Architecture of Stories

Discussion in 'Writing' started by Laer Carroll, Dec 20, 2009.

  1. Laer Carroll

    Laer Carroll LaerCarroll.com

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    Before I became an aerospace software and systems engineer I earned a degree in film and TV production. The degree helped in several ways whenever I was forced to take management jobs, oddly enough. Screenwriting has a lot of overlap with task and project planning, for instance. It overlaps even more with novel writing, of course, and understanding screenplay architecture can help with both creating and critiquing novels.

    Screenwriters (and directors and editors) must learn to think in hierarchical terms. Several frames of film make up a "shot," a series of images captured by a camera from a particular point of view. Shots show some low-level act such as opening a door. Several shots make up a "scene," where several actors perform a higher-level act, such as bursting inside a house to arrest a criminal. Scenes have a definite beginning and ending in time and space, where the time scale might be in milliseconds or millennia and the space might stretch over a path inches or parsecs long.

    Several scenes make a "sequence" with some unifying scheme. In action-adventure films it might be: bad guys do bad things to a good guy's family, s/he discovers the atrocities (and so has an excuse to do bad things to bad guys), and begins a journey to find the bad guys.

    Finally, sequences make up an "act." Stage plays typically have three acts (with two intermissions). Hour-long TV shows might have a one-three minute "tease" act and three acts before the half-hour and three after, with possibly a one-three minute "tag" or (more usually) next-week "prevue." Screen-plays usually have a 20-30 minute "launch" act, three-seven "flight" acts of various lengths, and a 20-30 minute "landing" act. That last act usually begins with a "climax" sequence and ends with a "resolution" sequence.

    Sound pretty artificial? All art is artifice, but a skilled artist can smooth the edges to hide the joints. And make their customers apprehend their works as "organic" and alive and more than the sums of their parts.
     
    Last edited: Dec 20, 2009
  2. Window Bar

    Window Bar We Read for Light

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    Literary Architecture

    Laer, you are hitting a bull's eye. I've spent a fair amount of time in music, which follows a very similar architecture. Typically, a theme is played, then variations, then an interruptive theme, then a resolution which often hearkens back to the original theme. Even something as simple as a country & western song has a verse, another verse, a bridge (different tune), then a final verse that follows the tune of verse #1. Each verse has its own beginning, middle and end -- lyrically and musically.

    No rules, of course, have universal application; but after tens of thousands of years of storytelling, the guidelines you've outlined have been pretty well proven.

    The difference, of course, between schlock writing and fine writing is harder to codify. An individual writer's in-the-moment access to the characters' mental and emotional states, and the ability to fluently communicate those states to the reader, are uber-important -- but I don't know if that skill can be taught. It's the Holy Grail.

    --WB
     
  3. N. E. White

    N. E. White tmso Staff Member

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    Thanks for the info Laer. Confirms something I read recently. Do you work with outlines on your novels similar to what you learned as a film maker?
     
  4. Laer Carroll

    Laer Carroll LaerCarroll.com

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    Architecture of Stories - part 2

    Every artist works differently, and may work differently on each work of art. Some writers may outline extensively, some may "discover" their story, some may do a combination of both. I (to answer tmso) am very much in that middle camp.

    Whichever approach we writers take, we are helped because we know the overall structure of stories. We have read, heard, and seen thousands of stories large, small, and in-between. The structural knowledge we have learned from them is buried deep in our subconscious, at the very least. It guides us subliminally when we create a story.

    A conscious knowledge of structure can be useful during creation, but it is especially useful when we critique our story. It helps make clear what parts of our story have come out lopsided or lumpy, and why. Then we can switch back to story creation and fix the problems.

    Screenplay story structure is useful to contemplate because we can see all parts of it on screen, or in scripts. Screenplays are more uniform than books and magazines. And screenplays are fairly short. Adapting a book to a film forces the writer to cut novel-length books to novella length. That means half of it must go, or much more if the book is quite long.

    (This can be agonizing for a screenwriter, who knows s/he can completely satisfy no one, especially those who love the book most - which may include hi/rself once s/he has gotten deep into the book. The one bright side is that moving visual media can show much in a short time. And the screenwriter needs only to give the barest description of setting and characters and actions and someone else will make them "real.")
    _________________________________________________​
    The lowest levels of a film are frames and shots. In literary works it is sentences and paragraphs. From there up everything is same. The basic dramatic unit of a story is the scene, which can be collected into sequences, which can be collected into acts. But what is higher than that? The book. Sometimes the books are short and several can fit into a single bound volume. More often each conceptual book is also a physical book.

    Whichever, the highest level is the story. It may be made of one book (conceptual and physical), and that is the most frequent case. In SF and especially fantasy the story may be several books, most often a trilogy. (Publishers sometimes call separate books with a common background or character a trilogy, tetralogy, or whatever, even though each book is a distinct story which often can be read out of sequence.)

    Let's drop down the hierarchy to the act level. Many people say a story has a beginning, middle, and end. But this is stupid; it only describes the SEQUENCE of the parts. It does not describe the FUNCTION of the parts.
    _________________________________________________​
    A better term for the beginning part is "set-up." But this is still too vague. I call it the "launch" (to SF people) or "departure" (perhaps on a quest, to fantasy people) or some other term. Whatever word I use, it implies a DECISION to seek a goal. The goal might be vague and negative ("away from this boring place") or vague and positive ("someplace where I'll be respected"). It can be physical, social, mental, or emotional or some combination of all four types or qualities of goals.

    Before the decision the main character or team of characters exists in a "balance" place. Cinderella is abused but safe from weather and hunger. Before the balance is the "backstory": how the main character came to the balance. Cinderella is the step-daughter of a widow.

    But if everything is in balance, why would the hero(ine) decide to do anything to change the situation?

    Because s/he receives information that gives the hope of changing the situation for the better. The boy/girl they loved once is back in town. A job has opened up that seems better than the boring one the protagonist has. Or the information awakens one's fear that the situation is about to change for the worse. The girl/boy next door who the protagonist secretly loves is leaving for college. The main character is about to be fired.

    This information is the "trigger" for the hero(ine) to act.

    The parts of the beginning don't have to be presented in a set order. Elizabeth Moon's Paksenarrion trilogy begins with Paks leaving home, and we learn something of her home and history a few pages later when she's being interviewed by the recruiting sergeant for the mercenary company Paks wants to join. (Home and history are also expanded several places further along in the story, including places where Paks gains different perspectives on them.)

    And what is the trigger for Pakse's running away from home? It is two events she has decided on perhaps years before: she has reached the age of majority, and the yearly recruiting squad has arrived in Three Firs near her home.
    _________________________________________________​
    The middle part of a story is the longest. It involves repeatedly acting against obstacles along the path to the goal. And they may be of several kinds: physical, social, mental, or emotional or some combination of all four. (The more interesting stories, to me at least, includes several kinds of obstacles. Ulysses proved himself to be not only a great warrior but a smart one as well.)

    Each attempt on an obstacle has several parts: perceiving or imagining the obstacle, planning (perhaps very vaguely or reflexively) how to overcome the obstacle, acting, then succeeding or failing. If the attempt failed, the process is repeated: (better) studying the obstacle, (better) planning, etc.

    Your protagonist may have to make several attempts on each obstacle. After failing repeatedly s/he may decide to radically change hi/r path to the goal. Or even decide upon a different goal, perhaps a radically different rather than equivalent goal.

    Or a failure may turn out to be an opportunity, perhaps for the writer or for the protagonist. The captured warrior may encounter new obstacles. S/he may also discover treasures or learn useful skills.

    Finally the last obstacle is attempted. When the protagonist decides to make no more attempts the story is over. There may be several reasons for this final decision. The goal was reached. The goal has proven impossible to reach.

    Or the goal may not be desired any more. Perhaps the formerly geeky boy teen hero realizes that it is not the cheerleader he wants. His faithful female friend has helped him lose weight and bulk up, taught him how to dress well, how to converse easily with strangers, how to dance and flirt. He turns to look at her at the prom and, God, how beautiful she is! He holds out his hand. "Isn't this your favorite song?"
    _________________________________________________​
    The decisive last victory or failure is the climax of the story. It separates the middle from the ending, where the protagonist returns to a new balance. It also begins the afterstory.

    Sometimes the ending is very brief. You might write it as a short summary, or hint at further happenings, or even just leave it up to your readers imagination. But sometimes the protagonist and hi/r friends and the setting become very appealing to your readers. Then it might please them to have a scene or two where your hero enjoys the fruits of hi/r labors.

    This is also the place to suggest further adventures your hero might have in the future. But you must be very careful not to undercut your reader's pleasurable feeling of completion. To disturb the new balance too soon.
    _________________________________________________​
    Well, so she wasn't going to the Olympics after all. When she could leap tall buildings with a single bound there wasn't much fun in triple-somersault aerial dismounts.

    She sipped her drink and idly looked out at the other customers of the open-air restaurant. Hmm! Iced tea on a hot day!

    Now what could she do? Become a superhero? But where was she going to get hose that didn't unravel every time she beat up a gang? Where would she get a costume -- and why the Hell would she want one? How was she going to make rent money? How --?

    Well, no need to become a crime fighter right this instant. For one thing, that guy who'd just ordered (she tuned her super hearing down) beef bourguignon was kind of cute ....
     
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2009
  5. Laer Carroll

    Laer Carroll LaerCarroll.com

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    Architecture of Stories - part 3

    (This part moved to a separate thread.)
     
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2009
  6. Inkstain

    Inkstain Registered User

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    In general, I go by this tested framework for telling a story:

    I. Introduce the characters and foreshadow the conflict

    II. Introduce the antagonist and put the protagonist in peril

    III. Give the protagonist a brief respite and an explanation of the conflict

    IV. Place the protagonist back into the thick of the action and give the antagonist the upper hand.

    V. Bring about a confrontation along with a moment of epiphany/revelation for the protagonist

    VI. Resolution, the time to tie up loose ends or set the stage for a sequel.
     
  7. ShellyS

    ShellyS Chocoholic

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    I'm in the write as I go camp. I get characters and situations, then start writing and the characters, if I've created workable ones, will lead me to what happens next. At some point, I have enough story to be able to see a bit ahead. I don't necessarily write to a point, but I get ideas about what's going on and make notes to keep things consistent during editing/revising/writing.

    In my WIR, midway through the first draft, things weren't working, so I cut 80 pages and started again from the point where things went awry. Same problem, cut 80 pages, and this time, changed the protag a bit, jettisoned a character, created another, and revamped a 3rd completely, and things flowed to 110,000 words bringing me to The End. Now I'm revising. If you ask me the structure of the story, I'd tell you I have no clue. But it reads well to me and 4 beta readers of the current version liked it and one of the first draft liked it, but thought the first half was too slow, which was what I changed for the second draft. So, I guess it ended up a complete story. One of these days, I'll write an outline for it. Have to finish revising first, though, so the outline will match the story I'll be submitting.

    Some of us are not analytical and can't plan or see structure. A friend of mine sees structure in all stories, hers and everyone else's. Some of us just work on instinct.:)
     
  8. Laer Carroll

    Laer Carroll LaerCarroll.com

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    The Primal Story

    Perhaps you're trying to be too analytical. All you need remember is the most basic, primal structure - Someone Strives for Something.

    That's where your main character comes in. S/he must want something. What is it?

    It could be something specific, as in "Who Done It?" It could be vague - "How do I get through every day at school without the mean (popular, rich, beautiful) girls being mean to me?" In the first your character is going toward something, in the second away.

    Over time the something, the goal, may stay the same. Or it may change. Once the murderer is discovered, the detective may then want to prevent further murders - including one's own, if the bad guy/gal finds out hi/r identity has been discovered.

    What are the obstacles between your character and hi/r goal? What actions must s/he take to defeat the obstacles?

    That's the start of understanding any story: the most basic story of all. Everything else follows from that. Chances are you already know it, at least at the most primal level. The primal pattern holds for everything living, from protozoa to gods, and everything that mimics life.
     
  9. ShellyS

    ShellyS Chocoholic

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    See, this is the very kind of question that stymied me and caused me to stop writing anything other than fanfic for 10 years. It was when I stopped trying to be analytical to any degree that I was freed and could start trying to write a novel again. I don't need to remember anything because that implies a conscious act, that of remembering. If it's in my backbrain, and I trust that it is, I don't have to worry about it. I might not structure a story according to some formula or the way you or others might structure it, but it works. A half dozen beta readers in total think it's a good story. Flat in places, a bit dull or wordy, perhaps, but as a story, it worked for them and since they're just people I know online, they have no reason to suck up to me.

    I have no idea what my characters want until I write them. Then, they tell me. They move the story forward and when it's wrong, they tell me by .... well, it's all instinctual. The prose feels wrong and it will stay wrong until I fix it so it feels right.

    I know I'm not the only person who writes this way and while we may be in the minority, we do exist and for us, advice to answer questions like that, or to outline ahead of the writing, or scores more things like that can block us.

    My characters want to tell me a story. I can't answer such questions about them until I write them. I can create their backgrounds, but I don't "know" them until I write them and bring them to life. And so much of their bios are tossed aside as I write them, and new, different things added.

    They "dictate" the story to me. And as I go, my backbrain starts filling in bits and pieces of backstory I hadn't known until then and plot points I now have to write down because my memory in middle-age isn't what it was when I was younger and I can no longer handle all the details in my head.

    So, for my WIR, the setting is Mars. The situation is the first presidential election campaign. There's been a cave-in. The cause of the cave-in will affect the election. That's what I started with. Characters came after that. After I designed the cities and drew maps. After I did the background info. Then I knew I needed investigators. And I wanted to use a version of a character I'd created for some fan fic stories, so I made him the protag and let him guide me. But the first version of him was wrong. He was too reactive, not enough of a self-starter. It took me two more tries to get him right. But once I did, he took me right to "the end."

    Way too specific for my brain to wrap around. That's one story to me. I can extrapolate for darned near everything except writing. Writing is ingrained in me. I just have to let the stories come out. Patricia Wrede said I seemed to be both an instinctual writer and an instinctual editor/reviser, and while I'm not fond of labels, those fit and made me feel a whole lot better about not being comfortable or able to answer such questions or putting things on those terms.

    That's why I write the story! To find out all those things and more. I can't know any of that until I write them. And sometimes, they change because they don't work for the story. If I had things in mind to start, I wouldn't be able to change them later. Not planning in advance makes me more flexible. One reason I can't outline. It's wrong, doesn't fit the characters when I write them and I either can't use it or I have to bend the characters to fit. It creates an emotional conflict in me. Plus, I get the feeling the story is written and I lose interest in it.

    Well, yeah, after the fact, but I don't care about after the fact. I care about before, when I have to write the story. I really don't care if I understand it or not. I want it to be readable, enjoyable, and to make people want to keep reading. BTW, I sucked at analyzing fiction in school, too. I passed because I got good at figuring out what I was supposed to say in those classes. ;)

    So, for me, everything follows from having the right characters in the right situation.

    Well, sure. The primal level is probably my backbrain, instinct, whatever. It doesn't make it any easier to deal with advice that I can't follow because unless I or people like me find a way to bring the backbrain consistently to the fore, it's just plain frustrating to try to analyze anything in a story. I tried doing it. It gave me headaches.

    I think it's important to explain this in hopes I can spare people wasted time, like the decade of frustration I suffered when I thought I could never be a pro writer because I couldn't write the way I was supposed to write or because what more experienced writers told me was the way to write, structure a story, etc. If I can spare someone that, if I can encourage them and help them realize that all that matters is finishing a story and making it readable, then I'm happy. We might still never be published. That can be a crapshoot. But at least we'll have finished a novel and an awful lot of aspiring pro writers can't say that.
     
  10. Dawnstorm

    Dawnstorm Master Obfuscator

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    There's a danger to analysis: "what you know subconsciously" and your conscious theories can clash. Now, in empirical science, when you find the system you're analysing does not behave according to your theory, you try to find out why. But if you're analysing things of human creation, you're prone to see the same unexpected deviations as flaws. Worst-case scenario: the very thing that makes your writing interesting is perceived as a flaw.

    When you say things like:

    you're glossing over that very problem. If your "subconscious knowledge" and your "conscious theory" clashes, it's not always the "subconscious knowledge" that's at fault.

    "Conscious theories" often priviledge a certain element. So, for example, when you go on:

    you're priviledging the visual and auditory. I might counter: if you find this type of exercise useful, why don't you write screenplays in the first place? The answer to that question might point you towards elements of writing that this process encourages you to neglect. (Or it might lead to write screen plays. Who knows?)

    Such priviledging of elements is the stuff of movements: realism, surrealism, dadaism, epic theatre, theatre of the absurd...

    Analysis is best when it's neutral; when it's telling you things like:

    Approach A can have effects a, b and c
    Approach B can have effects b, c and d
    Since A & B are similar in b and c, the decision we make depends on a or d, or the relative weighting of b and c, which have yet to investigate...​

    But writing-advise doesn't normally work like this. It usually comes with a priviledging element.

    I agree that analysis can be helpful. But I have to amend that it depends on the writer, and that analysis can also be harmful - by directing attention to all the wrong spots (style rape), or to the right spots with too much intensity (system collapse).

    If you attempt analysis, you better make sure you're good at it (= it works for you - we're not after objective truths, here, though we'd still profit from acknowledging subjectivity in communication with others).
     
  11. Susan Boulton

    Susan Boulton Edited for submission

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    Very much so, as I have found to my cost recently. It sometimes kills the genie before he is out of the bottle.
     
  12. ShellyS

    ShellyS Chocoholic

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    Yeah, that's pretty much it. My one-time collaborator can see structure in every story, good structure and bad structure. She actually used to write screenplays and structured fiction that way. She was structuring the novel we were going to write together that way (health problems have caused her to stop writing). Screenplay structure is ingrained with her. It and her ability to see structure in writing is pretty much subconscious and conscious. It's simply the way her brain works and how she thinks. I could never do that and trying just irritated me and didn't make my writing any better.

    I'd tried to learn more about structure and to try to consciously work with it because I thought it would make me a better writer. It didn't. What helped me develop as a writer (and even I can see my improvement) was the old practice, practice, practice method and learning to trust myself. And I think gradually, some of that structure stuff got embedded in my subconsciousness. Where it belongs. ;)
     
  13. goldhawk

    goldhawk aurea plectro

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    Hollywood is becoming too plot oriented. All stories can be divide into two categories: plot oriented and character oriented. Hollywood has become fascinated with plot to the decrement of character. I don't see Hollywood of today even considering a movie like Citizen Cain.

    Not all stories follow the conventional plot. Consider George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire. It has no protagonist or antagonist. Although it may eventually have a resolution, it may not have a climax. The best way to describe it is a series of inter-tangled subplots.

    An example of a character-oriented story is Hamlet. The plot is simple: should he kill the king or forgive him? But it takes him the entire play to decide (and in the end, he botches it).

    I would say the study of plot is more important if you like writing plot-oriented stories. If you like character-oriented ones, don't worry about the plot so much; concentrate on character.
     
  14. ShellyS

    ShellyS Chocoholic

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    While it may be true, Goldhawk, about Hollywood and screenplay plotting, the basic structure of the screenplay, divided into acts is probably still true. My friend follows Syd Field's Screenplay and applies that structure to fiction. She and I have had long discussions and, since she did have a TV episode produced that she wrote, I figure she does know what she's talking about, even if she doesn't write, anymore. I think I've absorbed some of it into my subconscious, so maybe that's part of my improvement as a writer. I just couldn't tell you what that structuring in my stories might be! ;)
     
  15. goldhawk

    goldhawk aurea plectro

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    In that case, I would say you are a character-oriented writer. What's more important, what your characters do or how they feel about it? As for your friend, she would be a plot-oriented writer.

    What I am saying is know your strengths and weakness. Go with your strengths but shore up your weakness. If your stories don't seem to have a strong plot, then ask yourself if you should put more emphases on character.

    There is nothing wrong with being either type of writer. Just do feel you are a failure if you don't write the same way as others.
     
  16. ShellyS

    ShellyS Chocoholic

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    Well, yes, by one definition of those terms. But I've seen people use them in a variety of ways. Your definitions as stated above, do not match my definitions. (See below)

    For me, what's important is both what the characters do and how they feel about it, because how they feel is what drives them to do what they do. They are, to me, living entities and to separate action from emotion would deny them their existence. That makes me a character writer. It also makes my friend a character writer.

    My friend's process is far more complicated that plot-oriented would imply. She draws the plot from the characters and outlines their story/emotional arcs ahead of the writing. The difference between her and me is that she works out all the character stuff upfront and consciously and I work it out as I write, subconsciously. But our approach at the start is the same: Characters and setting, with perhaps a basic premise or starting point, then work out in our own way what happens next, based on the characters, their feelings, backgrounds, training, experience, situation, etc.

    So, for me, character-oriented and plot-oriented are mostly meaningless because people seem to use the terms differently. They need to be defined in order for a meaningful discussion to exist.

    Thus, the best I could say is that for character writers, the characters drive the plot. For plot writers, the characters serve the plot.

    The pitfalls for that sort of character writer -- me! -- includes the characters meandering about and not moving forward. Solving that problem caused me to finally admit the characters were wrong.

    The pitfalls for that sort of plot writer includes the characters becoming flat and dull because the writer is more focused on plot and the characters are secondary. Anyone could fill those roles.

    My friend and I are mostly the same. We're both character writers. We just use different writing processes to get to the same place. The characters for each of us drive the story.

    The problem is that many writers don't know what those are. And in trying to discover them, people, like what happened to me in the mid-'80s to mid-'90s, is that we become desperate to figure it out and are willing to listen to any advice, especially if it comes from an "authority" (writers of pro writing books, writers teaching workshops, both of which screwed me up for 10 years) who pushes one method over others. The novice doesn't typically know how to differentiate, how to "take what you can use and ignore the rest" which was finally, one of the best pieces of advice I ever got re: writing advice and critique. Another valuable thing I learned, finally, was to trust myself.

    True (and I think you meant, just don't feel, etc), but why limit your advice? There's no either or type of writer. There are 9 and 60 ways. There are mixtures and permutations. My advice is to find your best way to write each story, understand that way might vary from story to story, and stop worrying about how someone else might do it.

    The value of advice and discussions like this is to discover new ways to try in order to find one's own "right way."
     
  17. Inkstain

    Inkstain Registered User

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    This is true, but it is important to remember that while any one of us is capable of finding successful exceptions to the rule of basic story structure, those writers who have successfully flouted the "rules" of story structure generally do so only after having a thorough understanding of those rules and thus knowing why they are deviating from a particular point in the traditional structure. In other words, once they have mastered the traditional structure, they have a better understanding of why and where they wish to do it differently in order to get a desired effect.

    The traditional structure is traditional for a reason, it usually works. Writers such as J.K. Rowling, Terry Brooks, Roger Zelazny and J.R.R. Tolkien are all good examples of writers who unabashedly followed the basic rules of plot right down the line. They introduce the protagonist, they introduce a conflict and they introduce a resolution. It is important however to remember that conflict can take many forms. Conflict can be man vs man, man vs nature or man vs himself.

    Now that I have said all of this, we should all keep in mind that writing is an art and like all art, it is subjective. There is no one "right" way to do it. There is only the way that is "right" for the artist. At the end of the day, we write for our own enjoyment. Having a large fan base is nice but if that is not your ultimate reason for writing then I firmly believe each writer should write in the manner that gives them the most enjoyment. If fame and fortune is your ultimate goal however, then I think it behooves one to master the traditional methodologies of fiction writing as these are tried and proven techniques that stand the best chance of reaching the widest readership.
     
  18. ShellyS

    ShellyS Chocoholic

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    Patricia Wrede repeatedly said on other message boards that there is only one rule of writing: That at some point, one must write something.

    After that, all anything else is, really, is suggestions, perhaps best practices.

    And while people who break the so-called rules might be in the minority, who knows upfront if they are or not in that minority. And there are still people who don't learn all the so-called rules and still manage to write fine books, while others take all the so-called rules to heart and write crap, some of which gets published and some of that, that I've had the misfortune to read or try to read. (Just because someone's an expert in some field of science and has learned basic story structure does not mean he or she can write an entertaining/engaging work of fiction.)

    Rules. Feh.
     
    Last edited: Jan 10, 2010
  19. Laer Carroll

    Laer Carroll LaerCarroll.com

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    Perhaps we're getting hung up on semantics, on just what the word "rule" means. Creative people hate to be "ruled" or straitjacketed. We want to feel free to break expected patterns when that will make a story better.

    That applies to even the lowest levels, such as how to spell a word or form a sentence or paragraph. It applies to the very highest, such as how to write a trilogy or manage our writing careers with the proper mix of short stories and novels.

    We may call them rules, guidelines, theories, hints, suggestions, or other terms. But whatever we label them, from the instant of birth or even before we learn hundreds of thousands of them. We use them almost wholly subconsciously, especially when we create utterances. We can do this because our brains are massively parallel computers orders of magnitude more sophisticated than our mechanical computers.

    When I write a story I am "in it" and feel I am a reporter. I am intent on getting down the most important parts in just enough (and only enough) detail. Later, when I can slow down a bit, I can back up and fill in what I had no time to put down earlier. That slower and reflective time is when rules/suggestions/hints come in handy.

    Even later, when essentially done with the story (or a good chunk of it if a novel) is when rules/guidelines are most useful to me. That's when I critique what I wrote, then shift back into creative mode and fix what I wrote.
     
    Last edited: Jan 10, 2010
  20. ShellyS

    ShellyS Chocoholic

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    That might be how you feel about rules, but not me. See, I wanted those darn rules. I thought I needed them, that they'd make me a better writer. That they were the "one true answer" and when people who were published told me the rules, I tried to follow them, never mind that Expert A's rules contradicted Expert B's rules and Expert C's rules made no sense. I tried them all. And I got completely discouraged when I just couldn't make them work for me.

    Instinctive writers such as myself might not like rules, but for me, it's because they're irrelevant. I need to write, and to write a story, I need to finish the writing. That's it. Creativity really isn't about following a formula, though you can create by doing so. The rules are just methods that work for some people and not others. And rules can be anything, from "I need music to write" to "I need to outline." Rules are personal.

    Of course, if you want people to be able to understand what you write, then spelling, punctuation, and grammar play a part, but even then, you can fudge a bit depending on the effect you want and how well you can get it over. You don't need to "master" anything to do that. Some people can do it without any prior experience. It's just in them to do so. How it got there can vary, too.

    Here's the definitions from Merriam-Webster Online:
    1 a : a prescribed guide for conduct or action b : the laws or regulations prescribed by the founder of a religious order for observance by its members c : an accepted procedure, custom, or habit d (1) : a usually written order or direction made by a court regulating court practice or the action of parties (2) : a legal precept or doctrine e : a regulation or bylaw governing procedure or controlling conduct​

    2 a (1) : a usually valid generalization (2) : a generally prevailing quality, state, or mode <fair weather was the rule yesterday — New York Times> b : a standard of judgment : criterion c : a regulating principle d : a determinate method for performing a mathematical operation and obtaining a certain result​

    I can see that perhaps 2a might be workable as a definition I wouldn't immediate discount for this, but I also think it's fairly useless when applied to writing as it feels after the fact to me, not something to guide someone.

    The whole rule as guideline doesn't work for me. I much prefer suggestions and ideas and perhaps "things that work in general and might work for you" sort of things. But rules, by connotation even more than denotation seem to be things more set in stone and when it comes to writing, too many people take them to heart, my younger self included. I'll never get back those 10 years of missed chances and experience, but at least I've gotten past that paralysis and self-doubt.

    I can't recall the author, but basically her "trilogy" was the editor splitting her large novel into 3 parts which were published as separate volumes in different years. As far as the author was concerned, she wrote a novel.

    Oh, and plenty of novelists have never written a short story in their life, or if they have, have never gotten any published or had success with that form. Because some people are natural novelists and some are natural writers of the short form.

    Statements like yours above is what drives me nuts about a lot of writing advice.

    I call them interesting ideas that work for some people and not for others. ;) And please don't include me in that "we." Some people spend a whole lot of time thinking hard about what they say or write. Others not so much. Some should spend more time thinking before uttering. But this isn't about the human brain so much as about how each of us finds our process. Statements about brain function don't help writer A figure out why s/he can't write the same way writer B does.

    Interesting. I'm not in my story. At all. I'm being told a story by the characters. I am watching it sometimes on a mental screen, but that's more likely at night, in dreams. When I'm writing, it's more like being dictated to. I'm the typist and at times, I have to work out some details, but I'm never in the story. It really doesn't feel like that. Although I do feel intimately involved with my characters. Just not as I'm writing.

    Sometimes, my first drafts are as you describe. Other times, each sentence is perfected before the next. Other other times, I get everything at once and just need to tweak. Or I toss the whole thing as crap and redo it next session. Every scene I write has its own way of being written.

    Nice. For me, I just reread as I go, and after the thing is finished and fiddle til it feels right. :)
     
    Last edited: Jan 11, 2010