Fortune, fortunate

A Wheel of Fortune spins and spins, clickety clacks until the leather flap holds firm. It has stopped. There is a winner. The Writer leans in and picks reads the Title and Number.

Title is ‘Agoness’ and number is 15. This will be the next story she works on. This is her way of deciding what comes next, who gets to be created on the page, who gets to live out their story for the next project.

Agoness is not a new story. It sat in the darkness as an idea for a long time, then it became a pattern of recognition, otherwise known as a beat sheet. From that beat sheet came the characters who’d share the journey, who they were and what their relationships were to the main character (MC). The setting, the world, was clearly outlined on a separate stage, with pictures and maps and money systems, with political news and disputes, with the ways of learning and judging – the world, the hidden background that influences without having to be explained except through MC’s actions and reactions, through her journey in this story.

And 15? The numbers are used until a story is complete and its number becomes vacant, until it’s time for another story to show its head, to pop up from the unknown and start wagging the tail. When Agoness is completed and published, the number will become associated with a different Title.

Because, well, the Wheel of Story Fortunes has a limited number of spaces – and please don’t ask how many there are on the real thing. This is the world of a writer, and it is made up as required, as needed, and as desired. In the current Wheel of Stories, there are 32 numbers, and therefore 32 stories waiting for their turn at the keyboard.

Some of these stories will be written up and finished at this stage, but mostly what happens is that they go through another stage, either a planning and development stage, or an Act or two will be written up or plumped out or plotted and staged, or a dimensional understanding of ‘what the hell happened’ stage. If the Writer doesn’t understand why or how things happen, it’s not finished. And sometimes, these things take time to bubble up from deep wells of Writerly Thinking before they can be added to, or finish, the story.

Today is one of those days. Rather than thinking too hard on the current WIP(s), pick up another gauntlet and let the brain wander in a new world until it meets up with the bubbles of treasure it wasn’t searching for in the front-brain activity. Then stack it away, back in the slot for that number, and get cracking.


C’est la vie!wheels

 

A Moment of Grace

These moments can be found in stories and movies, and often they are subtle, gentle, quiet. These are the moments that show a change, an emotional rejoinder, sometimes shows the character to be on this particular path. The moment of grace where the reader says/thinks: all is at peace; this is where we belong.

These are the moments we look for in life but have difficulty recognising because we’ve forgotten just how subtle they can be. Not so in a story. In a story it has to be much more obvious – to the senses of the reader, because it is the bump on the radar that awakens the need to seek this in life.

In story, the sense of the moment of grace allows the reader to relax for a moment, to feel that regardless of what’s to come, this is what it’s all about. To be part of it, to be encompassed by the world for the benefit of this small moment of connection.

That’s a lot of words for a normally short, quiet moment in a story. But it’s important. A breath, a reason to be, a sense of peace. We need it. The story may need it, but the reader is sucked in by it, and then, when the writer opens up the next scene to the relaxed reader, what do you think happens?

The big ‘turn it all upside-down’ bit? No! Why not? Because it’s safer to put a bit of distance between the moment of grace and a handstand. Because you don’t want the reader to throw the book at the wall when the character steps from grace to stupidity in two breaths. Because you need to work up to the next big thing, build the tension while the reader accepts the inevitability that things will change, of course they will, they always do – but not yet.

Give the reader that time to ‘feel’ the moment of grace, to accept the breath it gives, and ease into the next painful/abrupt/sudden change of course from the path.

Story is about a pattern of movement, and usually the movement of character through difficulty, but a writer needs to understand the moments between the big gulps. And the moment of grace is one of them. Not the only one, but an early one, and usually in the Second Act (Q2). Later in Act 2 (Q3) is the Lull Before Three (2nd plot point).

Hmmm, there are two of these quiet moments, but different in context. The first, the Moment of Grace, is there to be built from; the second, the Lull Before Three, is there to enable the character to bow to the inevitable, to consider the price to pay for the necessary actions.

And there you have it – two moments of story that are quiet but powerful.


And that’s my writing warm-up for the day, so now I go to work on the WIP (yes, yes, the late one!).

The Answer

Why are you doing it? I was asked (topic: the presentation next week). Why, indeed.

The shortest and simplest reason is because I wasted so much time and effort trying to learn something everyone seemed to think every writer knows without thinking about it – structure. After all, there’s the 3 acts, the Aristotle’s incline, the beat sheet, the story board, the chain of events, the snowflake method. What I’ve learned in the last year is that all these methodologies can be exceptionally vague in the way they try to spread the word (or is it that it’s too many things to different people?) about structure but can be vague and don’t make it quite as clear as it needs to be – and because structure is 80% of the work in the first stage of ‘a good story well-told’ I consider it absolutely necessary to share what I’ve learned. And I learned it by doing it, by doing it again and again and again until I understood, quite clearly, what it meant. And how to adapt it to how I work best. If I had known about it before …

It, in this case, is structure. Not that it ever seems to be called story structure. Other things, like Outline, Incline, Snowflake, Journey, Chain of Events, Beat Sheet, Story-board, and the big one – the three Act paradigm.

But it’s both more and less than all of the above – which, by the way, are methodologies, not an end in themselves. They are a beginning, a preparation for story, not a plan.

Worse, when you read up on these methods, the words become more and more vague and less elemental (except recently, and only few). And structure is more, much more, than a few vague words that state the story must move through these stages and blah, blah, blah.

It is more than that. Structure is the defined base-plate that steps a story through what comes first and why; what comes next and why; where the big things are waiting and why; how to use these milestones/points/turns to leverage a story into a gripping and powerful tale that takes a reader through the flow/movement of scenes, into the skin of the main character and how he deals with the problems and conflicts – to the end.

That’s it, in a nutshell. It’s the basic 101 stage that should be taught in all classes for creative writing. And I’m going to spread it thick and fast and far and wide. Why? Because when I get too old to write my own stories, I want to read good stories. I want new writers to understand the simple things easily so they can go on to create mind-bending concepts and premises for their stories. I want it all.


There may be no rules in Art, but there will be no Art without a solid and practical understanding of Craft. And structure is as basic as it gets, the ABC of the language of story-telling.

 

I think now I know enough to help others learn it. This is my opportunity to pass on what it’s taken me so long to learn (those 10,000 hours of apprenticeship).

Anyway, short story long (that’s me all over), this is my paying it forward.

And my hope is that every person who attends the presentation next week will take the opportunity to do the practical tasks associated with learning this, and then pass it on to anyone else they meet who needs to know about it.

I want to give them to opportunity to pay it forward.

 

 

A Presentation

Next week I’m going to offer a presentation to a group of young writers. What I want to do is share what I’ve learned on my journey through the apprentice stage of writing – because it shouldn’t have been so hard!

boof-at-work

Looking for something?

I want to share how I learned to understand structure. Maybe I should put that word in capital letters, because it’s important. More important than having a ‘knack’ or a ‘gift’ or a good work ethic.

Why? Because 80% of the work that goes into story is polished and shined and pummeled into shape by using the methodology and options available through structure.

No kidding. I could’ve saved myself from retiring so many novels and stories if I’d understood structure.

Do you understand structure? Know what it is and how to use it to create a good story, well told?

This is the blurb for the presentation:

Structure – From Concept to Storyboard (an introduction)

There may be no rules in Art, but there will be no Art without a solid and practical understanding of Craft.

Structure is one of the elements of Craft for the Art of Writing.

Structure is: what comes first, what comes next, what goes where, and why; it is the movement of scenes – the action-reaction, goal-obstacle, who-where – through the story that takes the reader to ‘the end’.

So, if you want your stories to have everything leveraged to a higher level just when it’s most needed, better and more compelling milestones, more effective scenes that draw the reader into turning the next page, and the next … and the next, then you need to understand what structure is, and how it makes a story memorable/powerful/compelling.


And my resources: Save the Cat, by Blake Snyder (should be read first, to get a cool intro and find the categories for your story); Story Engineering, by Larry Brooks (read second to get a deep and thorough understanding). That will do for now, but Syd Field should also be considered an expert.

Why do I think it’s important?

Because whether the story is a cave painting, a greek play, a 3-Act drama, a classic book, a modern novel, a radio-play, a b&W movie, a CGI-chair-shaking epic, or a 4-D, goggles-reqd futurist movie, the story needs to be ‘felt’ by the audience. Do you think a reader, caught up in the moment of high drama in a story, is going to care whether the grammar is perfect? Or if there are no $5 words? Or that the sentences are long and drifty and dreamy?

I don’t, because when I’m in a good story, well told – it doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is the story and ‘what happens next’ and what compels me to turn the next page.

And that, in a nutshell, is why structure is 80% of the first work effort of a new story, and why you need to know it.

Are you going to be there?

cropped-header1-words

And what it’s based on: here.

Is it Real?

The lives that come to life from the mind, that play games with every action undertaken until they get to live that life on the pages – are they real? Really real, or simply an imaginary expansion of a real-life event or person?

This is an easy one to answer because I’ve seen, and researched, the bubbles of interest in specific themes and motifs in stories written during a specific time-frame. I may have mentioned in past posts how I wrote a story in 1998 that I then read (not word for word, but theme and concept and premise too close to dismiss) the full-novel version by a famous author. It set up an automatic action in me (numbers geek thing) to seek out specific patterns in themes from publicly available writing, and guess what?

It happens all the time! A particular element of a story will be ‘shared’ by a glut of stories undertaken about the same time. Fact.

What does it mean? Are we all thinking and planning things from the same source? You know, news and cable and other forms of media? Or is there a bigger thing, an over-mind, we all hook into to use as our ‘muse’? I have to say, my idea02grey of a muse may not match what other people think, because I call it the ‘word-world-on-my-shoulder’ muse, and not a single entity, but a flow of hundreds or thousands of them, throwing out ideas and ‘what-if’ scenarios, digging at a chain of thought until I see the light of that fleeting flight of fancy.

It’s not the muse, it’s not the common media, it’s not imagination – so what is it? Is there really such a thing as an over-mind? Or a planetary being who watches over us and shares information? Is it how we learn? Is it something ‘other’?

An answer: who cares, as long as we get the stories, the lessons, the vicarious gift of living something [safely] through the stories told. What does it matter if someone labels the writer as ‘peculiar’ or ‘eccentric’ or ‘mad’? Living with multiple person/alities, who all want to put their piece into the story is fun, it’s interesting, it’s compelling.

Other people chase money or fame or family – I love, crave, and burn to find the new minds, the new creatures, the new way of thinking about a particular subject, idea, concept – until it becomes a story, which is always something to be shared.

[when it gets cleaned up a little, that is]


 

What to do with that word?

Choices, made in the heat of the [writing] moment, can be rough, okay, good, great or fantastic. Not really. Generally, the choices made in the flash of inspiration can be either cliche (‘cos that’s the quickest to come to mind) or good/great. But to make it fantastic, to buff it to the greatest shine, takes work.

So, here we are at the crossroads. Shannon Hunter and I are working on Equine Neophyte of the Blood Desert (Title subject to change, like everything else at this stage), and we’re at the stage of choosing what works best for that event, scene, purpose, section, Act, etc.

We don’t actually argue [well, not too much], but there’s a lot to be said for wanting the best. The trouble is understanding the meaning of what ‘best’ is for the story. Is it the best word, the one that says it clearly and in a defined way, doesn’t take any effort to understand the meaning and context? Is it the one that goes just a little deeper and plays more than one tune? Or is it the [who said this?] $5 word.

Now, I don’t mind the odd $5 word. And I don’t even mind the occasional one. And I have been known to use a word no one else is likely to comprehend if it wasn’t quite clear from the context. And that’s where I like the $5 words. In a sentence or paragraph that makes the meaning clear, defined and absolutely no doubt about it – from the context created by the other words that surround it.

That’s me. I’ve learned this the hard way, and as a reader. If I was busy enjoying a read and then found a word that didn’t ‘fit’ the context, I’d stop and look it up, or skip it and huff. If I looked it up and found it didn’t make a lot of sense for being there, and could have been another word entirely, a simple one that wouldn’t have taken me out of the story – that creates a bit of angst. Do you think I’d search out that author again? So that’s what I consider now when writing my own $5 words.

What would be worse is the ‘skip it’ action. If I do that once in a book/novel/story because I don’t understand the meaning behind the use of the word, I am much [much, much, much] more likely to continue that action until I get to the end. You see, I like to finish books, but the more annoyed I get, the more I skip – just to get out of the journey. I’ve had enough of this one and just want to go home.

The lesson in all of this? Having a discussion about whether to put a word in or not is the most important decision you make as a reader, and there is no more important person in the world of story words. And if the reader can’t get the gist of meaning from what surrounds the $5 word, please put that word back in the bank and use one that’s more appropriate for the real reader.

Now, back to work!

cropped-header1-words

 

That [swear-word] schedule!

Earlier in the year – it might have been about the time people make resolutions – I made up a schedule. And I stuck to it. For a while. Things happened, and I tried to incorporate those things, and sometimes it worked. Sometimes not.

The qualms set in – how can I do this? that? keep up? keep going?

After the first issue of timeline slip, I let it go. After all, these things happen, and even if I don’t catch up at the very least I can slog on.

Then the second thing happened – more serious. An injury that kept me off the chair for [they said 3 months; I tried coming back after 2, and now it’s 4 months] a considerable part of the year.

The schedule is shot, blasted out to galaxy M31 to drift in the waves of space debris, wandering further and further from my grasp.

I think I’m starting to understand that nothing is ever truly within our control. Nothing. Ever. The more we try to control things, the easier they slip away, disappear.

But …

The Equine story isn’t finished, and I have to wait for feedback before going back in there. In the meantime, I put together two anthologies and published them. I’ve completed two pieces for a competition (worth money, so worth pursuing). I’ve worked on ways to improve the through-rate of beast-sheets (no error in my word there – they can be monstrous things if you want to get it fully complete and ready to roll in a story sense before the fingers hit the keys), and finally, I’ve created a short-cut, cheat-sheet to share with a group of young writers at the local library (next month – already?).

And the other things? Family in distress when the ol’ Pa gets crook (91yo) and ol’ Ma (90) stresses out about him. Takes a lot of time away from work when you have to babysit the oldies (not me, fortunately; the other half does that, but it means our time is severely constrained because I have to do the things he would normally do as well as the things I normally do). Two new babies – no, three! – and now there’s (how many?) so many new names and birthdays and reasons to celebrate (spend money) that it takes a [what do you call those things to put all the important personal details and reminders into?] personal planner (and not electronic, because we know what happens when they fail and you forget a birthday and no one speaks to you for months/years because, I mean, that excuse about technology?) just to keep up with obligations.

It’s all too much. Too much. And the most important thing in the world – those stories – have to wait their turn for my attention. Do you think it’s the stories suffering?

No, me neither. I need my sanity back. Now, thank you very much!


In case you don’t know, I use these moments to ‘warm up’ into my writing day, and it’s all of the cuff, so take the mistakes and guff with a pinch of salt (or sugar) and let it all go in a deep breath. Now all I need to do is listen to my own advice – and act on it!

the-hole-of-the-eye

On, and on, and on, and on, and …

Until we’re both so knackered we don’t want to look at another thing that even looks like the words of story.

What this means is that the stage of collaboration is creating the waves we wanted, the extra work we didn’t want, and that time was wasted on injuries and other unimportant stuff – but now we are near to the end. A bit late, but that’s life.

This is the first time we (Shannon Hunter & Cage Dunn) have collaborated on a project together, and it has been both exhilarating and frustrating. The ideas burn bright, the extra oomph and presence is obvious, but the meshing of two to make it look like one – that’s tough.

Even tougher is the fact that one of us [moi, in fact] managed to do an injury that kept the seat off the bum – and that’s slowed things down a bit. But the deadline we set is our own deadline, so we have now adapted it. And we have reached the stage of initial editing – of which we disagree about the process. So, what to do?

Negotiate, that’s what. Shan will do the first edit for the big picture things – the story arc, the plot arc, the character arc (including the baddy), and I will do the middle picture things – the paras and how they flow, the sentences and what they play like (think music and rhythm), the set up, response and resolution/lead in for each section, para and sentence.

But do I start at the same time as Shan? or do I wait? If I wait, will I re-read what she’s done, or will I simply trust and go ahead with my role?

It’s difficult, but this is when all that training in workplace teams and management come in handy. Allocate, trust, continue. Check before the next stage.

Yes, we’re doing it in stages because that allows the person who didn’t do a section to be able to see the possible conflicts better than the person who is too close to the work.

Trust. The big issue – whose story is it anyway? We know the answer to this one, because we did the idea through to concept/premise, all the beat-sheets (for protag and antag) and chain of events scenarios, we did the character profiles and arc strategies – we did them all together, both heads over the hot stove of creation. So neither of us ‘owns’ the right to say ‘mine’ and we both own the right to say ‘ours’.

No arguments there. And we both know that to do the job to the best of our abilities, we have to allow the issue of the other person advising of potential issues. We have to think of it like a small business, which involves not only trust, but an open mind, acceptance of criticism (when it works to the good of the business) and schedules [ooooohhhhh, that timeline thing again].

Then on to the final stage: the small picture things, the use of words, the spelling and grammar and line-by-line edits.

Next time will be easier for both of us [where is that bit of wood?].

Anyway, long story short: Equine Neophyte of the Blood Desert is undergoing a more protracted editing phase than anticipated, and due to some silly person doing speccies over the lounge while watching women’s football of telly, we’re late.

C’est la vie!


Now, back to work.

02redexpress

 

I Made a Word

the word

Not one word; many words. I made many words, and they all have meaning – each distinct, but the context of pattern within the enclosed structure they’re in make them so much more than the one word’s meaning. One word fitted in with other words to make one sentence – a sentence with one subject, one object, and one verb. One construct.

Stick the conjoined sentences into one paragraph, that has one point to make – each distinct, but within the context of the pattern within the structure. Shape it so the emphasis on the opening is the setting up of the one point; do the middle story-telling part, then build it to the emphasis on the finale. That’s it – a paragraph.

But a paragraph on it’s own means nothing (well, not as much as it could).

Put that paragraph in a paddock with a few more; create a structure within the group of paras, so that the first para sets up the second (and so on) until you have – wait for it – a scene! (A reminder: One scene is one event in one location and time, from one POV where something changes.)

A scene has one event where something changes from beginning to end. A bit like a sentence, it has a subject (POV), and object (even if a thought process) and something happens (the verb). The first part of the scene sets up what’s to come; the middle plays it out and builds and builds to the climax at the end!

That’s it. One word put in with other words creates a sentence; sentences put together create a paragraph with one point; paragraphs put together make a scene (Let’s Party!).

And just in case anyone’s wondering: A chapter has no real meaning. It’s purpose is to give you somewhere to stick your bookmark – it’s only a scene that’s important!

Put all the scenes together following the same logic – the setup (Act 1), the first half of the middle (Act 2-part 1), the Middle (where it all gets tipped up and out and we see in the murk the reality of ….), the second half of the middle (Act 2-part 2), the Climax (Act 3).

I think that may be how one word can become one story. The whole concept of story began with one word.

What’s your word?


Disagree? Let me know how it all comes together for you, and we’ll have a chit-chat, shall we?

I look forward to making words with you!

 

 

Fibber, Fabricator, Teller of Tall Tales

That’s me! A storyteller; a writer; a person who puts stories out and shares them with the world. Well, that’s usually what happens. I set a schedule to do just that. And I joined in some projects with collaborations. And … and … and …

The inaugural AFLW (Australian Football League – Women) played their grand final yesterday – and I watched it! Exciting! There are many reasons why it’s exciting:

  • the first time women have played professional AFL in Australia
  • I always wanted to play
  • it was a good hard game

The latter, a good hard game, was my downfall. You see, I took a speccy over the lounge, hit the light/fan, dropped like a stone onto my right side, and … the result of that amazing speccy is dislocated hip, shoulder, and thumb. But the injury is meaningless; what matters is:

Eight weeks on the sideline.

So, I think, I can write; sit at the computer – groan in agony. No, can’t sit.

So, move the keyboard to a softer location. Done, now to type – can’t use the thumb (you can’t believe how long this short post has taken – or how many times I’ve had to go back to fix things —- aaarrrrgggghhhh!)

Eight weeks out.

There goes the schedule. Lower-lip drops sulkily down the chin.

Move the schedule back. By two months?! No, by one month, because I’m absolutely certain that by the time I can sit comfortably for even five minutes, I’ll be back.

I’ll be back!

How can the mind that thinks up dozens of new stories (the 26 letters of the alphabet, the 32 beat sheets to prove the theory, the working group that got 16 storyboards in one day, etc. etc. etc.) last that long?

It’s not possible; I know it’s not possible. I also know it won’t stop me. I can read through all the notes, the arcs, the beat sheets, the outlines and storyboards; I can come up with better, stronger, faster, more powerful beats – and learn to write with my left hand.

there is always a way; there is always hope; there is always that brat of a fibber, fabricator, liar (tale-teller if you don’t like that word) who spins words and worlds and ideas in loops of fantastical dreams through my mind.

I’ll be back!

In the meantime, I’ve sent my favourite B-reader (Bear) the almost-final-final first draft of Equine; I’ve set a project for Shannon and Karel, and Nan (Rose) is busy with getting the legal rights to be able to tell some of her stories.

But I sit (try to) in the position that causes the least pain, and dream (and practice writing lefty).