a Santa Claus having lunch in the food court. So…

Your job, should you choose to accept it, is to take a song, story, or whatever else you like, and fit it to the season! Christmas, solstice, Kwanzaa, bah humbug, whatever you like. Feel free to take the drummer boy, and make him a rock guitarist. Or perhaps you want to redo A Christmas Carol? Sure, why not? Let's see. has a list of some great stories you might want to consider. Or perhaps you prefer this list? Wow! 100 or so?

Something for the holidays! Go ahead, give us your best cheer.

And a Merry Christmas to all. Or as Tiny Tim put it, "God bless us, every one." Not to be confused with "Tip toe through the tulips..." okay?



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