Shiny

August 25, 2010 at 5:24 am (Plot, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Shiny, glittering, distractions.

It is how magicians get away with their tricks and it is frequently how movies manage to make even the weakest of stories seem somewhat plausible.

It would seem that in writing, distractions can’t save a poorly written story because you don’t have all the shine and glitter – you certainly don’t have an amazing soundtrack and special effects.

Still, many writers seem to use a bit of shine.

Colourful humour and language to throw the reader off the scent of poorly executed scene.

Flowery language and description to gloss over the massive plot hole.

Throw another dead body into a scene that was feeling like it was going nowhere.

Introduce a new character to hide the fact that one of your other characters has suddenly had a personality transplant.

And the thing is, as an audience member, you frequently allow yourself to be distracted by the shiny because it is fun. Because even though you know that you are being had, that something is missing, what you are being given is still enjoyable and there isn’t really any fun in pulling it to pieces. You know what is going on and you let it happen. At least when it is still enjoyable.

You start to really question the shiny when that is all you are being given. There is nothing else underneath and it isn’t really going anywhere. All you’ve been given is the glossy overcoat and there is no substance. As a reader, a lack of overall substance just can’t be tolerated.

So what shiny distractions do you enjoy reading? Which ones have you used? When won’t you accept a shiny distraction?

Advertisements

Permalink 12 Comments

Foreshadowing

August 12, 2010 at 5:30 am (Plot, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Foreshadowing is something I haven’t really written about on the blog before but it is incredibly important when it comes to writing a cohesive story. I have to thank Hart Johnson on Confessions of  a Watery Tart for reminding me why it is so important in story writing.

She actually uses a very good explanation of one of the stronger parts of the Harry Potter series in that very little just appears as it is needed. The polyjuice potion is mentioned well in advance of it ever being used and so as a reader you aren’t left thinking – this author got herself stuck and then had to magic her way out of it. Yes the mention was deliberate because you knew they were going to use it later but it still made the whole story stronger. And it was the same with many other items and events within the Harry Potter series. By being prementioned and then gently reminding the reader at certain points, by the time the event or object become critical to the story it was like it was there all along and it doesn’t feel like a quick fix.

The best way to explain why foreshadowing is important is probably to look at what happens without it. The scenario is where your hero is backed up against a wall with thirty villains closing in, all armed to the teeth with more weapons than I could name, there is a bomb about to explode, a damsel in distress hanging from a helicopter two blocks away screaming for assistance and a tidal wave is closing in. Okay, I erred on the side of melodrama when writing that scenario.

Suddenly your hero…

Anything you end this sentence with is going to sound lame unless it was previously set up. This situation is clearly impossible. There is no way your hero can get out of it and save the victim, and disarm the bomb and stop the tidal wave. Unless they are superman which leads us to the question of how did he get into this situation in the first place.

Are you suddenly going to whip out a magic make everything offensive go away potion?

However, if you had thought about this scenario and gone back earlier in your story and tweaked a few things it is quite likely that the hero’s side kick is currently trying to disarm the bomb, and sweating profusely while doing it, and the hero is in point of fact simply keeping the villains busy. But he’s doing it by projecting a hologram (using technology that was of course demonstrated far earlier in the story) and he is actually cutting the victim off the helicopter. What you’re going to do about the tidal wave is anyone’s guess unless the hero is planning to use the bomb, retrieved by the side kick, to somehow interrupt it (which seems pretty unlikely to me).

Foreshadowing: possibly making the impossible slightly more plausible.

Permalink 16 Comments

Politics in Fantasy

July 25, 2010 at 6:04 am (Plot, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

I have this story outline I’ve been kicking around forever and I have always wanted to write it. Yet every time I’m between projects or looking for something new I have chosen not to begin this particular project.

There may be a very good reason.

Essentially the story is a political thriller but set between two governments that don’t actually exist in a world that also doesn’t exist. See, I’ve always been interested in politics and diplomacy and this story kind of evolved out of that. It really is a guide on how not to be diplomatic and yet still not cause a war. The focus is on two characters that represent opposing governments but each have their own agenda independent of their respective governments.

The reason I don’t think I’m ever going to write this story is because I can’t think of anyone who would want to read it. The sheer number of people that don’t like real politics kind of convinces me that finding out about fictional politics wouldn’t really work for most people. And while other authors have used fictional governments as the scene to make social commentary, that isn’t what I would be intending. The story would simply be about the characters and there would be no social statement.

I have to wonder how many ideas are out there floating around that won’t ever see fruition because their owner decides they just don’t fit their current needs.

Do you have an idea you’ve sent to limbo?

Permalink 15 Comments

Moving the Plot

July 23, 2010 at 5:43 am (fantasy, Plot, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

You hear the advice all the time. If something isn’t moving your plot forward it shouldn’t be in your story. Given the current goal oriented generation where anything that isn’t immediate becomes dull, this is pretty good advice. Your description of that sunset may be absolutely flawless but if your reader can’t see the point of it (because just being a beautiful piece of writing is insufficient) then it has to go.

I’m in two minds about this. On the one hand, I hate wading through endless reams of description of settings that in the end don’t make the tiniest bit of difference to the story. Even a fight sequence that has gone on too long begins to irk me and I just want to cut to the chase. So who won and what happens next? I am very much a product of the modern world in that I like there to be a point. At the same time, sometimes I really enjoy just well written work. That witty dialogue or really interesting aside. It may have nothing to do with the main plot and only be very thinly related to character development but if it is written just right, it can suck me right into the story.

That said, how do we move the plot forward?

Plot generally involves a character (or group or characters) getting from point A to point B while X, Y and Z try to stop them. That would be the motivation for the characters and the conflict they will face. If the plot becomes too direct you would have a story in about five lines and it would be incredibly boring.

Farm boy loses family.

Farm boy trains to fight.

Farm boy faces bad guy and loses.

Farm boy takes time out to learn some valuable lesson.

Farm boy defeats bad guy.

The End.

This would be the basic plot of both Star Wars and Eragon and probably many other fantasy – space opera kind of things. Don’t get me wrong, this plot works very effectively (or can), but when you boil the story down this much it gets a bit dull.

I guess the question you have to ask yourself is why does line A (farm boy losing family) lead to line B. Lots of people lose family members without suddenly enlisting to learn some ancient fighting method and going on a quest for revenge and to other throw an evil empire. What about your character makes them take that step and how do they reach that decision? How do you help your reader believe it?

The plot moves forward when you know where you are and where you want to go and you know why your characters are taking those steps. I’ve had many would be stories stagnate because I didn’t know clearly where I was planning to go next and I wasn’t really sure why my characters were doing something anyway. Once you can answer these questions the plot should move forward though it is adding all the small details and weaving those interesting sub-plots that will make it interesting.

Your thoughts on moving a plot forward?

Permalink 29 Comments

More on Plot

June 13, 2010 at 5:58 am (Plot, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

Continuing on from yesterday where I looked at losing the plot in the mess and lack of clarity about what the plot actually is.

For me, plot is about characters. The events are less significant than how the characters react to them. In that way, the small and insignificant can take on much greater meaning when seen through the eyes of the character and the character reactions keep driving the story forward. But that isn’t always how people see stories.

So what makes a plot interesting?

The argument about there being no new stories certainly has quite a lot of weight behind it and if there are only seven plots (though you could contest that number if you like) then how do you make your particular plot line sound new and fresh and interesting. We’ve seen from the Avatar phenomenon that just putting a coat of paint on an old idea (moving a previously explored plot to an alien world) doesn’t really work as far as stopping criticism of rip-offs, meanwhile clearly the old story worked and so people found definite enjoyment in the plot even while criticising the movie.

One of my favourite segments from Hitch-hikers Guide to the Galaxy (the television series) was when they described the basic theme of this one band’s songs. Boy meets girl who kiss near a setting sun which then promptly explodes. The way that line was delivered in the hum-drum, we’ve seen this all before, etc, etc was hilarious. How can the band continue to sell the same song over and over (though I guess many bands do this already when I think about it)? What makes a plot original and feel new?

I don’t know that anyone can actually answer that question because it is like trying to figure out what is going to be cool tomorrow. Plenty of stories that have been straight out rip-offs have become legendary while the original subject matter has faded into obscurity, meanwhile other writers get stones thrown at them because they dared to have a jealous best friend or a disgruntled worker.

What I do know is that there has to be some underlying point to the story for me to enjoy it, even if that point is only that there is no point. I know that heavily moralistic tales that feel the need to beat me over the head with the author’s values bore me. I know that every time I read a fantasy that starts with a farm boy I seriously question whether to read the next page or not. And I know that any book with a dragon in it will at least get my attention for a little while regardless of how bad the rest of the story may be.

Share your thoughts – what makes a good plot?

Permalink 12 Comments

Lost the Plot

June 12, 2010 at 5:35 am (Death's Daughter, Plot, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

Character, plot and setting.

All three are vitally important to the story.  Usually I like to focus on character but today I think I’m going to have a quick look at plot.

Plot is one of those tricky things because you would think, to make a plot interesting, that is needed to be fresh and new and complex and twist and turn and all of those other splediferous (yes, I know it isn’t a real word) things plots can do. Yet simple is sometimes much better.

So many times you read the advice that you should be able to explain what your story is about in a single sentence. An entire novel boiled down to one sentence that explains the whole point for the story. For Death’s Daughter this caused me no end of headaches because I didn’t figure this part out before I wrote the story. I wrote the story and then asked what it was about would rattle off a bunch of things that Calandra (my protagonist) did but I didn’t really get to the point. What I finally came up with was this:

A girl, cheated of her chosen destiny by forces beyond her understanding, must find a way to end a war between gods and discover the truth about who she is.

Once I knew this about the story, I could see how I had distractions and how some of the sub-plots weren’t working and I just found it much easier to work through the story because I knew exactly what the story was about.

Keeping in mind how much easier working with plot was once I knew what the plot was meant to be, I decided that for my next project I would start out with a simple statement of what I wanted the story to be and work from there. Admittedly, I haven’t even finished the first draft and I already know that what I decided the main point of my story was, isn’t. I’ve gone down a totally different track at this point but I know that once I finish this draft, I will be able to say in a single sentence what the point of my story is and I’ll be able to edit with that in mind.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on plot and how you go about crafting one.

Permalink 21 Comments