Same, but Different

Do you want to learn something? I do. I always want to know as much as possible in the short period of time I have while I look into [whatever it is]. When I’m writing, the first point for me to do ‘research’ is the structure – the outline of the story.

And this time, I learned about the true structure of that blueprint. I did.

So many books, so many discussions, so many ideas – they all say the same thing, but different. And I thought I understood. I did. And I did all the requisite reading and laying out and putting it together. Of course, I didn’t really understand. The results weren’t what I wanted them to be, but it was too hard to go back to fix them to be what I had planned for, structured for, written for.

Why? Because I didn’t really understand STRUCTURE. I may be in the first throes of another love affair with the world of ‘writerly nous’ but I think now I might be well on the way to a solid understanding.

Structure is the emotional journey of the story. It is the count of beats within each section (that means Act) where the emotional levels ramp up or down, where the scenes become more or less dramatic (to the character) as they make decisions to go with or against the flow.

A character decides, and doesn’t get carried along for the ride. A story is an emotional investment – for the character and the reader.

I read two [library] books last week (and now bought them for the keeper section of my library): Save the Cat (Snyder) and Story (McKee).

Both have been read multiple times in the last few days as I get my head around how well they’ve written the lesson.

And I learned how to fix my structure issues! I have. Now I just have to do that! Fix them.

Oh, and the Bear Group – what did they come back with? Issues with Structure, how the journey is laid out, why the MC has to decide to do this or that, the close personal element of ‘take me on a journey’ and what that journey shows the reader about (1) the person, (2) the world, (3) the problem. Structure.

So, if you want to learn about structure or story, read those books. They’re available, but there’s a funny thing – you don’t see them for sale in secondhand places, not even online. When people buy these books, they don’t get rid of them. Ever. That tells us something, doesn’t it.

Get these books if you want your story to be stitched together like a bespoke suit.

***

Yes, I had read the Snyder book previously; I took notes and wrote them up with three senses so I wouldn’t forget, and then I got on with writing. And that’s the other secret – you can’t understand these things unless you’ve already done some work, figured out that there’s something missing, some piece of effort that needs more than the senses – it needs completion that isn’t fulfilment; it needs the sense of failure that comes from a final product that isn’t a finished product. The step beyond a simple structure to an architecturally brilliant concept. Concept.

In the last 12 months (or so), I’ve completed 5 mss. 7 if you count the partials. 9 if you count anthologies. But something was missing.

If I hadn’t done all that work, would I recognise what was missing when I saw the lesson again? Probably not. I’d go on thinking I understood, because I did understand. I understood the words and the placement of ‘things’ but without the effort expended in the creation of these pieces, I wouldn’t have come to understand the difference between architect and builder. I am now a builder and an architect. I understand structure. Structure.

As someone who has built more than the one house, I understand the concept of the architect.

I can go on knowing it was all worth it – and I won’t give up. That the next one will be better, will be more . . . everything.

 

Visible – Invisible?

The word for the day is ostentatious. What does it mean? – marked by a vulgar display of wealth and success designed to impress people. I’m not so sure about that (it may have been how it was defined for the 20th C, but now?); I think it’s more along the lines of: a vulgar display designed to impress people (see? without the wealth bit – because everyone/anyone can pretend to wealth, can’t they?). That means it can include the people who are desperately in debt, but can still float the mask of richness and gaudiness based on access to credit and online shopping and multiple personalities to display on sites and posts.

The ostentatious bit is the peacock attitude – put it out there for the world to see, because now the world CAN see you: in the shopped photo, in the head-chopped evening wear from someone else’s body shot, in the shadows of the softened and refined mannerism of words used to present – the masks are so much more than a single entity, a single person.

The ostentatious person can now be a multiple-personality with multiple masks and the WHOLE WORLD can see them. Famous, important, lots of hits and friends and . . .

The modern form of ostentatious is the persona who presents the display of vulgarity and passes it off as class, or fact, or the whole purpose in life.

Nothing personal or factual; nothing solid or substantial; not a mirror or a reflection of anyone or anything – a front that person would like to believe isn’t a fabrication. It is a refraction, a burst of light that goes off in different directions based on the flavour of the wind that day, or the fashionable colour the next. It is wind that picks up dirt and passes it off as fairy dust.

Each beam of light highlights another aspect of character, a different direction of thought, a new colour to chase to the end of the rainbow.

But fractured light is an indication of fear, of loneliness, of a life lived without connection.

Bring the ostentatious mannerisms back into the childhood games of dress-up, leave them behind when the child moves onto adolescence, look upon the moments of ostentation in your past as moments of passion, of flights of fancy, of the desire to be the centre of attention – but move on, live a life truly your own, choose your own representation of self – with or without the vulgarity (I mean, who am I to say how you should represent yourself?), but only be true to the person you know you are.

Only then will you recognise the patterns of light and colour for their true purpose . . .

***

Today has been difficult – computer problems (again! off to the shop, naughty thing), crashes, glitches, etc. etc. But I persist, and off to work I go, to be (no, no, no – do not touch it, think about it – no, no, no) productive in a story (not the one with the beta readers, no, no, no) or a plan or something. It seems I can’t go a day without putting pen to paper (finger to keyboard, even if half the characters are missing from the keys – third keyboard this year!) or drifting into another world, a multi-verse of story and idea and plan and structure.

But first, I have something to read:

Story, by Robert McKee – Wow!

Being Prepared for the Season of . . .

fire.jpgFire and Flames.

This is Australia. Almost summer. Hot, dry winds roar across the country. There are sounds that come with that season: the crackles of dry leaves as they fly through the air – with wings of red flame; the hiss and sizzle of the fruit tree, fully green, as it melts in the heat surge that comes before the flames – already dead before it burns; the scream in my head when I remember . . .

Ash Wednesday. The warnings came over the airwaves of someone else’s radio. The hair on the back of my neck stood up and froze in the stiffness of fear. Where were the kids? Where was the fire front? Where did I leave my bag? Keys? Where are the keys?

I have to get back, you see. It’s my job to drive the water truck in that region. I should be there. The kids, my fosters, should know the plan. They should, but . . .

That maniac driving the wrong way, too fast, swerving and leaning on the horn to get you out of the way – that’s me, trying to get back home, to get the kids out of the risk zone, to get to the fire truck so I can do what needs to be done.

But there’s no way through – police road blocks – no detours – roads burning, not just trees – they don’t listen to me – go back, nothing you can do now – too late.

Do I listen? No. My kids are up there, somewhere in those flames. I have to get there. If I can’t get through to my station, I’ll head on over to the one in the next valley. I know the back roads, the tracks through the forest.

I make it – ask the radio operator to call my kids – no response by radio and she won’t take a chance on a second call while there’s so much chaos with this huge fire raging too fast, doing things fires don’t do. She asks: we’re short a driver – wanna take it?

I do. If I can’t get through to my own, I’ll do this – we practice together, knowing fires in this region can spread too fast through the dry-land forest, that we’ll have to back up to each other when things go bad.

So busy, can’t think on the kids. Have to trust they followed the plan. I hear the radio words – Plan A out the window; they wouldn’t get through that way, no safety in Plan A. More news as I drive the truck from water collection to feet on the ground: Plan B location out of action, burned to the ground, no survivors.

There are no tears, no thoughts of loss or injury – keep moving, keep going, do this, do that. When it’s finished, deal with it then.

More words, more news. The truck – hey, that’s my number! – burned out, four dead . . . my friends, my truck, my number. That would have been me if . . .

No affect. Blank on the inside, blank on the outside. Sideways looks from the faces that run hither and thither. They don’t have time to say anything, ask, help. Later, when there’s time.

What’s that lump over there? With smoke? Pull over, check it out while the blokes on the ground do their spray to keep the flames away.

The charred remains belong to a human – man or woman? Unknown, too damaged. Mark the spot – right here, where they tried to get inside the storm drain. Was he or she dead before the flames came? Don’t think about it. Not yet. Go! More work to do, the fires still moving, there are still people we can get. Move, move, MOVE!

– – – Two days of no sleep, not enough fluids, not enough food. The flames, not under control, but at least out of the way of human habitation. Time to take stock, consider the cost, find the kids.

Plan A and B locations weren’t viable. There was always a backup plan to the plan, and always a backup plan to the backup plan. Did I do the same for the fire plan? Was there a Plan C? And what would they do if they heard about my truck? Would they think I was dead?

Stop. Find out if the house is still there. I may be worrying about nothing. Beg a lift back to my car, drive home.

I’m sure this is the right road, but there’s nothing familiar. The house should be there, 200m up from the dam – the now black dam, filled with ash and soot and bloaties.

No house. No shed. No bones in the blackness where they should be. No signs of vehicles, not even the 1928 Ford tray truck that was in the shed, being worked on by the boys.

Nothing. The shoulders slump. The body sags. Something happens in the words swirling around in the head: it’s a scream – one word: nnnnnnnoooooooooo . . .

Was it a few minutes or a few hours later? Don’t know. Stand up, dust off, get back in the car. Drive to locations for Plan A and B. Burned out. Nothing. Had to show my ID to the cops guarding the area against thieves. Bloody hell! Looters! Shoot them!

Stop and think about what Plan C would have been. Should have been more vigilant – I was in the volunteers, after all; I knew how important it was.

Something clicks. Plan C? Oh, yes – there.

It took ages with all the sticky-beak traffic coming out to stare at the blackness, the trees that weren’t, the bloaties. Did someone go back for the culvert body? I can’t go back, I can’t get distracted. I wrote it up, someone else would have to go get him or her. I have to get to the kids.

Finally, two and a half days after the first panicked flight from work to the hills, and I see the oldest boy handing out clothes and cups to the others at the roadside truck stop. The final plan. They’re here. I can’t see. My eyes burn and gush. I stop the car, get out, run the rest of the way, screaming and laughing.

A few minutes, shock and relief and something else that is indescribable as we all hug each other in a manic group of sounds that make no sense. We sit in the dirt to tell our tales. I learn how they had their lives planned to make it look as if I was still there, still the leader of our little group of lostlings, so they could stay together as a family.

I am so proud.

***

Please prepare your bushfire plan and the backup and the backup to the backup, and maybe a backup to that one as well. This post is copyright CS Dunn 2016.