Tag Archives: A Game of Thrones

#amwriting: advancing the plot

e.m. forster plot memeIn the previous post, I discussed the story arc, and how it relates to what E.M. Forster said about the plot: that plot is the cause-and-effect relationship between events in a story. The story arc is a visual description of where events should occur in a story. For me, knowing where they should happen is good, but it doesn’t tell me what those events are.

Planning what events your protagonist will face is called plotting, and I make an outline for that.

“Pantsing it,” or writing using stream-of consciousness, can produce some amazing work. That works well when we’re inspired, as ideas seem to flow from us. But for me, that sort of creativity is short-lived.

Participating in nanowrimo has really helped me grow in that ability, and one nanowrimo joke-solution often bandied about at write-ins is, “When your’re stuck, it’s time for someone to die.” But we all know that in reality, assassinating beloved characters whenever we run out of ideas is not a feasible option because soon we will run out of characters.

As devotees of Game of Thrones will agree, readers (or TV viewers) get to know characters, and bond with them. When cherished characters are too regularly killed off, the story loses good people, and we have to introduce new characters to fill the void. The reader may decide not to waste his time getting invested in a new character, feeling that you will only break their heart again.

The death of a character should be reserved to create a pivotal event that alters the lives of every member of the cast, and is best reserved for either the inciting incident at the first plot point or as the terrible event of the third quarter of the book. So instead of assassination, we should resort to creativity.

This is where the outline can provide some structure, and keep you moving forward.  I will know what should happen in the first quarter, the middle, and the third quarter of the story. Also, because I know how it should end, I can more easily write to those plot points by filling in the blanks between, and the story will have cohesion.

Think about what launches a great story:

The protagonist has a problem.

You have placed them in a setting, within a given moment, and shown the environment in which they live.

You have unveiled the inciting incident.

Now you need to decide what hinders the protagonist and prevents them from resolving the problem. While you are laying the groundwork for this keep in mind that we want to evoke three things:

  1. Empathy/identification with the protagonist
  2. Believability
  3. Tension

We want the protagonist to be a sympathetic character whom the reader can identify with; one who the reader can immerse themselves in, living the story through his/her adventures.

Also, we want the hindrances and barriers the protagonist faces to feel real to the reader. They must be believable so that the reader says, “Yeah, that could happen.” Within every scene, you must develop setups for the central events of that moment in their lives and show the payoffs (either negative or positive) to advance the story: action and reaction.

Each scene propels the characters further along, each act closing at a higher point on the story arc, which is where the next one launches from.

Some authors resort to “idle conversation writing” when they are temporarily out of ideas.  Resist the temptation—it’s fatal to an otherwise good story. Save all your random think-writing off-stage in a background file, if giving your characters a few haphazard, pointless exchanges helps jar an idea loose.

imagesDon’t introduce random things into a scene unless they are important. What if you had a walk-on character who was looking for her/his cat just before or just after the inciting incident? If the loss of the cat is to demonstrate the dangers in a particular area, make it clear that it is window dressing or remove it.

If the cat has no purpose it needs to be cut from the scene. To show the reader something  is to foreshadow it, and the reader will wonder why the cat and the person looking for it were so important that they had to be foreshadowed.

Every memorable element in a fictional story must be necessary and irreplaceable.  In  creative writing, this concept is referred to as “Chekhov’s Gun,” as it is a principal formally attributed to the great Russian playwright, Anton Chekhov.

Finally, we want to keep the goal just out of reach, to maintain the tension, and keep the reader reading to find out what will happen next. Readers are fickle, and always want what they can’t have. The chase is everything, so don’t give them the final reward until the end of the story.

But do have the story end with most threads and subplots wrapped up, along with the central story-line. Nothing aggravates readers more than going to all the trouble of reading a book to the end, only to be given no reward for their investment of time.

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My Writing Toolbox

xcg65LacAApparently, I think visually. Actually, I come from a family who, while we are quite verbal, all tend to think visually.

We are musicians, artists, engineers and authors. These are occupations where we create images and think in terms of a whole picture.

I recently read an article, written by Gerald Grow of the School of Journalism at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee. I was intrigued by his theory on how the type of thinker we are influences the way we write. He says, “Visual thinking produces whole, patterned expressions such as maps, symbols, and pictures. Verbal activity leads to sequences such as narratives and explanations.”  He goes on to say that visual thinkers tend to write briefly-evoked scenes about one another with little connective explanation. I don’t necessarily agree with him, but it’s a good topic to ponder.

AGameOfThronesIndeed, a lot of what I read in genre fiction is written in 30-second sound-bytes, and it is because 3 generations of our society have become dependent on visual entertainment delivered in short segments–small pictures if you will. Reading is not as popular as it was, since many people think it’s much less work to watch A Game of Thrones than it is to read it.

I disagree–getting lost in a great book is not work at all! That reminds me, I should probably read that book. I own it, I started reading it in 1996, but had a hard time following the way it jumped around. I put it aside and never got back to it. But now I’m curious as to why folks are so crazy for it.

Anyway—

Gerald Grow also writes, “Since everything tends to happens at once and in present time to visual thinkers, they tend to choose static verbs, the passive voice, and heavily depend on forms of the verb ‘to be.’” 

When we first start out in this craft  we tend to write weak sentences. This is because we are approaching it from the point of view of the story-teller. We sit down and tell the story, and that is quite verbal when you think about it. I think it has more to do with lack of experience than how a brain visualizes, because we all seem to start out that way.

Weak narrative happens when, as story-tellers, we are separated from the moment by words that block our intimacy with the action:

wak vs strong table

Many of us do not have an education in journalism, and yet we choose to write. As we grow in the craft, if we want our work to be enjoyed by many people, we train ourselves to craft stronger sentences.

We write short stories, and send them off. Sometimes they are rejected, and sometimes not. We write longer short stories, novellas. We write novels, sometimes with WAY too many words. Our writing groups give us support and good, honest critiques. We know they will not tell us our work is awesome, if it stinks like Bubba’s socks.

They may tear it apart. But we grow from this experience. We learn that opinions are subjective, and writers are opinionated prima donnas–and we will do anything to never have that experience again.

Learning the craft of writing  is like learning the craft of carpentry–if you want to craft beautiful work, you must choose to learn what the proper tools for the job are and how to use them. My toolbox contains:

  1. MS Word
  2. The Chicago Manual of Style
  3. The Oxford A-Z of Grammar & Punctuation
  4. The Olympia Writers Co-Op
  5. NaNoWriMo Write-Ins
  6. Trusted, knowledgeable beta-readers
  7. Good, well recommended editors
  8. online writing classes
  9. regularly attending seminars
  10. reading in my genre

nano_12_new_Come_Write_In_Logo1What is in your toolbox? You might be surprised at just what you have acquired in the line of tools for advancing in this craft. Whether you are a visual thinker or a verbal thinker, you have the ability to express your ideas.

It takes a lot of work to rise from apprentice to journeyman to master in any craft. I don’t know if I will ever achieve that status as an author, but I will keep working and learning. and above all, I will keep reading.

 

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