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Author Topic: Assignment #1--starting a story
psnede
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I have found that some of my favorite characters have made the novel great, even if the plot is mediocre at best (for example, Dean Koontz's Odd Thomas series). I still need to learn how to actually develop characters without dumping information about them.

As an idea for a character... hmmmm...

How about an artistic prodigy (painter, sculptor, paper mache anyone?) shows great talent, but becomes blind at a young age.

(Stealing Beethoven as an inspiration for the idea...)


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Okay, then you start asking yourself what this character wants.

And, as OSC recommends, you throw out the first and second idea, at least. In other words, in this case, you would throw out the idea that this character wants to continue to create art. (You throw it out because it's obvious. Of course the character will want to continue to create art.)

What else does this character want?

Also, what you have is only one idea (a character talented in visual art who loses visual abilities). You need to come up with at least one other idea to go with it.


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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By the way, your idea reminded me of a young musician I heard about on FROM THE TOP (which is on my local classical radio station on Saturday evenings), a radio show that showcases young musicians.

This young man was a very talented pianist, if I remember correctly, but one of his hands was badly burned in an explosive fire accident. He learned how to play the French Horn, which requires only one hand, and his musical talent pulled him through.

So your idea is good, but you need to add things to it to make it unique and thereby compelling.

Perhaps what the character wants is only incidental to the artistic talent.

Perhaps what the character learns how to do instead of paint (sculptors can be blind, by the way), is still creative and talented, but it also helps the character accomplish the REAL goal, and (even better) helps in an unexpected way.

So keep thinking of ideas. The more the better (plenty to choose from and to knock against each other).


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psnede
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The character, let's just call him David, wants to paint, but he knows he can't. He doesn't know what color is what and understands that painting is not going to happen.

He is not one to give up life to depression. He decides that he will be a musician, but he is utterly horrible. He is completely tone-deaf and lacks any form of skill.

All those around him know his tragic story and lie to him, telling him he is a better musician than he was an artist. David continues to pursue his newfound craft with fervor.


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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That makes me chuckle, psnede.

So, next question, what can go wrong? (Obvious answer: some jerk who isn't in on the "let's lie to David" plan, blurts out the truth and David is devastated.)

So, what are your second, third, fourth, etc ideas?

Edited to add: and maybe you should go read the second assignment topic:

http://www.hatrack.com/forums/writers/forum/Forum5/HTML/000007.html

[This message has been edited by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury (edited December 14, 2007).]


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whisperingpines
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I find that some of my best story ideas come from vivid dreams I had.
In the dream I see a character in some kind of action or situation, then when I wake and still have that information going through my head I write it down and stew on it for a while.
My trouble is developing the plot or outline, for me it's like Mr. King said... uncovering a fossil. I don't know where the story is going till it gets there.
I write the scene as I see it in my minds eye, guess you would call that camera eye or something.
After that scene is described I begin to work on what may have generated that scene and where it may be leading. When I tell the story I never have a clear ending in mind as it is always shifting and turning as it develops. True I have some basic ideas of where I want to go with it but no clear cut ending. Often times I start in the direction I think I want to go with it only to find that somewhere along the way, things shifted and what I thought was important suddenly takes a back seat to a whole new idea and that leads to many other changes.

I guess Iím wondering, is this common among writers? Or should I have a clear cut idea of where I want to go and stick to that no matter what?

The hardest part of writing for me is coming up with names for characters. Is there a better way to do this than just randomly selecting names?
It may help to know that I primarily write Sci-fi and Fantasy

Ok looking at my rambling it occurs to me that I have not given a topic which is really what this thread is for. So here is an example of one of my dreams I have started to turn into a story.

It opened up with two guards chasing an enemy of some kind. He was well in the lead but seemed to be staying just out of range,like he was toying with them.
The two guards had a dog that was sniffing out the trail for them and in the dream I could hear the baying of the hound as it was hot on the fugitives trail.

In the dream the two guards were arguing as they went along, one of them was young and optimistic while the other older and experienced with this particular quarry, having lost his trail many times over the years.

The dog leads them to a clearing where the guy they are following is seen standing there in the middle just waiting for them. In the full moonlight they see him smile coldly but playfully just before a cloud covers the light and sends the night into blackness. It is only dark for a moment but when the light returns the guy is gone and the hound is standing nose to the ground where the guy was only a moment ago. Now the two guards argue in earnest and the older one is ready to go for help but the younger one isnít ready to give up the search yet. Even though it is plain that the dog had lost the trail.

First thing I began thinking about is why these guys were following the guy. Why was he a fugitive? Then I began thinking about possible ways he could have pulled off the disappearance.

It might also be helpful to note that I am looking at this story idea from a Science fiction POV


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Well, I think you've got a great start on a story there.

Dreams are actually a very good source of stories. They come from the subconscious, which is the part of the mind that can be very helpful to writers in developing stories, and they express things that can resonate with readers.

Rust Hills, in his book (which I recommend), WRITING IN GENERAL AND THE SHORT STORY IN PARTICULAR, says night dreams are much better story sources than day dreams because they come from a much deeper part of the mind and are more powerful than mere wish fulfillment (day dreams).

You are absolutely on the right track in asking yourself questions about the dream. Those questions will signal to your subconscious that you are interested in its offering (the dream) and you will often receive more cool stuff from the same place.

Keep at it.


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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And don't worry about names when you are still developing the story. As you get to know the characters better, names may come.
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annepin
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quote:
I guess Iím wondering, is this common among writers? Or should I have a clear cut idea of where I want to go and stick to that no matter what?

I think it is common. I feel this way too. Often times the story I wanted to write turns into something else entirely, or I'll just start toying with an image, character, or theme, with no clear story line; eventually something comes up, and I'm pleasantly surprised.

As for dreams, yes, those play a strong role in my stories as well. Almost all my stories have some root in my dreams.


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whisperingpines
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Thanks for your answers. I guess it's nice to know I'm not alone in the way I feel. Also like many of you out there whose posts I have read, My family and friends who I have let read some of my work, have encouraged me to finish them, and get them published so they could have a copy for their library. I guess I just want an unbiased opinion as to the value of my stories. I feel strongly about them but that to me doesnít mean they are really good or warrant trying to publish them.

This story idea I mentioned is about 10.000 words into it now and I feel strongly that it is leading into kind of a prequel to another story I have been stewing on for about two years now. When I first had the dream I had know idea it was leading into that like a series opener. But now after working on it for several months now it seems that this is where the previous story must begin.

Funny thing is I had been pondering the previous story idea for a couple years now and havenít done more than start a tentative history (mostly for myself) to get an idea where that story was heading. It was in the midst of working on the first story that the dream took place, and now it seems to be just the beginning I was looking for. With this new storm of ideas the full story seems like it would be too long to tell in just one novel. Even an extra large novel would fall short of telling the story the way I have it envisioned in my mind.

I guess at this point the question is, is it better to keep working on the story that seems to be flowing and finish it first? Or should I go back to the original story idea and develop it now that I know where it all seems to have started?
Originally I had planned on writing out the other story first and then using this as a prequel as I said. But now it seems like this is the story that should be written first to prepare the way for the rest of the story.

Confidence in my own judgment I guess is the real issue. I donít have the confidence in my own writing to trust my first instincts. Is there any way that that can be overcome, short of just writing and seeing how it goes?


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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I tend to recommend that you write what excites you when it excites you. If you have notes about how your other story or stories will go, they can wait while you ride this wave of excitement about the one story.

If you force yourself to write one thing when another thing is pulling at you, you not only run the risk of doing a poor job on the thing you are forcing yourself to write, but you may also lose the excitement for the one that is pulling at you, and when you finally get to it, you won't write it as well as you might have, either.

When you write what excites you, that excitement can carry over into the story, and the reader may pick up on it. Take advantage of that.

You are going to be doing some rewriting no matter what you decide to work on, and it would be better to get the good stuff down while it's good. That way, when you get to the rewrite, you may not have as much rewriting to do as you would otherwise.


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whisperingpines
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What you say makes perfect sence. Thank you. I will try to remember it in the future. Perhaps I will have something to show you soon.

When I do have more of the story written, should I post it in the fragments area? I would love some helpful insite. This being the first story I would like to try getting published I am very nervous about it.


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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You can post the first 13 lines in the Fragments and Feedback areas as soon as you think they are ready to be critiqued, but I would recommend that you try to finish short stories first, and if you're writing a novel, at least finish a few chapters, before posting any 13 lines.

The risk of posting 13 lines when you're not finished is that you'll spend all of your energy making the 13 lines perfect and never get any further than that.

Allow yourself to write badly, if necessary, so that you can at least finish a first draft. Then, go back and work on editing and rewriting and looking for feedback.

Stephen King, in ON WRITING, calls this writing the first draft with the door shut, then opening the door and getting help with subsequent drafts.

The only time I'd say it's okay to "open the door" without a finished first draft is when you need some brainstorming on where to take the story next or how to wrap it up, and you can do that in the Fragments and Feedback areas by describing the story and asking for ideas (no need to post the 13 lines then either).


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A.R. Martin
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I started with the idea of writing a magical fantasy set on future Earth, think 2040, which presumes that Christianity is right and that the one God, your own life energy, or the life energy of other beings are sources of magical energy.

However, as decendents of the Magi, only certain individuals have the genetic trait to be able to access life energy to cast magic. In the beginning demons, magicians, and magical beasts were very much a part of the world; however, in near the end of the dark ages 5 sisters were born and trained by the Magi. When completed with thier training the sisters cast a veil upon the world seperating the mundain form the supernatural.

In 2040 - something happens (I won't reveil it here) to knock down the veil, and the ancient powers are unleashed once more upon the world.

The story starts with a contented teen girl, who, when her brother, a budding undiscovered magician, is kidnapped by warlocks is inadvertantly drug along in a series of adventures that will change the fate of mankind for all time.


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arriki
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Monday last, I had finished the story I had been writing and needed an idea for the next one. I sat down and started listing ideas in an idea file. Didn't matter how stupid sounding, they went on the list. A few are these:

The Earth is severely depopulated by a cosmic dust storm.
Too many people want to emigrate to Mars.
Lunar colonists demanding independence face an embargo from Earth.

This one is difficult, but haunts me. I may have to write it sometime.
Every day at the stoke of noon, a unicorn is chased through the town square by an ogre.

A man falls in love with his dog and wants her made human.
As the Earth enters a new ice age, magical beings reappear.

The one I chose to write was -- A woman on a space colony gets in a dispute about her dog. It's working title is -- Sweetums Saves the Day.

I think ideas rather than characters inspire me. I find a situation that intrigues me, then I walk around looking for people to populate it. Sometimes I have a glimpse of something about the situation. The woman with the dog was like that. I saw this little dog walking up the wall of a corridor in the low gravity part of the space station, near the center. And I felt how irritated someone in charge could be at that.

[This message has been edited by arriki (edited February 20, 2008).]

[This message has been edited by arriki (edited February 20, 2008).]


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Gabriel's_Trumpet
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I've had this idea bouncing around in my head for a while, so could someone please tell me if it has any merit?

There's this sixteen-year-old boy, lives somewhere in California. He's bullied all the time, his parents are dead, et cetera. As a result of this, he is miserable, to the point where he is considering "going Postal" on some of his assailants.

Suddenly, as he is walking home from school, he's blasted into another world by (though he doesn't know it at the time) his only possession: a gold, ruby, and emerald pendant and his own, hidden but slowly emerging powers. The world's name? Atlantis. Magic and incredibly advanced technology is abundant in this place, as are mysterious, dark, assailants called Demons.

During his adventures, the boy (whom I have decided to name, for now and for simplicity's sake, Keril) begins to realize the growing connection between Earth and Atlantis, a realization that comes to fruition as Keril discovers that the main antagonist, a Sovereign-class Demon, seeks to reconnect the two worlds again so that it may take over both with an enormous demon army.

Keril and his friends eventually convince the leaders of both Earth and Atlantis to join forces and wage wholesale war on the Demons, and, though several major victories are won, Keril knows that the only way to truly end this war is by killing the Sovereign-class Demon behind all this. The catch: he's the only one who can do that task, and he is destined to die in the attempt.

Oh, and Keril isn't going to be his final name, so don't bother.


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Well, I do wonder about a few things, but the story has potential.

I guess my main question has to do with your statement that he has friends. If he's bullied, are these friends also bullied, or does he only acquire friends when he's pulled through to Atlantis? If the latter, what about being in Atlantis helps him be able to make friends, changes him into someone who can convince governments when he couldn't even keep his own peers from picking on him in California?

You are describing some pretty large changes for a character, and as long as your story shows how those happen, how he grows into the kind of person who can do what he needs to do, your story has possibilities.

Also, your description is a good start at a synopsis that you can build upon when it comes time to send queries to editors. I'd recommend, though, that you include something about how he happened to own the gold, ruby, and emerald pendant, because that's pretty crucial.

I hope this helps.


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Gabriel's_Trumpet
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Actually that does help a lot. Thanks.
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Bent Tree
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I have developped a story idea. In fact it is far more thought out than alot of the stories I have completed. I am having trouble starting this piece because I cannot decide on the POV character.

The story is set in a world, similar to feudal Europe. Society is matriarchal.

There is a society of magic users. The magic users make a living casting drug-like dreams for the elite of the royal house. It is part of the upper society, where it is done both in group settings as well as in private.

Magic users are born with a certain amount of power, but the circle has existed for a long time because they have found away to increase that power. They murder young magic born, before they grow up. This of course is the dark secret that no one knows of.

The antagonist, a caster, has overused his strength and is becoming weak, but his assassin/spy/assistant can only find one magic born. This magic born (MC) cannot be touched, because he is of the royal house(the son of the Regle--the queen)

The MC becomes aware of this gift as he ages. His maidens tremble in the night when he dreams. He begins to question and seek knowledge of this power, where he meets the caster and the conflict begins or at least by the MC's understanding.

My problem is: The POV of the antagonist is crucial to know of the secret society and of the secret conflict. I think the story could best be told from this POV. However, the internal conflict and the MC seeking the truth, can also be interesting, and is valuable to the plot. I am tinkering with the idea of making this longer and turning it into a novella with contrasting POV.

Any suggestions?

[This message has been edited by Bent Tree (edited March 13, 2008).]


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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I'm glad, Gabriel's_Trumpet. You're welcome.
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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Bent Tree, this sounds complicated enough to be a longer story, possibly even a novel because of the time expanse you've described. In longer stories you can certainly have more than one point of view character, so starting with one and either moving to the other or alternating between them is fine.

I'd recommend starting with the antagonist, then adding the MC as he is old enough to start figuring things out. I agree that you need to make the secret society and the secret conflict clear.

You can also make the antagonist somewhat sympathetic if there is something good he is doing with his magic, besides entertaining the rich, something that is causing him to overuse his strength. That could give him an inner conflict that would make the story even more powerful.

If you use the young magic-born as your main character, how old is he going to be when he starts figuring things out? That's why this sounds like a long time frame, by the way.

What if you were to keep the story in the antagonist's point of view, and have him choose to do this good thing, whatever it is, that will drain his powers faster, because he is basically a good guy and frustrated to be doing this "drug-work" for spoiled rich people. Have him decide that if he's going to do this, he is going to need a young magic-born to kill, and he hates the idea. Perhaps he feels guilt at having survived such a death when someone he cared about was sacrificed by a magic-user instead of him?

Then have him become deeply committed to this good he is doing, only to find out that the only magic-born available is not only untouchable, but royal. And, to add to his inner conflict, he could discover that he likes the kid. (Maybe the Regle has asked him to be her son's tutor, and the boy reminds him of the person who was sacrificed instead of him?)

Just had another thought: what if the Regle is the one who has suggested this greater good he could be doing, so he's committed to her, too? He can't tell her about how it will drain his powers, nor can he tell her how he would have to renew them. Inner conflict upon inner conflict.

I apologize. I'm rewriting your outline for you. Please feel free to discard everything I've said after my first four paragraphs. Feel free to disregard them as well, if they don't help you with your story.


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Bent Tree
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Thank you Kathleen.

I'd like to keep it short, with the option of expanding it later.
How about this: Opening with the weakening caster about to perform a cast for the society function. He begins thinking about his choice to not sacrifice the young prince, and how right it was. Maybe it was his time--the natural progression of things. Then during the cast it is embarrassingly interrupted by the unknowing prince, who had come seeking answers.

Out of rage the caster changes his mind, and the conflict ensues--a battle of illusion The weak against the unskilled. In the end the Old caster is beaten, but the prince to end it must take his life. When he does he is blackend by the magic-- a ploy maybe for the caster to become young again. Injecting himself into the powerful youn man?

[This message has been edited by Bent Tree (edited March 13, 2008).]


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Hmm. This doesn't sound to me as if the young magic-user is the main character.

If the problem is that your only choices for getting the secret society and secret conflict clear are to use the antagonist as point of view character, or to have the young magic-user be the point of view character and have the antagonist tell him what is going on ("this is why I have to kill you!" kind of thing), you have to decide between two risks.

1--an unsympathetic point of view character (the antagonist) is very hard to write so that readers will care, or

2--having the antagonist tell the point of view character about the secrets which verges on the "Evil Overlord" ending (see number 7 on the list of "The Top 100 Things I'd Do If I Ever Became An Evil Overlord" a little ways down the page of this website) and which is EXTREMELY cliche.

If you can figure out (maybe through his dreams?) another way for the young magic-user to obtain enough of the information he needs so that when he confronts the antagonist, it only takes a sentence or two for him to put it together, that would be best.

And you can use the young, and more likely to be sympathetic because he's a potential victim, magic-user as your point of view character.


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Bent Tree
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Thank you for your insight Kathleen. I may just toss this one on the novel idea pile. I want to get some shorts published before I take on that endeavor.

Your advise and suggestions are very much appreciated though. I like how your creativiy flows.


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Thank you, Bent Tree. I apologize for unintentionally causing you to abandon the idea, even if only temporarily, because it's an interesting story plan. I hope you go back to it soon.
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Bent Tree
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No need to apologize. You were very helpful. I am just busy with my WOTF entry for this quarter. I have to redraft the whole piece. I am also entering the Heinlein Centennial, Return to Luna, Parsec, and I was thinking of this for the next WOTF quarter. I'll come back to it in due time. I really liked the idea.
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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Oh, good.

And best wishes on the contests.


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Oblomova
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Would you mind commenting on the value of this story and its appropriateness to either a novel or short story length? I've got a few pages of draft and outlining done, but it seems too long for a short story to cover.

The world is typical nearish-future; picture desert third-world conditions, but minus the population density. Slavery is illegal but widely practiced. Developmental brain disorders are more common due to widespread mutation. Like now, certain triggers can bring out the disorders in susceptible people, but unlike now, they can occur at any age.

Few people gain any special abilities by this, but many of those who do are obsessed with gathering everyone they can into a powerful mega-mind and obliterating individual personality. They identify their prey, usually fertile adult women, the insane, and the gifted, by pheromones. Anyone else they try to merge with just dies. The mega-mind people are known by outsiders as a kind of predator, but not widely seen or understood.

The M.C. starts out an adolescent street girl. She escapes from a dangerous situation in the desert, realizing in the process that she's one of the lucky few who are fertile, that she has paranormal gifts, and is therefore doubly attractive to predators. She keeps it to herself for a few years. The predators show up again, and she has to tell her mentor and fellow con artist. They do street-level research about the predators, and travel to the desert to try and free M.C. from her problem.

The primary antagonist is an adult woman living in an abandoned mine shaft. She decides that her mission is to absorb as many souls as possible, and then use her telekinesis to destroy the fifth world with earthquakes as predicted in Aztec mythology. With practice and control over both her ability and that of the merged entity, this may become reality. The mega-mind people eventually discover her and choose her for their leader and primary vessel.


This is the half of the plot and characters that have come to me so far. What do you think?


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Well, there are some things that are rather unclear.

You don't explain what the special abilities are, though I would guess that they are mind skills that allow the predators to prey on others. Nor are you very clear about the nature or motivations of the predators. Are the predators mega-minds themselves or mega-mind controllers, and therefore, still individual personalities?

You also don't explain why being preyed upon would kill those who aren't fertile adult women, insane, or gifted, and why that would keep predators from preying upon them anyway. It sounds to me as if your primary antagonist has no problem with the idea of killing, so why not just go out and absorb whomever, and those who are fertile adult women, insane, or gifted will survive, and who cares about the others?

Also, you need to explain what you mean by the MC's paranormal gifts. Are they the same gifts as the predators' gifts? Is that how she knows that they are hunting her? Is that how she is able to avoid being found? (Is the dangerous situation you mentioned one involving a predator? Did the predator tell her the things you say she realizes, or did she figure them out some other way?)

Further, is the primary antagonist fertile? Is she Aztec? (I found the mention of Aztec mythology confusing because I don't associate Aztec mythology with third world desert country. <shrug> ) Is she the predator the MC managed to escape from in the initial dangerous situation? What is the fifth world? What is the merged entity (the mega-mind?)? It doesn't sound that way from what you've said, so that's also confusing.

I suspect that you need to do some more thinking on this, and I hope my questions have helped.

That said, I'd recommend that your story start with the MC in the dangerous situation, but don't have her wait a few years. Why would the predators let her hide if all they needed was to sniff her out? Have her and her mentor/fellow con artist work together to figure out what's going on, and have them stay on the run from the predators.

From what you say about the primary antagonist not being part of the mega-mind at the beginning, have whichever one the MC encounters in the initial dangerous situation chase the MC into the reach of the other, and realize that it's a "from the frying pan into the fire" kind of thing where the MC is caught between the primary antagonist and the mega-mind.

Then, I'd recommend that the MC manage to slip away while the primary antagonist and the mega-mind are discovering each other and combining, with the final terrible battle occurring when they come after the MC together.

Of course, a price will have to be paid for the MC to defeat this combined predator, and if you can figure out a way to have someone other than the MC's mentor/fellow con artist pay it that would be nice (and avoid being predictable).

The idea definitely has possibilites.

I hope that made sense.


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Gabriel's_Trumpet
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Ack! I hate writer's block.

See, in my story, the main baddie is this super-powerful demon that has the ability to compel people to do his bidding, run in excess of 300 kilometers an hour, et cetera. Only problem is, I don't know whether I should make him this human turned demon or to make him always having been a demon.


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annepin
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I suggest thinking how each choice affects your story, then deciding which story or premise you like better.
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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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When you're not sure what to do in a story, as annepin said, think about the possibilities.

Ask yourself questions: why? why not? what could the character try next? what could go wrong? what could happen if the character does this? why would the character do that?

In the case of the demon, one thing you could ask yourself is which origin would make the demon more interesting as a character? Or which origin fits better with the character's motivations for the evil he does?

Also, why here? Why now? What has made the story you are telling happen to these characters at this place and time? How does that fit with the possible origins of the main baddie?


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Oblomova
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Many thanks, Kathleen--after reading some of your other posts in this area, I knew you'd bring up some great questions. I have one or two more questions of my own, and then I promise I'll let you off the hook.

1. My vision of the city is that it is located in the Southwest of the U.S., where there is a large Hispanic population. Would it be too big a stretch for people have intermarried to the point that everyone is at least a little bit Aztec?

2. I agree about the sniffing predators--I thought originally that they would be unable to enter populated areas due to some phobia, probably one they'd absorbed from the insane people they'd been merging with. Then again, they could just be too darn sensitive to handle city smells. Would either of these work for you as a reader?

2. I was also thinking of having the use of these abilities be
addictive, like an endorphin rush, but bad for one's grasp on reality, like L.S.D. Too much of a cliche?

3. Does this sound short enough for a short story, or is it more of a novel (ha! bad pun!) idea?


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Hmm. I'll try to respond question by question.

1-- You'd need to explain, first of all, how the U.S. Southwest became a place with "third-world conditions," as you said in your initial post.

As for Hispanics = Aztec, there's the stretch. I don't think you could say that the current Mexican population has enough Aztec in its culture to make us believe your main antagonist even knows about Aztec mythology.

Come to think of it, I am wondering if you don't mean Mayan mythology because they are the ones with the calendar and the predictions. The Mayans are more in the south of Mexico and the Yucatan, not so much along the U.S. border, and I'm not sure the ones who come to the U.S. for economic reasons know much about their heritage either.

2--The way pheromones work, your predators could live right smack in the middle of New York City and not be too sensitive to other smells to find the people they're looking for. Humans use pheromones a lot already, whether we realize it or not, so I don't see why your predators need to be where it's sparsely populated. I guess what I might wonder about is how they know they are using pheromones (see the "whether we realize it or not" part above), and how your MC figures it out.

If they are super-sniffers, that's something else, and I wouldn't bring in the word "pheromone" at all. Super-sensitive people could be smelling other substances entirely: an ovulating egg in a fertile woman, chemical misfiring in a psychotic's brain, whatever it is in a gifted person that makes them gifted (three kinds of things they can detect with their noses).

2nd 2--Addictive when they smell prey, or when they absorb prey, or just when they use an ability? If using it makes them lose touch with reality, they might be dangerous in an irrational way, but they wouldn't be a serious threat in an organized way. Unless, I guess, you mean something like bipolar where they are brilliant while using the abilities and then have down time when they have worn them out. That might be interesting.

Cliches are things that have already been done to death, and I'm not sure how this has been done much at all. Maybe I don't understand what you mean.

3--If you are having it take place over a period of a few years, then it should probably be a novel. Short stories should take place in small time frames, if at all possible. The longer your time frame, the more complicated your situation can become, and the longer the story needs to be to tell it.

I hope this helps.


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Oblomova
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Yes, that was very helpful! Your comments will help me clarify things so that I don't end up with a contradictory mess.

I'll also be doing some more fact-checking so that I don't get the various scent/pheromone issues and Aztec mythologies wrong.

I don't know how you find the time, but I'm glad you're here to be our moderator and contributor to the forum.


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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You're welcome, Oblomova.

I guess I find the time because I enjoy doing it so much.

Of course, the things that I don't enjoy as much tend to go begging. Oh, well.


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annepin
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<making libations and sacrificing a cookie>

Oh great Oracle of Plotting, hear my plea!

I need some guidance plotting short stories... Books are easier for me--I set up the characters, the world, maybe the main conflict, and let 'er rip. But short stories... I guess I have a hard time focusing the story, trying to include too many things. It's also a matter of my writing process. I start with a scene and start working through it--who is involved? Where are the characters? How did they get into this situation? How do they get out of it? I work my way out of it largely by feel. For short stories, that doesn't work so well, unless I want to write a book first, then whittle it down.

So, in trying to keep my focus, I try to zero in on a particular theme. But then I find myself falling back on old story lines. Not terrible, but then I end up with something that's just too familiar. Recently I wrote something that by the end of it, I realized I'd rewritten BladeRunner. With a bit of a twist, but maybe not enough. So I try to think about throwing in something (OSC's combining two or more story ideas) but then the piece just seems impossibly complicated and long to get into, I get confused, and I no longer know what the story is. Or I can only think of what the characters do, and feel like I lose the focus of the story.

Do you have any suggestions? Should I get more specific?


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Great who?

My first recommendation for help with short story writing is to read Rust Hills' WRITING IN GENERAL AND THE SHORT STORY IN PARTICULAR, though I think you've been around long enough to have already seen my recommendations of that book.

So, assuming you have already tried that, I will add that there are a couple of rules of thumb you can use to work out short story ideas. The first is that according to some theories, a short story is supposed to be about the SINGLE (this will be important later) most crucial event in the main character's life: the Turning Point, the Epiphany, the Road Less Taken, or however you want to think about it.

The second is that according to some theories (maybe the same ones, maybe others, maybe overlapping), short stories need to focus on UNITY (or one, or singleness). The idea here is that you stick as much as possible to one character, one place, one time, one scene, one problem, one effort to deal with that problem, one result, and so on. (But not just one idea, though, because even short stories need at least two ideas working together--in unity, of course.)

Now I realize that short stories are published all the time that don't follow those rules of thumb, but they may be helpful for someone who is trying to move from writing novels to writing short stories.

So, if you want me to be more specific, you may need to be more specific yourself. I'm game.

And the only thing I ask for is dark chocolate.


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annepin
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<placing dark chocolate on the sacrificial stone>

I do remember that recommendation. Previously I was focused on novels so I think I overlooked it (and I've read a bunch of writing books). Thanks for bringing it up again. I'm tracking it down and will read it.

Thanks for your comments. I'll ruminate on this for a while.


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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I'll be here.

<licking lips to be sure I didn't miss any of the dark chocolate>

Thanks!


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EP Kaplan
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A couple of ideas for stories I'm toying with at the moment, and an offering of dark chocolate, as per your request.

What would it be like if the Ten Plague from Exodus had human carriers?

Why would someone in his late adult life suddenly take up traveling... to other worlds?

What would be the equivalent of an airport/train station in the distant future, where interplanetary travel is as common as air travel is nowadays?

What would it be like if you had an angel living inside you?

What if the voices in an "insane" person's head were really there? What if they really could speak to G-d, or a messenger from Him?

Why might someone go from trusting you entirely to hating you completely? What if this happened practically overnight?

[This message has been edited by EP Kaplan (edited April 30, 2008).]


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Bent Tree
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I am not sure if outside comments are welcome in this thread. Forgive me if they aren't.

quote:
What if the voices in an "insane" person's head were really there? What if they really could speak to G-d, or a messenger from Him?

Valis by Phillip K. Dick is based on this premise. It is really engaging as well.

quote:
Why would someone in his late adult life suddenly take up traveling... to other worlds?

What if say an older fellow and his twin brother were world travelers/adventurers. They used to climb Everest and hike the Gobi. Let's say the brother gets cancer and dies. This could rekindle memories and feelings in the surviving brother, and he could decide space travel could be an adventure his old bones could handle.


Just some thoughts.


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Bent Tree, you're not "outside," you're part of Hatrack.

Comments by Hatrackers other than myself and whoever posts a query are very welcome here, at least as far as I'm concerned.

EP Kaplan, thanks for the dark chocolate.

You have an interesting list of ideas, each of which could be the start of a story development.

You have some choices regarding your next steps with these.

You could try to see if you can put two of them together in the same story and make them work.

You could start asking yourself questions about them, such as the one recommended by James Blish: who suffers the most from the situation? There are also a few of OSC's recommended questions: why? and what does the main character try to do about it? and what could go wrong? Other questions might include what caused it? and how could a character use the situation? and where (in what kind of place) could such a thing happen?

You start with an idea and by asking questions you get your subconscious to help you turn that idea into the basis for a story. You need to add characters and settings and goals to your ideas (some of which can come by adding other ideas) in order to turn ideas into stories.

I hope this helps.


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annepin
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I've started reading the Rust Hills book and Damon Knight's Creating Short Fiction. I haven't progressed far in either, nor doI have them before me to reference, so forgive me if I get their concepts mixed up.

Your response to EP Kaplan's query brought up a comment problem for me. So in my situation, I've thought of characters and who might get hurt and why, and what they might do about it, but then my sense of meaning and theme (I think that's Damon Knight's take) is lost. He suggests not thinking about these things, but letting them emerge spontaneously from the story itself. And yet I feel like I've read a lot of story drafts that are confused--there's an interesting plot, but the story feels unsatisfying or incomplete because there's no meaning. So how to incorporate these?

The Rust Hills book seems to suggest almost the opposite approach: think of unity and theme; the story should fly for it like an arrow, no wasted words or concepts.

I find myself flipping between these two dichotomous approaches.


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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I think what Damon Knight is saying that if you try to write to a theme, you run the risk of ending up preaching. (Along the lines of Sam Goldwyn (of Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer moviemaking)'s words, "If you want to send a message, use Western Union.")

Writers need to write according to what they care about, and when they do, the theme should grow organically as they write the story. If an idea appeals to you, find characters "who might get hurt and why, and what they might do about it," but only write the story if it has meaning to you. That's how you let the theme "emerge spontaneously from the story itself."

I think Rust Hills is talking about finding meaning you care about and choosing characters and situations that will help you explore that meaning.

It can depend on the story, but it can also depend on the writer. I read Damon Knight's book long before I read Rust Hills' book, but Knight's book didn't "click" for me. What Hills had to say was what helped me with short stories.

Listen to the one whose advice works for you.


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cklabyrinth
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KDW, thanks for the advice to the others... it's helped me out as well. Here, have some dark chocolate, and not the brown wax the others have been giving you. This stuff's from France.

I'm trying to come up with ideas for a short story about competitive hurricane surfing.

Right now I've got the main character as the prodigal, shallow top rated surfer, let's call him Dirk. The plot involves a fellow competitor and his best friend (term used loosely), who has tried to persuade Dirk to live a more purposeful life, drowning in competition. Dirk then finally takes a look at his life and either turns it around or doesn't, I haven't decided yet.

There are a lot of details I need to hash out but that's the main part of what I have. It would have to be set in the future and the surfing perhaps require incredible skill and coordination to accomplish. My only real hitch right now is how to make the speculative element integral to the story. Right now it seems like I could write the story about just about anyone in the present time, take out my idea of surfing hurricanes in the future, and it'd be the same story. Maybe that's my problem; I just like the idea too much.

Thanks for any insight.


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EP Kaplan
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My chocolate was from Holland! So there!

SF surfing... with hurricanes... Hmmm.
The first thing you'd want to do would be to address how you protect the competitors (in and out of actual competition), plus any officials, cameras, and spectators. And how one might get far out enough to actually catch a wave. Don't forget, as you're trying to paddle out, hurricane force winds and waves are going to be pushing against you.

Maybe the hurricanes aren't natural.


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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cklabyrinth, is it the surfing hurricanes idea that you like or the loss of the friend that makes the MC reconsider his life?

If it is the surfing hurricanes, you need to work out the details of how it is done, what kinds of skills are needed, how the equipment works, and so on and so on and so on. Because that is the speculative element that affects your characters, you need to make sure you understand it fully in order to make it believable as well as exciting to your readers. (Sort of the way JK Rowling worked out Quidditch so thoroughly and made readers wish they could really do it.)

If you can make it work, there are two things that may happen (either/or, or both at the same time): first, it will be so cool that your readers won't care that the rest of the story could have taken place in a modern setting, and/or second, as you figure out how it all works, you may discover aspects of the sport that will make it so the story really couldn't happen except in your futuristic setting.

You might want to start a topic in the Open Discussions on Writing area on just how someone might "surf" a hurricane. I would expect it might even involve riding the vortex of the winds somehow (a sort of sideways kind of thing where you climb into the sky?), more than the skimming over the roughness of the water.


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Cross-posted with EP Kaplan.

I like dark chocolate from Holland, France, England, Belgium, Ecuador, Mozambique, Mexico, Jamaica, you name it.

I like it with raspberries (and other berries), ginger, red chili pepper flakes, orange, mint, and cheese (though not necessarily all at the same time).

There is this chocolate shop in Chicago called Vosges Haute Chocolat that combines the most amazingly wonderful things with chocolate (like olive oil or bacon), and I recommend it to anyone who loves chocolate and wants a memorable experience.

Wow!


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cklabyrinth
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Thanks for the ideas.

The idea of surfing hurricanes is the one I like. The loss of his friend forcing him to reconsider his lifestyle, and the fear of not knowing if he could keep his performance consistent if he did, is the secondary idea. Maybe to increase that fear I could include that he's taking designer drugs that are undetectable in order to have the reflexes needed to succeed.

The surfing would take place in the middle of the ocean. Still working out the best way to get the competitors out there... As it stands I've got submarines rescuing the surfers after they go under and now that I think about it I could have a commercial submarine take spectators to the eye of the storm where they watch on cameras.


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