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

I have a plan

August 11, 2010 at 5:04 am (Planning, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

I’m not using it and I haven’t referred to it – but a plan exists. Surely that counts for something.

In case you are wondering what I am talking about, it is the old to plan or not to plan argument in writing. As always, I outline, know where I want to go, and then dutifully ignore any of it and write whatever anyway. From the number of unfinished projects I have stacking up, this may not be the most effective method, but it works for me. I don’t want to lock myself in if I’m not feeling the characters lead me in a certain direction. And I don’t want to be endlessly worried that they haven’t progressed as neatly from point a to point b as I would have liked.

I love to write. I love words. If I can eventually tidy them up enough to make a story, great. If not, I’ll have enjoyed the writing anyway and maybe at some future time I’ll return to the story and figure it all out.

That’s kind of what’s happened at the moment.

I came across a fairly old story (in fact I don’t remember when I started it). I didn’t even have it on my computer any more. I only had the paper copy I printed out. It wasn’t finished and as I was reading it I realised I really wanted to know where this story ended. Only I didn’t remember.

Fortunately I also printed out the plan and included it in the file.

Unfortunately having just read the first act of the story, I realised why I abandoned it. The plan didn’t make any sense. There were entire sub-plots that were clearly leading to X but just didn’t appear in the plan at all. The main character was clearly not motivated by D but by P and those two characters over there were as likely to be conspiring as a spider with a fly. I’d had a plan but the way I’d written that first act just made the plan entirely irrelevant. The story was better than the original plan and the characters a great deal more interesting but it made the second act almost impossible to write without an entire overhaul of the over all goal of the story.

So now I need to figure out where the story should be going and how I’m going to get it there and maybe, just maybe, I’ll get it written. I’m not going to commit myself to it but I have a strong feeling that I’m going to spend quite a number of sleepless nights thinking about it in the near future.

Permalink 15 Comments

Learn to Love Them – They’re Going to Be With You Forever

August 10, 2010 at 5:32 am (Character, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Okay, maybe forever is a slight exaggeration but you really do have to be able to deal with having your characters in your head for a long time.

You spend so much time making them real, getting to know them, putting the through hardships and helping them overcome difficulties. You watch them grow – you help them to grow. You direct them and guide them and shape them at every turn.

Elspeth had an excellent post last week on characters when she shared her 10 Tips for Non-Perfection. It was her list to help the writers out there not view their characters through rose tinted glasses and it is a great list – well worth the read.

As a writer I’m truly cruel to my characters – particularly in drafting stages. Mostly because I want to see how my character reacts under every kind of pressure I can throw at them. In the end I usually pick the crisis that has the most interesting reaction and go with it, but when I’m still developing the character I can be really nasty to them.

But when all of that is said and done, underneath, I still really love my characters and can feel pretty caught up in their lives at times. One particular WIP that I’m still thinking about revising continues to stump me mostly because in the face of the massive danger being faced, nobody dies. Well, one character does, but we didn’t really like them and other than a brief mention in act one they really failed to have an impact.

I didn’t even intentionally write it that way.

It just turned out that after I’d finished the various minor skirmishes that were going on in the huge and dusty battle, every named character (villain or hero) tragically survived. It was a cold blooded conversation with a friend when I sat down with the draft and started systematically listing each character’s attributes and why they should die/live. I still haven’t actually rewritten it.

How do you and your characters get along?

Permalink 15 Comments

Back on Twitter

August 9, 2010 at 5:18 am (Weekly Review) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Midway through last week my internet was back and so I resumed posting some of my favourite blog reads on Twitter. Here are some of the posts I found this week:

My recommendation for this week:

Elspeth Antonelli – 10 tips for characters: http://elspeth-itsamystery.blogspot.com/2010/08/10-tips-for-non-perfection.html

Other great reads:

And a reminder that the blog tour schedule is up for september. I have to add acouple of late entries to the schedule but otherwise the tour is set.

Have a great week and I look forward to reading your blog posts this week.

Permalink 19 Comments

Photo Story – Blog Fest

August 6, 2010 at 6:08 am (fiction) (, , , , , , , , )

Today Melissa from the Undeveloped Story is hosting a blogfest. The idea:

I can remember being told this many times in my life: “Every photo has a great  story behind it.” And they’re right. So, for this fest, I want you to find a photo, any photo, and make up a short story (or poem for all the poets out there) about it. It doesn’t have to be very long. Make it as long as you want, just as long as you tell your story. I know that many of you have other writing projects to do, so I don’t want this to take up too much of your time. Just write however much you want to. The length is up to you this time!

I decided given I have just recently taken a million photos, surely one of them could inspire me to write a short story. So here we go – the photo I chose is one I took in the British Museum – I think I was in the section on Enlightenment at the time but I went through so many exhibits it is hard to remember. Anyway, this photo just continues my thing of taking photos of feet and shoes.

However after staring at said photo for a long time and having a lot on my mind I’ve come up with many ideas and rejected them so I think maybe my part of this blog fest will be every photo inspires a thousand rejections.

Rejected – any notion of weaving greek and or roman gods into a modern setting (mostly because it’s been done and because I wasn’t really in the mood to get historical).

Rejected  – statues coming to life either as discovery or as horror (mostly because its been done. In point of fact, I’ve done it before in a short story).

Rejected – a fallen civilisation being rediscovered with far reaching impact (mostly because this isn’t the start of a short story, but an entire work).

Rejected – a story told from the perspective of an abused platform (mostly because I couldn’t stop laughing long enough to figure out what an abused platform’s voice would sound like).

And on it went.

There is my photo. What would you have done with it?

Permalink 28 Comments

Feeling Tense?

August 5, 2010 at 5:01 am (Character, Tension, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

We all know that tension and conflict are essential to an interesting plot, but sometimes stories just start to feel that little bit melodramatic. They take themselves so seriously and every little thing is a major drama for all the characters. Or a character enters the story – about a third of the way through – and their only real purpose seems to be that the middle of the story was getting boring and someone decided that they needed more tension to keep it moving. This can work if the problems caused by this character somehow link back into the central conflict, or it can feel like an add-in if the character comes, antagonizes people for awhile, and then when the story gets moving again, miraculously either has a change of heart or disappears.

There is virtually no end to the list of different ways you can add tension to a story. Sometimes those seemingly simplistic moments can become very tense (and not in an overly dramatic way when handled well). As a reader, these are my five favourite ways that authors introduce tension for their characters:

1.  A secret is uncovered and the character is trying to prevent the knowledge from spreading. I always like intrigues and character dilemmas. You always wonder just how far is this character going to go to keep this a secret. And when the secret is revealed, how will they react? Admittedly, as a reader I like to be in on the secret and then the fun is seeing if the other characters in the story catch on.

2.  Forced waits. I’m going to confess that I love this as a plot device because in real life this is what causes the most tension. You know what is coming, you know what you need to do, everything is progressing and then it all just stalls. You can really relate to the characters as they get frustrated and impatient and desperate to act while others use the time for further preparations and others still simply work themselves into a bundle of nerves.

3.  Rivalry. It may be a cliché but I do love rivals when they are both well established characters and their both given a fair showing. The play between the two as they try to one-up the other, while not admitting that they care what the other thinks, can make for an intriguing and interesting story and can also create some really interesting tensions between the other characters as they realise what is happening.

4.  RAS (Random Acts of Stupidity). Everybody is stupid at one point or another and when a character has clearly done something incredibly dumb, I like that to be addressed by the other characters, rather than simply ignored because it is convenient to the story. This can create really interesting group dynamics and the tension in the scene where someone confronts the character about their action can be excellently executed.

5.  Anticipation. I remember reading a book in high-school (don’t remember which one) where a girl was having her thumb chopped off (various political reasons leading up to it). But they announced this at the beginning of the chapter. Guy has hold of the girl, blade drawn. She’s crying. Then someone else comes in and there is discussion and another speech and they keep coming back to this girl who has tears streaming down her face. The whole chapter you’re wondering – are they actually going to do this? Is she going to get away or be released? If they had made me wait to the next chapter to find out I probably would have given up reading the book because essentially nothing would have happened in the chapter, but this book was brilliantly executed. Just when you couldn’t take any more and you had to know, the answer is revealed and then the chapter ended.

What are your favourite kinds of tension to read? Or to create for the writers out there.

Permalink 32 Comments

The Sycophant

August 4, 2010 at 5:47 am (Character, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

I’ve jumped works in progress for the time. I wasn’t making progress on one draft and I wanted to write so I decided to have a look at an earlier abandoned project (rather than starting yet another never to be finished project). Interestingly, even though I abandoned the project because I felt it was too flat, reading it after having a fairly lengthy space, I was drawn in to the story and the characters again and when I got to where I’d abandoned the project I was disappointed that the story didn’t finish.

So working between project I am now trying to reacquaint myself with some of my earlier character creations and it is amazing how fast they come back (all giving me dirty looks and muttering about being cast aside).

One of the characters I particularly enjoyed reading about again and getting to know all over again is the sycophant. This isn’t actually his name though it may as well be. It is what he is called by pretty much all the other characters and even though he is only a minor character in the story, he manages pretty effectively to be despised in the most amusing of ways.

I’d clearly also used the thesaurus when writing the draft originally because I noticed I was very careful not to endlessly repeat the word sycophant, even though I really enjoy that word. It rolls right off the tongue and always gives just the right amount of contempt and loathing.

Anyway – alternatives to sycophant:

  • toady
  • appeaser
  • crawler
  • flatterer
  • follower
  • greaser
  • hanger-on
  • parasite

All of them very flattering words.

Incidentally, when introducing the character I don’t tell the reader that he is a sycophant. I have one of my other characters call him one within the first few lines of him entering the story and then back it up by having him carry out some very toady like actions. His character is established and I haven’t once said to the reader (by the way, you’re meant to dislike this character).

I’ve since also moved on from this project but I think the time will come very soon when I’m going to have to finish this one.

Permalink 27 Comments

Blog Tour

August 3, 2010 at 5:30 am (September Blog Tour) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

This schedule might move a bit yet but here is the tour schedule for September. I’m asking the owners of the blogs I am visiting to check the links (I’ll have checked them but mistakes happen) before the tour and let me know if there is anything wrong (date, topic, link).

September 1: Guest post on Eric’s blog (Working my Muse) about character.

September 2: Guest post on Geoffrey’s blog (Misanthropology101) about the writing life.

September 4: Guest post on Lua Fowles blog (Like a Bowl of Oranges) about the need for quiet confidence.

September 7: interview on Sonia  Clark’s blog (Sonya Clark).

September 9: Guest post on Alex Willging’s blog (The Rhapsodist) about writing fantasy.

September 12: Guest post on Laura Diamond’s blog (Diamond – Yup, Like the Stone) about females in fantasy.

September 13: Guest post on Alex J Cavanugh’s blog (Alex J Cavanaugh) about visuals that help the writing process.

September 14: Guest post on Mason Canyon’s blog (Thoughts in Progress) about the origin of an idea.

September 15: Interview on Carol Kilgore’s blog (Under the Tiki Hut).

September 16: Interview on Susan Whitfield’s blog (Susan Whitfield’s blog).

September 18: Guest post on Jemi Faser’s blog (Jemi Fraser) about making fantasy unique.

September 20: Guest post on Nancy Allen’s blog (Nancy Kelly Allen – Writing Workshop) about reading.

September 22: Interview on Lee Robertson’s blog (Only Time Will Tell).

September 25: Guest post on Barb’s blog (The Creative Barbwire) about Death’s Daughter.

September 30: Guest post on Rosemary’s blog (Miss Rosemary’s Novel Ideas) about what happens after the manuscript is accepted.

And this one is not strictly in September but is definitely part of the tour:

October 3: Interview on Little Scribbler’s blog (Little Scribbler).

As you can see it is a busy month but there are still dates free if you would like to take part in the tour and host me for a day. Otherwise, I hope you come along on the tour.

Permalink 24 Comments

What a character

August 1, 2010 at 5:45 am (Character, fantasy, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

I was recently visiting Nancy Kelly Allen’s blog and found some excellent advice on critiquing a manuscript. I must admit however, I was drawn to Nancy’s advice on the main character.

Is the main character active in carrying the plot forward? The main character should be responsible for solving the problem or reaching the goal. Uncle Hamm or an older brother should not step in and save the character that is experiencing the trouble.

This advice I have heard before. I don’t recall which blog I read it on but the author explained that the problem with book 6 or the Harry Potter series was that Harry was spending all of his time trying to win a sporting trophy rather than trying to solve any of his problems. In point of fact, Dumbledore deliberately kept Harry in the dark about what most of those problems were which meant that the reader was cheated out of a possibly more interesting story than the one we were delivered.

The fact that I’ve heard this advice before didn’t stop me from sitting and going ‘oh’. Mostly because it is one of thousands of things that when you think about it should be obvious but sometimes when you are looking at a draft completely eludes you until someone else points it out. It helps to be reminded, often, and it is a really important point.

Linking back to Harry Potter, one of my biggest problems with the series was that Harry was given the starring role in the first book but was almost the least interesting character in it. Hermione solved most of the problems while Ron randomly ran into things that may have helped and occasionally Harry would do something pretty stupid that turned out to be good. Harsh, but at the time that was how I saw it. The second book in the series was even worse as far as establishing Harry as the hero. Even in a coma Hermione was more useful than Harry turned out to be. She gave him the vital clue that made everything in the conclusion possible.

I actually do like the Harry Potter books and I’m not pulling them to pieces, just the main character who was always a little underwhelming to me.

Thanks Nancy for reminding us of this excellent advice.

What is the best advice you’ve been given about character recently?

Permalink 16 Comments

One for the good guys

July 31, 2010 at 5:27 am (Character, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

I love watching old movies. The good guys all wear white or at least tan and other pale colours and manage to keep their hair in perfect formation (maybe one strand will blow across their face) and they save the day with minimal loss and pain. Perfect feel good moment. I hate reading stories like this though.

Maybe it is because I look for different things from the movies I watch to the books I read. Movies can have a terrible story, bad acting, awful effects, it doesn’t matter as long as I’m being entertained. Yes, I prefer movies that actually have a story and good actors, the effects can go either way, but entertainment is all that is required. From books, I expect far more. I expect an intelligent and intriguing story and characters with depth that draw me in. I expect that the good guy won’t just be good because he’s (she’s) written that way but that they are actually given some sort of purpose and motivation.

My favourite protagonists when I read, have flaws. Massive and horrible character flaws usually. While I love reading David Eddings stories (the Elenium Trilogy is amazing) there is only one David Eddings character that ever made my list of favourite characters and that was Althalus. All of his other heroes are good because they are good and work together because it is the right thing to do. Althalus on the other hand was a thief and was coerced by a goddess disguised as a cat into saving the world. That appealed to me on a number of levels.

People in real life are never all good or all bad. And they aren’t the same in every situation and around different groups of people. I think characters in stories should reflect that to an extent.

That said, just going entirely the opposite direction and having an anti-hero can feel a bit old as well.

Who is your favourite good guy and why?

Permalink 15 Comments

« Previous page · Next page »