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Archive for the ‘Rewriting’ Category

Cloud-Based Storage and You: How to Never Lose Your Work, Because if You Did, You Would Cry Like a Little Baby

4 May 2015 | 1 Comment » | Kristin Luna

Have you ever had a “friend” lose a manuscript, or even half a manuscript, due to a computer crash? They may describe it like a slow-motion car accident, their hope melting away with each second. Something like this.

Friends don’t let friends save work solely on their desktops. Friends make sure friends are saving their work on a cloud-based storage. I personally don’t care which company you go with, just as long as you do go with one as a back up. 

You may accuse me, by the end of this article, of using scare tactics to get you to back up your work. 

Yes, you are correct. 

In the Writing World, the people are represented by two separate, yet equally important groups. The writers who save their work, and the writers that do not save their work or have copies. THESE ARE THEIR STORIES.

1. Lord Byron. What’s worse than dying? Sending the very last thing you wrote, your memoirs, to your editor with the request he publish them after you die, and instead he rips up each page and throws it into a fire. THAT’S worse than dying, probably.

2. Sylvia Plath. How about after you die, your own husband destroys your very last works, including 130 pages of a novel you were working on?

3. Ernest Hemingway. Maybe it would be less painful if your wife took a bunch of your short stories to show them off to friends, only to have her bags stolen in the train station.

4. Edna St. Vincent Millay. Let’s say you take a vacation to Florida and bring your manuscript. When you return to the hotel after a stroll on the beach, you find the hotel engulfed in flames.

5. Author 1 (Name redacted because you’d recognize it, and he’s still alive). When this author was just starting out, he lent the only copy of his very first novel to his friend to read. She lost it. Oops!

I know what you’re thinking. But Kristin, those writers didn’t use computers. Computers are different.

OH ARE THEY?

6. Toy Story 2. That time when an employee accidentally entered the wrong code, which started systematically wiping the entire film from the database. (Guess why this is a happy ending? Somebody was smart/lucky enough to have a back-up drive at home.)

7. Author 2 (Name redacted because you’d recognize it, and he’s still alive). When this author was just starting out, he decided to write a short story every week. The first year went pretty well, so he decided to keep going with this goal. He was doing fine until his house burned down in a fire, and he lost every single story he had written over several years.

8. Author 3 (Name redacted because you’d recognize it, and he’s still alive). This author was blazing through a late and long-awaited novel. He left his office for the day, only to return the next day to find all of his computers, back up drives, and other technical equipment stolen. Because he had been in such a rush to finish the novel, he hadn’t been saving it regularly, which meant the only form he had left of the novel was the first couple of chapters, which also hadn’t yet undergone the heavy edits he had just made to them.

Let’s learn from these brave souls’ (very) hard-earned mistakes. Back up your work. One of the best, free resources out there right now is Dropbox. It’s a cloud-based application that saves your work on multiple third-party servers, which means you can access your saved work at any time from any device with internet.

It doesn’t hurt to also have a hard copy, in the event of a zombie apocalypse. Because we all know that planning is everything.

What’s the most painful story you’ve heard about a work being destroyed or lost or deleted?

Don’t say what you mean: writing conflict through dialogue

17 April 2015 | 3 Comments » | fictorians

A guest post by David Jón Fuller.

There are a lot of ways to express conflict through dialogue in a scene, but it can be very effective – and a lot of fun – if it isn’t done openly.

People (and characters) hate conflict. They usually do everything they can to avoid it, unless they’re devoid of empathy. But readers… they love conflict. It makes for great dialogue, exciting scenes, and a plot that keeps moving.

I think, as a writer, it can be easy to fall into placating one or the other of those camps. You want to protect your characters from too much pain, so they work out compromises too often and no one gets hurt. Or, you throw them into the exciting drama of constant conflict, and they will die on that hill before they give in.

The happy middle ground – for characters, your story, and readers – is somewhere in between; and when I’m writing scenes, I follow some basic guidelines that govern how it plays out. These aren’t the only ways to do it, of course, but they’re options to consider.

(Also: one assumption underlying any scene I write is that the characters in it need something from each other. If they didn’t, one or more of them would just leave.)

 

  1. Characters want different things, but they don’t necessarily say so.

Conflict is more than this:

Character 1: I want the thing!

Character 2: I don’t want you to have the thing!

 

It’s more often like this:

Character 1: Say, why don’t we go outside and enjoy the warm weather? (The thing I want is hidden in the garage, and I want to get it)

Character 2: No, let’s stay in the living room and play chess! (I’ve already stolen the thing from the garage and I don’t want you to find out)

Give your characters subtext! They don’t have to say what they really want from each other. In fact, I think it’s better if they avoid doing so until they have no other choice.

 

  1. Characters want different things, but one or both of them don’t realize it.

In a different scenario, things could play out like this:

Character 3: Is there a gas station coming up soon? (My highly contagious stomach flu which I haven’t told you about is acting up and I need a washroom)

Character 4: Don’t worry about that! Even though it says “empty” here, we have plenty of fuel. (If we stop, I’ll be late for my meeting with the loan shark I owe money to)

 

You can use this to heighten tension, but be careful about confusing the reader. You can make it clear something deeper is going on by showing other details, rather than having the character say anything.

Character 3: (gripping the armrest, sweating, pale, trying to conceal a grimace) Is there a gas station coming up soon?

Character 4: (Checks wristwatch, glancing repeatedly in rear-view mirror) Don’t worry about that! Even though it says “empty” here, we have plenty of fuel.

 

  1. Characters generally want to avoid revealing deep truths about themselves. They may not know those truths, either.

It would be nice if scenes played out as logically as this:

Character 5: If you leave home, I’ll feel like a failure as a parent! That’s why I’m trying to make you feel like you’re the failure for leaving.

Character 6: If you keep me here, I’ll feel as if I’m not my own person! I need to leave so I can prove to you – and myself — I’m competent and independent.

 

Even if both characters know what the underlying issue is, they may try to frame it in a way that makes themselves look better:

Character 5: Go ahead and leave – you’ll never make it on your own! (If you leave, I’ll feel like a failure as a parent)

Character 6: If I stay here, I’ll kill myself! Is that what you want? (I need to leave so I can prove to you – and myself – I’m competent and independent)

 

  1. Try this: whatever the character says, make it the opposite of that they really feel.

Instead of a straight back and forth like this:

Character 7: I’m so attracted to you, despite many reasons I shouldn’t be!

Character 8: You disgust me, but I want to help you!

 

It could go like this:

Character 7: Get out of here and leave me alone! (I want you to stay, but I’m afraid my attraction will become too strong and you’ll see I actually love you)

Character 8: As soon as you’re done throwing up, I will! (Drunkenness disgusts me but I couldn’t live with myself if you came to harm because I abandoned you)

 

  1. This is not so much a rule, but it’s a handy tool: Characters generally won’t say what they really, desperately want or need until the climax of the story. It doesn’t have to be a speech, it doesn’t have to be that articulate – but at the climax is where they will be most honest about what they say. If that means they can’t say anything, that’s fine, too. But I generally don’t think the climax is the point at which they will be flip or indifferent – it’s cards-on-the-table time. So when the conflict of the story comes to a head, try to find a way for the characters to declare, or defend, what they love and prize more than anything else. It can be as simple as a single word, like “No.”

 

If you use any of the above strategies throughout the story leading up to the climax —showing what your characters desperately want but won’t come out and say —having them finally be open about it in the climax can be very powerful.

For examples, think of your favourite books, stories, movies or plays, where the climax was truly electrifying. Consider why that is, and whether the characters are finally revealing something about themselves. I’d bet that very often, that revelation or all-pretenses-abandoned sense of the climactic scene is what gives it its power.

There are other strategies for writing dialogue, but the above approaches are ones I find most useful when throwing characters with different agendas together in a scene.

About David Jón Fuller: 100819 David Fuller 0002
David Jón Fuller is a writer whose fiction has appeared in Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction From the Margins of History; Tesseracts 18: Wrestling With Gods; Kneeling in the Silver Light: Stories From the Great War; and in the upcoming anthology Accessing The Future. He lives in Winnipeg, and as time allows, blogs at www.davidjonfuller.com.

Thou Shall (Not) Kill Your Darlings

23 March 2015 | 4 Comments » | Kristin Luna

Don’t you do it, George.

There is a popular piece of advice that has gone around (and around) writing circles since William Faulkner said it: “In writing, you must kill all your darlings.” Joss Whedon has since advised writers to cut what they love most from their manuscripts or screenplays if they’ve come up against a serious case of writer’s block. The advice is, succinctly: take out what you love the most to get “unstuck.” And writers have agonizingly cut their beloved characters and scenes out of their first and second drafts, thinking they are heeding valuable advice.

While I personally think authors like George R. R. Martin kill off beloved characters particularly well in order to elicit emotions from the reader, that’s not exactly what we’re talking about. I mean when a writer gets some alpha or beta reader’s feedback suggesting they cut a character or scene the author particularly loves. Forcing a character out of a first or second draft can be devastating to a newer writer. Sometimes, it might be necessary. But other times, it’s important to recognize when you have something special.

We can safely assume Joss Whedon has been stuck on many occasions because he’s a writer and that’s in the job description. Let’s imagine Whedon came down with a serious case of writer’s block while working on episodes of Firefly. Following his own advice, what would he take out? My favorite part of the show is Malcolm Reynolds, the captain of the firefly ship Serenity. Now let’s just imagine Firefly without Malcolm Reynolds for a minute. I can’t help but ask myself… What’s the point, anymore?

Would the show have reached its famed cult status if Whedon replaced Mal with a different, less Han Solo-esk character? Perhaps, but an absolutely vital piece of what makes Firefly so memorable, part of its magic, would have been buried in old drafts, never to see the light of day. Mal is special. He’s important to the story, and the story would be weaker without him. Imagine if we never knew Nathan Fillion as Mal because Whedon was under a deadline, or had had a bad week?

Put down the knife; back slowly away from the computer. Before immediately killing off your favorite character or deleting your favorite scene, I offer you an alternative: questions.

1. Did I develop this character to his/her full potential?

2. Is there something buried in my character’s past that could be vital to this story and increase conflict?

3. *Gulp* Is there a conflict?

4. What about my character could cause conflict with: a. others, b. his/her surroundings, c. his/her culture, or d. him/herself?

5. Did I outline this story? (Most writers report writer’s block when they skimp on pre-writing and outlining)

6. Am I holding back, or waiting to reveal something pivotal until the end? What if I put it near the beginning instead? How would that change the story, and could it make the story stronger?

7. What would make my side characters more interesting to play as a foil to the main character? Are the side characters just as developed as my main character?

8. Would taking this character out of my story make the story stronger or significantly weaker?

9. Pretend you have cut the scene or character in question. Are you just as enthusiastic about the project as you were before?

10. Are you willing to put in the time and work to fix the issue, deepen the character, conflict, or scene, in order to keep it in your project?

When it comes down to it, writers either run on enthusiasm or discipline. Ideally, at least a little of both. If the character or scene you love is giving you trouble, ask yourself if you’re still enthusiastic about the story, and committed to telling it. If it’s one of your first stories or drafts, you may find it’s better to cut your losses and either begin again or start a different story entirely. But if you love the story and are committed to telling it, there is always a way to fix the problem without resorting to cutting or killing your beloved darlings.

Knowing When to Break the Rules

20 March 2015 | No Comments » | Leigh Galbreath
I had a government teacher in high school that had a motto: Only by learning the rules can you figure out how to go around them. Rules are, by and large, a fantastic way to learn the craft, but at some point, we all learn that, as the man said at the beginning of the month, they are not really rules at all, but guidelines, and one of the most difficult things to learn isn’t so much how to break the rules, but when.

No one breaks the rules just to break the rules. We do it because it fits the story and helps us manipulate the reader into feeling or seeing or knowing something that would not be expressed as well any other way.

As an example, the James Joyce’s short story “The Dead” starts a tale of a Victorian Age party by jumping from one person to another as they arrive. Now, technically, this is what we term “head popping” and can easily get confusing. Yet, instead of being confused as to who you’re supposed to be following, or feeling distanced by the omniscient 3rd person viewpoint, Joyce quite literally introduces us as if we’re one of the attendees. The first time I read it, I was strongly reminded of the cinematic “one shot”, where the camera follows one person only to be smoothly handed off to another, and then another, without cutting. Think of the opening scene of the film Snake Eyes or the Syfy miniseries of Battlestar Galactica. Joyce, of course, stops the the shifting POV once everyone’s been introduced, and we settle on the main character until it’s time to leave, and we’re shifting around again as we chase after a departing carriage. He effectively sucks the reader in, makes them comfortable, and then lets them go in a whirl.

In “A Rose for Emily”, William Faulkner completely stops the action of a story that’s moved a pretty good pace, to give us a long, extremely detailed description of a room that is being viewed for the first time in forty years in order to help us feel the shock the characters feel as they take in the room and lastly, the forty-year-old corpse contained within.

Stephen King likes to do much the same when characters are heading into danger by adding long, detailed descriptions that pull the tension of a scene taut and deepen in the dread factor when other writers might play it safer by dropping the details and sticking to the rule that pacing should move faster as the character runs headlong into action.

Yet, when we see the experts do it so well, we tend to forget that these guidelines, after all, are there for a reason. For the most part, they are bits of wisdom that writers over time have learned readers react well to. When you go against that, there’s always a risk. Breaking one rule or the other can be a tactical gamble. For writers like King, Faulkner, and Joyce, it seems an effortless gamble. But not every attempt is as effective.

A rather popular YA series that I greatly enjoy follows the POV of one character in third person exclusively, until the tenth book of the series, when we suddenly get an italicized, first person, present tense POV of a completely different character. Sure, the author marks these shifts by making them separate chapters and putting the name of the POV character as a heading, but still, it was jarring the first time I read it. As a writer, I get it. First person, present tense, causes an urgent immediacy that highlights the dangerous, violent and unstable situation the character is in. But really, was the italics necessary? And it’s introduced after nine books of straight 3rd person. Is it something that would lose readers? After sticking through nine books, probably not. I kept reading. But still, it was a little weird, and I’m not altogether sure that the result outweighed the initial annoyance.

The point is, breaking the rules is fine, but as with everything else we writers do, it has to serve the story above all else. It’s good to experiment, to test our craft and expand our use of language, and often enough, for the nuanced writer, the rules can actually get in the way of a good story. But everything has a time and place, and knowing when to break the rules is just as important as how to break them.

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