The SolAARium: Discuss the craft of writing - Alphabetical Index in the 1st Post

cthulhu

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The Yogi said:
I learnt a good rule of thumb for short stories descriptions:"If you at any time have a rifle hanging on the wall, it must be fired before the end of the story!":D

A little extreme, perhaps, but I like it!

I'm sure it's a good 'rule', but personally I hate when everything noted by the character will have a relevance to the story, especially so in movies. It's sooooo predictable. :)
 

The Yogi

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cthulhu said:
I'm sure it's a good 'rule', but personally I hate when everything noted by the character will have a relevance to the story, especially so in movies. It's sooooo predictable. :)

I belive Checov was a little bit more subtle than that, at least I choose to interpret the quote that way. If I was going to place a gun in the way described, I'd give a general description of the room where it hangs, including the paintings on the wall etc just to muddle the issue. Just as in the above mentioned case with the buttons - if the buttons are important, I'd describe the whole outfit in some detail, so the description of the revelevant item isn't singled out.
 

Lord Durham

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Absolutely right. To prevent a Deus Ex Machina to satisfy a plotline it's good form to establish the item(s) used early on in the story. By all means don't center it out. It can be mentioned in passing along with other descriptive articles. The important thing to do is foreshadow it in someway. It's a keystone of writing an effective story.
 

unmerged(34884)

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Ok i see your point. My English isnt that good but foreshadowing means; to show something a little bit first and the actual meaning or relevance later?

Altough i think its a good method to have things mentioned before, to build up a story and let the reader find out the meaning/reason. But when you do this, you should also have random things that dont come back. It shouldnt be about details that will come back, it should be about what is relevant at that time in the story.
 

Lord Durham

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Oranje Verzet said:
Ok i see your point. My English isnt that good but foreshadowing means; to show something a little bit first and the actual meaning or relevance later?

Altough i think its a good method to have things mentioned before, to build up a story and let the reader find out the meaning/reason. But when you do this, you should also have random things that dont come back. It shouldnt be about details that will come back, it should be about what is relevant at that time in the story.
I'm not sure if you're familiar with the term Deus Ex Machina, but it basically means God in a Box. The Greek playwrites used it to tidily wrap up their intricate storylines by having the gods intervene and set things right. That may have worked with the Greeks, but it's poison for today's storyteller. When I get the chance I'll post a set of guidelines I find useful for creating a story.

The important thing to remember is that if your hero is in the fight of his life and mere inches away from death, he can't suddenly find a crossbow lying at his feet. That crossbow must be mentioned at some point earlier, perhaps subtly mixed with a variety of other things.
 
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Storey

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Lord Durham said:
Absolutely right. To prevent a Deus Ex Machina to satisfy a plotline it's good form to establish the item(s) used early on in the story. By all means don't center it out. It can be mentioned in passing along with other descriptive articles. The important thing to do is foreshadow it in someway. It's a keystone of writing an effective story.

Good points LD.

I just wanted to point out that foreshadowing isn't restricted to "things". There was a silent movie made in the twenties and I can't remember its name since I only saw it once. (No I'm not that old. I didn’t see it when it was first shown) :D The opening scene has the protagonist with his girlfriend sitting on a bus looking outside where they see a man dressed up as a clown wearing a sign advertising a store’s merchandise. They both laugh and make fun of him and comment on how he must be a loser to be in that situation. As you can guess the last scene in the movie has our hero doing the same thing, wearing a clown suit and a sign. Funny thing is it symbolized his commitment to recover from the circumstances that drove him from prosperity to poverty. It was a powerful scene.

Joe
 

Sir Humphrey

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How is "dry" writing avoided? I was just pondering this, as it came up, altough everyone has different tastes and perceptions of what this means, is it possible to avoid so called "dry" writing, in that the text is very dry, not neccessarily boring or inelegant but well it just doesn't say "read any more of me". Any thoughts?
 

CatKnight

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I guess that depends on your definition of 'dry' writing. It's probably unavoidable that someone will find your (or mine or anyone's) writing dry, and someone else will find it wonderful.

To ME dry writing tends to have a lot of detail and accomplish absolutely nothing. JRR Tolkien - brilliant writer, one can't argue with the Lord of the Rings, but Tolkien had a tendency to wander.

"And so came Varilance, the chosen, a broadsword three feet long and eight inches wide made of the finest steel from the Mines of Bhaza-Kalum before the raid of the Witch King in 792 S.A. in which the Witch King, had the head of forty-eight ogres, nineteen thousand goblins and seventy ill-tempered men all named Bob, did defeat the dwarves in a nineteen month, three week, two day battle. Varilance was forged in the fires of Tir Agnar, the Fire of Purity, which was held in safety in Rivendell until spirited away by an evil hobbit in 895 S.A. only to fall into a river and promptly go out because the Fire of Purity apparently needed oxygen. Thus passed the Fire of Purity, which in the old tongue is 'Al-rath-shalon' though no one now knows the old tongue, and even if they did they would probably say Al-rith-shalon which means the Flame of Purity and is often mistaken for Tal-rith-shalon, or a woman's virtue. Where were we? Oh yes, Varilance..."

In my book you can get away with a lot of detail if you stick to the point (as my example clearly didn't), and stick some action in there.

"Varilance, the Chosen, forged by dwarves in elven fire flashed in the moonlight as Bob the ill-tempered drew it from its jeweled and gold encrusted scabbard."

Here I find history book type AARs are vulnerable to being dry because...well, most history books ARE dry. I think you're okay in this regard so long as the reader knows you're going somewhere with this paragraph, you give them a reason to care what happens, and you'll get there in short order. Mettermrck's 'Advantages' was good at this, as was Machiavellians' '54-40'. On the other hand, I wouldn't be surprised to hear 'Advantages' for example was more popular with Americans than Europeans, because Mett concentrated on the American political process and naturally we'd be more curious about that. I expect Draco Rexus' "For King and Country" to develop a British following for the same reason.

For example I don't WANT to hear about the political machinations of your six parties unless 1) the upcoming election's volatile, 2) something unusual happens like an assassination, or 3) it's bad news if one of the parties wins. THEN it's interesting. Tell me enough about the parties to care who wins and I'll follow you. If I can't tell the difference between the French Democratic Party, the French Socialist Party, the French Communist Party, and the French Peoples Republican Party then I really don't care who wins and I can pretty much skip anything about this election. In fact I'd probably start rooting for the French Fascist Party just for variety.
 

unmerged(34884)

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Indeed then it wouldnt give much reason to follow it.

Well like is said before i think dry writing is very personal and can differ quite a lot from person to person. A book is much easier to read than an AAR for me and therefore i dont mind if a book has to much details. However the AARs are more just short stories i follow as i wander around the forums. If an AAR has too much details and especially in those very long sentences than im probably lost. I do apreciate a good story with a well build background, but the story must have some red line that i can clearly follow. Or some connection to a bigger picture. I think you have to help the reader sometimes to keep track of the story and dont loose the reader in side stories.
 

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I think 'dry' writing is an indication that the writer hasn't thought the matter through (or alternately that he's thought it through too much.)

Runon sentences hip deep in sub-clauses, or excessively long paragraphs are great ways to lose me. Break them up! Better, condense them. I don't always reach this ideal, but theoretically the less said while still making your point...the better.
 

coz1

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CatKnight said:
I think 'dry' writing is an indication that the writer hasn't thought the matter through (or alternately that he's thought it through too much.)

Runon sentences hip deep in sub-clauses, or excessively long paragraphs are great ways to lose me. Break them up! Better, condense them. I don't always reach this ideal, but theoretically the less said while still making your point...the better.
I'd agree with that completely. Sometimes, trying to add too much information in one post also leads to dryness as you are trying to go too fast and not thinking of the best way to present each episode. Instead, they all get pushed into one large mish-mash that starts reading like a college textbook. :wacko: That happens more with history style than it does with character driven stuff, but it can happen in both places.

And certainly in log-style - "I did this" and "I did that" can get old very quickly if there isn't anything added to spice it up (humor, an odd character moment as Farq does, or some such.)
 

Lord Durham

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Short, crisp sentences utilising active voice will keep the reader's attention longer than verbose, winding passages that eventually drift off into oblivion.....
 

Lord Durham

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Even as this forum deals with a wide variety of writing styles and AAR types, there can be striking similarities between what is produced here and what ends up in print in the form of short stories and novels--especially if a writAAR chooses a narrative or serial approach to their tale.

I thought I would list some basics for plot development, guidelines I use while writing. Of course, they will no doubt be of use to a narrow segment of AARland, but they are generic enough that any one could utilize certain elements to some extent.

Main Characters – Introduce them by name as soon as possible. The reader generally latches onto the first name or two as the key individuals in your story. Having the reader identify with someone who is not pivotal can quickly take them out of the tale (“Hey! I thought he was the hero”).

Hero and Villain – Clearly establish who is who so the reader can create an emotional tie. By the same token, not all heroes are squeaky clean, as not all villains are diabolical bastards. Bottom line, the reader should invest his emotions into the central figure(s).

Foreshadow the Ending – This has been discussed, and is vitally important to maintain a sense of realism, as opposed to creating a climax that leaves the reader scratching his head (“Hey! Where did that meat cleaver come from?”).

What’s at Stake? – This is a key part of your plotting. It sets the stage of the story and gives your hero a challenge to overcome. The sooner it’s introduced the better. (“Hey! Is there a point to all this walking around?”)

Setting – It may sound like a no-brainer, but a believable setting can be as important as believable characters. You don’t want a basketball court in the middle of 15th century Florence. The setting is also important for establishing conflict. Conflict must make sense to the reader, while at the same time fitting with the era portrayed (“Hey! How long has that dromon been equipped with GPS?”)

Tone of the Story – Tone is important, and should be established early. Is the story humourous or tragic, dour or upbeat? This goes back to emotional investment by the reader. If the reader believes he is reading some dark horror story, and the lead character starts cracking one-liners on page 3, then chances are you’ve lost this person.

Develop Your Story Through Scenes – What, you ask? Quite simply, a well-developed scene will advance your characters and the plotline through action and description, as opposed to using dry exposition.

Develop Your Characters Through Action and Dialogue – Show us how your characters interact with those around them, don’t tell us. This includes having your character grow as a person. Good stories place the hero in emotional conflict with himself, will take him through periods of doubt and despair (most notably near the climax, when all seems lost), and ultimately will have him achieve success and resolution. Ideally, the character should learn and grow from the experience.

Point-of-View – Tell the story from the POV of one person. Shifting POV’s is distracting and confusing.

Climax – Key ingredient. The climax has to be important, dramatic and final. This is what the story is all about.

Resolution – This is where you wrap up the story, tie up the loose ends and sail off into the sunset. Or into hell. Your choice…
 

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I read through this thread and looked at all the things that you have to think about when writing a story. The solAARium discusses a lot of these topics in great detail, which is all great and very detailed, surely helping in writing stories.

But it got me wondering. As a beginning writer should you begin with such a detailed outline and plan before you start, or should you just try and write so you can learn from your mistakes? Both could work in the end, but what will be more effective?

Especially interesting, how did you personally learn the craft?
 

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Point-of-View – Tell the story from the POV of one person. Shifting POV’s is distracting and confusing.

This is the only one I disagree with. George RR Martin uses multiple POVs masterfully, and I for one find it only enhances my immersion in the story, not distracts from it. However, I would agree to the extent that sometimes Im wanting to skip through some characters' POV chapters to get to the ones I really love. :D
 

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(Funny I should happen in here just when there's new SolAARium action...)

I wonder, LD, if it's possible to square your feelings about POV with the Free Company. It's not a regular story, as we can readily agree, but while it may be atypical in terms of what gets published, I don't think it's necessarily less effective because of the shifting POVs. In fact, I was just thinking this morning that one of the most effective sequences in all the FC books was the Battle of the Breach precisely because it's one central event -- the breach -- to which we get to see every character react.
 

Lord Durham

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Let me clarify. POV from different characters in seperate chapters is fine. I'm referring to shifting POVs in the same chapter to the extent that you don't know who the story is supposed to be about.

The FC is a different kettle of fish because it was a collaborative project, and the POV had no choice but to shift.
 

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Lord Durham said:
Resolution – This is where you wrap up the story, tie up the loose ends and sail off into the sunset. Or into hell. Your choice…
I just found back the lines from Joe Haldeman (a SciFi writer who is teaching how to write SciFi at the MIT) I was willing to share:

He says the main mistakes he sees coming back time and again as a teacher are, either that the story becomes unresolvable by any other mean than a mediocre twist at the very end (probably involving Deux Ex Machina), or after the few first pages everybody can guess how everything will end already.

Cat
 
Mar 14, 2003
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For telling:

Adam stared wide-eyed at the scene playing out before him. Soldiers of the local lord kept the gathering crowd at bay, as each man, woman and child jostled for a better view of the upcoming execution. Adam's father, Owen stood tied to a thick post in the middle of the square, for all to see.

The above passage is telling rather showing right?
 
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The_Hawk

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The way I was taught, that's showing. Por ejemplo:

Showing:

Tears welled in Adam's eyes as the lord's men shoved through the crowds with bundles of sticks held high. Owen struggled against his bonds, gnashing his teeth as though he could bite through the ropes that bound him securely to his pyre. The crowd screamed in delight, knowing that at last they would have vengeance for the death of their beloved Jones.

Telling:

Adam was sad, knowing what would come next. His father struggled uselessly, clearly wanting to escape the punishment ordered for him for the murder of Jones.

The whole thing is rather a matter of degrees and circumstance, and it turns on what the purpose of the passage is. LD's "Sins" example in the first post here makes the point well; the purpose of that passage is to describe Captain, not to advance the story. Showing v. telling becomes an issue in description (working Captain's virtues into his conversation with Bloomfielde rather than just explicating them; or describing the physical results of an emotion, e.g. Adam's sadness, rather than just telling the reader that a character is feeling a certain way.) It is less of an issue when you're trying to actually advance the story by way of action ("Owen struggled.") It's somewhere in between when you're trying to flesh out other details that may or may not have been explored elsewhere (Owen is going to the stake for the murder of Jones.)