There are times where we need to get a look and feel of something that has a serious effect on our stories.
What you really should do is, when something of interest happens, try to record what the look and feel of the situation that goes on.
My original thought was about the Hurricane Irma effects on the islands. Porto Rico was devastated. If you were doing a story where an area is bombed out or some other disaster, one could look at the effects on the island for ideas.
One thing I have noticed over time, is that the number of people who are actually killed in the initial event is very low. Most people survive the event itself. It is during the aftermath that deaths can add up. To put the islands in perspective of a science fiction story, consider a star going nova. Surrounding colony planets are hit by the energies from the sun. Their equipment would fail because of electromagnetic pulses. The heat applied to the atmosphere would cause storms and such.
the different mother civilizations would, after the energy has dissipated enough for ship passage, would go to the colonies to see what could be done to help the survivors.
then you have the shootings in Las Vegas. In nearly every shooting I have heard of, the actual number of people killed are small in comparison to the group that is there. Most shootings get six, maybe 15 people at most. With thousands of people at the event, it would have been hard not to get kills in the 50s. Because of the setup he had, he could not aim, so He had to hope to hit something as he swept the crowds. People had different reactions during the event. A large percentage of people took a long time to get a clue that something was happening. You had your heros, people moving to protect another, both male and female. If you could study the situation of the event, one could get effective word pictures of such an event if it ever happens in your stories.
Here in South Florida, we had people who were out of water, out of power, out of cable, out of sewer in various places. We had everything except internet at work for about three weeks. One doctor's office got their phone back on yesterday. Each place had different situations to deal with like one area was told not to shower or even flush as the septic pumps were not working. That is a lot different than having no water or no electricity. Consider a space station that was hit by a wayward ship or a fast moving asteroid. You have different areas with different problems to deal with and have to work out how to cope with it.
The best time to get these feelings, word pictures, impressions, tactics, is while they are in the news or fresh in memory.
Posts: 1005 | Registered: Feb 2006
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The western ideal of evidentiary materials ranks credibility from most being simultaneous recordation and documentation and, in falling order, contemporaneous, sequential, and subsequent. Simultaneous includes media documentation, such as aural and visual records of actual events and circumstances as those unfold.
Present-sense emotions, feelings, and impressions, though, are often prone to omissions. And observer effects hamper specificity, clarity, and strength. Not to mention, the scope and sweep of circumstances are more often than not larger than any one observer objective can compass. Like recent events, what, tens of millions directly impacted by each of this season's devastating hurricanes, hundreds of millions of personal, focused stories? At least thirty thousand directly impacted by the Route 91 Harvest Festival massacre, more than thirty thousand personal stories?
A challenge and satisfaction thereof for dramatic mass culture events is to limit the sweep and scope such that a single personal story comprises a whole of the human condition, a whole, not the whole -- through the intangible dramatic action, the subtext. Other labels for similar features include telling details, objective correlatives, extended metaphor, tone's attitude, prose's poetic equipment generally. All of which at base entail emotional expression more so than specific sensory details, or "telling" or revealing, even betraying details, which, again, evoke more drama with less words.
Many writers describe in detail sensory stimuli, physical sensations: visual, aural, less so though more evocative, tactile, olfactoral, and gustatoral, less yet though ever more evocative, emotional sensations. When a word or two expresses emotional attitude, tone, actually, no need for many more words to describe a detail. No need for a hundred-word description of an oak dinner table unless the table is a significant telling detail and never without emotional texture. Setting details are strong opportunity for emotional texture, related and oddly congruent contradictions most so. Any and all description, of events, settings, and personas, best practice depict physical sensations which emphasize emotional texture.
That latter is the challenge of telling details, of objective correlatives, of extended metaphors, prose's poetic equipments. And most so a challenge when simultaneous, contemporaneous, sequential, or subsequent to reports of real-life circumstances.
What evokes the emotions of the immediate now moment? Real-life and prose? Not the grit that crunches underfoot between shoe leather and concrete, the paper tatters traffic stirs, the sunlight glints off car glass and paint, the acrid aroma of ozone, the copper-blood taste at the back of the throat, the surge of adrenaline, nor the groin spasm; rather, the pendent violence confrontation. Mindful that each scene segment best practice also logically follows cause and effect sequence and the essential preparation setup, suspension delay, and satisfaction sequence.
Naive journalers miss the essential evocative details and sequences, the emotional textures of circumstances; savvy journalers explore for those and focus on their full realization details to secondary real-life physical details, and, sooner or later, becomes a second nature skill for observations in the moment.
Elsewise, a narrative is mere mediocre history account, at best an anecdote or vignette, documentary, melodrama, sensationalized spectacle, not a full dramatic realization -- journal record or subsequent refined product.
I incorporate details of my life into my work as seems appropriate. Now, I don't want all my characters to be my alter egos, but I want a certain amount of reality by injecting my own reality into their stories. Hurricanes I've gone through have wound up into the mix as well as everything else.
That being said...I've contemplated stories about mass shootings---one about school was even completed in an unsatisfactory rough draft---but every time, it would seem, another shooting comes along and I'm back at square one. And sending it out somewhere would look like I was taking advantage of events, and I'm sure editors see a lot of stories like that right after. (My ideas deal with the victims, not the shooters---they don't interest me enough to write about them in fiction.)
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After thinking about it, what I was really suggesting was that while memories were strong, to write down impressions and feelings of strong events.
The first thing that is gone with memory is how it actually feels to be through an event. One remembers details of what happened and how it happened, but not the actual feel for what went on.
An example is that when 911 happened, I had a pit in the bottom of my stomach and made a serious attempt to find a radio station that was NOT covering the news of the event.
Another example was the Las Vegas shooting. I heard about it, and after a long sigh, I went about my business as if nothing happened, other than later checking up on what news headlines were being posted.
In previous hurricanes, I remember getting really excited, almost unable to contain myself as the storm was about to hit. For this last hurricane, I decided I was going to take some damage and finished my preparations. I was not excited this time.
It is that momentary feeling of the event that one wants to capture. how did you feel when you heard about and later saw the devastation in Porto Rico? What went through your mind?
The details of the event is easy to recover. It is the feelings that is gone so fast. Many times we are in shock and really have no idea what to think or feel. Get that on paper so that when your characters are devastated, you can picture it.
The best scene I have done involving feeling, is where my character is in a tunnel just big enough for her to inch along and cannot turn around. I avoid that kind of situation entirely, so I was able to get the feel of the scene on paper. It even bothered me as I was writing it.
One could do a scene of meeting a relative or a friend who you have not seen in decades. how does it feel, what goes through your mind?
My idea is to capture the feeling of the even while it is fresh, even if you never ever use it.
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Understood -- a practical occasion for event present-sense impression recordation is as proximal to a significant event as possible. However, oftentimes, such records capture tangibles more so than their intangibles and syntheses of both. One intangible of note -- worth note at the time of the event -- is how emotional conflictions contend for awareness.
The default is to settle on one, the most socially apt, the strongest, focus on it, and ignore others. Yet one or more of the others are more significant and distinguish one persona's sense impressions from others': the dominion of prose expression. The different sense impressions arise from both realization of the emotional conflictions -- oddly congruent contradiction: irony, also, cognitive dissonance -- and abstract intangibles.
Philosopher Edward Bullough's 1912 essay "'Psychical Distance' as a Factor in Art and as an Aesthetic Principle." Dickie, G., Sclafani, R., Roblin, R. Aesthetics: A Critical Anthology. 2nd ed. New York: St. Martin's. 322." examines these concepts, in part, through an example of a thick fog encountered at sea. A fearsome experience, generally, the fog fear itself might add delight from the thrill of the dangers and the odd beauty of fog due to its uncommon experience. ""Distance . . . is obtained by separating the object and its appeal [read: emotional appeal, even if fear is the prevalent one and smothers other emotions] from one's own self, by putting it out of gear with practical needs and ends. Thereby the 'contemplation' of the object becomes alone possible." (PDF: "'Psychical Distance' as a Factor in Art and as an Aesthetic Principle"
Tangibles plus intangibles and syntheses of both, this is prose's recordation and expression arts.
There is a tried and true saying that I find applicable here: "Truth is always stranger than fiction." For me there is an additional truism that one should never try to inject a taste of 'reality' into a story. No one will find it believable.
The only reason a character 'feels' anything is to advance the story. If you're only interested in exploring the 'feelings' of a character for some 'realism' you'll just bore your readers.
Fictional characters hate hotter, love deeper, are braver or more cowardly than real people. That's what makes them interesting instead of mundanely boring and 'real'. Remember: you're writing for your reader's enjoyment, not yours.
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rstegman's point is notes about an event are best practice documented as close to the event's occurrence as practical. Present-sense impressions capture a snapshot, at least contemporaneous to an event, if not simultaneous.
Fiction instruction and planning for the past fifty years takes principles from creative nonfiction instruction and planning; that is, sketch notes in a journal and as well follow an event's cycle and impression evolution from start to end. Many instructors require a journal and weight it up to a fifth of students' grades. A common rubric is a brief daily entry for the term's span.
That tangible mechanical factor is the least part of the content and grade. Intangibles count more: insight in particular, and expressed emotional appeals. Plus that the mechanicals and intangibles suit each other, and the words and subject matter, the opportune occasion and the audience. That is, decorum. Not to mention, demonstration of the true purposes of the notes: free-association explorations and develop meaningful insights from those.
A writer comment often given after a work's workshop hot-seat time, paraphrased, But that's what actually happened and the time sequence of it. The equally common response, What really happened isn't per se "story." Low or no drama, anyway. Development of dramatic representation skills is the third-space and most intangible and greatest challenge of journal note taking practice, one which few students acquire at the start, if at all. More often, they stall or balk outright, at first, like from "Being a Glossary of Terms Useful in Critiquing Science Fiction" by Clarion workshops' David Smith:
"Stalling. When an author, knowing a big scene or crucial event is upcoming, writes desultory here-to-there scenes as a means of deferring the more difficult (and emotionally charged) task of writing the big scene. Common in first drafts. (CSFW: David Smith)" And " Microwaving the soufflé. A tendency to rush past important setup material in the author’s haste to get to the payoff. Generally leaves the reader feeling frustrated on two counts: (1) the setup, being rushed, is uninteresting, and (2) the payoff, being insufficiently set up, is not earned. (CSFW: David Smith)"
Stalling is common in journal notes, too. Writing instructors, regardless of subject or meta-composition type, note soon in their careers that student compositions often do not discover a true subject until a conclusion section, if at all. Rarer yet, few then rewrite with that knowledge in mind. The net result is a petitio principi, or "begging the question": assumes the conclusion at the outset, a circular logic, often a moral law asserted up front then "proven" as conclusive proof, and failed to prove thing one. "A logical fallacy in which a premise is assumed to be true without warrant or in which what is to be proved is implicitly taken for granted"; "begging the question." (Webster's 11th)
Yet journal notes are rough and raw and chaotic. If they're well-organized and well-thought out, maybe they're story and dramatic, maybe not, no matter. They're not notes, for present-sense impression documentation. Rethink, rewrite!
Though short of a desirable detailed explanation mark, from the Glossary: "Drama. The ability to create powerful scenes, to present conflicts in a way which grips the reader, whether or not the storyline is believable. The tension of conflict forms the bedrock of drama. Example: Bester, The Demolished Man. Drama differs from conflict because drama takes place exclusively onstage, and in a manner the reader engages. Drama differs from staging to the extent that the drama is the conflict present in the situation, staging the extent to which it is realized in front of the reader. Badly staged conflict loses most of the force of its inherent drama."
And though simplistic and should never be obvious to readers, what's dramatic about plot from the Glossary: "Three-act structure. The classic plot: Act 1. The protagonist’s life is knocked out of whack. He confronts an obstacle which he is locked in to solving or being vanquished by. In great literature the obstacle is tied directly into a specific theme. Act 2. The protagonist investigates the obstacle, tries to solve or conquer it, and is repulsed, leaving him worse off than before. The situation is desperate. Act 3. Using the knowledge gained in Act 2, the protagonist formulates a new plan and risks all. The story’s resolution may be heroic (the character succeeds and the reader is uplifted), tragic (the character is destroyed but the reader learns something about the theme from his destruction), or nihilistic (the character is destroyed and no one learns anything). (Aristotle)" (The Glossary)
Yet journal notes are rarely dramatic; they are for observations and explorations of signal event influences upon a note taker; at the moment, later, and when, at last, a note taker fully realizes their personal-private and public signficances, at least for prose purposes. Drama entails motivations (complication's want and problem revelation, realization, and satisfaction efforts), stakes (conflict's polar opposite forces in contention for a contest's duration), and tone (emotion's attitudes toward a topic or subject).
It is quite possible I wasn't clear in my post. I wasn't commenting on the use of a 'Writer's Journal' by rstegman (I've used one for over 40 years) but rather the subject matter of the entry mentioned. Personally, I see little point in documenting how some random event I'm not even directly involved in affects me emotionally. I am NOT one of my characters; they are better and greater than I will ever be. Remember also that the information you get on some news-worthy event has been carefully tailored and edited for maximum emotional impact; even eye-witness accounts.
Noting how you personally respond to various external events that stimulate your emotions is only useful if all your characters are clones of yourself. What happens if you're atypical, or a borderline sociopath, or just the most boring person on the planet? A better use of the time is to study how and WHY people react emotionally to external stimuli in the manner they do. With this as a basis upon which to build you can create the physical reactions every reader can relate to in that same situation and you can craft your character's response to those feelings so they reveal what the character is really made of and thus advance the story.
It is a skill to learn, not something you can just do. The chief goal in creating characters is to make the readers care about them; revealing that they are affected by their emotions just like the reader creates an empathetic connection.
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Writer note taking and journaling might or might not be productive for composition skill development purposes, though the beauty of it is the privacy of the process and, ergo, is whatever a writer wants it to be -- except assigned journals subject to instructor scrutiny. Even those, though, enjoy wider personal latitude than more formal composition assignments, re prose, as the case might be.
Prose, fiction especially, is best practice not real-life reality; real life is messy, spontaneous and improvisational, despite the best made plans, not structured such that prose's functions present: entertainments, if that's the purpose, dramatic, most certainly part of literature's opus of written-word conversation, satire's social commentary, and, for writers, an outlet through which life meaning revelations and sense making transpire, if not for a revenue stream.
The personal-private meaning and sense making criteria is where remote, public events shine forth in journals, like the 9/11 attacks, the Route 91 Harvest Festival massacre, December 7, 1941, John and Robert Kennedys' assassinations, Martin Luther King's and John Lennon's, too,; and tragic losses from self-inflicted causes: Elvis Pressly, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Keith Moon, Jon Bonham, Kurt Cobain, Michael Jackson, John Entwhistle, Prince, to name a few artists' voices who affected many lives, and artists of other fields, like Anne Sexton, David Foster Wallace, and Robin Williams. Each some way a signal event which many individuals felt great tragedy about and remember, vividly, where they were, what the setting conditions were of where they were, what they were doing, etc., and how they felt about those events then and later, and even to this day.
Actually, a continuing motif of my notes is the tragic ends of so many artists, tortured artists the lot, from which I seek personal sense and meaning for their arts, lives, and deaths. One constant runs through -- bright ambition and social alienation combined into shattered social lives, due to earlier, horrific existential crises, which, in part, drove their successes and their terrors, and little or no meaningful social reintegration end.
The truisms Truth is stranger than fiction, and Fiction isn't real life, and prose's post-Romanticism cum Realism's and literary movements' thereafter reality imitation convention amount to an extended, three-tier or more paradox, the rhetorical figure: No matter how fantastical or realistic a narrative's contents, depiction of the reality of its milieu, imitatively, is nonetheless a selective representation of reality's true nature and, furthermore, expresses a profound greater truth about the real human condition beneath its superficial contradictions.
Do people even 'feel' at all during a traumatic event? Sure people can say they are afraid during a tornado or hurricane. People can say they were confused during a shooting or terrorist attack, but were they really? The problem for me is that during a traumatic event there's too much going on. The human brain does a handy thing where it filters out information or data if it is, at the time, unneeded. Fear, anger, confusion, elation, any emotion at all during a time of crisis is inherently dangerous. Fear, confusion, and panic can keep you from doing things that would otherwise ensure survival. Even elation or what we would consider good emotions can cloud your judgement. So even if you are afraid or confused there's a good chance you're not even noticing it. After all why would your brain focus and remember you being scared when your survival depends on making split second decisions. Now hearing about and reacting to an event apart from yourself is a different story. We empathize with the people going through the event. We are sad and sorry for the loss of life in tragedies both natural and man-made because we can on some level relate to those affected. We can also put a scientific reasoning behind this: survival. Empathizing with others can increase the likelihood of aid being given to help the group as a whole survive. If you're interested there is a whole field of psychology that specializes in understanding how people act and behave during and after traumatic events. Maybe some of their research can give you some insight.
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I have ample source material from social sciences other than creative composition studies. Sure, people may not fully realize all their many emotional responses at the now moment of traumas what they feel, some do in some situations. Primordial emotions do take precedence for many: fear, anger, confusion, to name several. Repeated situations may evoke repeated responses, or not, might result in more emotional awareness, hence, more control than for prior instants of similar situations.
However, artful creative expression accommodates those probabilities, plus, realizes subconscious and nonconscious stimuli and response, through subtext and implication appeals.
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