Wednesday, July 31

Chuck Wendig on Plot, Complication, Conflict and Consequence

Chuck Wendig on Plot, Complication, Conflict and Consequence

Chuck Wendig has written what is, I think, his best post on writing so far, and since he has written quite a few fantastic posts that's saying something. Here's his post (adult language -->): Ten Thoughts On Story.

Chuck Wendig's post has ten points, mine only has five and they don't necessarily map onto his points 1-to-1. In any case, there's a lot of great stuff to cover so let's jump in:

1. The three C's of storytelling: Complication, Conflict and Consequence

Here is how Chuck Wendig describes the essence of storytelling:
"[A] character you like ... wants something ... but can’t have [it] ... and goes on a quest to answer that interrupted desire ..."
I put the ellipses in the above quotation because CW refers back to his account of his son's first story. (It's a touching account, I do hope you read CW's article.)

Here's an example of what this looks like:

a. Desire/goal

Protagonist desires something. This something is/becomes the story goal.

Example: In Indiana Jones And The Raiders of The Lost Ark Indiana Jones desires the ark.

b. Complication

Something/someone comes into the picture that/who will prevent the protagonist from achieving their desire. Another way of saying this: someone else wants the same thing the protagonist does but only one person can have it.

Example: Rene Belloq, a rival archeologist, also desires the ark.

c. Conflict

The protagonist and antagonist are pitched against each other in a series of conflicts.

Example: Indiana and Rene enter into a contest, a battle of wits/wills, to find the ark and bring it back to their sponsor/patron.

d. Consequence

The consequence of the conflict. Usually there are three possible outcomes:

i. The protagonist achieves his goal/desire.
ii. The antagonist achieves his goal/desire.
iii. No one achieves their goal/desire.

Example: Rene is killed by the thing he wishes to possess, Indiana takes possession of the ark and delivers it to his patron in the US though, as it turns out, the patron is not allowed to keep it.

2. The essence of plot

This is how Chuck Wendig describes plot:
"[T]he actions of many characters hoping to gain what they desire and avoid what they fear and the complications and conflicts that result from those actions. A character-driven story rather than one driven by events."

3. Your character's motives, their stories, are the most compelling

Chuck Wendig uses Star Wars as an example:
"At the end of the day, the big story is subservient to the little one. The Empire and Rebellion are just set dressing for the core conflict of Luke, Leia, and their father. Or the loyalty of Han. "

4. Every character has to want something

Chuck Wendig writes:
"Money? Love? Revenge? Approval of estranged father? High score on rip-off arcade game, Donkey Dong? Motivation is king. It moves the characters through the dangerous world you’ve put before them. It forces them to act when it’s easier not to. It gives them great agency."

5. The scene: Yes, BUT .../No, AND ...

A story is told in scenes. In that sense, scenes are the atoms of story. (Chuck Wendig touches on this point, but I thought I'd expand on it.)

In each scene characters have desires, often conflicting desires, but there will be one thing in particular--some goal--they're working toward. By the end of the scene that goal has either been achieved or not (probably not). If not, then another goal has likely taken its place.

(Making A Scene: Using Conflicts And Setbacks To Create Narrative Drive.)

An easy way of remembering this is: Yes, BUT .../ No, AND ...

Yes, the hero achieves his goal, BUT there is a setback. No, the hero does not achieve his goal AND there is a setback. Here are a few examples from Indiana Jones taken from my article Making A Scene:


Conflict: Does Indie find the ark?
Setback: Yes, BUT he is captured, thrown into a pit of snakes, and the antagonist takes the ark.

Conflict: Do Indie and Marion survive the pit of snakes?
Setback: Yes, they use torches to keep the snakes at bay BUT the torches are about to burn out.

Conflict: Do Indie and Marion escape the pit of snakes before their torches burn out?
Setback: Yes, Indie crashes a pillar through a wall providing them a way to escape BUT the room they enter is filled with skeletons that--for Marion at least--seem to come alive.

(A bit later in the film ...)

Conflict: Will Indie commandeer the plane?
Setback: No, AND Indie is spotted crawling up the plane, toward the pilot.

Conflict: Indie and a bad guy fight. Will Indie win?
Setback: Yes, BUT a much bigger man starts a fight with Indie (AND the pilot sees indie and knows he's trying to commandeer the plane).

Conflict: The pilot starts to take pot shots at Indie. Will Indie escape being hit?
Setback: Yes, Indie dodges the pilot's bullets BUT the pilot keeps shooting.

Conflict: Indie is fighting a huge bad guy. It looks like he has no chance of winning. Will Indie, against all odds, win the fight against the Man-Mountain?
Setback: No, Indie is not going to win a fist-fight with the Man-Mountain AND the pilot is still shooting at him.

Scenes are chains of conflicts and setbacks followed, at the end, by some sort of resolution/consequence that (unless it's the end of the story) spawn further conflicts and setbacks.

As I said at the beginning, Chuck Wendig's article (adult language -->), Ten Thoughts On Story, is a must-read.

Photo credit: "Smoking Stonehenge" by Bala Sivakumar under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Tuesday, July 30

Scrivener And Goodreader: How To Get Rid Of Paper Drafts

Scrivener And Goodreader: How To Get Rid Of Paper Drafts

I don't have a printer.

When I need something printed I go to the print shop across the street. It works fine, for the most part, but I don't like killing trees and it's inconvenient not to be able to print something the moment I need it.

The solution: Scrivener + Goodreader

I use Scrivener.

I used to use MS Word and I was (to put it mildly) reluctant to switch word processors. I'd used Word for a number of years, was very comfortable with it--my quibbles with The Ribbon notwithstanding.

But Scrivener has won me over. Having the ability to, at a glance, see a short one sentence description of not only each section but each scene, being able to set up my project targets (I enter the date I want the manuscript done by, the number of words I'd like it to contain and Scrivener will tell me how many words I have to write that day). I also can specify, for each scene, how many words I'd like it to contain and Scrivener will show me my progress graphically.

And the random name generator: heaven!

Anyway. Suffice it to say that I'm a Scrivener convert. You might be wondering what this has to do with a paperless office. I'm coming to that.

PDFs + Goodreader

Scrivener--like Word--gives you the option to output your work as a PDF.

Goodreader--the app--lets you use your finger, or a stylus, to markup PDF files.

This gives writers the ability to get rid of their printer. Here's how:
1. Output your work from your word processor as a PDF file.
2. Import it into Goodreader (many people use Dropbox or Google Drive for this),
3. Markup the PDF file with whatever changes you'd like to make,
4. Save the PDF file back to Dropbox, switch back to your word processor,
5. Open up the PDF doc in a separate window and make whatever changes you'd like to your original document.
That's it!

Perhaps laying it out like that, the five steps, makes it look like a lot of work, but it isn't. Or at least it's a lot less work than printing it out. And it allows one to get rid of paper!

I find this works the best for short stories and novellas, I still print out my novel length stories.

If you'd like to read more about this, here's a great article: The Virtual Red Pen.

More good news: Literature & Latte the creators of Scrivener, may have Scrivener on the iPad in time for NaNo this year!

Photo credit: "melancolia" by paul bica under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Wednesday, July 24

Dean Wesley Smith: How To Write And Have Fun

Dean Wesley Smith: How To Write And Have Fun

Another great post from Dean Wesley Smith! This time Dean gives us 10 ways to write and have fun while doing it: The New World of Publishing: Having Fun.

1. Dare to be bad

If you find yourself getting halfway through manuscripts then abandoning them perhaps the problem is that you're thinking too much about what other people will think about your manuscript.

If that's happening, the solution is to write the kind of story you want to write, no matter what your writer friends will think of it.

In other words:

Follow Heinlein's Rules, just as he wrote them. (Robert Sawyer has written a great blog post about Heinlein's Rules which takes things from a slightly different perspective.)

This means writing a story and sending it out when it's finished. Don't put it through a workshop, just send it out. As Robert Sawyer writes:
"And although many beginners don't believe it, Heinlein is right: if your story is close to publishable, editors will tell you what you have to do to make it salable. Some small-press magazines do this at length, but you'll also get advice from Analog, Asimov's, and The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction." (On Writing)
Dean Wesley Smith agrees:
"Stop caring what other people think. Stop showing your work to workshops. Just finish and publish and never look at numbers or reviews or anything."

2. Learn what works for you

You've heard this before: Every writer is different, what works for one, often doesn't work for another.

What you might not have heard is that each book is different. Neil Gaiman said this in his wonderful hour-long chat with Connie Willis at World Fantasy 2011 (thanks Kim for the link!).

Learn what works for you, for this story. Be creative and be open to change. And trust yourself.

You don't know when to let your stories go and either send them out to editors/publishers or publish them yourself. As a result you hang onto your stories too long, rewriting them until your voice has been written out and the piece has all the interest and vitality of cardboard. Dean says that this strengthens your critical voice and hampers your creative voice.

Understand what works for you, for this book, and realize that your voice is unique. That's good, that's what you want. Some folks won't like your voice. That's fine.

Chuck Wendig over at Terribleminds has a unique voice and it's not everybody's cup of tea. That's okay. He's doing fine, as will you.

You need to develop your voice and find your niche. And you aren't going to do any of that if you keep re-writing your stories until they sound like everyone else's!

3. You don't have to outline

Some folks are pantsers not plotters. If you're a pantser, that's fine. That's great!

Don't try and make yourself be something you're not.

Myself, I'm more of a plotter than a pantser, but sometimes I won't outline, especially with my shorter stories. If I feel something's missing, I can outline after I've written it and look at the structure to see if I have to add a scene, take something away, add a character, etc.

When you outline your story you lose all interest. Writing is as interesting as watching paint dry.

Don't outline! There's nothing wrong with outlining, but if it's not working for you try winging it.


Remember, each book is different. Don't think that just because you wrote the last book one way that you have to write your current book the exact same way.

4. Your story is a book, not an event.

In April, Kris Rusch wrote a terrific post called, Book as Event. If you haven't read it and want to publish your writing, I highly recommend it.

Kris Rusch writes:
Finishing the first novel had felt like a fluke. I managed to get it done and it felt daunting. The second novel felt less daunting, but much more important.

Before I had believed that if I could do it once, then I could do it again. After I finished the second book, I knew I could do it again. And proceeded to do so more than a hundred times. (Believe me, that number freaks me out more than it freaks you out. Seriously.)

Finishing my first novel had been an event. A mountain climbed. A life goal achieved. It felt more important to finish than it did to publish the book. And the second novel, well, it felt even more important.

It did feel on par with giving birth to a wanted child.

Now, not so much. I’m still proud when I finish a novel, pleased at myself, pleased that something I imagined has become reality. But I also know there are more novels to write and more stories to tell and so much more to do. I’m actually more afraid of dying before I can finish writing all the projects I carry around in my head, and those projects increase exponentially as each year goes on. (See my Popcorn Kittens post. You’ll understand.)

Books sometimes are events and sometimes they aren’t. Before the rise of indie publishing, prolific writers understood this. (Book as Event)
Dean Wesley Smith writes:
"Books and stories are not events, they are just stories. Entertainment. Nothing more.  But if you believe a book or a story is an event, it takes on a huge level of “Importance” to you and thus that book or story is almost impossible to let go of, or stop working on."
You're having a hard time moving onto your next book because you're discouraged by your previous books performance.

Realize that a book isn't an event.


Write a lot.

As you write you'll get better and you'll develop a readership.

Dean goes on to talk about other points, but these four resonated with me, especially the first.

Dean ends by writing:
I sit alone in a room and make stuff up.
That’s my job description.
. . . .
Readers now decide if they like my story or not, not some editor. And I can write as much or as little as I want without anyone yelling at me.
And I can make my books look exactly as I want them to look.
But most importantly, I can entertain myself.
I have thousands and thousands of choices now with my writing.
I have control and I have freedom.
And for me, all that is great fun.
Go have fun.
You heard him, go have fun. Go write!

(Unless otherwise indicated, all quotations are from Dean's article, Having Fun.)

Photo credit: "Untitled" by Thomas Leuthard under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Tuesday, July 23

15 Ways To Write A Story

15 Ways To Write A Story

Occasionally I come across an article on writing that's so good I have to share it. 15 Unconventional Story methods by Richard Thomas is one such article.

By "story methods" the author doesn't mean genre versus mainstream nor is he discussing the difference between stories of various lengths (though this is his 10th point). He is referring to the different forms a story can take. Doubtless, some of these you'll be familiar with--the epistolary form, for example--and some you might not--a story consisting of nothing but dialogue.

Let's dive in!

Different Forms A Story Can Take

1. Vignette

A vignette is not a complete story. Richard Thomas writes that it gives the reader "an image of a person, place, or idea" but there's no traditional plot, there's no conflict set up or resolved. This is not a story, it's a writing fragment.

When I was a kid I wrote a lot of these. Wonderful writing practice! Also, I could see something like this being used for effect as a part of a larger work.

2. Slice of Life

The slice of life story is more like a story than the vignette, but it still isn't a story as we traditionally think of it. For one thing it's generally incomplete and, as Richard Thomas writes, "focuses on the common, a random (or seemingly random) series of moments, scenes, and observations that do not always add up to a complete story—with resolution, and a set plot."

I've watched a number of art-house movies that have this feel. I've found that this form can be very effective in communicating a mood. 

3. List

I haven't read many list stories, stories in which the events form a part of an ordered whole. For instance, Richard Thomas writes that:
"[T]ypically, it [a list story] is broken up into either numbered scenes, or a collection of objects or ideas under one concept. I’ve written a few list stories in my time. One of the first was “Twenty Reasons to Stay and One To Leave,” which had twenty-one total observations on a relationship that is doomed to end after a husband and wife lose a son. A lot of list stories have an actual number in the title, but it isn’t mandatory."

4. Epistolary

I've loved the epistolary form every since I read Dracula, a story told entirely through a series of letters/journal entries. But the form is versatile and has expanded to include emails, tweets, voice mail, and so on. Experiment!

5. All dialogue

This is just what the name suggests: a story written completely in dialogue. I've never read anything like this, but I want to! Richard Thomas writes:
"It’s very difficult to make this work, but it can be a lot of fun. How do you create setting? Well, they have to talk about it, right? It’s the same for your plot, conflict, and resolution."

6. Choose your own path

These can be fun when well done and, in any case, can lead to great discussions afterward. I heard that, years ago, someone was thinking of producing a movie where the audience voted on which ending they wanted to see. Of course it can be more fine-grained than that. Richard Thomas writes:
"You get to the end of a chapter and it gives you some options: If you want to open the door, go to page 12; If you want to stay and wait for the police, go to page 18; If you want to make a phone call, go to page 22."

7. Metafiction

Metafiction is wonderful when it's well done. This kind of writing "self-consciously and systematically draws attention to its status as an artifact in posing questions about the relationship between fiction and reality, usually using irony and self-reflection (Wikipedia, Metafiction).”

Richard Thomas points out that Stephen King's book Misery is a work of metafiction since it is "a story about a writer creating a story". Also, The Princess Bride--one of my all time favorites--is a work of metafiction because it is "a story about a reader reading a book".

Anything that breaks the fourth wall is metafiction.

I'll let you read the rest of the points over at 15 Unconventional Story Methods is a wonderful article, especially if you're looking for an idea for your next story.

Happy writing!

Photo credit: "life's a beach" by Robert Couse-Baker under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Saturday, July 20

What Writers Can Learn From Aaron Sorkin

What Writers Can Learn From Aaron Sorkin

Aaron Sorkin is a genius.

A while ago I blogged about an article he'd written that dissected the first few minutes of the opening scene of The Newsroom, explaining the effect he'd wanted to create in the viewer and what he did to create it.

Here is a clip of the opening scene of The Newsroom:

Here's Sorkin's article: How to Write an Aaron Sorkin Script, by Aaron Sorkin.

One of the reasons I'm posting about Aaron Sorkin's dissection of his own wizardry has to do with Stephen Pressfield's blog articles:

Art is Artifice, Part 1
Art is Artifice, Part 2

Stephen Pressfield writes:
In a nutshell:

Real = unpublishable.

Artificial = publishable.

When I say “artificial,” I mean crafted with deliberate artistic intention so as to produce an emotional, moral, and aesthetic response in the reader.

What do I mean by “real?”

Real is your journal. Real are your letters (or these days your texts, tweets, Facebook postings.) Real is that which possesses no artistic distance.
Great articles.

Giving the artificial, giving one's art, a semblance of reality requires the kind of talent that only comes from many, many, hours of practice.

Here's an example of talent that comes from practise. This video (see below) was taken behind the scenes at the Tony Awards during the opening number. It's only 2 minutes long:

That director was using instinct. I'm sure that when he first started directing he had to think about it, but now he's like a musician carried away by the score or an athlete on a runners high.

Both Arron Sorkin and folks like the above director, folks who have worked in their chosen profession for decades, have put in the time.

They've worked, they've practiced, they've sacrificed, and now, at the pinnacle of their careers, they have these moments of unparalleled excellence.

Sorkin's opening scene was amazing, startling. Completely artificial and, possibly, absolutely true.

Artificial, because Sorkin crafted that scene: no one is that smart, that eloquent, that directed.

Completely true, because--through art--he extracted the underlying reality and presented it in a way that startled and entertained.

Did I mention that Aaron Sorkin in a genius?

My point in writing this long meandering post is that writing is supposed to be hard, it's supposed to take a lot of work, but you can do it.

Let me leave you with a video sent to me by a friend, it's a conversation Neil Gaiman had with Connie Willis at the World Fantasy Conference in 2011:

Photo credit: "Three trees" by Kevin Dooley under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Friday, July 19

Stakes: 11 Ways To Make Readers Care

Stakes: 11 Ways To Make Readers Care

Chuck Wendig has written another fantastic article about writing, this time on the subject of stakes (NSFW -->): 25 Things To Know About Your Story’s Stakes.

Stakes: Making things matter

1. A story's stakes must be clear

The stakes must be clear. What will the protagonist lose if she fails to achieve her goal? What will she gain if she achieves it? Chuck Wendig writes:
"[W]hat is at stake? Life? Love? Money? A precious plot of land? The loyalty of an old friend? A wish? A curse? The whole world? Galaxy? Universe?"

2. Your protagonist's goal must be clear

Protagonists must want things. They can want more than one thing, but they must want one thing desperately and above all else. This thing that is desperately, passionately, wanted is the story goal. If the protagonist achieves the goal then they've succeeded, if they haven't then they've failed.

For instance, in Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, if Indiana finds the ark and brings it back with him then he's succeeded. If not, he's failed.

What are the stakes? If Indie achieves his goal then he gets professional kudos and the opportunity to study a fascinating artifact. If he doesn't achieve his goal then the Nazi war machine will use the ark to help turn the tide of war in their favor.

Of course, the goal can change along the way. In The Firm Mitch McDeere starts out wanting to be a rich lawyer then, about halfway through the story, his goal changes: he just wants to be free. (He dosen't want either the FBI or the mob to own him.)

3. The stakes must matter to the characters

If the stakes don't matter to the characters ... well, that's like creating a beautiful car but neglecting to put any gas in the engine. If the stakes don't matter to the characters then there's nothing to drive the story.

Chuck Wendig puts it this way: "Why do they care? If they don’t give a damn, why will we?"

4. 'Pinning' the characters to the stakes: making the stakes matter.

A character's wants, needs and fears are what make the stakes matter.

One of my favorite scenes comes from The Princess Bride.  I can't embed it, but here's a link to the (one minute, thirty second) video: Hello My Name Is Inigo Montoya.

Here, Inigo Montoya takes the life of the man (Count Tyrone Rugen) who killed his father in order to avoid paying him for the sword his father created. It is the story of the injustice done to Inigo's father, Inigo's deep love of his father, his thirst for revenge, his fear that his years of sword training to best the six fingered man will have been in vain ... it is all those things, the messy human stuff, that makes the character--and us!--care about the six fingered man's death, that makes us (okay, me) glory in it.

5. Create conflicts of interest

Chuck Wendig's post is about stakes, but we can't talk about stakes without talking about goals. A story gains depth and texture when the goals of at least two characters are mutually exclusive. The goals of the protagonist and antagonist, for example.

In The Princess Bride this was, I thought, especially well done. In the beginning Inigo Montoya's goal--to kill the man in black (/Westley)--conflicts with Westley's goal to save his one true love. Then, later, Inigo and Westley join forces against Count Rugen and Prince Humperdinck, respectively.

In the end, these shifting alliances give the story a depth, an interest, it would otherwise lack.

As Chuck Wendig writes:
"Every character won’t necessarily gain and lose the same things in a story. What’s fascinating is when you pit the stakes of one character against the stakes of another (and one might argue this is exactly what creates the relationship between a protagonist and an antagonist). A gain for one is a loss for the other."

6. Stakes: Internal and External

Back to goals.

Characters have internal and external goals.

For instance, in Shrek the protagonist's internal challenge/conflict was to risk rejection and let people in, to risk rejection and let others know how he really felt (tell Fiona he loved her) so he could make connections, make friends (with Donkey), and find true love.

Shrek's outer challenge was to rescue Princess Fiona so Lord Farquaad would get all the creatures of fairy out of his swamp.

Different kinds of stakes accompany the different kinds of goals. If Shrek failed to get the creatures out of the swamp, Lord Farquaad would have had Shrek killed. If Shrek failed to lower his defenses and let people in, he would have lost the love of the Princess Fiona and had a sad and lonely existence in his now vacant swamp. A pyrrhic victory.

7. It's not size, it's complexity

It's not the size of the stakes that count, it's their complexity. Chuck Wendig writes:
"It’s all well and good to have some manner of super-mega-uh-oh world-ending stakes on the line — “THE ALPACAPOCALYPSE IS UPON US, AND IF WE DON’T ACT LIKE HEROES WE’LL ALL BE DEAD AND BURIED UNDER THE ALPACA’S BLEATING REIGN” — but stakes mean more to us as the audience when the stakes mean more to the character. It’s not just about offering a mix of personal and impersonal stakes — it’s about braiding the personal stakes into the impersonal ones. The Alpacapocalypse matters because the protagonist’s own daughter is at the heart of the Alpaca Invasion Staging Ground and he must descend into the Deadly Alpaca Urban Zone to rescue her. He’s dealing with the larger conflict in order to address his own personal stakes."

8. Escalate the stakes

Often a protagonist/hero will start off a quest to get something they want, something that will make their life better. Then they find out that it they don't get it--this thing, whatever it is--not only will their life not be made better (they won't win the million dollars and be able to quit their crappy 9 to 5 job) but it will be made much worse (they'll lose their home and their grandma will have to stay in a nightmare of a retirement community).

By the end of the story they'd be happy just to get back what they had at the beginning and go to their 9 to 5 job and thank their lucky stars they had food to eat, a place to sleep and people to hang out with. Why? Because by the end of the story their world has been turned upside down and it's impossible for things to go back to the way they were.

Generally there's a setback for the hero at the end, a big setback.

This setback could be anything, but let's say it looks as though our protagonist/hero has lost. She's failed to achieve her goal. Not only that, but the stakes--what happens if she does/doesn't achieve her goal--are heightened. Now, not only will our protagonist lose her job and her home, but so will everyone who has helped her on this quest. This, in turn, causes everyone (well, everyone except her mentor who just died a horrible death for standing up to the evil bully) to desert her.

I'm not saying this happens in every story--it doesn't--but the stakes, whatever they are, will escalate. That's part of how one creates dramatic tension/narrative drive.

9. Escalate, complicate, or both

Chuck Wendig writes:
"We can escalate stakes by complicating them and we have at our disposal many ways to cruelly complicate those stakes. A character can complicate the stakes by making bad choices or by making choices with unexpected outcomes (“Yes, you killed the Evil Lord Thrang, but now there’s a power vacuum in the Court of Supervillains that threatens to destroy the Eastern Seaboard you foolish jackanape.”) Or you can complicate the stakes by forcing stakes to oppose one another — if Captain Shinypants saves his true love, he’ll be sacrificing New York City. But if he saves the millions of New York City, he’ll lose the love of his life, Jacinda Shimmyfeather. Competing complicated stakes for characters to make competing complicated choices."

10. Story stakes and scene stakes

Stakes come in different sizes.

You have big stakes--story goal sized stakes--but you can have smaller, micro-sized, scene sized, stakes as well.

For instance, in Indiana Jones and the Lost Ark, there's a terrific scene in the middle where Indie ducks into a tent to hide from the bad guys and comes across Marion tied up. Indiana is dressed in native garb so, at first Marion doesn't recognize him. Indie (who thought she was dead) begins to untie her then realizes that if the Nazis discover Marion missing they'll know Indie is there looking for the ark. He can't give himself away.

So, what does Indie do? Well, he ties her back up, of course! Marion is furious with him, naturally. It's a great scene.

Lets take a look at the stakes at play. At the beginning of the scene Indie is trying to hide from the guard because he wants the ark.

Indiana's stakes:
Goal: Escape the guards notice and obtain the ark.
- Success: Indiana doesn't get captured and is one step closer to his goal.
- Failure: Indiana is captured, possibly tortured. He fails to obtain the ark and the world is taken over by Nazis.

Marion's stakes:
Goal: Get untied, sneak out of the camp, go to America.
- Success: Freedom.
- Failure: The unknown. She could be tortured, various nasty things could happen to her.

In the middle of the scene the stakes change when Indie realizes he has to tie Marion back up or risk losing the ark.

Indie's goal: To not completely alienate the affections of Miriam.
- Success: Marion's love and gratitude.
- Failure: Her lasting wrath.

For Indie to succeed in winning Marion's affection--or just to avoid making her furious with him--he must help her escape. But he can't. If he does then he risks his primary mission. So he accepts Marion's wrath, ties her back up, and exits the tent.

The point is that mini-goals with their own stakes can pop up within a scene. The scene between Indiana and Marion was especially interesting, I thought, because it highlighted their diametrically opposed interests. Marion would much rather just escape and forget all about the ark, but not Indie.

Chuck Wendig writes:
"Stakes smaller than those able to prop up subplots — let’s call ‘em “micro-stakes” — can instead be used to support a scene. When entering a scene, you should ask: “What are the stakes here?” The characters in any given scene are here in the scene consciously or unconsciously trying to create a particular outcome for themselves or for the world around them. Something is on the table to be won or lost... The stakes needn’t be resolved by the end of the scene, and may carry forward to other scenes..."

11. Stakes in dialogue

I hadn't thought about it like this before I read Chuck Wendig's article, but dialogue has goals with stakes attached, or at least it probably should. After all, we communicate for reasons, because we want things. He writes:
"Dialogue in a story is purposeful: it’s conversation held captive and put on display for a reason. Dialogue in this way is frequently like a game, a kind of verbal sparring match between two or more participants. Again: things to lose, things to gain. Someone wants information. Or to psyche someone out. Or to convey a threat. Purpose. Intent. Conflict. Goals."
#  #  #

Altogether a fantastic article on writing, another in a long line. I'd encourage you to head on over to Chuck Wendig's site and read it for yourself: 25 Things To Know About Your Story’s Stakes.

An Apology

I intended to post this blog yesterday, but, instead, had to move brown cardboard boxes filled with memories.

I'm undergoing that horror known as 'moving'.

Sounds innocuous, doesn't it? But it means I'm neither here nor there. I live at two addresses--the old and the new--but, really, I'm at home at neither because my life has been parceled up into crates and stacked along walls.

As I creep through unfamiliar hallways staring at the brown corrugated reminders of work to come, the boxes begin to seem vaguely challenging. Perhaps threatening.

I think I need to read a Stephen King novel and write a horror story about moving!

Thanks for being patient with me. :)

Cheers, and good writing.

Photo credit: "Flying Ninja Man" by Zach Dischner under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Monday, July 15

A Perfect Plot In 6 Easy Steps

A Perfect Plot In 6 Easy Steps

Of course there's no such thing as the perfect plot, but there are certain things that every book with that I-couldn't-put-it-down-if-I-tried quality have in common. In his latest blog post, Dave Farland tells us about them: Dave Farland's Daily Kick in the Pants: Plots.

Plots that work

Here's what every book that is stuffed to the rafters with narrative drive (/dramatic tension) has:

1. Interesting characters

You've heard this before: All your main characters should want something and your protagonist should want something desperately.
For instance, in Indiana Jones and Raiders of the Lost Ark, the Story Goal was right in the title: Indie needed to find and return with the lost Ark.

2. Conflict

There must be something keeping the characters from achieving what they want.

Dave Farland writes:
"For example, here’s a story: I just went out and got the mail and hour ago.

"Does that sound like a story to you? Not really. There was no challenge for me. Now, if I had to get the mail, but in order to do it I had to dodge bullets, stick my hand in a mailbox full of rattlesnakes, and fight off an IRS agent in order to get back in my door, then perhaps I’d have a story.

"Or maybe not. Sometimes the try/fail cycles can be boring because they feel contrived. The author goes “over the top” as he or she struggles to entertain."
These conflicts are going to both be internal (for example, battling one's own fears) and external (battling Nazis who want the ark for themselves).

3. Setting

Setting has to do with both characterization and conflict. Think of how important the setting was to the opening sequence in Raiders. What is the thing most people remember from it? That's right, the big boulder rolling toward Indie as he tries to run away.

The setting is what it is because Indie is an archeologist and relic hunter. It lets us know this is an exciting and dangerous job and that our hero is used to betrayal.

4. Try/fail cycles

Dave Farland writes:
"The characters must struggle to overcome some obstacle on three or more occasions, and the tale must resolve in such a way so that the reader knows what happens."

5. Interesting try/fail cycles

Dave Farland writes:
"Now, you can’t just have try/fail cycles. Your goal is to have interesting try/fail cycles. Fascinating attempts. Thrilling ones. In other words, if you have a villain, the villain must try to thwart your hero in ways that deliver suspense, that keep us engaged. Similarly, your protagonist needs to deal with his problems in ways that are entertaining."

6. High stakes

Make sure your protagonist has something to lose, even if it's only his hopes and dreams.

For instance, at the beginning of the story the protagonist embarks on his adventure because he wants something. This could be the Story Goal, but often it isn't.

In the middle of the story our hero is still pursuing a goal--perhaps not the same one--but the stakes have increased. If he doesn't achieve his goal it will be bad, not just for himself, but also for his fellow adventurers.

By the end of the book the stakes have escalated to include the folks back home. Our hero's life, and the lives of all those he cares about, will be devastated if our champion fails.

Dave Farland writes:
"Let’s talk about the stakes for a moment. The major problem often broadens, so that it affects more and more people as the story goes on. For example, in a murder mystery, the victims begin to pile up over the course of a novel. But the problem can also deepen, having more deleterious consequences in the hero’s life. The detective in our story might find that he cannot sleep, cannot eat. He becomes obsessed with finding his killer, and it ruins his marriage and family life.

"In fact, most of the time, a good conflict will both broaden and deepen."
In closing I'd like to leave you with these words of encouragement:
"So at the end of a tale, I have to go back and examine the basic plot, and ask myself, how well did the author do. Guess what? It doesn’t have to be the best plot ever written. Many a fine movie or book might score only a five and still become a big hit."
That's the key, isn't it? Interesting characters (/characters with tangible goals) engaged in repeated, escalating, conflicts in a setting that helps fire the readers imagination.

Happy writing!

Photo credit: "Mixed Bags" by JD Hancock under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Saturday, July 13

5 Ways To Increase Your Productivity

5 Ways To Increase Your Productivity

I've just finished a novella I was working on, one that took about 5 times longer to complete than I thought it would, so today I celebrated by catching up on the wonderfully amazing writing blogs I've subscribed to.

I came across dozens of terrific articles, many of which I'll be tweeting in the next few days and weeks, but this one stood out: 5 Writing Habits That Could Be Destroying Your Creativity (And Income).

Andrea Wren, over at The Renegade Writer, writes:
"... I thought I’d share with you the five bad habits that were obstructing my work and creativity flow."
The points that follow were inspired by Andrea Wren's article.

5 Work Habits To Cultivate

1. Don't edit as you type

When you do your first draft, or zero draft, don't worry about typos or spelling or grammar. Just write.

In On Writing, Stephen King talks about writing a first draft with the door closed--write just for yourself--and writing the second draft with the door open--now you think about how others would think about what you've written.

On the first draft, don't worry about anything except getting the words down, getting the story out. Don't even worry too much about the structure. When you read over what you've written, then you can do an outline.

Or not.

I find, with me, it works differently each time. Sometimes I'll have the outline--or a partial outline--first and then I'll write the first draft. Sometimes I'll have a scene or two or three and I'll write those then I'll have to puzzle out what the story is, how the scenes fit together.

I agree with Chuck Wendig that having an outline from the beginning speeds up the process enormously! (See Chuck Wendig's post (adult language -->) 25 Things You Should Know About Outlining.)

Also, lately, I've been doing more of my stories in Scrivener and I find it helps that the manuscript is broken into scenes and each scene has a brief description that's visible at all times. This exposes the structure of the story and makes finding my way around a longer manuscript much easier.

2. Don't edit your previous days work

This point is intimately related to the last. I used to re-read and edit my previous days work, and it often ended up that that was all I'd get accomplished that day.

A couple of years ago I developed an odd sort of writer's block--I lost the ability to compose on my computer. It's gotten much better over the years, I'm typing this post into my computer, but for my stories I still write my first draft longhand.

One enormous benefit of doing it this way has been that I can't go back and do substantive editing of the previous days work.

3. Don't overplan

I think many writers, new writers especially, tend to overplan.

I used to overplan (and, honestly, I probably still do, but I'm not as bad). I'd need to know everything about all my characters, everything about the fictional world, the politics, etc, etc, etc. In fact, I got so involved in all the research often the story would never get written!

These days I don't need to know everything about the characters, or the plot, before I sit down to do my first draft. I find that much of the actual story development is done on the fly while I write.

This is a tip I picked up from a number of professional writers: I do as little research as possible for the first draft because I don't know what parts of the story are going to survive. Of course, if you have a detailed outline and feel confident about what you'll be including this doesn't apply.

For example, I just finished writing a story that included the use of guns, but when I wrote the first draft I wasn't sure what kind of guns (or ammo) my protagonist would use so, when my protagonist was suiting up for battle I just wrote 'gun' in curly quotes ({gun}) to remind myself on the second draft to do some research and figure out what make and model would be right.

4. Disconnect from the world

When you write, disconnect from the world. I know it's likely impossible to disconnect completely, but--this is true for me--there's nothing that can kill a writing session faster than social media or answering email.

Here's what has been working for me: I get up, make myself a cup of coffee, and start writing. I don't clean the litter box, I don't water the garden, I don't clean the kitchen, I don't check my email, I don't go on Twitter.

I go to my office and I write.

I knock off around noon--I need a break by then--and I do some housework, eat lunch, answer email, and so on. Then I go back into my office and write some more.

I've found that those first few hours of the day are pure gold. I do my best writing then.

5. Take breaks

This is something I learned from reading Dean Wesley Smith and Kris Rusch's blogs: the importance of taking a break. Myself, I try to take a break every hour or so and every two or three hours I'll take about half an hour off to have a snack, take a walk, do some housework, whatever.

Andrea Wren writes:
When you’re desperate to get things finished, you can work until exhaustion – chuffing away like a clapped out stream train on a disused railway.

Being on a deadline can be a creativity crusher. But not taking a break can be more so. Your head and brain need respite to let more ideas in, so give it a chance.

I’m lucky to have dogs that force me on walkies, so I have to leave my desk, and wandering by the river kicking up the earth, that’s when some of my best light bulb moments strike.
Thanks to The Passive Voice Blog for the link.

Photo credit: "glückstadt - das königliche brückenhaus" by fRandi-Shooters under Creative Commons Attribution-NoDervis 2.0.

Tuesday, July 9

George R.R. Martin: The Real Iron Throne & Boycotting Orson Scott Card

"Stories are broken mirrors. They’re fractal displays and unkempt jungles. They’re a sunset made beautiful by an unpredictable confluence of clouds and chemicals and the unknown and forever unexplored context of those who will behold just such a sunset. (Chuck Wendig, Hell With What Sells)"
This is going to be a miss-mash post where I talk about several things I've found interesting.

First up:

George R.R. Martin's Game of Thrones

I'll admit it: I haven't read Martin's books, so I was surprised to discover that this (see the photo at the beginning of the article) is what the Iron Throne really looks like.

Very cool.

Which doesn't mean George Martin doesn't like the throne used in the TV series. He writes:
"The HBO throne has become iconic. And well it might. It's a terrific design, and it has served the show very well. There are replicas and paperweights of it in three different sizes. Everyone knows it. I love it. I have all those replicas right here, sitting on my shelves.

And yet, and yet... it's still not right. It's not the Iron Throne I see when I'm working on THE WINDS OF WINTER. It's not the Iron Throne I want my readers to see. The way the throne is described in the books... HUGE, hulking, black and twisted, with the steep iron stairs in front, the high seat from which the king looks DOWN on everyone in the court... my throne is a hunched beast looming over the throne room, ugly and assymetric...

The HBO throne is none of those things. It's big, yes, but not nearly as big as the one described in the novels. And for good reason. We have a huge throne room set in Belfast, but not nearly huge enough to hold the Iron Throne as I painted it. For that we'd need something much bigger, more like the interior of St. Paul's Cathedral or Westminster Abbey, and no set has that much room. The Book Version of the Iron Throne would not even fit through the doors of the Paint Hall. (George R.R. Martin: This is what the Iron Throne REALLY looks like)"

Ender's Game: To see or not to see, that is the question

I  love Orson Scott Card's writing, his stories, but not his political views.

Before I read this Salon article (Orson Scott Card’s long history of homophobia) I was going to go see the movie. The book is a favorite of mine and I was looking forward to watching Harrison Ford's performance.

I've changed my mind.

Here is a quote from the Salon article I mentioned, above. It is from: Orson Scott Card: State job is not to redefine marriage.
A term that has mental-health implications (homophobe) is now routinely applied to anyone who deviates from the politically correct line. How long before opposing gay marriage, or refusing to recognize it, gets you officially classified as “mentally ill”

Remember how rapidly gay marriage has become a requirement. When gay rights were being enforced by the courts back in the ’70s and ’80s, we were repeatedly told by all the proponents of gay rights that they would never attempt to legalize gay marriage.

It took about 15 minutes for that promise to be broken. …

If a court declared that from now on, “blind” and “sighted” would be synonyms, would that mean that it would be safe for blind people to drive cars?

No matter how sexually attracted a man might be toward other men, or a woman toward other women, and no matter how close the bonds of affection and friendship might be within same-sex couples, there is no act of court or Congress that can make these relationships the same as the coupling between a man and a woman.

This is a permanent fact of nature.
Here's the kicker:
Card went on to advocate for, literally, a straight people’s insurrection against a pro-gay government:
[W]hen government is the enemy of marriage, then the people who are actually creating successful marriages have no choice but to change governments, by whatever means is made possible or necessary… Regardless of law, marriage has only one definition, and any government that attempts to change it is my mortal enemy. I will act to destroy that government and bring it down….
I discovered these articles via Chuck Wendig's article: Tolerance For Intolerance: Boycotting Ender’s Game. Worth the read.

Homophobia is ugly, so I'd like to leave you with a photo that made me smile:

George R.R. Martin: The Real Iron Throne & Boycotting Orson Scott Card
Source: Princess Queen
Photo credit (for the first photo graph in the article): Article by io9, This is what the iron thrown REALLY looks like. The artist is Marc Simonetti and George R.R. Martin talks about his work here: The Real Iron Throne. Here is a link to the photo on

Monday, July 8

4 Reasons Why Some Stories Never Get Finished

Why Do Some Stories Go Unfinished?

I've been wondering: Why do some stories work out while others don't?

I'm finishing up a story I began in 2007; the story stayed with me, drawing my thoughts back to it. I kept wondering how it ended so I figured, well, why not? Pick the blasted thing back up and finish it!

Which is what I did ... or, rather, what I've almost done. It's nearly finished.

But it got me wondering: Why can I finish this story now? And why couldn't I do it before?

Here are four reasons why some stories never get finished.

1. The structure wasn't working

I love Chuck Wendig's posts on structure. He writes that there's no such thing as ONE archetypal structure. Rather, each story has it's own structure.

But of course there are things like arcs that are good to have, but not just arcs, shapes of all sizes, even squiggly ones. The important thing, the crucial thing, is to have movement.

In most of my early stories I started out with an idea and a good opening--and by 'good' I mean I had things happening, changes, problems being solved--but I had no idea where to go from there.

One idea/concept/rule-of-thumb that has helped me enormously is the notion of an 'all is lost' point where the hero goes through a major crises, a point where it looks as though not only is the very worst going to happen to him but that what we thought was the very worst isn't at all. A NEW and completely horrible very worst is introduced and our hero threatened with it.

Really, just the idea that one's hero should have a difficult time, that they should be persecuted, that the writer's job--one of them--is not to coddle their characters and pour them tea and share biscuits but to make their lives a living hell. One which, maybe, the writer will rescue them from.

2. Not enough of an idea

I've always been fascinated by creatures of myth. Or, more generally, of there being a Narnia-like place where I could go, my very own World Between The Worlds.

When I was a kid I wrote a bunch of stories consisting of about four pages. The stories would all be about an enchanted glade, about the quality of the air and how the light looked and the feeling of creation, of newness, of possibility, that the glade imparted.

It was probably good writing practice but it made for a lousy story because not only did nothing happen, it wasn't enough of an idea. Who was the protagonist? What did they want? How were they going to get it? What was opposing their efforts to get it?

The protagonist needs to solve a problem that will set her goal: the story goal.

For example, Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark had a problem: get the ark before the Nazi's did and bring it back to the museum. After Indie brings the ark back home the story is over.

3. The subject matter was too personal

Sometimes I remember an adventure from my past and think: That would make a terrific story! Almost always the story grinds to a halt, or isn't very good, because I'm too close to the material.

Please don't misunderstand. As Red Smith once said (I'm paraphrasing): "Writing is easy. You simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins, and bleed. (Red Smith, Wikipedia)" His tongue was firmly in his cheek, of course.

But I think that, sometimes, one needs a bit of distance from the material.

4. The structure was too difficult to keep track of

There are MANY reasons why a story goes unfinished.

It may sound silly, but I think one reason stories often go unfinished is simply because they get too long to organize properly! Without a detailed outline it can be difficult to hold a story in one's head, especially if that story has taken 100,000 or so words to write. (Incidentally, I've been using Scrivener more lately and find it an excellent partial solution to this problem.)

#  #  #

Before I go, I'd like to leave you with what the great and wonderful Janice Hardy has to say about choosing a setting. Wonderful advice, well given: 10 Questions to Ask When Choosing a Setting.


Have you started writing a story you've never finished? Why didn't it work out? What would you do differently?

Photo credit: "Flirt Tail" by Laura D'Alessandro under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Friday, July 5

How To Publish 52 Short Stories And 10 Collections Per Year

How To Publish 52 Short Stories And 10 Collections Per Year

This is another terrific article by Dean Wesley Smith, this time on how to make your stories visible: The New World of Publishing: Helping Readers Find Your Work.

The Plan:

1. Pick a genre.

2. Write one short story a week.

3. Each short story should be around 5,000 words.

4. Brand each book.

5. Publish each short story as an ebook and charge $2.99.

6. Every 5 weeks bundle 5 stories together into a collection. Sell this collection as both an ebook and a POD book. Sell the ebook for $6.99 and the POD book for $12.99.

If you take DWS's advice at the end of the year you'll have 52 short stories and 10 collections.

Not bad!

How To Make A Living Writing Short Stories

Dean Wesley Smith writes that the key to selling books is threefold: Produce a professional looking book, brand each book and have many titles available for purchase.

Produce a professional looking book

There are hundreds of articles out there on what it means to produce a professional looking book and how you can do that so I won't cover it again here. (If you're looking for some help, here's an article on where to find cover artists.)

Make sure each book looks professional, has a good description, has appropriate keywords and has been slotted in the right category. 

Brand each book

A brand is the "name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller's product distinct from those of other sellers" (Wikipedia).

I'm not going to talk much about branding because there are oodles of great articles out there (for instance, Why Content Marketing is the New Branding).

Especially in this case, a picture really is worth a thousand words. Look at Dean Wesley Smith's Books. (Note: You might have to scroll down the page.) Notice how his name is laid out in the same way on each book; the same styling, the same font.

DWS writes that you want all your books, especially the ones in a series, to look similar. Also, make sure that the cover conveys a sense of the genre you're writing in. Think of the cover of your average romance book and contrast that with horror.

Have many titles available for purchase

That is, have many titles under the same name (/pen name) and genre available for purchase. If you write everything from romance to horror under the same name (/pen name) make sure that the books within each genre are branded distinctively.

How many books should one have for sale? DWS says: It depends. Between 10 and 50, give or take. (grin)

And remember, that's 10 to 50 books within the same genre written by the same author (/pen name).

#  #  #

The above represents only a portion of his article, I recommend heading on over to DWS's blog and reading the whole thing.


Photo credit: "Happy Fourth of July 2013!" by JD Hancock under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Wednesday, July 3

Is Writing Rewriting? A Historical Perspective

Is Writing Rewriting? A Historical Perspective

Should Writers Rewrite?

There is a saying you've probably heard: rewriting is writing.

Some writers swear by this, for instance Elmore Leonard, Ernest Hemingway and Susan Sontag have all written passionately and convincingly on the virtue, in fact the necessity, of rewriting.

Other writers, Dean Wesley Smith prominent among them, just as passionately disagree. DWS points to writers like Harlan Ellison, writers who wrote stories in one draft, stories which have gone on to win awards. Dean himself has written a 70,000 word novel in 10 days and sold it for a tidy sum.

So, what's the deal with rewriting? Is it a writer's salvation or their bane?

I found this article by the Boston Globe absolutely fascinating: Revising your writing again? Blame the Modernists.

Craig Fehrman writes:
It’s easy to assume that history’s greatest authors have been history’s greatest revisers. But that wasn’t always how it worked. Until about a century ago, according to various biographers and critics, literature proceeded through handwritten manuscripts that underwent mostly small-scale revisions.

Then something changed. In a new book, “The Work of Revision,” Hannah Sullivan, an English professor at Oxford University, argues that revision as we now understand it—where authors, before they publish anything, will spend weeks tearing it down and putting it back together again—is a creation of the 20th century. It was only under Modernist luminaries like Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, and Virginia Woolf that the practice came to seem truly essential to creating good literature. Those authors, Sullivan writes, were the first who “revised overtly, passionately, and at many points in the lifespan of their texts.”
. . . .

What first got Sullivan thinking about revision was encountering a version of Ernest Hemingway she’d never seen before. While a first-year PhD student at Harvard, Sullivan visited the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and its Hemingway collection. She marveled at the famous author’s archive—his letters, his family scrapbooks, even his bullfighting materials. But one thing in particular stood out to her: the typescript of his novel “The Sun Also Rises.” It showed Hemingway changing his book dramatically from one version to the next. Monologues vanished, entire plot points disappeared, and, in the end, he arrived at the terse, mysterious novel that became part of the American literary canon. “The Hemingway style that’s so familiar to us wasn’t in the first draft,” Sullivan says. “It was a product of revision.” [emphasis mine]
. . . .

“We often assume that style comes out of nowhere ... But style is produced in revision, and revision is not something writers do naturally.”

The Cost Of Paper

Why this attitude toward revision?  For one thing, the cost of paper! CF writes:
In the age of Shakespeare and Milton, paper was an expensive luxury; blotting out a few lines was one thing, but producing draft after draft would have been quite another. Writers didn’t get to revise during the publishing process, either. Printing was slow and messy, and in the rare case a writer got to see a proof of his work—that is, a printed sample of the text, laid out like a book—he had to travel in person to a publishing center like London.

All of these factors suggest that revision was not something that happened on the page. Indeed, during the 19th century, the Romantics made resisting revision a virtue. The best literature, they believed, flowed from spontaneous and organic creative acts. “I am like the tyger (in poesy),” Lord Byron wrote in a letter. “If I miss my first spring—I go growling back to my Jungle. There is no second. I can’t correct.”

What Is Good Writing?

This, really, is the nub of the issue. What counts as good writing? CF writes that Hemingway's attitude toward rewriting was ...
"... driven in part by a new philosophy of what made good writing. The Modernists wanted to produce avant-garde literature—literature that was less spontaneous and enthusiastic than it was startling and enigmatic. In an interview with the Paris Review, Hemingway famously described his “principle of the iceberg”: “There is seven-eighths of it under the water for every part that shows. Anything you know you can eliminate and it only strengthens your iceberg.”

A Shift In Technology

But it wasn't just a change in philosophy that made rewriting more attractive, there was also an advance in technology that made paper cheaper to make. CF writes:
"An equally big part of this change, Sullivan suggests, was a shift in literary technology. In 1850, Britain was producing about 100,000 tons of paper per year; by 1903, that number had increased to 800,000 tons per year. Printers started setting type by machine, which was five times faster than setting it by hand and allowed page proofs to be easily shared and corrected. Before long, authors were guiding their books through a long and potentially fertile process: first a manuscript, then a typescript, perhaps a magazine serial, and finally a series of proofs for the book. “One thing it allowed for that revision by handwriting didn’t is massive structural transformation,” Sullivan says. “Some writers reduced their work massively, and some expanded it massively.”

Jack Kerouac: Don't Afterthink!

Of course, not everyone is a modernist. That is, not every writer believes "that careful and substantial reworking would ultimately produce the best literature".

Can Revision Be Overdone?

CF writes:
In the last 30 years ... technology has shifted again, and our ideas about writing and revising are changing along with it. Today, most of us compose directly on our computers. Instead of generating physical page after physical page, which we can then reread and reorder, we now create a living document that, increasingly, is not printed at all until it becomes a final, published product. While this makes self-editing easier, Sullivan thinks it may paradoxically make wholesale revision, the kind that leads to radically rethinking our work, more difficult.

“The ideal environment for revision is one where you can preserve several different versions of a text,” Sullivan says. With only one in-progress draft on a computer, we lose the cues that led the Modernists to step back from their work and to revise it. “It’s that moment of typing things up that led to the really surprising and inventive changes,” Sullivan says. “The authors came back to their text, but it seemed estranged.”

A Cautionary Note

CF ends his article on a note of caution. He mentions that many authors who teach at universities "need to look more like professors and to discuss their laborious processes ... ‘We can’t teach you how to write, but we can teach you how to revise.’ And it’s a big business.”

CF writes that revision has always come with a cost. "... revision can go too far, making something worse instead of better.”

I think John Updike may have said it best: "Writing and rewriting are a constant search for what it is one is saying."

All in all a balanced, fascinating article. The link again is: Revising your writing again? Blame the Modernists.

Thanks to The Passive Voice Blog for the link.

Photo credit: "corn in the moonlight" by Robert Couse-Baker under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Tuesday, July 2

Stephen King On Storycraft: Don't Force It

Yesterday someone sent me a terrific link to Anthony Mason's interview with Stephen King: Stephen King on storytelling.

It was a wide ranging interview and King is animated and relaxed, there's also a video. Great reading/watching.

Wait Until You've Gotten All The Pieces Together

My favorite part was Stephen King's reply to Anthony Mason about how he knows whether an idea is robust enough for a story. King is talking about his soon-to-be-published novel Doctor Sleep and says:
King: "I'd be driving in my car and I'd think, Well, now Danny Torrance is 23. And then a few years later I think, He's 27, or he's 28. So question was, what exactly is he doing?

"That's the sort of thing where it's, like, half an idea - okay, he's dysfunctional, he's alcoholic, the way that his father was an alcoholic. But it's only half an idea.

"And then I saw this thing ... about a cat in a hospice, and this cat knew when patients were going to die. And the cat would go into their room and jump up on their bed. And that's how the personnel in the hospice knew that that patient was going to be the next one to step out.

"And what really interested me about the story wasn't the cat, per se, but the fact that the patients seemed to welcome his visit. And I thought, Well, he's like an angel of death or an emissary of death, and maybe death isn't a bad thing. Maybe it's only sleep. And I put those two things together and for me it clicked. So I wrote the book."

MASON: "Uh-huh. And so you were just waiting for something to click on it?"

KING: "It has to click. There has to be, like, two or three moving parts to make it go. It can't just be one. So sometimes they all come together, and sometimes you'll get one piece and you have to wait a little while to get the rest. "

MASON: "Do you wait, or do you try to work it?"

KING: "Never try to work it, just wait."

MASON: "Why? 'Cause that forces it?"

KING: "Yeah. It's like if you have a piece of furniture that you want to get into your house. And if it's too big to fit the door straight on, you have your choice: either you can wait until you get somebody to help you and tilt that piece of furniture so that it goes through, or you can just ram it and scrape the sides up. So you don't try to force it. It's a little bit like a batter at the plate; if you try to force base hits, you're going to strike out a lot. So I have a tendency to wait until I get the pieces together."
The entire interview is a must read, and the video adds another dimension to the conversation.

"Mason asked King if writing is a compulsion for the 65-year-old author: "Or do you need to have some story that just gets in your brain you can't get out?"

"It's a compulsion," King replied. "For one thing, when I was younger, my head was like a traffic jam full of ideas, and they were all jostling, and they all wanted to get out. And I wrote a lot more than I write now. I still write every day." (Stephen King and his compulsion to write)
 65 years old and still writing every day. Pretty darn good.

Photo credit: "Stalker" by Laura D'Alessandro under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.