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.

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Is This Annoying You Yet?

June 11, 2010 at 5:20 am (Planning, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , , )

Lua Fowles on Bowl of Oranges wrote a post about how to annoy a rookie writer which was an excellent read. I particularly like her second point where someone suggests to her that she should write about their friend who is cool. I love her response to that.

A couple of days ago I was ‘offered’ a kind story suggestion from someone. They’d made a comment about time travel, or gaps in time, or something that I hadn’t particularly listened to. Anyway, the next thing I know they are telling me I can use this for an idea in my next story.

Why?

They thought they were being helpful but I considered it this way. If I go to a restaurant with a mixed bag of groceries, march into the kitchen and drop them on the work bench before announcing, “You can use these to make a meal”, am I being helpful or annoying?

At the time I simply pointed out that time travel wasn’t really my thing because it leant itself far more to science fiction than to fantasy (though it is used in fantasy and quite well but I don’t really want to deal with overcoming paradoxes and the like so I’ll leave time travel to others for now). I additionally pointed out that I’m in the middle of a project at the moment and won’t be thinking about a next story for several months at least with the project I’m working on and projects I already have written but need to do some serious editing work on.

I didn’t get annoyed by this. They thought it was a great idea and maybe it had been a great idea (I probably should listen better to people). They weren’t being condescending or rude or anything like that. They just weren’t very helpful.

I’m the cook and I already went out and found my ingredients after pouring through all the recipes I might have considered. I’ve already done the prep work and cut up all the ingredients and half of them are in the pot cooking. And having gone through the bag that I was delivered I don’t even know a recipe I can cook with that particular combination of food stuffs so I’m really unlikely to use them.

The problem here was that as a non-writer this person didn’t really get the time and dedication required to work on an idea. To them, here is an idea, write the story, done. The thought that I wasn’t looking for new ideas and didn’t really want that idea hadn’t really occurred to him.

Do people do this to you? How do you deal with ‘helpful’ suggestions?

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As The World Falls Down

June 8, 2010 at 6:37 am (fantasy, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

The title of this post Not just a fond memory of David Bowie as the Goblin King in Labyrinth – though if you want a trip down memory lane you can watch the Goblin King himself in action and you may never eat peaches again.  Though I do want to know how he did that thing with the glass balls. I know I tried this as a kid (with tennis balls) with zero success, than again, I can’t juggle either.

The title of the post is actually referring to character creation and how it is easy for characters to be strong and amazing when things are going well but would they actually cope with the situations they get thrown into.

If you read an older style action novel then the hero, stepping from mundane life to saving the world, will simply shrug off any number of attacks and set backs and continue to plow forward with reckless abandon, possibly having one touching loss of confidence scene. These characters don’t come off as realistic though they work because these stories are simply about the action and that’s all they ever claimed to be.

Far more realistic is the character that ends up catatonic after their world gets torn apart around them but that isn’t particularly interesting either and can kind of leave your story high and dry if your protagonist goes on a mental holiday for half the book.

So what does your character do as their world falls down?

Are they helping it along?  Do they follow Sarah’s example (back to Labyrinth) here and smash the walls apart and give no heed to the possible consequence because it is worse to stay where you are? Do they run and hide and need someone or something to help them find their way again? Do they take advantage of the wreckage?

How does your character deal with the world falling down?

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On Motivation

June 3, 2010 at 8:16 am (drafting, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

I’d be the first to admit that I sometimes don’t write every day. In fact, I can go for weeks at times without writing. But then I’ll suddenly start and the words will flow and stopping becomes quite difficult. Even when I’m superbly busy and should be doing other things.

Those spaces in between aren’t procrastination. Merely a different part of my process. I am planning, thinking, wondering. I am turning ideas around inside my head and waiting to know which one is worth pursuing. And once I know, I begin and I write with certainty.

What keeps me writing? I love it. It is a part of me. Every word given life upon the page and worked over and over again.

Yes, it is tiring. Yes, it is distracting from all the other things I could be doing. Yes, sometimes it keeps me away from things I want to do. But clearly I don’t want sleep or to do any of those other things as much as writing. And for as long as that is true, I will write.

Right now, I haven’t had the time to write properly (without distraction) for two days. My MC was left hanging underneath a rock ledge, fighting for grip on slippery rock in a scene that will undoubtably be cut from the next draft. I am currently pursuing a random thought that crossed my mind earlier in the week and I shoved the MC over the edge just to see what would happen. It is entertaining but really unhelpful to the plot so in the next rewrite she might be saved the effort of rescuing herself.

If I don’t write, she’ll hang there forever. I’ll always wonder what she would have done next. I’ll never see the story through and I’ll never get to the rewrite where I remove the useless scene (or find a use for it). Maybe that isn’t such a bad thing. It isn’t as if this story that I’m working on will ever change the world. But I want to write it.

That is my motivation.

What is yours?

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Critical, critical

June 2, 2010 at 10:14 am (Editing, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

I’m going to admit it. I’m becoming very critical.

I’ve always been critical – particularly of myself – but lately I’ve been really critical of a lot of things.

Today I was given a short story to read. The purpose of the story was to demonstrate how to use descriptive language to create an emotional affect in the reader. Possibly it succeeded in that but the only emotional affect it had on me was the desire to grab a red pen and have at it – I managed to resist the urge but barely.

So what was wrong with the story?

Every single person or thing in the story was described by at least two adjectives in almost every single instance. Every single time. I’m sorry. The person is whistling. Sure, you can tell us how they are whistling and what it sounds like but the next time you feel the need to mention it you could just say whistling. You don’t then need to come up with two new adjectives (or an adverb and an adjective) to describe how the whistling is happening.

Objects were appearing ‘out of nowhere’. Umm, no. Unless they were tearing through interdimensional portals I’m pretty sure they came from somewhere. Maybe it wasn’t an important somewhere but to explicitly state they came from out of nowhere just leads the reader to wonder how that is even possible.

Characters were behaving out of character – which in a short story is really distracting because you don’t even have the benefit of later explaining the out of characterness (I know that isn’t a word).

I’ll admit it. I’m awful and I’m tearing this story to threads. And it lead me to realise some of the weaknesses I still have in my own writing. I like adjectives (not to this extent but I over use them to be sure). I may not have things appearing out of nowhere but I’m sure I suddenly have people in scenes where they shouldn’t be and have no logical reason to be and I’m sure I need to work on it. I need to turn this critical eye away from things I’m reading and apply it to things I’m writing and I need to look at what I could be doing instead.

Plenty of areas here for me to work on. What are you working on improving?

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Useful Writing Links

May 23, 2010 at 6:39 am (Death's Daughter, Weekly Review) (, , , , , , , , )

Useful, or maybe just interesting. I’ve been finding some great blogs recently and really want to share all of them but have limited myself to those that I think will be most helpful.

I think anyone thinking about self-publishing should check out Stephen Tremp’s blog, Breakthrough Blogs.  He’s been keeping us up to date on his publishing journey and the steps it ahs taken.  You may need to go through a few posts but there is some excellent information to be found.

Margot Kinberg on Confessions of a Mystery Novelist has an interesting post discussing development of characters and the changes they make with age. Some of her examples are quite interesting and the discussion that follows was well worth the read.

Martin Edwards on Do You Write Under Your Own Name discusses the authenticity and whether it is always necessary. Some interesting points made here.

The blog Plot to Punctuation has a great post, Seven Ways to Show Character Growth.  Fantastic ideas to explore.

From JannaTWrites Blog, Writer’s are Like Superman.  Gave me a smile.

Cheryl Angst discusses the Top 3 Things she focuses on while writing.

Always a Writer asks you what you promise the reader. This one got me thinking.

Then, just because it is my blog, I’m throwing in a link to the excerpt from Death’s Daughter.

As usual, if you have a link you think will be helpful, please add it in your comment but try to make sure it is writing related and not spam.  Wishing everyone the best.

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Is it a fashion statement?

May 22, 2010 at 5:01 am (Character, Setting) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

I usually have a lot of fun dressing my various characters.  Mostly because I have such a strong mental image of the character and few of them ever dress for what they end up doing – plus I set them in fantasy worlds and so I don’t really worry about whether people dressed like that in any particular era or not.

That said, the protagonist in my latest WIP is giving me all kinds of trouble. I have a strong mental image of her but the clothes keep changing and they are always very practical, clothes. Lots of leather and denim and most of it torn and patched, which given the hostile nature of the world I’m building makes perfect sense. But it isn’t all that fun to write about. Still, every time I try to dress her differently I just think, there is no way she’s going to wear that skirt and she certainly isn’t going to wear bright colours and try to attract a lot of attention.

I did destroy her denim jacket though. Which lead to the very touching boy lending her his brown vinyl jacket scene which wasn’t really an improvement on her look but was an interesting interaction between the two characters.

Dressing your characters? Fashion statement or practical? Or both? Love to hear your views.

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My Favourite Female Protagonist

May 20, 2010 at 8:50 am (Character, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , )

Following on from yesterday, where I sent out the call for bloggers to tell us about their favourite female protagonist, today I am sharing mine.

I went through all of my fantasy and looked longingly at old favourites and yet I knew right from the beginning who I was going to pick as my favourite.

The winner is:  Nest from the Knight of the Word Trilogy by Terry Brooks.

Nest is such an interesting protagonist. She isn’t little miss confident and she doesn’t run straight over every other character. She is quiet and thinks things through. She’s afraid and yet determined. As the series goes on she progresses from a child looking for guidance to a woman who is ready to create her own path.  Nest is definitely my favourite protagonist and she owes it to the strong character development that takes place throughout the series.

Favourite Nest moment:  Has to come from book two, when Nest is really transitioning from girl to woman and she meets with John Ross for the first time since she was a child.  The subtle shift in their relationship is so beautifully constructed.

Close runner up, Tori Alexander, just couldn’t match the development because Tori started her trilogy already fairly confident and determined and didn’t undergo as much change.  Jill from Katherine Kerr’s Deverry series is always great fun but her transition isn’t as smooth or as logical at times. I could have picked Calandra but I think I’m biased on that one.

If you haven’t added your link yet – visit yesterday’s post and add your blog.  Can’t wait to find out who your favourite female protagonist is and why.

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Small Spaces and Long Drives

May 19, 2010 at 6:17 am (Author Info, Planning, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , , , )

I spent the weekend in a small car hurtling along a road that I suppose should be called a highway (it was certainly named so on the map).  I will point out that the only thing holding the road together was the roadkill and the only good thing about it being a highway was that you were travelling fast enough that you never really had to look at what you were driving over – eww.

What do you do on long car rides?

I can’t read in the car.  I can’t watch movies or play games or do anything that might stop me from becoming mind-numbingly bored because as soon as I do I get dreadfully sick.  So when I wasn’t behind the wheel and wishing that I didn’t have to focus on the small lumps smearing the road ahead what was there to do? (Conversation is of course out of the question given the driver doesn’t want to be distracted and the other passengers were trying to sleep.)

Well, I ended up doing what I always do when stuck somewhere with nothing to do.  I planned.

Before I left on the trip I had just started a new scene for my current WIP and was unhappy with how it had begun.  While I was staring out the window at the brown grass spreading in every direction, I played the scene through in my head.  Then I reversed and added a different beginning.  That didn’t really work, so I tweaked something else.  I continued to play with the scene in my head until I finally played it through and realised it was perfect. All of the issues I’d been having were resolved.

And only six hours to go until I could find a pen to write it all down in a notebook so that when I got home I could try to fix the scene for real.

What do you end up doing on long car rides?

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What’s Your Point of View?

May 18, 2010 at 6:52 am (Character, Death's Daughter, Thoughts on Writing, Voice) (, , , , , , , , , )

After finishing Death’s Daughter I wrote a post over on my old blog about the difficulties of writing in first person.  I made the decision at the time that I wouldn’t be using first person for the next few projects because I found it limiting in that I could only tell the story from one person’s point of view and if that person didn’t know something critical than the reader couldn’t be told that critical bit of information.

I’ve since written two complete works in third person.  One is a train wreck that I will eventually edit and rewrite and work into something usable.  I blame the protagonist, she stepped outside the action one too many times and was out-shone by the entire rest of the cast. Shame really because the concept and the world work really well and the use of third person allowed for such a broad exploration (which might be how my protagonist got lost).

The other was a less ambitious piece as it was aimed at young adults and follows the narrator essentially sits on the shoulder of the main character for most of the story with a few minor deviations. This piece has been polished, to a point, but I’m not sure what to do with at the moment. It should be the start of a series but I’m not really ready to write the next installment and I don’t know that I will be any time soon, so it is cooling its heels while I think it through.

Now I’m starting a third project and it is also in third person. I think it is time to reflect on my choice.

I still love first person. I love being inside a character’s head and feeling what they feel, learning as they learn. As a reader I enjoy it and as a writer I find it immensely satisfying. For character development.

As far as constructing a plot, I find third person much easier to work with and it provides me with more opportunities and avenues to persue. And you can still construct very interesting characters and show their feelings and reactions, though at a slight distance.

I like both. I think I might try my next project in first person again because it has been awhile but I really am enjoying writing in third person as well.

What point of view do you use?

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