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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Persuasive Unison

   
Author Topic: Persuasive Unison
extrinsic
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The question of the ages: What constitutes a "good" story? Please put aside "good" for all time. "Good" implies a universal gold standard, expresses a subjective value judgment, which is counterproductive to the polynomial Nth degree. Good or bad, right or wrong, correct or error — when the crux comes around full circle: value judgments. Hypocrisy. Value judgments are crimes against art, for they untimely usurp and ultimately condemn personal ownership of an artwork.

Consider instead the term persuasive: persuasive appeals to readers, to screening readers, to editors, to publishers, to critics, to audiences and publishing and literature cultures at large.

What constitutes a persuasive story? Auditors of public tastes answer in unison, those who deem to express their views, no matter how succinctly or persuasively or not or in ad nauseam detail they may express them.

One of the continuums they express — in brief or at length, by rambling or specific minutia — a persuasive story follows a standard pattern, or a cultural coding convention. Four key pattern convention features they locate by intent, design, or intuition, in unison: one, proficient facility with mechanical style — grammar, syntax, diction, spelling, punctuation, etc. — two, craft, the mechanics of dramatic structure and aesthetics; three, voice; four, orginality. Style, Craft, Voice, Originality.

English mechanical style is Standard Written English by whatever dialect a writer may write: the several or many U.S., British, Irish, Scottish, Welsh, Cornish, East Ender, Canadian, Australian, South African, Indian. etc., dialects.

Mechanical style's one and First Principle is to facilitate reading ease. Period. If a style is unconventional and impedes reading ease, the style fails at the one preeminent and pertinent task required. If an unconventional style calls deserved attention to the language, the style serves a persuasive purpose.

Craft conforms to a pattern convention, too. The one preeminent and pertinent First Principle of Craft is persuasive appeal. Persuasive craft organizes settings, plots, ideas, characters, events, and discourses according to ancient and persistent pattern conventions inspired by real-world and larger-than-life parameters.

Dramatic structure, or plot, follows a pattern of escalating, peaking, then declining causation, tension, and antagonism. Dramatic structure influences and stimulates emotional responses; sometimes intellectual, sometimes spiritual, sometimes several or all responses.

Settings are causal, tense, and antagonistic influences, too, related to plot. And ideas, characters, events, and discourses.

Voice is most persuasive from expressing a unified emotional viewpoint attitude or attitudes toward thematic topics and subjects. Unity of attitude and a settled narrator and character voice emotional exchange suit culturally expected pattern conventions.

Originality is persuasively expressing a fresh perspective on the human condition.

Demonstrating proficient writing facility in a unison pattern convention of Style, Craft, Voice, and Originality —— constitutes a persuasive story, according to the unison of the many who are concerned.

[ February 18, 2012, 12:08 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Merlion-Emrys
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Well, while dropping the use of "good" is a positive thing for the reasons you mention, what constitutes a "persuasive" story is, in the end, just as subjective.

So are most of the other things you mention. Not all stories follow the "dramatic structure" you mention...some don't even really have one. Not all fiction is drama.

I think another central problem with pretty much every discussion of this kind I've seen is, its always in generalities. It's always about "stories" in general or "writing" in general. And about what is considered this or that by, or appeals the most to the greatest number of people.

For me, its not about what does "a story" need. It's about what does this story, the one I am working on right this moment, need? What is its structure? What is it trying to achieve? That's what I focus on, rather than these attempts to broadly define things that aren't broad...they are specific, because each individual story, not "stories" as a concept or at the end of the day even story types and structures, is just as particular and unique as an individual person. You can't judge them all in the same way nor try to apply a lot of universal principles to them, because neither they nor their creators nor their consumers/enjoyers are universal...they are individual.

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extrinsic
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To go deeper into the full parameters of what constitutes a persuasive story would require many libraries' worth of textual space. Wait. That's the opus of literature. Within the opus is the pattern conventions that persuasively appeal, from the minutia of single words, punctuation marks, or broadly spanning the whole.
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Merlion-Emrys
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But some things "persuasively appeal" to some and not to others. I just don't personally accept or agree with the idea that there's a universal pattern to all stories that must be adhered to for anyone to be interested in your stories.

If you take the "opus of literature" there is a ton of stuff in it that many, many people revile, or simply lack interest in. For example, a sizable percentage of the population has no interest in science fiction/fantasy/horror of any kind, no matter how it's written, what dramatic structure it follows or anything else.

In short, I don't believe their is any such thing as "the full parameters of what constitutes a persuasive story." Or conversely, those parameters are...anything. The one and only thing all stories have in common that I can think of is words.

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babooher
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I think Merlion-Emrys that your argument falls under the subjectivist fallacy. Can you specify where extrinsic is wrong? Every story or writing is composed of Style, Craft, Voice, and Originality. The ratio of each to the others will determine how persuasive something is to a reader. I agree that each reader and story are different, but extrinsic didn't specify a ratio for anything to be persuasive. If anything, I'd suggest adding one more element, that being reader's experience/aesthetic to extrinsic's list, but to completely disregard extrinsic's ideas based on the assumption that everything is subjective is to ignore a valid point.
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extrinsic
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Perhaps instead of pooh-poohing my claims you might contribute meaningfully to the conversation. Can you, please, forward the conversation through contributing your insights into what constitutes a persuasive story: drama, anecdote, vignette, or whatever, as you practice the art.

Though, admittedly, my claims are open to wide interpretation, including the most obvious objection I feel is axiomatic — yours is couched as an objective counterclaim that nonetheless is as subjective as mine — that there are no objective parameters of what constitutes a persuasive story. Simplistic denial, outright unequivocal rejection, is a buzz and conversation killer.

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Merlion-Emrys
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I didn't say anything about ignoring.

I said that, even when you leave out the pesky value judgements contained in discussion of what makes a "good" story, any other terminology or criteria you use are still going to be subjective even if less loaded.

Yeah, you can say that every story contains those elements, by one definition of them or other, but this thread does also present specific definitions for them. In particular this one:

quote:
Dramatic structure, or plot, follows a pattern of escalating, peaking, then declining causation, tension, and antagonism.
I've read many a story that, at least from my perspective and definition of these things, lacked one or more of them. Especially in short fiction; I think you find even more commonalities of structure and also a greater number and intensity and specificity of expectations from people in the realm of novels, although there are still, of course, exceptions, but I don't really accept the structure mentioned above as being one that all stories have.

However yes, again, the broader you make the definitions of these things, the more works are encompassed by them...but, in my opinion, once they reach a certain level of broadness of definition, they become almost meaningless. You can say all stories contain this structure but I think it is stretching to do so, in some cases.


However, my biggest point is this. In the years since I joined this and other writing sites and started critiquing peoples work and having mine critiqued and taking part in discussions like this one I've seen many, many discussions about what makes a "good" story (or whatever word you want to use for it) and about "what editors want" and "the elements necessary for a story" and any other spin on that basic concept you wanna put forth. And through them I have come to this conclusion.

These kind of general "theory" type discussions can be good and helpful, however I feel many writers place to much concern on the requirements of "a story" and too little focus on the requirements of theirstory. This is linked to my dislike of the belief that you shouldn't discuss a critique of a story with the critiquer. To me, general discussions of "a story" as a concept are fine, but more specific discussions of this story, my story that I am telling right now, are probably more likely to be even more helpful than looking for an answer that probably doesn't exist save in each persons own mind for a question that no one can even agree how to ask.

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Merlion-Emrys
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quote:
Can you, please, forward the conversation through contributing your insights into what constitutes a persuasive story: drama, anecdote, vignette, or whatever, as you practice the art.
My insight is this: anything and everything can constitute a persuasive story, depending on who you are telling it to and that it's probably both easier and more effective to determine these things for ourselves based on our own opinions rather than worrying so much about other peoples. To me, saying that all "persuasive" stories contain this or that is to completely deny the possibility of their ever being one such that doesn't...or that contains different things instead. It cuts off possibilities and options, in my view.

Most of the stories I love are well loved by many many others, and so using them and my own taste as a guide, will, I feel, produce stories that are interesting/good/compelling/interesting/persuasive to others...but not to everyone, and sometimes not even close to everyone.


I do apologize though I didn't mean to be quite so heavy-handed but Dr. Bob's thread sort of caused a bit of an epiphany about discussions of these types that was crying out to be released. Generalized, theory type discussions are helpful and certainly interesting...I just think Hatrackers put a little too much emphasis on what's outside and not enough on whats inside.

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Merlion-Emrys
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Wait, I think I just had another realization.

Here is my primary definition of a persuasive story: One that it's creator loves and believes in.

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extrinsic
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My investigations into narrative theory have more intents than solely writing. One significant next step is rewriting and revising with an audience in mind, suiting a narrow niche with broad potentials. And analysis and review of others' artwork for the beneficial attachments they may provide.

Yes, a Bell curve or pyramid structure or ballistic arc are not the prominent dramatic feature of all narratives, though, by my understanding, one close to the ideal model exists underneath most any text, be it written word, stage or screen play, commercial, song, poem, conversation, narrative form, genre, or even in life.

Other dramatic structures include models from other disciplines: chronology, documentary, argumentation, most to least significant detail, least to most emotionally stimulating detail (that one speaks in part to babooher's fifth element of reader experience/aesthetic model), scientific model, homage, parody, joke, revelation, spatial model, choreographic model, investigation model, problem-solving model, query model, reporting model, performance model, poerty model, for instance.

I'm especially persuaded by multilayered structural models.

[ February 17, 2012, 06:19 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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redux
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What is persuasive to some is not persuasive to others. Is there a scale of persuasiveness? Of how many readers a story sways in its favor?
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extrinsic
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Yes, how many readers any given story sways in its favor is a measure of persuasiveness. But by what measurable metrics? Number of sold copies? Or impressions? a term from the advertising community. If a library circulates a book or digest, how many times is it read? Each one is one impression.

Some libraries track circulation numbers, though broadly. Several libraries I've surveyed report an average of one impression per hundred patrons for megablockbuster titles. Copies sold is about as reliable a metric as any, though self-interested parties skew the numbers. L. Ron Hubbard's Scientology followers, to name one controversial practice, prop up his works' sales figures.

By what scale is J.K Rowling measured? It's too early to claim her Potter saga is timeless. It could become irrelvant next week. Though she's on a tier all by herself revenue metric-wise. The first billionaire author. John Grisham is currently at the top of the second tier, among a host of pilaton racers.

Worldcat.org catatogs many of the English-speaking world's libraries' holdings. Shakespeare's works remain twice as far ahead as any other name by number of library holdings, Dickens is a distant second by himself. Dickinson among that metric's pilaton. Rowling stands no closer than the pack distantly following the pilaton. Meyers is far behind her. I'm in the rear guard last place multitude with one editing credit title held by five libraries.

[ February 18, 2012, 11:01 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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redux
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Shakespeare is required reading in most schools and universities thus unfairly and disproportionately tipping the scale in his favor. [Big Grin]
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extrinsic
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Why unfairly and disproportionately? School and university reading programs are just one of many marketing strategies promoting creative works' places in culture. Are James Patterson's television commercials unfair and disproprotionate? Do they and more importantly do his books persuade consumers and hopefully readers?
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Merlion-Emrys
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I think her overall point is, trying to figure out the "scale of persuasiveness" is a bit difficult. There are many factors to try and figure in.

For example, is being made to read Shakespeare for school as good an indicator of its "persuasiveness" as people actually going out and choosing to read it on their own?

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rcmann
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Does it stand the test of time?

Song of Hiawatha. Good? Bad? Persuasive? Not?
Illiad. Good? Bad? Persuasive? Not?
Dick Turpin's Ride. Good? Bad? Persuasive? Not?
The Highwayman. Good? Bad? Persuasive? Not?
Beowulf. Good? Bad? Persuasive? Not?
The Hound of the baskervilles. Good? Bad? Persuasive? Not?
Huckleberry Finn. Good? Bad? Persuasive? Not?

Find the link of commonality that joins all of them, and boil it down to its essence.

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redux
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The commonality? They are all required reading for English majors? All written by men?
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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by Merlion-Emrys:
For example, is being made to read Shakespeare for school as good an indicator of its "persuasiveness" as people actually going out and choosing to read it on their own?

I can't say. I can't be forced to do anything I don't want to do. Shakespeare was a tough nut to crack. I wanted to find out what all the hubbub was about. Once I did . . .
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extrinsic
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Let's see, a roundup for the moment.

Another metric, one survey from after World War II reported Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer novels were read by ten readers after the initial consumers. About ten readings is the maximum from that era a mass market paperback could withstand before falling apart. Now one might withstand twenty-five hard handlings. They are on university reading lists too, alongside Steinbeck, Vonnegut, and Sinclair.

I've seen Meyer's Twilight novels and Rowling's Potter on reading lists too.

Miss Jane Austen and the Brontë sisters and Emily Dickinson are right up there in the pilaton university reading list and library holding-wise.

Dinner time.

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Merlion-Emrys
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School must've really been heck for you, since its all about forcing people to do what they don't want to do...

Or forcing them to eventually want to do whatever it is, depending how you look at it.


Anyway...the thing I find interesting, about Shakespeare and all the folks rcmann mentions is, the general consensus here on Hatrack has always been that most of the old masters so to speak would never get published today...so what does that say about their persausivitityness?

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redux
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Sometimes these discussions remind me of the scientific inquiry into the soul. Does it exist? If so, how much does it weigh?

(Edited to fix a typo)

[ February 17, 2012, 07:36 PM: Message edited by: redux ]

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extrinsic
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Life is heck. Heck is what motivates people to get out of the bathtub and make something of their lives. The heck of grade and secondary school for me was more from my so-called peers attempting to force me into their flawed ideals of conformity than from the "authorities."

An oftentimes overlooked detail about the old masters was they set higher bars for their times, introduced new techniques, set standards and expectations, developed new styles, craft aspects, voices, and ideas, built the very foundations today's writers at least build from, if not improve upon. Today, they are humdrum has-beens to many, washed up old salts who are in the ground dead and buried where their ideas and they belong, to many. Not to me.

They were superstars for their respective times. Today, for many readers and writers, they are out of fashion. Not many readers today like to put in the effort to interpret them and their times they write about. Speaking of out of fashion, Rowling is out of fashion for my high school age nieces and nephews and grand nieces and nephews.

I'd like know what old masters are out of print. They are regularly published today to continuing acclaim and appeal and not just for freshman English literature courses. Old masters' works populate publishers' backlists. Might a writer writing in the same nuances as a master be published to critical and popular acclaim today? Yep. Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrel, to name one. Not suited to every reader's tastes, but it's doing all right.

Every discussion I've followed here or elsewhere between two "sides" of the high brow and low brow conversation has invariably languished for lack of interest, drawn a tie or drawn a lockdown. I don't see any majority consensus for the low brow position or the high brow position anywhere. I see an unsettled us against them mentality.

I'm not on either side, though I respect and celebrate each's merits and positions. I embrace the whole. But one side or another would locate me in the enemy camp. Story of my life.

C'est la vie de lecture et l'écriture. It is the life of reading and writing.

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Merlion-Emrys
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Just for the record, I don't personally agree with the "old masters wouldn't see print today" or rather I don't consider it relevant. But I'm never quite sure about your actual opinions about anything.

I just think there is only so far that analysis can take you. Some of this stuff has to do with things that just can't be analyzed...like what redux said about trying to weigh the soul.

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babooher
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"Here is my primary definition of a persuasive story: One that it's creator loves and believes in."

So, if I hate a story I've written, but my wife picks it up and secretly sends it to an agent and the infernal thing gets published and sets the literary world on fire it wasn't persuasive? Seems a little odd.

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extrinsic
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Weighing a soul is a topic for philosophical conversation, scientific conversation, spiritual conversation, intellectual conversation, writing conversation, life conversation, for conversation, for writing.

One's determined opinions about the weight of a soul can be absolute, though no one else agree. Deciding for one's self what any given soul weighs is what social beings do every waking moment and often every sleeping moment. He's going to heaven. She's going straightaway the other way. She's got some work to do in limbo. He's damned for eternity. Each and all decide what a soul weighs according to each's biases and beliefs. Matters in the hereafter are likely quite different from any mortal prediction.

I say a soul weighs the weight of a soul. There is no other metric to weigh one. Not in nanograms, not in any degree of concrete comparison, perhaps in abstract comparison through figurative language. Art bridges gaps between science and religion.

Analysis doesn't dictate absolutes. Analysis investigates, formulates a persuasive position, takes a stand, makes a credible and persuasive point, amply and persuasively supports the point, anticipates persuasive objections to the point, prepares a persuasive rebuttal for the objections, draws persuasive conclusions about the point. Then throws the argument out into the world to see if it will stick. There's always plenty of dissenters ready to throw it back.

My opinion, there's plenty of room for all opinions if taken as given that across the span of time and space each must enjoy its fifteen moments of fame.

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Merlion-Emrys
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quote:
So, if I hate a story I've written, but my wife picks it up and secretly sends it to an agent and the infernal thing gets published and sets the literary world on fire it wasn't persuasive? Seems a little odd.
And that goes back to the subjectivity, and why I find the quest to try and define and determine what makes a persuasive/good/successful story, in some generalized way, to be an futile exercise.

Also, just because I say a story that its creator loves is a persuasive one doesn't automatically presuppose that one he or she doesn't is not. Also, maybe a better way to put it would be...put care and effort into. The only art I can even begin to consider "bad" is that to which its maker is indifferent, that's produced simply as a product to be sold. The example that always springs to mind for me is most "SyFy" channel original movies...the bulk of them feel, to me based on how I feel not that I actually know the people involved in them, as though they were made purely as a product and that those involved didn't have any sort of feelings about them on any level.

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Merlion-Emrys
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quote:
Analysis doesn't dictate absolutes. Analysis investigates, formulates a persuasive position, takes a stand, makes a credible and persuasive point, amply and persuasively supports the point, anticipates persuasive objections to the point, prepares a persuasive rebuttal for the objections, draws persuasive conclusions about the point. Then throws the argument out into the world to see if it will stick. There's always plenty of dissenters ready to throw it back.
My interpretation of when you speak about all the various analysis you do, and also my interpretation of most other discussions of this kind, is that people are performing analysis to try and find some sort of literary Philosopher's Stone, the Secret to the Perfect Story, that if they can just figure out the right ingredients they will be able to craft a narrative that almost everyone will automatically love.

So that's where I'm coming from when I say, analysis can only take you so far, and some things just can't really be analyzed.

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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by Merlion-Emrys:
And that goes back to the subjectivity, and why I find the quest to try and define and determine what makes a persuasive/good/successful story, in some generalized way, to be an futile exercise.

To each their own poet's progress. For those of us who share ours, self-defining our principles and sharing them, as multitudes have done throughout time, it is not a futile exercise. It's joining and participating meaningfully in the conversation.
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Merlion-Emrys
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Yep. I participated. And my participation got rebutted...and, I feel, lambasted. So I responded. But I've already expressed my views and insights, and since that apparently doesn't constitute meaningful participation, I will cease to participate.
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babooher
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I might be wrong on this, but didn't OSC venture forth into some of this territory with his MICE idea?

By recognizing some common characteristics of stories, an author can begin to analyze works (his own or others) to see what is working and not. If there is a common vocabulary between several writers, then critiques can be done better.

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extrinsic
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Card's MICE does venture forth into similar narrative theory territory. His is better known. So far.

VOCS for voice, originality, craft, and style? VOCs for volatile organic compounds is a close acronym comparison, I guess.

I've got a few acronyms I use for mnemonics and from my writing, critiquing, rewriting, and revising tool kits. DIANE'S SECRET, SPICED, CAT, MED, PLAKED, ECOS, and VOCS, inspired in part by Card's MICE.

[ February 18, 2012, 12:41 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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babooher
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Okay, now I'm really intrigued. What are all (DIANE'S SECRET, SPICED, CAT, MED, PLAKED, ECOS) those things?
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extrinsic
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Thank you, babooher, for being intrigued by my alphabet soup.

DIANE'S SECRET writing modes: description, introspection, action, narration, emotion, sensation, summarization, exposition, conversation, recollection, explanation, transition. SPICED: setting, plot, idea, character, event, discourse. CAT: causation, antagonism, tension. MED: mimesis, exigesis, diegesis. PLAKED: pathos, logos, audience, kairos, ethos, decorum. ECOS: expression, content, organization, style. VOCS: voice, originality, craft, style.

Another, SSP: suspension of disbelief, secondary settings, participation mystique.

[ February 18, 2012, 10:53 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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babooher
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Impressive alphabet soup you got there.
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LDWriter2
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Getting in late to this discussion, there so much stuff here that I'm not sure where to start or to even comment on but getting back to the original post. What makes a story good?

A lot of stuff done right. [Smile]

extrinsic listed the mechanics of what usually makes a story good or persuasive but there is more to it. The writer makes a difference and how they put all those nuts and bolts together. You need certain nuts and bolts or parts of a story even if a certain part might be one line long.

Liking the plot usually helps to make a story good but it doesn't have to be. I know of editors who bought a story of a type they usually reject because the writing was so good they had to have it. I have read stories where I disliked the plot but the writing still drew me into the story.

I think that is where the classics come from. A book is put together so well that rather you like the story or not the writing draws you in.

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Merlion-Emrys
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You may be talking about what some call "voice" LD, and in part what I sometimes think of as mood, atmosphere, or style.
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Robert Nowall
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Vaguely appropriate to this discussion...I read something recently that said during Queen Victoria's reign, there were some sixty thousand novels published in England...how many of them have stood the test of time?
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LDWriter2
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You could be correct Merlion, at least partially.

But more on writing later

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extrinsic
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Twenty thousand or so prose books are traditionally published each recent year in the U.S. So many books, so little time. I might in a good year read three hundred. Of those twenty thousand most are remembered three months or less, some maybe a week. And sell between two and ten thousand copies all told.

Voice does sometimes trump plot for reader engagement. Though voice can be distinguished from craft, originality, and mechanical style, it's indivisibly linked. Craft, for example, using stream-of-consciousness techniques for voice qualities; fresh, original voices are one expectation audtors of publication state are most in demand; mechanical style from artful word choice, diction, elegant sentence variety, syntax, even broken or awkward useage for closing narrative distance, grammatical "error."

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rcmann
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I think much is based on sheer quantity. One reason that Twain is well remembered is that he wrote so much and so often, in terms of his time period. I doubt that Stephen King would be as popular if he had only written one book and then gone into seclusion.
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