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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » What's "It" Really About

   
Author Topic: What's "It" Really About
extrinsic
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General to as focused and specific as possible what a story is really about is part of my pre-writing process. The process attempts to define that criteria because it informs the writing: events, settings, and character development, in detailed order even unto place and character names. Successful realization comes to fruition to variable degrees before I start drafting. Invariably, the draft composition goes faster this way than when I just drafted without much direction.

However, what savings of draft and revision composition effort ensues about equals pre-writing efforts. Plus, I still don't firmly know what a given story is about until a draft is complete and meditated upon, and often not even then, and not for some time afterward. Net outcome, though, is a more satisfactory and fully realized narrative -- overall gain.

I realize the process seems complex and fruitless, possibly formulaic, though the process does tune into a project's readiness for drafting. About one of ten inspirations move forward from the screening of ones ready for drafting; the others, added to an inspiration notes file, ferment and receive occasional revisits.

Figuring out what any one is really about is harder than shotgun writing -- free-association drafting, though free-association methods accompany pre-writing, drafting, and revising. Yet having a tool on the Hatrack Utility Belt for doing so helps enormously. The tool is a human condition Randomizer-Orderer generator. What human condition subject do I want to address? Current events, sure.

What's wrong with the world, what's wrong with the world that impacts me and kindred individuals, what's wrong with my life that I can comprehend and address, what's wrong with me? That's a summary of the process. The former two I've learned to avoid. As bases, they lead to dictated, preachy moral laws assertions. The latter two are fertile fruit for meaning making and discovery of natural moral laws, more than discovery, personal reversal of circumstances due to realized rationale for and from their realization.

The other side the R-O generator raises is what's right about the world, right that impacts me and mine, kin, kith, and kine, right with my life, right with me. Necessarily, those inspirations lead to writer surrogate narratives. Nope, not gonna go there; they don't work for me and leave little room for genuine dramatic contention. Problems: overly self-idealized self-efficacy and self-actualization that ring as false as a stump politician's anecdote about how the politician saved the day against insurmountable odds.

The R-O generator has an irony switch that flip-flops the problematic inspirations to opposite or diagonal perspectives. Say the human condition subject is attempts to understand why disenchanted individuals go off in the head and shoot out a crowded room. I keep coming back to zonbi genre's big game hunts there. Breakout from that persistent loop leads to a sympathetic approach. That's not gonna fly.

No matter how miserably family, acquaintances, or society treated the individual, the individual is aged mature adult enough to know and take steps to get help -- help that first must present as a need of enough magnitude harm to provoke action, action that is sadly often too late.

The neighbor did know, though after wrecking the neighbor's belongings, which summoned law enforcement, which resulted in a well-being in-patient commitment to a hospital. Another neighbor didn't know or ignored or refused the need and died tragically due to a judgement mistake. Another neighbor became an active shooter incident, defused before any casualty, save the shooter's arrest and amplified criminal charges after a long evening standoff.

This is where I live: a different and darkly edgy, blighted world from many's worlds. And there but for the grace of Providence go I. So yeah, my world, my life, my problems to address at least vicariously and subjectively on the prose page. That's what the R-O generator does. No satisfactory inspiration yet for how to address tragic-active incident lives.

On to another project that is realized ready for drafting. Time slips by regardless. That I guess is the question I ask.

How much time passes for your longest and shortest writing process overall until satisfied a work is realized ready for debut? Realized what it's really about?

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Captain of my Sheep
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quote:
How much time passes for your longest and shortest writing process overall until satisfied a work is realized ready for debut?
So far, I can't say I've finished any story to my satisfaction. (I write short stories.) One important reason why this is so, besides "authorial anal-retentiveness": I can tolerate my lack of refinement when it comes to writing style, but I won't tolerate lack of clarity in my stories. You might hate it, but you'll understand everything in it. Making everything as clear as can be has proven to be tricky when a lot of world-building is involved.

(To give people a bit of a context, I've only written 3 stories since I started writing again: one is on its 5th draft, the other two on their first and second drafts.)

Onto other matters:

quote:
I still don't firmly know what a given story is about until a draft is complete and meditated upon, and often not even then, and not for some time afterward.
This is a problem I'm struggling with right now. I can't describe the story, which is a meager 2k, in one sentence. I know what happens, but that's about it. Also, I don't write the kinds of stories one reads at Daily Science Fiction, so the subject of "message" gets a bit harder to pin down, for me.

Being new at this, I'm tempted to not dwell on this too much before somebody else reads it. I'd rather keep writing and getting better at putting what I want on the page instead of trying to pin down the unpinnable, at least for now.

Sometimes things can't be learned before you've written your 400th short story.

[ November 10, 2015, 10:18 AM: Message edited by: Captain of my Sheep ]

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extrinsic
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Sometimes, other readers could hit on what a story is really about, that the story's writer doesn't fully realize beforehand. Reader hits are often aesthetic hunches that then take effort to interpret and comprehend. Rarely does a preview reader grasp an under-realized creative vision. Skilled editors are more likely to fathom one. Still, under-realized creative visions resist anyone plumbing their depths.

I prospected years for the qualities that distinguish declined from accepted and ephemeral from enduring narratives of any length or genre (fiction, creative nonfiction). I too waffled in a trackless dark. Until I read Wayne Booth's The Rhetoric of Fiction, I had no clues, other than mechanical aspects, like grammar and structure, no aesthetic qualities anyway.

Contemporary to Booth's Rhetoric, I also delved into distance. Several sources offered insights about the topic. I sought where the distance concept came from and found and studied its original source: Edward Bullough, "Psychical Distance as a factor in Art and an Aesthetic Principle," 1912.

John Gardner uses the term "psychic distance." Dave King uses "narrative distance." Many other theorists use one or the other and most don't use "aesthetic distance." "Aesthetic" encompasses a gamut of distance factors others' don't. Bullough's treatise is by far the more comprehensive distance discussion.

And, yes, much learned from and about both topics after many words put on the pages. I did note, though, I instinctively applied them beforehand to my writing, awkwardly and under-appreciatively and gropingly of their many methods, which claw back to basic foundations. Booth: moral human condition; Bullough, physical, temporal, situational, intellectual, spiritual, cultural, social, personal, and emotional degree of proximity to life-defining, larger-than-life circumstances. "Larger than life" could construe as shared human experience -- moral human condition; that is, what a narrative is really about.

[ November 11, 2015, 12:53 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Disgruntled Peony
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I'm still redeveloping my writing process, but I generally go through at least three drafts before I'm happy.

My last short story went through four full-fledged drafts (with about eight in between files from when I deleted/added/moved scenes, because I pantsed that one). The first draft took me over a year to write because I wasn't sure what the story was about at first, so I set it aside for awhile. I picked it back up when I joined Hatrack in June, and it took me about two and a half months to get the story where I wanted it to be after that point.

My current short took me about a month of brainstorming before I started any serious drafting, and then another month to write the first and second drafts. I'm guessing it'll take me another month or so when I pick it back up in December. So... Three to four months, tentatively speaking?

I'm hoping my creative processes will speed up eventually. I used to be able to throw down stories in a matter of weeks, but that was back when I was a teenage fanfiction writer and only wrote one to two drafts before I was satisfied. I was also unemployed at the time. [Razz]

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Grumpy old guy
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Deciding what a story is really about is, for me, a long organic process that involves all aspects of developing the story idea. Character, plot, and premise all collide, merge, separate, and re-merge countless times until I can distill the essence down to a simple concept.

While I have said on previous occasions that until you can tell me in one sentence what your story is really about, you the writer, don't have a sufficiently deep understanding of your own story to actually start a serious draft, personally, I need to distill the concept down even further--to a single word if possible.

So, how long does this take? From first concept to finished outline: 2-3 years, then about 3 months to final draft. For a short story, perhaps 8-12 months. [Smile]

Phil.

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extrinsic
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Long organic process for me too. I struggle anyway, though satori is my goal, from which recent moral complication feature revelations have furthered less struggle and less time delay from inspiration to realized narrative. Quicker, yeah.

For instance, a long fiction project of interminable delay explores the cultural innovation of recreational substance legitimacy, begun when I investigated alcohol, tobacco, and gambling's legitimacy, and since, firearms. The attitude I want for the fiction is ambivalence for and against; net, I don't know. So long as no preachy moral law assertion is foreground and outcome remains in doubt until the bittersweet end. The satisfaction outcome of substance is ultimately how I feel when I get there, after all the research and drafting. I won't know until I get all the way there.

Until I get there is to the good so that passion for the novel remains strong, yet a plot direction to strive for all along. Someone gains, someone looses; net, again, I don't know, other than an overall gain for all so a no-net-zero-sum scenario concludes, upon a moral truth discovery, and that the outcome restores emotional equilibrium.

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Grumpy old guy
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By reducing a story down to its essential what's it all about, I find that all doubt about direction of plot and character development becomes self evident and self realised.

Some of you may know about my story Æsir Dawn that I've had languishing for 5 years for various plot and structural reasons. It was only a couple of days ago that I managed to reduce the what's it all about? answer down to two words--Parental Love.

This has now caused me to start going back and looking at every scene, every setting, and every conversation because, reducing the premise to those two words changes everything. Essentially the story looks at three types of parental love: Love where parents will willingly sacrifice themselves to save their children, Love where parents will willing give up their own futures to ensure their children's well being (similar, but not the same as the first type), And the tragic type of love where a parent actively plots the murder of their own children in order to save them from themselves--a contentious proposition at best. Lots of work ahead before I can write that first draft.

Phil.

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extrinsic
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Parental love, a subset of affection types, is labeled storge, pronounced store-gae. Kinship affection known as philia; unconditional affection, agape; and romantic affection, eros.

A parent who harms a child could exhibit Munchausen syndrome presentations, that is, singularly, the self-love, narcissism intent from self-worth promotion and social approval due to martyred caretaking of an awry health, behavior, or other "off" child. A parent who takes a child's life to save the child from her or himself seems to me a severe and ultimate Munchausen presentation.

Not a criticism, only observations for further possible investigation.

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Grumpy old guy
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Munchausen syndrome is essentially a narcissistic mental disorder. Killing your own children because they've caused so much devastation and suffering to the innocent because they can and want to is another kettle of psychosis.

Phil.

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