The weekend seminar was very entertaining and also quite helpful, at least in places. ( Read more... )
foregrounding a flashback A technique used in extended flashback in a past tense narrative, whereby the "hads" are quietly dropped several clauses past the onset of the flashback, not used for its duration, and re-employed a clause or two from story's return to its major timeline. Certain kinds of verbs, typically those with vague or imprecise relationships to time (such as linking verbs), function better than others for these "temporal pivots." When you foreground a flashback, you literally bring it forward to the temporal level of the story's major timeline; this allows for less cumbersome verbal structures (no "hads") and draws the reader more deeply into the moment. For more on verbs and their relationship to time, go to English 301, Lesson #6: The Habit of the Tale.
rule of three #2 (cronin) A rule, derived from rule of three #1, that anything important, interesting and useful in your story must appear or happen a minimum of three times. Of course, you don't want your story to be built of obvious triangles of three; the repetitions need to be veiled. Let's say your story involves having a baby. One of the metaphors you use along the way is an Easter egg--suggestive of birth, springtime, the pleasure of opening something up to see what's inside. Fine. Do you need to write a story about an Easter egg hunt? Of course not. (Though it's not the worst idea). Consider: a fortune cookie; a jewelry box; a room with a locked door. Any of these things could be deployed in the story to create a narrative echo and do the same kind of work. How about a moment when somebody goes gets down on his hands and knees to look under the sofa for a lost key? This could echo an earlier moment, a childhood memory, of hunting in the grass for eggs. Typically, the rule of three #2 is a good second draft tool; you look at the story you've made, and the psychological material you've made it with, and you can identify patterns of imagery that your unconscious mind has installed. Conscious awareness then allows you to adjust, amplify, and retool these patterns. For more, see narrative echo and go to Lesson #7: The Cosmology of the Tale.
(Justin Cronin teaches Creative Writing at Rice University)
Why, oh, why didn't I find his site when I started to prepare my course?
*goes back to reading*
ETA: His course guidelines are brilliant:
Do's and dont's: Do befriend the other students in the class; don't view them as competitors. Do take chances with your writing; don't assume you know this stuff already. Do say what's on your mind in class; don't be tactless. Do write for pleasure; don't have so much fun that nobody else will. Do pay attention to assigned lengths; don't obsess on the word count. Do write ahead; don't write at the last minute, because you never know when the muse will show up. Do write work that feels honest; don't write work that's just psychotherapy. Do think of yourself as an artist; don't drink too much, or fill your pockets with rocks and jump in the river, or wear your beret to bed.
Ursula K. leGuin's Steering the Craft turned out to be a very interesting read with a handful of very useful exercises. I find her tone condescending, and I would have liked to see more modern examples, but on the whole the book is worth reading. I find 15 bucks a little expensive for such a slim book. I read the University's copy. I may order one for myself eventually, or I may just do the evil thing and photocopy it. If I photocopy, I feel more inclined to mark certain sections...
I watched House 2.09 and Bones 1.02 today. I'm not going to give a lot away, but I guess I better use spoiler cuts anyway. ( Snippety-snip )
Recommendation: Witing Fiction by Gotham Writer's Workshop , a collection of essays. I am half-way through and find the book very useful. Good essays on Plot and POV, also contains a reprint of the famous short story Cathedral and a very helpful analysis of the story. Nothing mind-blowingly new, but well-phrased stuff. Also gives the reader step-by-step writing assignments.
Please please please give me recs. Or anti-recs. Recs for books on screenplay-writing and books on poetry would not go amiss either. *makes puppy eyes*
Mistakes in Writing - by Roger McBride Allen
Turkey City Lexicon - by Lewis Shiner & Bruce Sterling
- scroll down to the glossary. Fun.
Murder Your Darlings - by James Patrick Kelley
- a short essay on how to trim excess fat off a story which I found via this list of essays provided by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Inc.
You Can Write A Novel by James V. Smith Jr.
Cincinatti 1998 - 138 pages - US $12.99
The full rec can be found here. It's also listed among my memories.
The Marshall Plan for Novel Writing by Evan Marshall
A 16-step program guaranteed to take you from idea to completed manuscript.
Cincinatti 2001 - 242 pages - US $16.99
This is the second book I bought during my trip to Florida. I read it in one go, so it's not heavy reading. Did I like it? No. Did I find it useful? Yes. This book offers a Painting-by-numbers approach to writing that I find annoying. It is very focussed on teaching writers to stay within the confines of genre and cliché. The examples made me cringe because not one of the suggested plots or characters did anything for me. HOWEVER, it seems to me that Marshall's 'recipe' is VERY useful if you know how to add a certain spark to it.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. I should actually tell you what Marshall's recipe is like:
He maintains that a good story needs a crisis. Think of a crisis, then check if it captures your imagination. If it doesn't, then make it bigger, make it worse, change elements like locale or combine with another crisis. This is the idea that gets expanded into a novel. The lead character sets a goal which must meet four criteria: lead has to gain ossession or relief, suffers terrible consequences if he fails, has a worthy motivation (love, honor, justice...), and fights tremendous odds. - Pearls of wisdom? Maybe not, but there is a certain common sense in this. Most fanifc is weakly plotted because the authors rely on the characters to carry the story. So, a few lessons in other approaches to storytelling can only be beneficial.
Marshall's chapter on character development is uninspired, but Mutant Enemy taught us a lot about characterization. We have no real deficite there. Therefore it doesn't matter that Marshall's short chapter does not offer new insight.
Marshall's book becomes interesting in Part 2: Your Complete Guide to Plotting. He differentiates between action scenes (not necessarily fight scenes, just scenes in which something happens) and reaction scenes (reflection). Scenes are not to be confused with chapters. He's talking about logical segments. An action scene starts with a goal, has a small crisis in the middle, and usually ends with a (small) failure which results in a new preliminary goal for the character. A momentous failure is followed by a reaction scene, in which goals are re-evaluated, in which the character moves from emotional reaction to rational decision making. Afterwards you write another action scene. Action scenes are more frequent than reaction scenes.
The idea that a novel is like a string of failures is worth mentioning. Marshall does not mean momentous failures, just small ones, like the failure to get a certain information, or - once the info has been acquired - the realization that one answer gives rise to two new questions, or the inability to communicate. This is one of the lessons I've taken out of this book, something I will try to apply to my original fantasy novel.
Marshall explains in detail how to structure and arrange action and reaction scenes, how to weave sub-plots and where to place pivotal moments. Like I said, it's a Painting-by-numbers approach. But I find using it liberating, because it frees me from worries about plot. I can sit down, outline merrily away, write summaries for scenes and I'm forced to make decisions now, before writing, and putting these decisions on paper. For people like me, who start writing stories with only a vague destination in their mind but no detailed plan, this approach is extremely helpful.
Like I said, I don't like this book because it disenchants the process of writing, but it gives you a good set of crutches, enabling you to plan and outline a plot for a novel-length story. It's up to the author to put flesh on these solid bones and make something out of it that's prettier than the examples given in the book (*shudders at the memory*).
I'm glad I bought it and I'm using it dilligently (but not religiously). I just have to make sure it doesn't smother my creativity and instinct.
You Can Write A Novel by James V. Smith Jr.
Cincinatti 1998 - 138 pages - US $12.99
I bought this because it was thin, looked decently structured and because it was relatively cheap. I read it in one go and found it quite helpful.
It's not highbrow. More like a cookbook (but one without the measurements). At the beginning there's a questionaire or checklist where you can test the saleability of your novel. Smith offers a formula that's really just a rule of the thumb, nothing I'd take seriously, but it points out in a very un-lecturer-like manner things that should be obious but aren't necessarily. Like that heros are supposed to be heroic and that villians need to be powerful. Banal? Yes, but still true if you want to break into mass market writing. We can't all be James Joyce. I for one wouldn't want to be.
Anyway, throughout his little course, Smith lists 40 cardinal rules, some of which may sound trivial, but bear repeating: Like Rule #1: Never be boring, not for one scene, paragraph, sentence or word.
Most of Smith's tips revolve around motivation strategies. Visualize the book you want to publish, find a good title, create a good work atmosphere, organize your character info, collect images from magazines so you have faces ready to use.... There are many tips like that in this book.
Smith also advises the would-be writer to never start writing unless she has a specific ending in mind (oh, that's so my weakness). In fact, he suggests that you write the climactic showdown first (of course it will be re-written eventually, but still, one should know where the story is heading towards). This suggestion is, of course, quite blasphemous, because other books on creative writing usually suggest that you start with section one and work sequentially.
Smith offers useful ideas on how to organize preliminary work, but he stresses that writers should work on the novel itself and not long, drawn-out treatises or character profiles. Never stifle your spontaneity, the author tells us.
All in all I found the book useful and an easy read, especially in lieu of its affordability. If you want to write your first novel, you might consider giving Smith's technique/strategy a shot. It's not quite Writing by Numbers (that's the other book I bought, which I will be reviewing tomorrow), but one way of tackling the long and complicated process of novel writing. I won't use his approach, but I still got a lot out of the book (especially since I am inclined to follow a certain rule, if it is listed in both my novel writing books).
And since I don't regret buying or reading it, I feel I can recommend it, even though it teaches you nothing about metaphors and ME-style storytelling. In that respect following the BtVS storylines is unsurpassed.