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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Writing Class » Assignment #2--what to do next

   
Author Topic: Assignment #2--what to do next
Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Once you've got your basic premise, and you know what the main characters want, you also know a little about what obstacles they face.

You can go one of two ways from here (you'll have to go both ways eventually, but you can decide which way you want to go first).

1--start asking questions about how the main characters (protagonist and, if there is one, antagonist) intend to get what they want and what they will do when things go wrong (this is sometimes called the try-fail cycle part of a story). Each time a character tries something and fails, the character should learn something that helps the character with the next try (this is especially true of the protagonist--the character you want to have win in the end, of course).

2--figure out what scene you are going to write about first. You don't have to write the scenes in the order in which they will be read, by the way. You can write the scene that is most clear in your mind and then decide whether you are going to write a scene that happens after it or before it for your next writing.

You also need to figure out what will be the first scene (though you don't need to do that until you've written a few scenes first, if you want).

The story should start when something is happening, and that something should involve the protagonist and what the protagonist wants. The antagonist (if there is one) doesn't need to show up until the first time the protagonist tries to get what he/she wants, and possibly not even then.

The scenes serve the purpose of showing (not telling) the reader about the growth and learning the protagonist goes through in dealing with his/her situation. So you figure out what scenes you need to show the reader in order to convey the story, and you start writing them.

Your second assignment is to decide which of the two above ways you are going to start with and to get started on that way.


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Albatross
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Okay, I've got characters and a basic idea of their story. However, I am finding that the world they live in is creating its own subplot and its geology/geography/history will have a bearing on the ways my characters interact and pursue the basic plot I have outlined for them. It seems to be bogging me down a lot. I am doing tons of research (which I am actually enjoying), but I am wondering how to get some real writing done. Do I write the story now, or do I let it "ferment" a little more while I research? And why is it that I can't seem to get very many more scenes clear in my head until I work out more of the history/geography? Has anybody else out there run into this?
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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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People run into this a lot--there are probably more than a few great books out there that never actually got written because the research was so much more fun.

One thing to remember is that even those writers who claim that they never rewrite are probably lying (to themselves at the very least).

So let your early drafts be incomplete, uneven, rough, ugly, unfinished stinkers.

Go ahead and get something on the paper. Then, as you do the research, you will know what to look for, what is relevant, what will fit in with what you have already worked out and written down.

Unless you come across something absolutely wonderful (which you can save for another book--the sequel, perhaps?), having the story already written down will keep you from going off on wild tangents.

Some writers say they don't like to use outlines because they make them feel constrained to stay with that plan for the story.

Well, a first draft might make you feel that way, too, but constraint isn't always a bad thing. It's a form of discipline, and even creative people need at least as much discipline as it takes to get them to sit down and get to work.

If you still like the wonderful tangent better, go ahead and throw out the first draft. That's better than throwing out a perfectly worked (and agonized over) first chapter that you can never use, but you can also never throw away because you've put so much work into it.

Get the whole story down on paper. Then go back and develop the characters more clearly, describe the world more beautifully, and throw out what doesn't fit any more once you've done the research.

With a first draft, no matter how awful, at least you'll have something to work on.


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Survivor
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Also, don't be afraid to tell a story that is actually a subplot of a larger story. Often the main dramatic tension that overshadows or characterizes the protaganist is not settled for several books, or even longer. But each book should be a complete episode in and of itself.

One advantage of this is that once you've created the world and the characters, you can write several books about them, rather than trying to cram everything into one book.


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Shasta
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In my case, the story I sketched out (since I don't work from outlines per se), introduced a character... who ended up becoming the main character.

So everything I wrote previously became background for the new story.

I can understand the research dilemna too, since I have spent most of my time in that vein. However, since my memory gets bogged down a lot, I have to sketch things out so that I can remember where, exactly, I wanted to take the character.

[This message has been edited by Shasta (edited October 05, 2000).]


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Waxwing
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Okay.... I think with my artist story I'll try your first approach first.

And while I'm doing that, I'll ask a question... Finding a starting point for my story is something I've struggled with a lot. How does one go about figuring out which scene should be first? What should the writer consider when making that decision? Do you have any tips?


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Probably the quickest tip I can give you is to start the story where the protagonist realizes there is a problem.

If I were to give you more detailed advice, I'd have you turn to HOW TO WRITE SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY by Orson Scott Card, in the section on story construction.

Of course, I recommend that you read the whole book, but for this particular question, I'd suggest starting at about page 73, or at least at page 77 where he discusses how the type of story helps determine the structure.

A quick recap:

If the story is about a character exploring a strange world (he calls these "milieu" stories) the story should start as close to when the character reaches the new world (though you may need some build up to tell you how the character got there--so start it with whatever gets the character started on the journey).

If the story is about a puzzle or mystery (an "idea" story) it should start with the puzzle or mystery. (This might work with your painter story, if you have it start when the painter realizes that something unexplained is going on.)

If the story is about how a character experiences problems with that character's role in life (OSC talks about the character wanting to change to a different role, but there are also stories in which a different role is thrust upon the character, and the character doesn't want it), then the story starts when the character decides to change, or when the change is thrust upon the character (with the possibility that you might want to show the character in the old role, so you have some contrast).

If the story is about some world-shattering status-quo-busting event, then the story should start when the character decides to get involved, try to do something about it.

Card's book discusses all of this in much more detail and I again recommend you read it.


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Waxwing
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Thanks!

I've read the book but I had forgotten that section. I'll go back and review.


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Monolith
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Is writing on the fly a bad thing, even though you know where the story is going? But the thing with that is that I try to do to much with the journey to the end of the story, but I also feel that if I have the character survive the journey then the character has grown in a different way that the reader wasn't expecting. Is that a good thing to do as I previously asked?

In my story Toriyn is going to lead a rebellion, but he has no clue as to why he is or which defeat it is going to come from, or even who the stranger is yet, even though I know it is Ares, and has told him he is his savoir. A savoir from what or who?

Is this the sort of thing that you were looking for for this assignment?

Bryan


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Have you asked questions to help you flesh out your story plan, as I advised in the opening post for this topic?

Or have you decided what scene you're going to write first?

Certainly you can write "on the fly" (which I'm guessing means without a plan), but you need to have some things figured out, and you need to have some idea of where you are going or what you are trying to explore in the story.


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Monolith
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I do have an idea of where I'm going with this one ( just took an old character that I wrote back in high school for my mythology class ). I have looked up mythology on the internet and have been doing a little studying on who's who and why they should/should not be doing in my story.

I do have the bad habit of writing on the fly, but as I go along in my story, I plan ahead on where I want to go with it. And I skip around when I write too, putting things where they shouldn't go, but I am working on that on this new story.

Going to be doing more reasearch on mythology as well as more writing tomorrow after work ( arrgh!!!). Mythology was one of my favorite things in school, now I have a question: Which genre does it fit in?

Thanks for the input and pointers.
Bryan


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Mythology and stories about mythology are usually included in the category of fantasy.
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ParanoidRook
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I want to switch the view point from character to character, depending on who plays a bigger role in the chapter. Is this ok or am breaking some kind of law?

i.e - In the first chapter, the heroine is spying on the hero. Whereas in the second chapter, the hero is reacting to the heroine.

Any help would be greatly appreciated. :)


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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As long as you have some kind of break between the different points of view (chapter breaks are very good for this) and as long as you make it very clear whose point of view you are using at the beginning of each part with a new point of view, you can use as many different points of view as you need to tell your story.

Just do everything you can to make things clear (breaks, identifying POV, and so on) so the reader isn't confused, and you'll be fine.


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psnede
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Okay - I'm starting on assignment 2. The character (David) is an artist who became a prodigy at a young age. He has grown (over) confident in his abilities as he is lavished in praise for his art galleries. His art consists of collages, as he finds paint too rudimentary for a real artist. The pieces of chain link fence and decaying food that adorn the canvas create a more realistic experience for the viewer of his art.

David succumbs to blindness and is unable to continue his art. As he battles with depression, his sight comes back and he begins to see the world differently. The spirit realm is part of his vision, yet doctors still see him as medically blind. David sees what others don't and his obstacle is that people think he is going crazy.

*****
Okay, I'm not ready for novels yet, so this would have to be a short(er) story. Perhaps the premise is too much for a short story, however. Regardless, I will choose method #2 - develop the first scene. As a shorter story, the scene would probably start with David in the middle of creating art and he goes blind. The protagonist is David; the antagonist would be the person who doesn't believe he can see anything and thinks he is crazy: The person who sets up his exhibits? His parents? His girlfriend?

My issue - how do I make the first scene engaging, without boring the reader with the background information of the character? Would it be revealed periodically throughout the story? This is where I don't know exactly how to write.


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Bent Tree
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So again I seek the wisdom. I have a characterization issue that I was hoping to get a refreshing spark of creativity for. Which leads me to think that we should have something like a thousand Idea thread or something similar. Anyway here is some background:

My MC is eight turns(Just about going through puberty)on his planet.

The society is descendants of a Japenese Colony ship about two thousand years prior. Without too much detail, a devastating event cuased by their technology, is the foundation of the disciplines the descendants uphold.

Each of the surviving bloodlines formed into sepparate tribes, led by a Matriarchal leader. The house of women is sepparated from the men of the villages, and boys are sent out into other tribes as a rite of passage at eight turns during the ceremony of passage and conception.

Conception is planned by the head women, who records as dictated by the disciplen of old, and happens only every four turns. It is very limited twenty boys and twenty girls approx each conception.

There is a Bhuddism like religion going on, where wants are surpressed."The Way" is a path that is not chosen for oneself, but followed

I am having trouble dealing with the emotions of the MC who is faced with things like Seeing the Heroes of his Village, and wanting to be chosen to stay in his village and become like them. He also deals with losing his twin sister, who he has had only limited contact.

I am looking for some fresh thoughts on how to approach this, perhaps some new ideas on how he might feel and react.

Also I am concerned with expressing his emotions how the occur, rather than saying "Sadness swept over him" or "He looked upon his heroes with admiration"

What is the most effective way to express emotion? Do I not say he is sad, but instead try to tell what he is feeling and let the reader make up their own minds, or is it ok to say it, as long as you add some evidence.


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annepin
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Hey... poking my nose in here. I think the best way to express emotion is to be as specific as possible about what the character might be thinking. So, instead of:

Anger gripped him.

It's something like:

He could not believe Anathelia would say something so insensitive. Her earlier words of comfort had been a lie.

So instead of just saying that he's angry, tell us what he's angry about, and the reader can infer anger from it because they will share it, if they sympathize with him.

GRR Martin is a master of this, IMO. I've learned a lot from him.


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Bent Tree
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Thanks Anne. I guess I just realized what I have been doing. Your advice is what I needed. I am quick to say how someone feels. I will check out some work from the author you mentioned.
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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Bent Tree, here are some questions you may want to consider (I don't expect you to answer them here, necessarily, I just want to offer them for you to think about):

How is their culture "enforced"? What are the consequences of someone going against the culture as your MC is thinking of doing? (Basically, what are the prices?--a big question in OSC's 1000 ideas in an hour sessions.)

Also, is there a general get-together of the tribes when they exchange their children for the rite of passage? Could that be a place where your MC sees the heroes of other villages, and finds them not as cool as the heroes of his own village? Could that also be the time when he approaches the leaders to ask about letting him stay in his own village?

And thanks, annepin, for your input.


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JudyMac
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Quote:
2--figure out what scene you are going to write about first.
------------------------------------------------------------

That was a major stumbling block for me. I used to start early in the story (really backstory), or set it at the wrong time of the year. I got it down on paper and worried about the opening in the next draft.

Just to prove that you are never too old to learn a new trick (I'm 40), I picked up a great idea from a new-age friend. She said that I could share the method with anyone. It may only work for those who are 'visual' people though.

Imagine that you are sitting in the home of your lead character, drinking tea/coffee/wine/juice. They are sitting opposite you, and the atmosphere is cordial. You are best friends. Hold a real conversation, and let your character answer you, do not force the words. When you feel comfortable with the coversation, casually add a line like "What was the turning point for you?" or my personal action favourite, "When did you know that the **** had hit the fan?" (Sorry for the bad language, but that one really works well)
Let the character speak.

Start there.


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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We've set up a Character Interview area (scroll down the main page to see it or go here to visit it), where writers can present their characters for other writers to interview. It isn't exactly the same idea as your friend's suggestion, JudyMac, but it is similar, and you are welcome to start a topic for your character, and to post interview questions for other people in their character topics.

I don't think I've really seen your exact question in the Character Interview topics, so it might be interesting to see what the characters say in response.

Edited to add: I see that you've found the Character Interview area. Have fun!

[This message has been edited by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury (edited December 10, 2008).]


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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posting to make this topic visible
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tripper
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So after a year and a half hiatus, I'm coming back to a story that I'm trying to move forward. I have a good idea about the MC and her motivations; where I'm struggling right now is the setting.

She's a hunter of mages in a world where mages are viewed as evil because they use all the water resources. She comes to discover that she's a mage and has to figure out how to navigate her life.

My dilemna in trying to do lesson #2: I can't decide if this is set in SF or fantasy. I know magic is typically fantasy, but I also see her in a futuristic world setting. Does magic work here? Or should the setting change to the typical fantasy timeline?

I also posted in the character interview space and would appreciate any feedback I can get. [Smile]

So glad to be back in the treehouse.

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Go ahead with the futuristic world setting. Arthur C. Clarke (science fiction but not fantasy writer) said "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." So I wouldn't worry about it.

Marion Zimmer Bradley (science fiction and fantasy writer) considered anything science fiction if it happened on a world other than earth, so she'd say your story sounds science fiction (she had magic on other planets, too).

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tripper
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Great advice, KDW, thanks. This is how I have proceeded (I've got about 6500 words already), but I had a little bit of a freak out when I started thinking about magic in a sci-fi setting. Looks like I am good.
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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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posting so this topic will be visible
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