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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » It’s all a matter of confidence

   
Author Topic: It’s all a matter of confidence
Grumpy old guy
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Anyone who’s read a few of my posts over the last eighteen months or so will know that I lost my ability to write a story; or even create one. I bitched and moaned and whined about how unfair it was and how bad it made me feel, but what I didn’t tell you was I didn’t just sit down in quiet dark corner with a large snifter of brandy and get blotto; for eighteen months I thought about the writing process as I saw it. It was all I could do.

Then, recently, by changing the mix of my medication, I regained the ability to write—hooray for me! And I again found the urge to read what other people thought about writing, people who were more respected writers and had more gravitas than I. I ordered a number of books, including Damon Knight’s Creating Short Fiction, Percy Lubbock’s The Craft of Fiction, and John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction and was thoroughly disappointed.

Don’t get me wrong! I couldn’t recommend highly enough each of these books to the novice, or beginning writer. They hold pearls of wisdom to learn that require of the writer deep thought and no small measure of disappointment. But they weren’t saying anything new to me. I had thought of all the things they had to say and I had come to the same conclusions they had. I sighed and put the books away in my bookshelf and wondered where I should turn to next.

Then it occurred to me, I had learned all the fundamentals of creating and writing a story. I had learned the craft of storytelling—all I now have to do is achieve Mastery in that craft—by doing.

Recently I got the idea for a short story and everything was going swimmingly until I was baulked by Fred. For an explanation of Fred, read Damon Knight’s Creating Short Fiction. For twelve days I have been thwarted by Fred, until tonight. In the full flush of my new-found confidence that I understood the craft of writing, I knew I could find a solution to this impasse. In the end it was quite simple. Fred was stopping me from developing my story any further than the third scene because, for a short story, I needed to confine myself to a single moment, a single problem, and a single solution, which is simplicity itself and not the grand sweep I was developing. So, I jotted down these three scenes—and they work as a short-story

Scene 1: Routine interrupted/Inciting incident and complication

Scene 2: Rising tension to Climax. An agoraphobic character required to go ‘out into the world’.

Scene 3: Dénouement/Resolution—the character walks off into the night, a changed man!

All I needed was confidence in my ability to use what I know I know to overcome my momentary hurdle.

I offer no advice or lessons to any who read this, except possibly the idea that you will reach a point where the advice of others is telling you stuff you already know. When you get to that point, it’s time to take stock of yourself as writer and focus on your weak spots. Mine is predominantly grammar; I‘m currently looking for a good tutor. [Smile]

Phil.

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Disgruntled Peony
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My story, while different, shares some similarities. For years, I just plain lost the confidence that I could write. I knew how things worked in theory, but my focus was shot and I assumed that meant I had lost the ability to move past the outlining stage to anything more meaningful than a first chapter. I wanted to write big, epic tales and I refused to try anything less. That meant I wasn't writing anything at all.

In June I decided I was sick of that. I'd quit drinking caffeinated beverages about a year previous. That was one of the things that had affected my focus--not to mention my thought and sleep patterns--for the worst. Over the course of that year my old interests began returning, and with that, ever so slowly, came the drive to write.

I still don't have the focus to work on any one thing for long stretches of time, but I can work on multiple projects in short spurts. I've got a story I'm nudging toward draft three (which is taking longer than the first two drafts, but I'm okay with that). I've also got about five different stories of varying lengths in different parts of the brainstorming process. I'm a little rusty, yet, but that will be fixed through practice. All I had to do was decide that yes, I *am* capable.

Also, Phil, I'm not perfect with grammar but I have a decent sense of pacing and flow (especially when it comes to editing work that already exists, whether mine or otherwise). I also know of a useful and approachable grammar textbook you can buy for practically nothing.

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Robert Nowall
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Well, my bouts with writer's block tend to be of a couple of types---either I'm coming off something and am more-or-less sick of writing---or other events, often outside events, take me away from it. (I didn't write for about six months after 9 / 11.) Mercifully I'm not "on" anything so I don't have to worry about that.

When I am having trouble, when I think I really should be getting back to it, I try to trick myself out of it. I've got several things I resort to, that usually break my block. Lately I've been "novelizing" online cartoons---usually of the lurid variety---and that gets me going writingwise. But it's not the only trick in my bag.

I cut down on my caffeinated intake a couple of years ago---a matter of not drinking soda during my work week, just on my weekends (which are Monday morning through Wednesday afternoon, which is another story.) But I've been sleepy at work and on the way home from work---dangerous!---so I've taken to drinking hot tea in the mornings when I get home, raising my caffeine intake a little, but without the sugar and fizz.

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Disgruntled Peony
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quote:
Originally posted by Robert Nowall:
I cut down on my caffeinated intake a couple of years ago---a matter of not drinking soda during my work week, just on my weekends (which are Monday morning through Wednesday afternoon, which is another story.) But I've been sleepy at work and on the way home from work---dangerous!---so I've taken to drinking hot tea in the mornings when I get home, raising my caffeine intake a little, but without the sugar and fizz.

Caffeine isn't terrible for everyone, but it plays merry hell on me. The reason I quit is because I found out that there is, in fact, such a thing as a caffeine allergy and I was displaying a disturbing amount of the symptoms for it. (I've never been officially diagnosed, because doctor visits cost money, but I did a lot of research on my symptoms and this is what kept popping up.)

If I slip up and drink a caffeinated beverage--just *one*--it can have an adverse affect my mood and focus for multiple days. I was using it as a lifeline to keep me focused at work for about two years straight, and it got to the point where I was worried I might be showing early signs of dementia. Things have, thankfully, gotten better. I still have focus problems, but they're manageable, and my other issues have all but vanished.

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Robert Nowall
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I'm pretty sure I don't have that...but I thought it best to cut down some on the caffeine...and the sugar...and the carbonation...
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Disgruntled Peony
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Yes, definitely.
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Captain of my Sheep
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First, I'm glad you were able to plan your story and get unstuck, Phil. Hope you get the the rush of endorphins I usually get when I figure something out.

quote:
I had learned the craft of storytelling—all I now have to do is achieve Mastery in that craft—by doing.
For the sake of lively discussion, I'd argue that you haven't really learned until you do—and do well.

But this is based on my tumultuous experience of reading and understanding quite well everything Dwight V. Swain said in Techniques of the Selling Writer and then finding those concepts not so easy to apply to actual writing.

I've applied them, yes, but not without considerable effort. So to me, I've only "learned" maybe 2% of his teachings.

This didn't surprise me. I know now that I can read all I want about writing, but my writing won't improve unless I write, write, write and sweat and get stuck and think for hours how to get unstuck, and write and get stuck again, ad infinitum.

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extrinsic
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Epiphanies lay in the wings, waiting -- for appreciation, resistance, refusal, inspiration, whatever -- and are perpetually dawn and ever infinite. The next epiphany awaits realization.
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Robert Nowall
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Not to make *further* light of being under medicated care, but...I don't drink coffee at all. Can't stand the taste.
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extrinsic
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Clinical caregiver direction advised I was best practice proscribed from caffeine consumption. Caffeine is a vascular constrictor; and complications for diabetes, hypertension, and hyperlipidemia are substantial. After decades of unrestrained caffeine consumption and thirteen years without caffeine of any source, I renewed my acquaintance.

The interim was, at least, enlightening. My no-caffeine energy level, already compromised by health complications, was near nonexistent. I felt like a soggy dishrag most of the time, needed regular midday naps, which skewed my circadian rhythm, slipped loose from temporal sleep cycles, and saw no appreciable health benefits or improvements. Net -- caffeine deprivation was more deleterious than advantageous.

My tolerance for caffeine, though, is rock bottom. A 100 mg caffeine dose, about half a cup of regular strength coffee, is too much. An eight fluid ounce half-caff-decaf mocha latte ordered at the coffee shop emporium draws smirks from baristas and patrons. They do not know my caffeine dose considerations and rudely impose their own assessments over mine. Not unusually, some maladjusted server will substitute caffeinated coffee or mis-measure proportions for my decaf orders. Thus, coffee shops generally are off my consumer radar.

On my own initiative, I carefully apportion caffeine doses. When I want -- or need -- caffeine, I measure doses accordingly. First resort is instant coffee, half a tablespoon of caffeinated crystals, one tablespoon of decaf for a sixteen ounce mug, and half latte. Not bad for a cup of coffee. My energy level has improved, too, without any overblown caffeine nervous anxiety responses. I closely monitor and manage my caffeine consumption. If I need to, too, I swear I can quit anytime.

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Captain of my Sheep
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quote:
I felt like a soggy dishrag most of the time
Hahaha.
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Grumpy old guy
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Some might think this a conceit, or unwarranted hubris because I solved an insignificant plotting problem:
quote:
Originally posted by me:

I had learned all the fundamentals of creating and writing a story. I had learned the craft of storytelling—all I now have to do is achieve Mastery in that craft—by doing.

I can assure you that is not the case.

The reality is there are only so many story types and structures. There are only so many plot types, only so many ways to increase the tension, only so many ways to do anything in writing that it is a wonder everybody isn’t getting published. So what’s going on?

Knowledge without understanding is useless—if not damn dangerous.

My excitement at realising I had a new-found confidence in my writing isn’t because I know I know everything I need to know in order to write a story; it’s because I finally understand. I finally understand the creative process that is taking place in my head, I finally understand who and what ‘Fred’ is and what he does. I finally understand most of the things I know about writing.

A case in point: I could never quite ‘get’ Lajos Egri’s notion of the premise in a story. Premise may be another term for theme or the answer to, “What’s it all about?” but whatever you want to call it, it is the articulation of the idea that glues the story together.

In the beginning, I had always viewed it as the container within which the plot and the characters did their thing. But today, after my epiphany, I realised that the premise is a part of the evolution of the story and happens alongside the creation of character and plot. It isn’t separate, it evolves and changes and grows as the characters and plot evolve, change, and grow. All three subtly influence each of the others until they ultimately form a unity of idea, plot and character: a unity of story.

Phil.

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Disgruntled Peony
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quote:
A case in point: I could never quite ‘get’ Lajos Egri’s notion of the premise in a story. Premise may be another term for theme or the answer to, “What’s it all about?” but whatever you want to call it, it is the articulation of the idea that glues the story together.

In the beginning, I had always viewed it as the container within which the plot and the characters did their thing. But today, after my epiphany, I realised that the premise is a part of the evolution of the story and happens alongside the creation of character and plot. It isn’t separate, it evolves and changes and grows as the characters and plot evolve, change, and grow. All three subtly influence each of the others until they ultimately form a unity of idea, plot and character: a unity of story.

I've been encountering this myself first hand, although I didn't have words to express it. I'd never put as much effort into one story as I'm putting into 'Ravenous', primarily because with each draft the premise, plot and characters grow notably more complex with each draft. I do think it's approaching being done... As much as I want to move on to other stories, I really want to be able to say I finished a project.
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Grumpy old guy
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For me, I have come to the realisation that it has to be, "One thing at a time." Otherwise I'll have a drawer full of half-finished manuscripts (He slowly pushed the drawer closed hoping no one will notice its contents.)

As for your plot and characters becoming more complex, that is a good thing; it gives a depth to that narrative most writers will kill for. Even if half of it is never used, it influences your subconscious as you write.

All you need to do is make sure the complexity is justified--a hard call sometimes.

Phil.

Edited to add:

Above, when I said: "All three subtly influence each of the others until they ultimately form a unity of idea, plot and character: a unity of story." This is different to Aristotle's concept of unity of action. Unity of action refers to constructing a story that deals with a single episode in the life of the Hero. That is, keeping the story confined only to those things that impact, and have a bearing on, the action of the Hero as he responds to this particular dramatic problem. Lord of the Rings has unity of action because, despite everything that is going on, it deals solely with the conclusion to the War of the Ring; which began the moment Sauron created the One ring and the Elves became aware of it.

Phil.

[ July 28, 2015, 04:13 AM: Message edited by: Grumpy old guy ]

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Robert Nowall
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There was a once-well-known SF writer, with heart problems related to war injuries, who was put on a low salt diet and tranquilizers in the 1950s. Now the drugs of that era weren't near as good as what we've got now...and the result was a drastic change in the guy's personality---didn't seem like the same guy. Couldn't write.

So he went back to all his old eating and drinking habits, and came back as a writer---and died age thirty-four.

It's a tradeoff, I guess.

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Grumpy old guy
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I have 'suffered' for my art, writing, and I have made a conscious decision to accept the physical side-effects of my medication--side-effects that would be totally unacceptable to most men--in order to write. Some of these effects can be reversed with surgery, some are permanent while I'm on these drugs.

But I don't care! I was given a great gift by accident and I will not relinquish it for anything; not love nor money nor physical gratification. I will write and gain fulfillment from that.

Luckily, the medication is non-lethal and, despite the heavy drinking I've indulged in over the years (I'm essentially a relapsed alcoholic, but not quite), my doctor says you'll have to beat me to death with a stick if you expect me to die any time soon [Smile] --or within the next 30 years at least. So, there's a lot of writing there to be done.

Phil.

[ July 28, 2015, 08:37 AM: Message edited by: Grumpy old guy ]

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Captain of my Sheep
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quote:
So he went back to all his old eating and drinking habits, and came back as a writer---and died age thirty-four.
Oh my goodness. Poor guy.

quote:
My excitement at realising I had a new-found confidence in my writing isn’t because I know I know everything I need to know in order to write a story; it’s because I finally understand.
Ah, I get it now, Phil. [Smile] I'll say it again, I'm happy for you.


quote:
I really want to be able to say I finished a project.
I'm in exactly the same boat. Best of luck to both of us! To all of us! I want to experience the rush of happiness I had when I finished my first draft, only with my last draft.
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extrinsic
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My prognosis is less than thirty years, though the prognosis misses possible future medical advancements.

Rust Hills discusses unity of idea, plot, and character and story. The unity he bases around character movement, not character shift, which he labels unnatural and abrupt flip-flop character change and melodramatic. Melodramatic character change revolves around plot movement for the sake of the plot.

Hills notes that natural character change is a consequence of character movement from one state of being to a different state of being. Though Hills doesn't appreciate the state of being movement as moral truth discovery outcome, he scratches at the edges of the idea. Natural character and plot, even idea and story movement, align over the course of an action, oriented around the intangible though substantive moral truth action packaged and misdirected, persuasively veiled by a tangible action.

I've been studying a type of irony labeled by Connop Thirlwall "practical irony." One of its ramifications is this very concept of idea, plot, character, story unity. Of course, at some point during composition, a writer fully realizes all of a story's action and outcome before even the first reader opens a narrative's pages. Yet a well-crafted narrative unfolds the action as an immediate now persona, event, moment, place, and situation scenario -- the outcome complication satisfaction and conflict resolution kept in abeyance, in suspension, until the bitter end.

This is also known as practical Socratic irony and dramatic irony. Thirlwall distinguishes those three types of irony from each other for their unique qualifications, for best audience persuasion effect: rhetorical effect.

Socrates used irony in which he feigned ignorance so a debate opponent revealed the bases of his argument -- he didn't debate women. Socrates then pounced upon the fallacies of his opponent's arguments. He practiced gotcha-ambush irony, the cruelest bullying form of irony. The arguments' validity didn't matter, per se, only the fallacies of argumentation drew Socrates' focused attention, like post hoc, cum hoc, and ad hoc fallacies, not to mention ad homimen, ad nauseam, and tu quo que fallacies, and other fallacy types: begs the question assumption of a conclusion, and circular reasoning. Socrates had a fertile field of reasoning fallacies to assault.

Practical irony and dramatic irony are nonetheless subtype parts of Socratic irony. Practical irony's noblest expression is part of effective instruction. A subject-matter expert instructs a pupil or group of pupils by directing them toward self-discovered knowledge. The expert knows the knowledge already though doesn't spoon feed it to pupils. Far more self-rewarding and more effective learning mastery occurs from the Socratic method. Not to mention, pupils as well teach an instructor through the method.

Practical irony in the vein of prose likewise holds a writer's knowledge of a narrative's action and outcomes in abeyance for best persuasive effect. The exigencies of creative expression demand effectual practical irony. Another label for the irony category then could be exigent irony -- situational exigencies that require knowledge be held in abeyance for best practice persuasion.

Dramatic irony likewise holds knowledge in abeyance. For prose, the subject of dramatic irony's abeyance is one or more parties who are oblivious to circumstances -- ideally, agonists. This is a, or the, locus for moral action: agonists are unaware of their self-involved immoral wants' causal creation of problems for the self. Although -- readers are at least arbitrarily consciously and subconsciously aware of the moral crisis parameters.

David Wolverton labels the persuasive reader effect of dramatic irony "rooting interest." Hills likewise. and Damon Knight, Wayne Booth, Seymour Chatman, etc. Rooting interest bases upon reader awareness of dramatic irony's individual knowledge exclusions and "roots" for, urges an empathetic agonist's best advised though flawed action to discover the excluded knowledge. Oh no! Don't go down that rabbit hole. Don't open that basement door, pick up that knife, touch that live wire, fall for that misadjusted love interest. Ad nauseam infinitum. External and superficial actions all, though; the moral action is the substance of the matter and aligns with audience value systems.

Say for the rabbit hole descent, why does Alice go? What moral truth discovery awaits that Alice in Wonderland's opening action sets up? That Lewis Carrol intended and knew at the start, the middle, and the end before even the first reader opened the pages? Moral maturation at least. The child enters the rabbit hole of adult responsibility and accountability from a situation of selfish child demand for attention and immediate and effortless entertainment and self-gratification. The Queen of Hearts nemesis externally emblemizes Alice's internal moral action. Alice discovers only she could provide for her own well-being, entertainment, and self-gratification, and responsibly, accountably, cooperatively for others mutual, shared, and reciprocal common good.

Alice is at the start setup shown as a petulant child whose immoral actions create her problems. That is coordinated idea, irony, event, plot, setting, moral, and character and story movement action unity.

[ July 28, 2015, 11:43 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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extrinsic
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Grumpy old guy,

Looking for a "good" grammar tutor -- in person, online, a combination?

Consider when prospecting for a grammar tutor where knowledge shortfalls could benefit composition and the patience level of the tutor. Learning pace almost always follows behind instruction pace; instructors rush through what is to them second nature and presupposed pupil mastered knowledge. The former, what knowledge shortfalls to fill -- an individual doesn't know what the individual doesn't know. An inventory of customs, conventions, and standards reveals those gaps.

One concept may be immediately grasped, perhaps even led ahead of an instructor. Another may challenge grasp for a short or long time.

A self-directed course of study, an inventory of grammar principles avails a learner of previously learned information to build upon and in timely sequence and progress. A shortfall area could be of the don't know what you don't know type and, therefore, overlooked. A tutor might fill in those kinds of gaps, though is as well complicated by missing knowledge areas, too, generally.

Resort to a comprehensive grammar handbook is a best advised practice in any case. Even then, shortfalls of any one handbook in crucial topic areas may leave needs unanswered. Some grammar handbooks contradict others, too, more than a few, actually. Multiple resources is my resort; however, handbook principles do not cover every contingency. A few or several handbook sources covers more contingencies than any one can.

A next resort then is a usage dictionary, which describes optional usages. Even then, answers may evade unequivocal satisfaction.

Next resort is precedents; online resources, for example, offer considerations for common usages not indexed in dictionary, grammar handbook, style manual, or usage dictionary. A usage could be common to one discourse community's consensus agreement though another community consensus could proscribe the usage altogether.

The above resources are for navigating the perils of Standard Written English grammar, for whichever dialect customs: U.S., British, Commonwealth nations -- Australia, Canada, etc. -- other native and non-native English user communities and this evolving dialect labeled "international" English.

Prose grammar customs to variable degrees conform to SWE grammars, options notwithstood. Rhetoric's figurative language schemes and tropes entail those stylistic options for prose. A likewise grammar principle generally overlooked by handbooks is the merge between SWE and rhetoric. The breakdown of the principle categorizes according to nondiscretionary choice and discretionary choice; that is, also categorical, proscriptive, prescriptive, and descriptive principles.

What's a writer who wants only to write, not become a grammar subject-matter expert, to do? A paradox for sure. "Proper" grammar is an implicit social contract of accessible expression. Yet prose's needs require lively language that inherently deviates from standard customs. A reconciliation of that cognitive double-bind dissonance, simply, is, do as one will according to available grammar and vocabulary inventories, suited to the subject matter and its customs, suited to the opportune occasion, and to the audience situation -- principally based upon informed choice.

In other words, anything so long as what's expressed is of ease to read, comprehensible, appealing to readers, and based upon informed choice.

A dynamic starting point for grammar skill advancement -- course of study -- as pertains to prose is fundamental building blocks review. Parts of speech and their functions and dysfunctions (word function and dysfunction analysis enhances skill advancement on top of mere intellectual awareness of parts of speech labels), for example:

Adjectives
Adverbs
Articles (actually adjectives, though)
Conjunctions
Interjections
Nouns
Prepositions
Pronouns
Verbs

Together, words and suitable choices are diction and syntax considerations combined, based, likewise, on building block customs: sentence fragments, individual dependent words, phrases, clauses, sentences, paragraphs, sections, chapters, books, -ologies, whole compositions, not to mention, the opus of composition perceived as a whole.

From those above building block bases, a course of grammar study can be designed. As well, a progression through punctuation dynamics, composition mechanics and aesthetics, style mechanics and aesthetics, can be incorporated in the course design. Grammar literacy builds over time, one building block at a time; mindful that necessity and application are the incentives and practices that foster progress and retention -- grammar mastery.

Like, for example, preposition use's functions and dysfunctions. Prepositions' function is connection, typically noun phrase connections to predicate phrases, as well, noun phrase connections to sentence subjects, to other noun phrases like sentence objects, which are object complements. Adverbial and verbal phrases serve similar functions, though typically predicate and predicate complement connections.

Dysfunctional preposition use jams ideas together, into train-wreck run-on sentences. Misuse, overuse, abuse of prepositions disturbs ease of read and comprehension, plus a lost reader is disengaged, appeal potential lost.

Though of some utility, not nearly comprehensive enough, online grammar handbooks organize a course of study based upon building-block arranged design. Here's one that has some credibility: Grammarly Handbook. In my estimation, that site handbook is about a third shy of comprehensive. Mindful, no one handbook covers every contingency, The Little, Brown Handbook is one of the more comprehensive at around nine-tenths comprehensive. $$$ costly though.

[ July 29, 2015, 01:47 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Grumpy old guy
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I guess I just want to write better sentences and paragraphs. I am quite literate and I have an extensive vocabulary, I know all the right words and when and how to use them. But, they could be so much better--at least that's the way I feel at the moment.

If I know so much, why does it feel like I know nothing at all?

Phil.
(Pining for the fjords.)

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Disgruntled Peony
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It's because there's always something new to learn when it comes to writing, or in fact art of any kind. The thrill of discovery is worth it, though. [Smile]
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extrinsic
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The more that's learned reveals how much learning is possible and how much is not known or knowable.

Another cognitive dissonance: The more one learns the more one learns how little one knows. When the floodgates open, the only consolations are to learn what is of the moment's necessity and interest and realization of forward progress toward proficiency, perhaps expertise.

A peculiar and fascinating aspect for subjective knowledge -- subjective to mean personal and subject to question and interpretation. Subjectivism is a belief that human experience is individual and not subject to universal experience, which is Objectivism: a belief that human experience is universal.

Both are, obviously, valid. An individual proportions personal and shared universal experience. A writer, though, weights in favor of one as much as to the exclusion of the other. In either case, subjectivist or objectivist emphasis, audience appeal strengths are distinct. Subjectivism offers unique insights into the "Other" existence experience -- vicarious voyeurism. Objectivism appeals from the shared universal bases of the human condition.

Not to say that Ayn Rand or L. Ron Hubbard's unique brands of Objectivism are exclusively objectivism. Belief in objectivism as superior to or exclusive of subjectivism is itself subjective.

The fantastical genres generally lean toward stronger objectivism pertinent to the known or knowable cosmos of human perception and offer mass culture appeal for the shareable aspects of human experience. The fantastical motifs, however, lean toward subjectivism.

Where grammar fits into the objectivist-subjectivist axis -- objectivism believes grammar is universal and fixed, immutable and nondiscretionary, largely proscriptive, somewhat prescriptive. Subjectivism appreciates that grammar, like living language, is lively and vigorous. In other words, discretionary and descriptive and subject to personal and individual grammar. Only so long as a personal grammar is of reading ease, comprehensible, and appealing: shareable.

By the way, one of the subtler and fundamental organization principles of grammar is judicious emphasis. Formal composition generally places emphasis up front. Prose and poetry and informal composition place emphasis midway or closer to an end. Formal composition's profluence depends on focus toward a conclusory end to an argumentation, the "hook" being a claim asserted and audience interest in reaching the conclusive outcome of the claim. Prose, etc., use emotional charge for emphasis and profluence depends on the emotional ups and downs, the emotional trajectory generally shaped like a ziggurat. Clause level, sentence level, paragraph, etc., prose organization flows fluently through emotional charge and discharge: preparation, suspension, and resolution.

The recent Writing Class opening lines exercise -- wetwilly's entry evinces the preparation and suspension phases in two sentences. The others do too, though untimely defuse tension by leaving no doubt of the resolution. This is certainly illustrative of a goal for thirteen lines' primary directive to engage readers to turn the page.

[ July 30, 2015, 12:10 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Reziac
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quote:
Originally posted by Disgruntled Peony:The reason I quit is because I found out that there is, in fact, such a thing as a caffeine allergy
This sounds suspiciously like borderline Graves disease being pushed over the edge by caffeine's stimulus. That's pretty much a laundry list of symptoms, including being consistent with the effects of thyroid antibodies.
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Disgruntled Peony
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quote:
Originally posted by Reziac:
quote:
Originally posted by Disgruntled Peony:The reason I quit is because I found out that there is, in fact, such a thing as a caffeine allergy
This sounds suspiciously like borderline Graves disease being pushed over the edge by caffeine's stimulus. That's pretty much a laundry list of symptoms, including being consistent with the effects of thyroid antibodies.
All I know is, quitting caffeine made it stop.
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dkr
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Hey folks! This has been a most enjoyable thread to peruse. It calls to mind how vastly different we are from one another while still being very much alike. I have been blessed with a long run of good health, physically speaking of course. Pretty sure my brain has a coupla bad fuses. But hey, I am not only a writer but also a musician... an excuse that seems to satisfy most inquiries along the "this guy is wacko" vein of thought.

My biggest obstacle has been and continues to be that I have very limited time to spend writing. I would love to be much more active here in the treehouse. Every time I have a few moments online I check in here and almost without exception I gain insight, I refuel my imagination, I catch new wind in my sails. I have every intention to participate and converse, challenge and be challenged, but my 15 minutes flash by and I must jump up and run.

The same applies to my writing time. I have read several author accounts of writing novels in 15 minute snippets. That fairly well defines my trek. No doubt that is a thing many of us share. We gotta make money no matter what is happening on the page. This is a great difficulty for me. It takes me a bit to engage and get my thoughts and emotions to that deeper place where my characters are alive, to where I feel what they are feeling. The 15 minute snippets serve to compile gobs of shallow thinking and less than meaningful interaction between characters and ends up with me spending 3 times the effort to work it out in editing. The overall result is that the artist in me wins. I spend more time writing than I have available and find myself on an involuntary diet of beans, rice and coffee.

However! I would not trade it for that former corporate life I lived for 30 years. "Lived" being subjective. I made great money, sort of traveled, had cars and a house and plenty of toys to ignore. 90+ hours a week leaves little time for toys. Or a wife and kids. Or sleep. Or peace. Zero time for writing. Zero time for music. What a trade off. I hope I have chosen wisely. Most times it seems I have. Thanks for letting me romp a bit. Gotta run

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Scot
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dkr, I can relate to the time constraint. And I relate to Phil's recognitions of things-he's-heard-before in every new how-to-write book he reads. (Thankfully, I can't empathize as much with the health issues, or, I guess, the corporate pyrrhic victory.)

I've found that I can have a really enjoyable writing session if I get 90 minutes for it. But I've also found that my times and seasons right now only afford me 30 minutes tops. In that context, I've started counting 30-minutes of writing as a success to be enjoyed. I also switched gears from trying to "write something," including drafting and planning and organizing, to just writing to see what happens next. That may be the biggest impact on my actually completing the manuscripts I've finished so far.

I hope someday to have one cleaned up enough to move to the next stage of the business.

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Disgruntled Peony
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I'm currently dealing with the darker side of the confidence issue, and have been for the better part of a month. Lately I've felt like nothing I write is any good, and perhaps it never will be. This leads to editing the same passages over and over in search of that holy grail of prose that doesn't exist, or in creative techniques of avoidance and procrastination that keep me from writing altogether.

I'm honestly very frustrated with myself right now. I want to enjoy writing. I don't like it when working through a story feels like a slog through viscous hip-deep swamp mud. I do want to write professionally, someday. That means I should be professional about it, right? I should keep going, even when the going is tough. The problem is that it all feels tough, lately, and I'm not sure how to move past that.

EDIT: It took printing out a copy of the story I've been working on and looking over the manuscript by hand, but I think I've finally managed to make enough of a story-related breakthrough to get myself back on the right track. I have confidence in the story again, at least, and that's a good sign.

[ December 02, 2015, 12:04 AM: Message edited by: Disgruntled Peony ]

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extrinsic
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The dark place of doubt strikes me down often enough. A few recent epiphanies have lessened doubt to now a tool to be alert for that says something's missing.

What's missing? If I don't know, I can't know. How to transcend that doubt and unknown is the matter of the epiphanies; that is, features that say what a story is really about, though intangible, what I want to examine and say about whatever from a slant direction, not directly, how every piece and part and whole is both concrete and abstract, everything represents something, that irony is not mere sarcasm, nor satire, rather social commentary that affirms the moral human condition through incongruent intent and surface circumstances, even observable irony. That moral human condition affirmation is what I want to examine and to say.

Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, for example, contains not one iota of overt sarcasm, little overt satire, a few humorous parts, and is a masterpiece of observable irony. Sinclair intended to change the public mind about worker workplace conditions, instead, he gutted the public stomach about food handling sanitation. To me, his subconscious told the true story that mattered most, that his conscious mind did not appreciate. On the other hand, Sinclair as well brought attention to worker conditions through the public stomach, at a slant other than the direct one intended. Each motif, whatever, directly addresses worker conditions though indirectly and probably unintentionally addresses food handling conditions. The novel is on the dense side, though engaging for its depiction of scandalous food handling, if readers can stomach it.

On another front, Meyer's Twilight saga is observable irony as well. Ugly duckling wallflower Swan wants to be the bell of the swan ball. Vampire narratives universally portray an aspect of social elitism and ramifications thereof. For Swan, popularity at the cool kids' table is the want. High school cliques, yeah, and self-actualized early adult's empowerments after some liberty from childhood's social strictures that oppose popularity cliques allow a degree or trial and error and lessons hard learned. By glorifying elitism, Meyer unintentionally condemns it, an observable irony. Anyway, Meyer's writing and topics are less than stellar accomplishment, except financial success, maybe. Exceeding Meyer is less a challenge than exceeding, who, Anne Rice, Hemingway, Joan Didion, E. Annie Proulx, Bradbury, Tolkien, whoever.

And no matter the social topic, or genre, say contemporary fantasy's current fixation on vampire and zonbi, no matter that vampire has been and is about social elitism, or that zonbi is about mass culture's emotional indifference toward others and mass culture sleepwalking through life and want for more lively, rewarding life -- more brains -- and big game hunts to thin the herd.

Rather, assign a self-imposed rule set for what whatever represents. Vampire could as easily be about another social topic, say, territorialism, me and mine, kin, kith, kit, and kine's place for us and ours, not yours, not enough to go around. Shades of fundamentalism's terrors therein. "Self-imposed" is a dynamic method for defining a narrative's action, audience, and structure, as well as motifs, features, voice, tone, viewpoint, start, middle, and outcome end, ad infinitum.

These above are big picture considerations that see their way through doubt and defuse tendencies to be caught up by pointless style, grammar, and structure minutia revision traps, and to see more than confidence, to see passion.

[ December 02, 2015, 02:02 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Disgruntled Peony
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I'm working on The Broken Dollhouse at the moment. I really need to find a better name for it--I've determined that bringing up the dollhouse in the title is misleading, but I have yet to find anything that I like for more than thirty minutes. I've got a lot of refining to do to get the story where I want it to be, on multiple levels. I need to refine the prose, find better ways to bring out the theme, and restructure one of the major antagonists (not a villain in this case, but definitely an agent of change).

I have a solid understanding of the vampire story's themes, at least. It is, in the grand scheme of things, about addiction and the struggle for self control. My goal there is mainly refinement of the prose, so I'm going to let it percolate a bit before I poke at it again.

[ December 02, 2015, 09:48 AM: Message edited by: Disgruntled Peony ]

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extrinsic
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I find that an asymmetric approach often gets my subconscious involved. Subconscious insights rise unbidden. The subconscious is one place where creativity originates. I can't communicate one-on-one with that mind nor does it yield insights that are of one-to-one correspondence to a circumstance. Interpretation is often necessary to fathom what the back mind communicates.

I've struggled since May with an essay about irony's form and function and that was the working title -- Irony: Form and Function. The essay's overt intents are a recap of extant knowledge and build upon extant knowledge such that a finer appreciation of irony's aptitude unfolds. Daunting, to say the least. Plus, such an essay could be no more than an annotated bibliography.

A keyword search of book and serial publication database search engines yields 30,000 articles about irony, an impossible number to browse, evaluate, and read in and of itself, let alone include in an essay of 8,000 words maximum. I limited works to ones others remark about in their texts and then only annotations of their main points. I was still overwhelmed by the quantity and needed a central pivot and focus, one that would engender new knowledge, the covert intent, a requirement for this kind of investigation and essay.

New to me is okay for academic course work. A struggle is okay for an organization structure for school papers. New to the field is necessary for publication, because . . . I had plenty of material and new knowledge discovered yet no purpose -- a necessary part of scientific investigation of the type.

Last week I asked aloud to myself, "What is this abyssal maze you've gotten into?" Shades of Laurel and Hardy's catch phrase reverberated in my foremind. "Another fine mess you've gotten me into." The word "abyssal," though, was the pivot I sought. Added to the title -- Irony: Form, Function, and Abyss, a sufficiently enticing, not-bland title and what the essay is about, plus each part: thesis assertion, rationale, support, anticipated objections and rebuttal thereof, and a conclusory end.

The whole precipitated into a structure, a purpose, a complete investigative essay, including a filter to winnow unnecessary from needed and missing content and a goal, a want, so to speak, of an analysis and argumentation essay and a story form combined into a synthesis of irony's form, function, and abyss. The piece of new knowledge increments one iota further irony's function for artists, writers, people generally, for language arts and sciences, and social science, for me, too.

All from one word asymmetrically projected from the subconscious mind. Abyss. Huzzah!

"The Broken Dollhouse" is, to me, too direct an approach, too soon if the first scene is the broken dollhouse. Titles of that nature usually foreshadow a later pivotal event, not a first one, and not that symmetrically. I think "Broken" is the pivotal word anyway, an adjective form of an adverb derived from the verb, thus a gerund past participle word. Verbs entail greater default significance than nouns, are more memorable, usually, for titles.

An asymmetrical approach might then experiment with "broken dollhouse." Broken toy? The dollhouse's symbolism for the story's core theme? I don't know, coming of age? That's a maturation tableau for any age. Loss of innocence cost at proportionate personal growth gain.

A slant then might come from a similar gerund formation, say jigsaw, //The Broken Jigsaw Puzzle// Jigsaw puzzles aren't usually broken in the expected sense, maybe pieces lost, unassembled puzzle, and so on. The oddity serves to entice readers' curiosity and perhaps says what the story is about without giving away the plot. Or similar asymmetric approaches. Then the first scene of the broken dollhouse as well gibes with a broken jigsaw puzzle and implies the puzzle will be left broken or fixed, solved, satisfied.

The French label jigsaw puzzles casse-têtes, which is an idiom that means headache, or, more precisely, broken head (asylum patient occupational therapy, jigsaw puzzles are), and a back formation source for the English loan word "cassette," to mean a small case, like a cassette tape. To label a story, for example, The Broken Jigsaw Puzzle is also a rhetorical allusion, which often titles are, and more memorable for their allusions.

The above is an example thought process for gaining an asymmetrical satisfaction to title and story bothers.

[ December 02, 2015, 01:58 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Maybe a more inclusive title might just be "Broken."

As for the hating your work thing, Disgruntled Peony, would it help you at all if I told you that it's a phase writers go through every so often?

I attribute it to uneven development of the skills writers need. You hate your work because at this point your critical skills have grown faster than your writing skills.

So, yes, keep at it. The time will come, if you just keep writing (not rewriting, necessarily - write something else, if you need to) when your writing skills will catch up with your critical skills, and you'll like your writing again.

But be warned that critical skills tend to out-pace writing skills more than once. So take it as a sign that you are progressing the next time you find yourself hating what you write.

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Disgruntled Peony
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quote:
Originally posted by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury:
Maybe a more inclusive title might just be "Broken."

Oooh. Simple, but elegant. I like simple. I shall think on this.

quote:
As for the hating your work thing, Disgruntled Peony, would it help you at all if I told you that it's a phase writers go through every so often?

I attribute it to uneven development of the skills writers need. You hate your work because at this point your critical skills have grown faster than your writing skills.

That makes a terrifying amount of sense. Thank you for the analysis, as well as the advice and the warning. [Smile]
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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury:
As for the hating your work thing, Disgruntled Peony, would it help you at all if I told you that it's a phase writers go through every so often?

I attribute it to uneven development of the skills writers need. You hate your work because at this point your critical skills have grown faster than your writing skills.

So, yes, keep at it. The time will come, if you just keep writing (not rewriting, necessarily - write something else, if you need to) when your writing skills will catch up with your critical skills, and you'll like your writing again.

But be warned that critical skills tend to out-pace writing skills more than once. So take it as a sign that you are progressing the next time you find yourself hating what you write.

Astute insights. Oh my, that is profound! A finer description of the Poet's Journey and milestones I have not seen. And new to me now. Took a while to settle in. Wow.
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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Happy to be able to help. In my mind, it's what I'm here for.
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Grumpy old guy
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Perhaps I'm odd, but I've never hated my work. Seen its shortfalls, sure--only too often. But I know I have the tools at hand to fix these problems once I've identified them. It's the identification process that irks me.

I have now come to the conclusion that once a piece is written, I need to view it in multiple formats over a period of time, without alteration, but making notes on cumulative improvements.

Maybe this approach will work--or maybe I just need to take more drugs and alcohol. [Smile]

Phil.

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History
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I'm with Grumpy. Although trite to say, they are like my children. I love each of them. Their flaws are opportunities and challenges and, sometimes, their charm. We spend time together for years before they leave to find a home of the own--and like children today, they often return home until they are ready to brave the world again. [Wink]

Respectfully,
Dr. Bob

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walexander
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I agree with KDW,

Here are some thoughts.

I was lucky enough to be well established in the Art before starting a writing career. So I was able to bring a bunch of hard lessons learned about criticism to bare when dealing with my writing.

There are two types of artists, and I believe this is true about writers also. There is the artist who hides away and will only let someone see their work when it is finished fearing criticism about an unfinished piece. Then there is the artist that is more fearless and can work in an environment that numbers of people will see it as it develops. It is far safer for your ego to hide and wait, hoping that the finished product will allow for less criticism, but there are no guarantees. The hardest part of the latter is dealing with criticism during the development process. Only the artist can see the finished product in their mind till it is finished. So dozens of people will offer their advice not being able to know what lies ahead for you. During this time you politely nod, thank them for the advice, and decide whether it is a valid assumption of the future finished product. While this is happening it teaches you a great skill set, mainly in confidence, believing in yourself. I use to sit in pubic places while sketching and people cannot resist looking over your shoulder or just coming straight to you and asking, "So what are you drawing." and then you are obliged to show them no matter what stage you are at. Like I said it is a real pain sometimes to take the crit. before the finish, but there is a magic that happens in watching onlookers faces as they follow along with you through the process and finally get to see what you have envisioned in your head all along. That final moment of ah-ha that they get is worth all the well meaning help they wish for you. They feel that in some small way they helped bring this something out of nothing into the real world. Just remember, no matter the advice, people usually mean well, even if it is not always worded in the most polite way.

Handing over a few paragraphs, pages, chapters to the curious or your peers is the same as the over-the-shoulder look at a half drawn piece of art. Inside yourself you just have to smile, thank them, take their advice or not, and keep moving forward toward the finished piece. Because that's where the magic happens. Be fearless, only one person has to believe in you, and that's you. Only you know the sum of sacrifices you have made to make that magic happen. So just smile and keep moving forward.

W.

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LDWriter2
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As has been stated a lot of writers go through a period, sometimes more than one, where they hate their work. Even long time pros can do that. I have heard of a couple who even went as far as to quit writing-at least for a while. This seems to come with the territory.

I am one that usually has the opposite opinion even there have been certain stories that I did not good about the writing.

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Reziac
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Me Too, Grumpy and Dr.Bob ... I've never hated my work. Felt an urge to bang it into better shape, yes. To junk it, never.
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Captain of my Sheep
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quote:
Lately I've felt like nothing I write is any good, and perhaps it never will be.
I'm like Disgruntled Peony. This feeling can last a day, or a week. Usually it's because something is wrong with the story, and I don't know how to fix it, like extrinsic said.

I also feel like less of a writer when I can't think of a new story.

Like now.

Right now, I don't have any ideas that I'm passionate about. Everybody and their grandma complain about having too many ideas, not enough time to write them. I get maybe two ideas, run with them and then nothing. It's not writer's block, either. It just seems I have to have a rabid passion for a character and their story before I write it, and that passion doesn't come easy to me.

I hope this ends soon. I drive my husband crazy.

I drive me crazy.

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Robert Nowall
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Well, I've been stuck on writing for about two months...getting by with posting song parodies on a couple or three websites...but that's not the same as doing something creative for real. Probably post-Christmas, I'll jumpstart things with my bag o' tricks for ending writer's block...but definitely post-Christmas as I'm invariably consumed by that in the run up to it.

I've picked up the nifty new idea of carrying around some three-by-five cards and scribbling down notes on them as I get them---say, some of the starts of dreams I have when I start to nod off during my breaks at work---but I keep forgetting to put it into practice.

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Good thoughts, walexander. Thanks for sharing.

Captain of my Sheep, there are some "mechanical" ways to generate story ideas that you might want to try.

One important thing to remember is that the longer the story you want to write, the more ideas you actually need for it. A short story needs at least two ideas, which in rubbing together may ignite and set a nice little writing fire going in your brain.

One "mechanical" thing you can try is to make a list of plot situations (write each one on a separate 3x5 card) and the do the same for a list of settings, and for a list of characters or character types. Then pick one card of each at random and see if something interests you.

Another "mechanical" thing is to make a list of goals (again on 3x5 cards) and a list of obstacles. Pick two character cards and one each of the goal and obstacle cards, and have one character be the goal-setter and the other be the obstacle-provider. If it doesn't interest you in one combination, switch them.

You can also pick two characters, give them each a goal, and have them work at cross purposes against each other, until they can figure out how to help each other achieve their respective goals.

Yet another thing you can try is using fortune-telling cards (there are various kinds out there, some based on specific cultures such as a Native American animal "totem" set) or astrological signs to create characters. Then ask yourself a series of questions, starting with "what does this person want?" and continuing with "what does this person do about it?" interspersed with "what could go wrong?" for several rounds. (The questions come from OSC, by the way.)

Another question approach is to pick a situation and ask yourself what kind of character would suffer or be unhappy about this situation and what would that character do about it?

And yet another thing is to think up a price that has to be paid for some objective (it may be the ability to do magic - another thing from OSC - or it could be more mundane, like fame and fortune, or true love), and figure out how different kinds of characters might be affected by having to pay that price.

I hope one of these, if not more, can be of help to you. Just remember, you need at least two ideas to get a story going.

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Captain of my Sheep
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Kathleen, thank you so much! Now I know what I'm going to be doing today after I get off work.

I was actually already going for the mechanical approach, as you called it. I go hunt ideas down, never wait for them to appear on their own. Right now I was reading book blurbs, one after the other, to see if maybe some parts of the blurb would provide a good jumping off point for a short story.

I really, really liked the fortune-telling cards idea. I'm going to look for a deck on amazon. (Plus, I think they have lovely art.)

Thank you [Smile]

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Disgruntled Peony
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I haven't ever used fortune telling cards with my prose works, but I have used them to help with ideas for tabletop RPG storylines--with very interesting results. I think I might give it a try with written fiction sometime.
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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Happy to help. [Smile]
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Robert Nowall
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I tried plotting the end something out with throwing I Ching coins---I did get something, and it worked, and I finished it, but never used the I Ching again. Next time I get in a plot hole, maybe. (I forget where I put my I Ching codebook...have to get another, I guess.)
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