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Author Topic: Where do I start?
John B
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Hello,

I am new to these forums, this being the place I am trying to come to help myself in my quest to actually write something that people might enjoy reading.

I have been told I am a good storyteller, but I have very little practice at writing, and likely not much skill either.

This is something I would like to change, but I am uncertain of where to put my efforts.

I would like to become a writer. Beyond the obvious ("writing"), how ought I to start?

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Meredith
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Welcome to the treehouse.

IME, read, write, critique, learn the basics--story structure, dialog techniques, when to show and when to tell, etc.

I'm sure you'll find plenty to help you direct your efforts here.

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extrinsic
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Two writing workshop-originated compilations expressly related to fantastic fiction offer incisive story-craft guidance: "Being a Glossary of Terms Useful in Critiquing Science Fiction" edited by Clarion workshops' David Smith and "Turkey City Lexicon – A Primer for SF Workshops," Edited by Lewis Shiner, Second Edition by Bruce Sterling, both SFWA hosted. Those also apply to any and all prose craft regardless of genre or metagenre.

One point to note about prose is it is about dramatic, vivid, lively story movement and methodical craft that portrays motion and emotion of dramatic events, settings and milieus, and personas, doesn't shortcut and summarize and explain dramatic action, more so shows and imitates a reality than tells a reality, such that readers immerse in the reality and engage through and with it emotionally.

Nor is story craft the whole ball of yarn; grammar suited to the dramatic action is also a substantive facet, and apt language and rhetoric's poetic equipment, irony and satire most of all, and expression modes and voices and appeals, and each to the other, and each suited to the occasion and the target audience in a glorious symphony of dramatic expression.

Welcome to the Hatrack River writers' community. May you realize the whirlwind.

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Jack Albany
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Welcome, John B, to the river of racked hats. Storytelling is both an innate art and a learned skill. Anyone can write a story if they are blessed with a talent for it OR put in the requisite HARD work of both study and reflection of the prerequisites of narrative prose.

One word of warning. Critiques of submitted stories are, on this site at least, robust, usually insightful, meant to help and advice can sometimes feel, unjustly, like persecution. When our best efforts are accounted for naught, we all tend to feel aggrieved. It is never our collective intention to belittle a poet's efforts to learn and grow, simply to provide objective, personal assessment of submitted material.

[ April 15, 2018, 08:57 AM: Message edited by: Jack Albany ]

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John B
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I am not worried about receiving critique (though I feel I am at present unqualified to give it). My ego, while extant, is, by my best estimation, relatively small, and I realize full well that I should not look down upon any guidance or advice I receive, as it is presumably well-intentioned and as I am no doubt in desperate need of it!
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extrinsic
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An oddity of workshop as practiced is how much easier humans find fault in others than themselves. As far as prose workshops are concerned, finding faults is with writing, not with writers, as a fundamental workshop principle is address the writing, not the writer.

Inexperienced writers may overlook that facet, yet the faults are not of writers personally. Maybe the faults are in education and instruction systems that emphasize vocational labor outcomes rather than creative expression outcomes and their social functions.

Anyway, due to that easier fault finding with external aspects, workshop critique accrues benefits for critiquers as much if not more than for writers.

The basic critique question is does this word, sentence, paragraph, grammar, title, fragment, story, novel, trilogy, query, synopsis, blurb, whatever, work or not work for a given critiquer. In other words, stated as a subjective position, open to interpretation, an opinion, given and taken, or considered and refused, regardless of how objectively, firmly, and persuasively couched a critique is.

From critiquing others' writing, writers learn what works and what doesn't work for their own writing and therefrom develop abilities to self-critique and self-rewrite, revise, edit. The process is three phases, find fault and -- and -- strengths in others' writing, find fault and strengths in the self's writing, adjust the self's writing accordingly. The process cycles and recycles through the three phases.

One of the above-linked Glossary items is rather a common shortfall of inexperienced writing and doesn't work for many experienced readers and writers, and screeners, editors, and publishers, that is, extra lens filters:

"Reality is filtered through an extra lens. Instead of saying 'rain poured down' the author writes 'I felt the rain pour down' [or 'he-she-it-they-you or zero-person pronoun "one" felt the rain pour down']. A story always has one filter — author telling reader — and good authors generally try to make the author as unobtrusive as possible. Adding this second filter — author telling character to tell reader — is not only uneconomical, it is also often intrusive."

The extra lens filter is the pronoun sentence subject and predicate verb, "I felt." Or any other false sentence subject and false predicate verb that summarizes a sensory experience. "Rain poured" is the true sentence subject and predicate.

More to that extra-lens facet there than meets the eye, a first principle is establish or imply who the viewpoint persona is, ideally, a focal agonist whose perceptions are from an internal looks outward and inward perspective, from within a narrative's meaning space. "Inside looks and feels outward and inward." Not a narrator or writer's, or both, outside looks in, as if a lackluster voice-over and view from the couch of a family vacation motion picture on the TV.

Then an observation like "rain poured down" is obviously the viewpoint persona's observed sensation, shown, an imitation of reality as perceived by the viewpoint persona, not a narrator's or a writer's observation summary or explanation report tell.

[ April 18, 2018, 03:47 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Meredith
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A critique as a reader is at least as valuable to the writer as a critique done as a fellow writer.

You can certainly tell the writer what confused you, where you got bored, what was exciting/interesting, and what strained your ability to continue to suspend disbelief.

And yes, it's truly amazing how much you can learn about writing by reading critically.

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John B
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Very well, so I guess I should try to critique for a while before posting anything here? That would seem to be the proper order!
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extrinsic
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Fragments posted and fragments responded to in whichever sequence the self selects is the Hatrack should, contemporaneous, that is. Member self-choice in all things -- except Hatrack's rules.

Besides, the most site activity of late is on the Fragments and Feedback for Short Works forum; so post away, so that active members have a fragment into which we can sink our teeth and fingernails and, ideally, imaginations.

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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John B, one thing that may help you get started with the writing part is to do an audio recording of yourself telling one of your stories.

Sometimes it's easier to say it than it is to write it.

Once you have that audio recording, type it out (or have someone else transcribe it for you).

Then you'll have something written down that you can work with.

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John B
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Thank you for the advice! I'll post the first little bit of what I have one day when I get the courage.
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Jay Greenstein
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quote:
I have been told I am a good storyteller, but I have very little practice at writing,
Being a good storyteller is a great start, but...when you tell a story, how you tell it counts every bit as much as what you say, because the emotional aspect of the story comes through your performance. Unfortunately, our medium can reproduce neither sound nor vision. So while the imagination and creativity that makes you good at storytelling is important, the medium we work in mandates a very different approach.

Remember, our medium is serial. If the audience can see the players in a film/play, they learn an infinite number o things in parallel. In an eyeblink they know the players, the set and ambiance. But on the page it takes pages to talk about what can be seen, so we limit ourselves to what matters to the protagonist, unless more is necessary to the scene in progress.

And the writing tricks we learned on our schooldays are part of a general skillset, meant to prepare us for what employers need. So they're not the specialized tricks of the trade of fiction.

Getting discouraged? Don't be, because everyone comes to writing with the problem.

Reading matters, but were you not a reader you wouldn't want to write. And while it would be nice if we could learn the nuts and bolts issues of writing for the page by reading, our TV watching didn't make screenwriters of us, and eating out doesn't teach us how to use and maintain the tools of the chef. As Sol Stein says: “Readers don’t notice point-of-view errors. They simply sense that the writing is bad.” I'm not certain that recognizing that a given piece of writing is bad...or good, makes us see why it is that.

When we read, we see none of the decision points, or know they exist, because we see only the polished, edited, and finished product. To create anything we need the process.

And that's my point. You need the process, the tricks of the trade, the why's and the gotchas that trip us up. You need the tricks of writing to entertain rather then just inform. You need the craft of the writer.

And a really great place to begin is the fiction writing section of the local library. It's filled with the views of successful writers, publishing pros, and noted teachers.

Reading a few books on the subject won't make you a pro. That's your job. But it will make the tools, and how to use them, available. And while the advice is not all gold, we do know that it works for the ones giving it.

My personal suggestion is to look for the names, Dwight Swain, Jack Bickham, or Debra Dixon on the cover, in the library or from your favorite bookseller. Others might recommend a different set, bit those are the best I've found.

And the good news? If you are meant to be a writer the learning will be fun.

Hang in there, and keep on writing.

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Meredith
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Well, if we're giving suggestions:

Orson Scott Card's Characters and Viewpoint

Browne and King, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers for a foundation in the nuts and bolts

Rayne Hall's Writing Fight Scenes if your story will need that.

K. M. Weiland's website Helping Writers Become Authors for an easily accessible introduction to story structure.

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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I'd also recommend Orson Scott Card's How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy whether you want to write speculative fiction or not because it has a great section on how to structure the type of story you want to write.
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extrinsic
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From the deep-end pool and occasion to expand the event horizon:

An early seminal and signal narrative theory centered around causality, The Poetics of Aristotle, 350 BCE (Project Gutenberg).

A tension-themed companion to The Poetics' causality, Gustav Freytag's Technique of the Drama, 1873 (archive.org).

Seymour Chatman, Story and Discourse: Narrative Structure in Fiction and Film, 1978 (archive.org).

Wayne Booth, The Rhetoric of Fiction, 1961 (Print), and A Rhetoric of Irony, 1974 (Print).

L. Rust Hills, Writing in General and the Short Story in Particular, 1977 (Print).

John Gardner, The Craft of Fiction, 1984 (Print).

Damon Knight, Creating Short Fiction, 1981 (Print).

Noah Lukeman, A Dash of Style: The Art and Mastery of Punctuation, 2005 (Print), a practical guide to punctuation aesthetics for creative writers.

Only one of the above, The Poetics, distinguishes one of the three most relevant dramatic prose criteria and not much detail at that, that is, complication, or motivations, or antagonism (dramatic antagonism, causation, and tension, ACT), along with conflict, or stakes risked, and tone, or emotional attitude: Complication, conflict, and tone, the three prime dramatic movement inciters and movers of prose. The above texts, each in its way, and combined, though, intimates and implies the lot. These above for creative writers who collide into the gatekeeper wall and know of nowhere else to turn.

[Edit: And any writer's basic reference kit, a comprehensive dictionary (Webster's collegiate, for example), a comprehensive grammar handbook (The Little, Brown Handbook), a style manual suited to the writer's genre range (Chicago Manual of Style), and a dictionary of English usage suited to the writer's dialect (Webster's for U.S. writers), for English writers anyway.]

[ April 18, 2018, 05:28 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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