Week 2 Update + Plans for Week 3

This week went smoother than the last, as I actually took notes from the Course and the Craft Book in order to write this post more eficiently, though I wish I had done the same with the Craft Element. Anyway, I’m happy with my improvements! This week is also the last one before me classes start, so I’ll need, more than ever, to organize myself to not only meet my goals but also balance them with my academic responsibilities.

Week 2 Update

Prompts: The prompts I use this week were:

  • You’re a knight travelling the far lands. The last people of a once great kingdom house themselves in a courtyard of rubble at the foot of their ruined castle [x]
  • You’ve been hired as a professional cleaner for the most powerful wizard in the world… but when you arrive at his house, you discover that he’s more of an old hook than people let on, and he hasn’t cleaned his house in DECADES [x]

I wrote 4403 words this week, 1998 words in the first prompt and 2045 words in the second! So far, this was the week I wrote most, and the first time I passed the 2000 words mark. I hope to continue working on writing longer stories.

Craft Book: Chapters 3 and 4 dealt with the creation of First Paragraphs and the art of Suspense, respectively.

The First Paragraphs are what lure readers to the story or novel and make them want to read it. They should establish the genre and tone of the story, present the author’s style, establish the main character, conflict and setting and, consequently, create expectations for the story. More importantly, though, as the author explains, the First Paragraphs must hook the reader into reading the story, creating the necessary interest for the reader to continue instead of abandoning ship. This is done by arousing the reader’s curiosity for a character, presenting an interesting setting, by shocking or surprising the reader, and/or by presenting a mystery.

Suspense, a feature of thrillers and mystery novels, and something that I absolutely want to learn to write, can be created in various ways:

  • presenting an imminent danger;
  • making fears come true;
  • generating conflict, either Internal (Alice vs Alice), Interpersonal (Alice vs Bob), and/or External (Alice vs Nature), and a type of conflict that can be created is the crucible, in which characters have a confrontation in a limited space or are put in a situation they can’t abandon;
  • having the characters make a critical choice;
  • through surprise, taking into account that good surprises help the character (though one should always be careful not to make them too convenient) and bad surprises generate conflict and tension, and that the surprise must always be foreshadowed, though not too obviously, so as to feel plausible and not like an asspull;
  • adding mystery (as a side note, the author explained the difference between suspense, in which the questions are answered in the future, and mystery, in which they are answered in the past).

The actual writing of suspense is done by switching between short sentences and quick dialog to speed up the story’s pace, and longer sentences to slow it down. You should also use action verbs, and avoid using too many exclamations and ellipsis. Ending chapters in cliffhangers and tense situations also help generate suspense, forcing the reader to immediately turn to the next chapter. If you want to turn up the tension even more, instead of solving that situation right away, have the following chapter deal with another plotline.

Course: This week’s theme was Details. Details in Description must be significant and specific, in order to present a mood and a clear meaning. Details are going to make people care about the story, even specific ones, because they help them visualize what you’re trying to tell them. It’s through the specific that you are able to reach a universal understanding.

Plans for Week 3

I hope to keep going like I did this week, and balance it with uni. For now, though, all I can do is go through the week and, in the end, see what I need to change during this sememster.

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Character Description | Writing Craft Element

writing-craft-elements-1

This month’s first Craft Element is Character Description, which I decided to tackle separately from Setting Description, not only because I felt that the first Writing Craft Elements post was getting a bit long, but also because describing characters has specific characteristics. Still, all the things that were mentioned in that post apply here. While researching, it also occurred to me that maybe this would be approached more appropriately if I had spoken about Character Creation first, but since Planning is the next Writing Craft Element I figure it’s not going to be that bad.

My prefered way to describe characters is by describing them while they’re in motion or performing some sort of task, since it not only lets me ‘describe on the go’, but also reveal other characteristics that do not relate to physical appearance. Even if the character is just sitting, maybe waiting for something, there’s still a lot to be said in terms of body language and the character’s thoughts, not only of the current situation, but also of the surrounding space. Sometimes even have them looking at a mirror or other reflective surface to assess themselves, like I did in a character description for a writing course I did a while back, where a character adjusted a tag on her blazer that revealed not only her name but also her job.

As when describing space or actions, describing a character can’t be just a laundry list of characteristics, or else the reader will be left with a generic– and thus unremarkable– character, or even a bunch of meaningless traits. Be specific (‘blazer’ does provide a different mental image than simply ‘jacket’), choose important details that reveal character.

Even the spaces that a character inhabits and the objects they use can reveal traits, not needing for you to tell the readers directly. Let’s return to Alice’s room: if she has posters of her favourite rock bands on the wall, but still has stuffed animals on her bed, then that tells us something about her age and interests. And it’s never too much to stress how much a character’s thoughts and the way they look at the world are important to characterization.

In the end, we come back to Show, don’t Tell. Don’t tell us the character is nervous, show us through body language and their thoughts. Don’t say a character is kind hearted, show a situation that showcases it. Don’t say that a character is beautiful, describe them in a way that makes us fall in love.


Other Links

Now Novel, Describing characters: How to describe faces imaginatively, http://www.nownovel.com/blog/talking-character-face/

Body Language Cheat Sheet (couldn’t find the original source!), http://indulgy.com/post/THeGY1PhH2/body-language-cheat-sheet

Writers Write, Body Language Reference Sheet, http://writerswrite.co.za/body-language-reference-sheet

Week 1 Update + Plans for Week 2

A week has passed in this new month, and I’m still adapting to my new routine. Since I had to buy a new phone this weekend, I’ve been looking at productivity apps in order to better organize myself, since visualizing the tasks I need to do helps me (I just need to actually stick to them). I did achieve all the goals I set out, though I still need to work on taking notes on the Craft Book and the Writing Course I’m taking this month, so that writing this post takes less time and becomes easier.

Week 1 Update

Prompts: This week the prompts were:

This week, I wrote 2918 words, 1117 for the first prompt and 1801 for the second! Just now I was building some graphs to compare my wordcounts for January and February, both on a weekly and monthly basis, and realized that I wrote a bit less this week than on the first week of January. I did this more due to curiosity than anything else, but hopefully, as I keep adding to these graphs throughout the year, I’ll be able to draw some conclusions based on these comparisons, gain some hindsight on how much I write and when, and improve where I feel the need to do so.

Craft Book: Read two chapters of Introdução à Escrita Criativa [Introduction to Creative Writing]. The first chapter is an introduction to the book and focuses on Creative Writing itself, the way it’s taught, and common misconceptions about the craft of writing and Creative Writing workshops and classes. To me, the most crucial point that this chapter makes is that it’s always important to learn the craft, no matter how much talent you have. After all, what’s the use of talent if you don’t know how to use it? Creative Writing classes, workshops, and courses have existed for over a century, and some famous writers took part in them. The ones who didn’t would correspond with other writers, or meet in cafés and other social spaces in order to discuss literature.

The second chapter reinforces the idea that talent is not enough to be a writer– hard work, discipline, knowledge of the craft, the world and even self-knowledge are fundamental. Writers must be determined to research and know about the world and people that surround them, even traveling to the places where the story takes place. They must also be disciplined, create a writing routine and not be limited by the comings and goings of their muses. And it’s always important to remain humble, for being a writer is a life long process of learning that never ends, and that what we consider to be good now might not be in few years. We must learn with those who are greater than us, and from our own mistakes.

Creative Writing Course: The first week of Creative Writing: The Craft of Setting and Description concerned itself with persuasiveness, or the need for the story to be convincing enough for the readers to suspend their disbelief in order to enjoy a story. After all, a story needs to convince us that it’s real, no matter how fantastical its plot is. This is possible if the story is told in an engaging way, by describing scenes vividly and having characters interacting with and being influenced by their setting.

Plans for Week 2

This week I will be looking into improving my plan with better organization, as I mentioned in the introduction. Week 2 will also be when I’m publishing my Writing Craft Element post dedicated to Character Description.

Have a nice day!

 

Structure, Showing, Description and Setting | Writing Craft Elements

So, here we are! These are the Craft Elements I researched during January and decided to write a post on this week. This is mostly supposed to be a summary of the information I found, not only for myself but for anyone who might be interested. There will be links to other sites, where people explain things better than I can, in each section, and a list of other sources at the end that I also found useful or interesting (and because research is a too good excuse to procrastinate, might as well have a place where it has already been done).

This post is of a more general nature, as I’ll be researching Elements several times and focusing on different aspects each time, depending on my interests/needs. If anyone wants to suggest any, leave a comment!

writing-craft-elements

Story Form and Structure

Stories, like all things, have a shape. This shape is defined by the story’s plot– what happens in it, the sequence of events from the Exposition to the Resolution to everything in between. A story’s structure is also often defined by the story’s genre and form (for example, an epic sci-fi romance novel will naturally be different from a psychological mystery short story).

It’s always important to have in mind, however, that we should always find what works for a specific story, and not try to fit it into a mold that might not fit.

Still, there are elements that most, if not all, people agree should be present in a story. These can be summed up nicely in the Three-Act Structure, which is the simplest structure you can find. Some argue that it’s too simple.

And it’s not hard to see why– a story isn’t just a rise-and-fall sequence. Or, rather, isn’t just one rise-and-fall sequence, at least in a longer work. Before reaching their goal, characters must go through a journey that not only prepares them for it, but also turns them into better people. During the rise, the characters must also fall.

This structure also implies that the Exposition is the beginning of the story, which ignores a favorite literary device of mine, in media res. In fact, I really enjoy non-linear storytelling in general because, when done right, it allows to tell normally overbearing stories in an interesting, refreshing way.

Basically, there are a lot of perspectives on story structure. Some defend Four Acts instead of Three. Not to mention the numerous other structures I obviously missed. Sometimes, I feel a bit overwhelmed by all this, because my ultimate goal is to learn and grow as a writer. However, since I don’t have a guide, the more I read and research the more the different sources seem to clash with each other.

So now, I’m going to create a rule for myself, and to others who feel the same way. Instead of focusing on trying to fit a story into a specific structure, first make sure to define each element.

Define your Beginning, Middle, and End. Figure out the turning points between each part. Then, plan each part as needed. Which, I know, is pretty vague. When I plan my stories, I don’t usually put a lot of detail into it, because I know I’ll deviate from the plan. I’m by no means an expert in these things, which is why I’m going to make a post about Planning nest month.

A concept just occurred to me– throw those structures out the window. Or rather, don’t. Take the structures, study them, understand why they are used. Then, cut them into pieces and mix-and-match their parts to suit your needs. Everything between the Three Acts and the turning points between them becomes a collage, as long as it’s a collage that makes sense not only structurally but also in terms of narrative.

It’s also worth noting that, in a story, there’s an element that dominates the others and, as such, determines the story’s structure. Before anything else, determine which element matters most.

Show and Tell

“Show, don’t Tell” is one of those Writing Maxims that get thrown around and that everyone has to be aware of. But what does it mean, really?

It means that, instead of saying “Alice went to her room and retrieved the book”, you should show it– “Alice left the living room and climbed the old staircase, making sure her feet didn’t land on the noisy steps. She dashed to her room and looked around, finding the leather-bound book on top of her bed. She walked to it and picked it up, securing it firmly against her chest with her hand and arm before dashing back downstairs.”

However, this doesn’t mean that there’s no use for Tell. If the book is important to the story but the process of getting it isn’t, or if she isn’t a central character, then there isn’t a need to show Alice getting the book. If Alice is the story/scene’s POV character, or if she encounters a situation which is critical to the story, then Showing is fundamental.

Showing is what lets readers visualize the story and emerge in it. Telling lets you quickly tell readers important facts without overbearing them. In real life, when you go to, say, a store and want to tell your friend about it, do you describe your journey to the store in detail, even if nothing particularly interesting happens, or do you just skip to the part where you’re already in the store? Use Telling as a connection between scenes that need Showing, and you can even make Telling evocative with just the enough amount of details.

Description

Description is closely tied to “Show, don’t Tell” and, as I’ve mentioned before, I consider it one of my weak spots in writing. (This section focuses on Scene Description. I’m planning on talking about Character Description in the future.)

The reason why I think this is because, one one hand, I feel that sometimes I don’t describe as much as I think I should and, on the other hand, I’m afraid of adding too much detail. I don’t want to come out as bland, but also not as too flowery. I don’t want to stall the plot with too much description. Maybe it’s just me being insecure, since I never recieved feedback on this (though the texts I’ve had reviewed were never much longer than 500 words), but it’s never bad to learn and improve.

In my last week’s post, I talked about an exercise I learned on planning and writing description. I’d like to complement this with the notion that description is affected by the point-of-view. What would the character notice? What would the character feel? Which details in Alice’s room would let the reader know more about her? How would the description of a richly decorated mansion be affected by the view of a man who never had much, versus of that of the owner? The description must also be vivid and specific.

Description is where “Show, don’t Tell” comes into play. “The house was imposing” may be a description, but it isn’t particularly interesting. “The house had the tendency of making newcomers stare in admiration at its size, some in fear that they would get lost among the rooms behind the countless, large windows” transmits the idea that the house is ‘impressive in size’. Still, it’s always important to not overdo it, like I feel I did with this example.

There are many uses for Description, from setting the story or scene’s atmosphere to highlighting something in particular. It’s also an opportunity to use Symbolism, which I’m planning on talking about in the future.

A question still remains, though– how much Description is enough? Well, it depends on the story and its pace. If you describe in detail during a very action-oriented scene, then the pace will be lost. If you don’t describe at all, then the reader will be lost. What I’ve started doing is just write out the story and later add or expand description where necessary.

Setting

Setting answers the “Where?” and “When?” of your story and is one of its three main elements. Setting influences both plot, since it defines what is possible and expectations for the story, and characters, who, like people, are shaped by the enviornment they live in.

There’s a lot to talk about when it comes to Setting, I’m not even sure how to begin. If I’m writing a short story, chances are that Setting will come naturally once I get an idea of what to write, except for any elements that I feel the need to research. Longer works, however, demand more extensive planning in order for the Setting to feel realistic and alive. Alice may live in a town, but what kind of town? Industrial? Fishing? And in which time period? What exists beyond the town, and how does it influence it?

Building your Setting requires a lot of research, especially when writing stories in other time periods, countries, or worlds. This is important whether the story takes place in a fishing town in the 19th century, Contemporary New York, or a colony in another planet. This also applies to culture and social customs and norms.

But say, imagine you already have all the necessary details for your Setting and want to start writing. How do you introduce Setting?

If I’m adopting a third person POV, I generally start from the general to the specific, the specific being the main character– show the reader the town, then focus on Alice’s actions at the moment. If I’m adopting the main character’s POV, I introduce it through their eyes– if Alice is, say, on the way to school, I’ll describe the town as she walks. And of course, it’s important not to reveal everything in one go. Let the story gradually reveal the Setting, let the Characters and readers explore it.


Other Sources

Story Form and Structure

Eva Deverell, “The Fool’s Journey”, http://www.eadeverell.com/the-fools-journey/

Ingrid Sundberg, “What is Arch Plot and Classic Design”, http://ingridsundberg.com/2013/06/05/what-is-arch-plot-and-classic-design/

Ingrid Sundberg, “Plot vs Structure”, http://ingridsundberg.com/2013/06/17/plot-vs-structure/

Narrative First, “Accurate Story Structure Ain’t Easy”, http://narrativefirst.com/articles/accurate-story-structure-aint-easy

Narrative First, “Four Acts not Three”, http://narrativefirst.com/articles/four-acts-not-three

Narrative First, “Plot Points and the Inciting Incident”, http://narrativefirst.com/articles/plot-points-and-the-inciting-incident

Philip Brewer, “Story Structure in Short Stories”, https://www.philipbrewer.net/story-structure-in-short-stories/

 

Story Board, “That Narrative Structures”, http://www.storyboardthat.com/articles/e/narrative-structures

Janice Hardy, “Form Fitting”, http://blog.janicehardy.com/2010/01/form-fitting.html

 

Show and Tell

Annie Jackson, “Show don’t Tell”, http://anniejacksonbooks.com/show-dont-tell/

Helping Writers Become Authors, “Show and Tell”, http://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/show-and-tell/#

Mandy Wallace, “Writers Balancing Show don’t Tell”, http://mandywallace.com/writers-balancing-show-dont-tell/

She’s Novel, “Balance Show don’t Tell”, https://www.shesnovel.com/blog/balance-show-dont-tell/

Writer’s Digest, “Showing and Telling in your Writing”, http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/there-are-no-rules/showing-vs-telling-in-your-writing

Description

Write to Done, “How to Write Better Descriptions”, http://writetodone.com/how-to-write-better-descriptions/

Writer’s Digest, “How to Write Vivid Descriptions”, http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/guide-to-literary-agents/how-to-write-vivid-descriptions

Writing World, “The Art of Description”, http://www.writing-world.com/fiction/description.shtml

Setting

Novel Writing Help, “Building Your Story’s Setting”, http://www.novel-writing-help.com/story-setting.html

 

 

Week 3 Update + Plans for Week 4

This week saw my motivation drop a bit, as real life made itself un-ignorable and I lacked the mood to properly deal with it, and I had some responsibilities that made me reorganize my time and put off some things for longer than intended. Still, I managed to achieve almost all the goals for the week, and I’m determined to continue my goal of writing on this blog during this year, no matter what!

Week 3 Update

Novel: Read 5 chapters of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Now the story is shifting from Tom’s day to day to the novel’s main conflict.

Short Stories: Read two short stories, “Brandina ou o Silêncio dos Produtos” [Brandina or the Silence of the Products] and “Últimas Notícias” [Latest News]. Something I neglected saying about this book is that it’s divided into 4 parts, and it’s clear why: the stories this week were significantly shorter than those in the first part (no longer than three pages) and there’s distinct shift of tone, at least in these two stories, though right now I’m not finding the words to describe it. Still about the book’s structure, the last part is composed by travelling stories and is entitled “Viagens que não fiz” [Travels I didn’t make].

Prompts: My promts for this week were:

  • Your character goes on a camping trip with her friend and the friend’s boyfriend.  In the middle of the night, she wakes up in the dark tent and feels a hand on her arm.  She touches the hand — it’s her friend’s.  Then the friend’s finger starts moving over her arm, and your character realizes that she’s drawing the shape of letters, that she’s trying to tell her something…
  • Write a story about a meeting between two characters.  Halfway through the story, switch from one character’s point of view to the other’s.  Have the meaning of the meeting change depending on whose point of view it’s told from.

This week, I wrote a total of 2297 words! The first ended up being 954 words, while the second had 1343. Although my self-imposed minimum for each story is 500 words, I was a bit disappointed at how short the first story was. I have to admit that I was a bit distracted and couldn’t really concentrate on writing it, my inspiration had escaped me. Still, I presevered and wrote, and that’s what really matters. Besides, short stories come in all lengths, and this one can always pass the 1000-word mark during editing.

Craft Book: I also didn’t talk about the structure of A Field Guide to you Imagination, which is important in order to understand the book’s goal. It’s divided into two parts, “Your Imagination & You” and “Your Imagination & Your Writing”, the first one dedicated to imagination in our day to day lives and the second focusing on the role of imagination in writing. This week I started part two.

The first exercises are dedicated to imagination itself, how it looks like and how to travel in it. My imagination shifts in space, depending on whatever it’s obsessed about at the moment. It can be a place in some book I’ve read/movie or show I’ve seen/podcast I’ve heard, or a place I imagined from scratch. Hell, sometimes it’s even a place my imagination created in said book/show/movie/podcast. All that matters is it’s where my characters (and characters of those books/shows/etc) hang out, and from there they go to other places to have their adventures when I’m day dreaming. I don’t directly interact with them, though you could say I can control them (though they do seem to have a mind of their own most of the time). I may have a character that represents me, but it’s an entity separated from who I am.

An interesting thing mentioned in this exercise is the “mind palace”, which I have been really curious on trying. It would at the very least help me with studying, haha.

Craft Element: Remember how I said I had “managed to achieve almost all the goals for the week”? Yeah, here’s where the “almost” comes in. Due to ~reasons, I didn’t research my weekly Craft Element, which was Description. This is something that I really should research and study, because I’m often at a loss on how much I should describe and how to do it. Characters I’m usually ok with, I’ve even had people giving me good feedback on how I manage to blend the narration with the character’s description (like physically describing a character while it performs a task). Describing space is something I have more of an issue with, because it often involves interrupting the narration and I’m not always sure about how much description is truly necessary. Basically, my fear is over-describing something, and this ends up with me sometimes not describing at all.

This reminds me of something I learned in an English class this semester, which was to plan the description before writing it. My teacher showed us a water bottle and asked us to write ten sentences about it, five on its physical appearance and five thoughts/abstract sentences. Then we had to bring them all together into something cohesive, a descriptive text that not only described the water bottle but also the thoughts it provoked in us, which would then add flavor to the text. I swear that there are few things in my life that clicked in my brain the way this did. It had never occured to me to plan description. Suddenly, I had something that would help me add description to my narration without overwhelming me with doubt. I’ve yet to apply this to my writing, I admit, but now that I’ve remembered it I will do my best to do so.

Plans for Week 4

This will be the last week of January. I know that, in the Map, there are five weeks, but I’ve decided that, for me to better organize myself, it’s better if each month only has four weeks. I will start February on the 29th of January, since the 1st of February is on a Wednesday.

As I mentioned, I will be preparing a masterpost on this month’s Craft Elements. I’ll also be researching this week’s Element, Setting, and adding it there. In total, there are going to be three posts this week: the Elements Masterpost, the Update for Week 4 and Reflections of the Month, and Map for February. I’m expecting February to be different from this month, which I will explain better next week.

Have a wonderful week, and may the winds take you to exciting shores!