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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Craft: Dramatic Complication

   
Author Topic: Craft: Dramatic Complication
extrinsic
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This is a craft topic with voice related to a degree. Voice in that close narrative distance influences plot development, which is craft, from close access to a character's viewpoint.

Dramatic complication is a fundamental feature for developing plot and a potent unifying feature. Dramatic complication relates to dramatic conflict though is distinguishable from conflict, which relates to theme. Dramatic conflict encompasses a larger set of features representing a dramatic complication, passionate clashes of wills, motivations and stakes, and outcomes.

Dramatic conflict is a mutually exclusive, diametric opposition of forces, like life or death, riches or rags, acceptance or rejection, or redemption or damnation. Ayn Rand's lexicon labels dramatic conflict theme-conflict for the relationship conflict derives from theme. For example, a theme category of The Individual in Society, a theme of Alienation might portray an acceptance or rejection conflict. A main dramatic complication for that conflict might be a problem fitting in to a new place wanting satisfaction. Problem and want, in other words, comprise a dramatic complication.

However, a dramatic complication is not of necessity comprised of mutually exclusive nor diametrically opposite forces. From the Alienation theme, acceptance or rejection dramatic conflict, a main dramatic complication can be at once both problem and want. Problem: a protagonist realizes an acquaintance is indifferently disinterested. Want: The protagonist wants a closer relationship with the acquaintance, perhaps a love interest. The more the love interest resists, the more the protagonist desires a closer relationship with the acquaintance.

No one likes rejection, even if indifferent rejection. Actually, that's a basis for a plot that might escalate tension from empathy and curiosity—caring about and wanting to know what will happen—increasing realization of escalating dramatic complication, increasing realization of the complication's implications, increasing effort to satisfy the complication, increasing forces in opposition, doubt of the complication's outcome increasing through a climax act and remaining in doubt until a denouement act.

Oftentimes, a dramatic complication's problem feature is first to disturb emotional equilibrium, to upset everyday routine; that is, a plot-shaping feature Jerome Stern discusses in Making Shapely Fiction. Stern elaborates on one routine-interrupted "shape" in particular: Bear at the Door, or an impending danger that interrupts a routine. A writing maxim claims Three hundred sixty-five days in a year, the day that's markedly different is the day to write about or open a narrative.

In essence, a dramatic complication's problem feature is a First Cause, where a beginning begins plot development. A want can be a First Cause as well, though human nature by default might find expressing a want as a selfish action without an overriding problem presenting first, for the sake of empathy at least, more artfully for the sake of public as well as private stakes and implications.

For example, a bug-eyed zombi outbreak in the neighborhood disrupts routine. That's a problem with portent public and private stakes. The protagonist struggling for acceptance by a love interest might show up at the love interest's door armed for a big game hunt and thus win the love interest's acceptance after much struggle. There's more than one "Bear" at that door.

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History
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Just a personal observation and visceral response which in no way is meant to detract from your fine and enlightening post, Extrinsic...

My head hurts.

While I appreciate your analysis, I also cringe from it. Sometimes describing a process in precise objective detail detaches from the experience.

For example, I can describe to you in accurate medical detail the precise physiologic steps and anatomic changes associated with the various stages of the human reproductive act; however I do not believe this is necessary to enjoy it or to perform it well.

Personally, I feel I often overthink my stories, playing with words and sentences and themes to reflect the character's thoughts, moods, challenges. Sometime it is better to just feel the story and write it.

Just my two shekels.

Respectfully.
Dr. Bob

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extrinsic
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No harm, no foul. A headache signals effort. The effort is worth burning the late-night candle.

Once the raw draft is on the page, after whatever degree of preplanning and prewriting that precedes, the time for rewriting and revising comes to bear. I've studied the processes of many winning writers. Though many claim they just throw words on a page and make a light pass or two for adjustments, I don't believe it. Kurt Vonnegut made that claim, for example. Son Mark inherited Kurt's papers. Lo and behold, a cornucopia of drafts in varying stages. Draft writing, therefore writing, isn't done until a narrative rings like a bell. I do believe that's what winning writers mean when they say once the writing is done, including rewriting and revision, then a narrative only needs a few passes for adjustment.

As writer, that's my process: plan, prewrite, raw drafting, rewrite, revised drafting. As editor, my evaluation processes bring an arsenal of writing tools to bear. What's the complication? What's the voice? Do the parts connect to the whole? Is the narrative unified? Are the parts timely paced and in proportion to the whole? Does the beginning start slow? Why? Does the middle sag? Why? Does the ending pay off? Why not? For instance. From a dramatic complication cornerstone springs the entire structure.

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babooher
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History, do you mean there's more than "insert tab A into slot B" to the human reproductive act?

All kidding aside, I keep likening extrinsic's analysis as of late to Aristotle's Poetics. Both are good to consider, but neither should be adhered to as the all encompassing truth.

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KayTi
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I'll pipe up to say that I often find my brain smoking after reading some of extrin's posts, but as you say - it's due to effort.

There are always observations and details to glean. I tuck them away into my subconscious and just let them work in the underlayers. For me, writing is a very unconscious act. I have to go to the place in my brain where all the stories are, which is a different place in my brain from where all the analytics and useful tools are.

I have found over the years that I need to periodically read a book about writing or a good solid article about craft (or two, or six) and let those things steep in my brain before taking on a new big project. But when in the act of writing, none of that information I might have read recently is conscious or at the forefront of my mind.

I've heard other writers talk about "surrendering to the muse" or speak as if writing is a truly schitzophrenic act for them - they're not of their right minds when writing, and while I don't exactly relate because I'm still very much myself when writing, part of me can relate because I feel as though it's very different parts of my brain at work when writing versus when analyzing. It's one of the reasons that, for me, I've found I can't edit for too long. Firstly because I procrastinate it and thus end up editing for too long. [Wink] But mostly because when I edit I'm not in that same place in my head that the stories live, and sometimes my edits remove the parts of my stories that are the most...story-like.

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extrinsic
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KayTi,

You peg one major reason for my analytical approach, one major reason why I share my analyses, touch upon a hint of one major benefit from doing them.

Loading up the brain box fermenter with writing skills and principles works out the mind muscles so that muscle memory takes over at opportune times, metaphorically speaking.

Sharing my insights gleaned from others and developed independently to a degree strengthens my grasp of the principles from rendering them into written word.

They may be at first intellectually appreciated and oftentimes are; however, working on them brings them into full potential implementation subconsciously to a degree, consciously to a degree, certainly taken to heart during drafting.

If one other writer benefits from my soliloquys, it's all good.

This particular dramatic complication principle works for me predominantly consciously during prewriting and planning, equally consciously and subconsciously during drafting, comes to bear fully consciously during rewriting and revision writing and developmental editing.

On a side note, I recently commented on a story submitted to an in-person workshop. One of the comments was about dramatic complication, how it was implied during the exposition (introduction) act, touched upon during the rising action act, hammered home in the climax act, but fell away during the falling action act, with no denouement act to speak of.

I noted that the complication was not satisfied and that the reason was a failure to connect up an ending with the beginning and middle. The story didn't have a transformation crisis, which bridges a falling action act and a denouement act. Thus I saw a need for an insertion of missing content and a weak organization of the whole.

The workshop complement generally agreed. More importantly, the writer understood. Subsequent revisions and later stories by the writer demonstrated a stronger grasp of dramatic complication's influence on content and organization and structure, speaking of inserting tab A into slot B.

Actually, one of the workshoppers used an aerospace metaphor to illustrate my point: orbital insertion, an acceleration or Delta-V maneuver using force to enter a new stable orbit. I then compared the aerospace metaphor to how emotional disequilibrium seeks satisfaction and payoff from equilibrium in a denouement act as a consequence of a transformation crisis. We'd about beat that horse at that point. The writer took me aside afterward and explored in-depth the principles I'd used to gauge the story's expression and content and organization: voice and craft.

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History
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So when's your "How to write" self-help book (or blog)coming out, extrinsic? I'll nibble.
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extrinsic
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A poetics text maybe showing voice and craft methods, not a how-to telling writers how to write. I've begun a rudimentary outline. Two years to compose the text maybe, once I begin in earnest in a year or two.

Anyway, thank you for your perceptive insight, History, seeing through the babble into my underlying main motivations for sharing--testing audience reception and working on accessibilty.

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