Week 4 Update + Reflections on the Month

As you may have noticed, by the lack of a Writing Craft Element post this week, that I didn’t manage to research Planning and write about it. This week was not as hectic as last week, and things are really starting to settle, there was still a lot of work (and procrastinating) to be done. In my defense, I was a bit sick yesterday. And, honestly… I just didn’t feel like it?

I’ve explained why Planning was going to be this month’s second Craft Element: Camp NaNo is coming up and I want to be prepared, and being prepared seems an imperative considering what my life is at this point. I’ve been in the process of finding my best planning process for at least a few years now, but nothing has really stuck so far. Even if I have a path for the middle of my novel, I just lose steam, though I have managed to persevere and reach the end, even if I’m below my desired wordcount. Not having a plan at all is not particularly great either, at least for something as NaNoWriMo, because of the same problem: even if I reach the end of my novel,  it has a severe lack of development (and plotholes everywhere). I have the bare bones, the action and development, but where are the other plot points? I’m not mentioning Description, since we’ve already established that I can add it in later, but I would at least like to have all of the plot down in an at least semi-coherent manner.

I have a plan, which I will present on the Map for March, which I will post later.

Week 4 Update

Prompts: This week’s prompts were:

  • One day, everyone wakes up with wings like an angel, soon after scientists found that the colour of the wings depend on your character. The better your character is, the cleaner (more close to snow white) the wings are. Yours are decently grey, but your family’s are dark as hell. [x]
  • Once upon a time far, far away, there was a tiny kingdom that floated high above the clouds. Create a fairytale that is set in this city. [x]

This week I wrote 3106 words, 1478 for the first prompt and 1628 for the second! In total, this month I wrote 12934 words, which is actually more than I wrote in January. It’s interesting to note that, in both months, I reached a peak on the second week, while the lowest point was on week three.

Craft Book: This week’s chapters focused on Point of View and Atmosphere. There are still chapters left in this book, but they refer to Creative Writing in general and some recommended works, so I’ll skip those.

One of the most important decisions you’ll make when writing your story is your Point of View–it affects the plot, the characterization, and the tone of the story. When deciding, you should consider:

  • Whether it will be first-person (I), third-person (he/she), or, more rarely, second-person (you)
    • First-person: Reader identifies better with this form, since it’s more intimate; the character doesn’t need to be a protagonist; limits what is known to what that character knows (can’t know other character’s thoughts, for instance); and more than one narrator can be used. If the writer is not careful, however, they can identify too much with a character and it will become a copy of the writer.
    • Second-person: Rarely used, it’s interesting but hard to pull off. It can pull the reader into the narrative, but can also throw them off if they can’t identify with the actor.
    • Third-person narrator: Most common type, it doesn’t create the intimacy of a first-person narrator, but has the advantage of accessing multiple perspectives.
  • How much the narrator knows
    • Omniscient Narrator: Knows everything about the characters and setting
    • Internal focus: Only knows what the characters know; intimate
    • External focus: Ignores characters’ state of mind; sometimes seen as cold due to its objectivity
  • If the narrator takes part in the story, and if it’s a main character or a background one
  • If the narrator can be trusted

There’s more to be said, like whether you want your narrator to be an opinionated and sarcastic little shit (I do have a bias for this type), but maybe I’ll make a more complete post in the future.

Choose what works best for the genre, theme and plot. A way to decide is to write the first pages in different Points of View and choosing the best for the story.

Atmosphere is what makes reader get involved in the story. It’s sometimes defined as the story’s time period, a place’s ambience, a genre’s feel, or even as images, impressions and events. In summary, atmosphere is what makes the reader believe in your story and submerge in it. It’s what makes the reader feel it.

In order to create Atmosphere, you can:

  • Visit the place you’re writing, to catch its spirit so you can better emulate it
  • Recreate it using your imagination, which calls back to a previous post
  • Describe it from the point of view of a character that is seeing it for the first time, make the strange feel familiar and vice-versa, and make the setting and character relate to each other
  • Use the five senses to add depth to description, never forgetting that details are better than broad generalizations, add colours, which have specific meanings tied to them, and music

This chapter also has a section on how to edit Description, but I’m keeping this for after Camp NaNo, when I write a post dedicated to Editing (hopefully).

Course: In its final week, the course dealt with Genre.

Genre is defined by the similarities in style, form or subject matter in literary works, and, as such, there are tropes and clichés  associated with each of them. There is nothing wrong with writing with a genre in mind, it will actually help you with ground work and define your work, but you should never limit yourself to it. Innovate, combine genres, subvert tropes and expectations and your story will stand out from the rest. I recommend checking out Eva Deverell’s Genre Mind Maps.

Reflections on the Month

Considering the changes this month, I think it went well. It’s still early to tell if things will keep on going this way, since my workload is bound to get worse, but I hope I won’t have to stop the blog, even temporarily.

I’m still bummed I didn’t get to research Planning, but I suppose I can do it at a later date, especially when I have a better idea of what my specific problems are. Right now, my focus is on next month.

I’ll also have to make changes to the schedule I established for myself when I began classes, since now I have a better idea of what classes will demand from me. I now know that Tuesdays will also be difficult days for me to squeeze writing into, due to a weekly time consuming assignment from one of my classes, not to mention everything my other classes will throw at me. The evaluation seasons will be fun.

I think that’s all, and it’s late. Good night for now (or not, depending on where you are/when you read this, in that case Good Whenever you are).

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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!

 

Week 4 Update + Reflections of the Month

Today is the end of the first month of “A Youth and the Sea”! I think it was rather educational, not just in terms of writing, but also in terms of what I want to do from now on and how I’m going to do it. I’m going to talk about that in more detail in my Map for February.

Week 4 Update

Novel: I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t get any reading done! I got distracted with other things I had to do, including family events and the Writing Craft Elements post, and reading the novel kind of got pushed back much more than I wanted.

Short Stories: Read three short stories, “À Grande e à Francesa” [Expression that means living ostentaciously and in luxury], “Hades” [Misspelling of “Hás de”, it means “You will”] and “Elegantil”.

Prompts: This week’s prompts were:

  • The police suspect your character of having committed a crime.  Your character is innocent, but so much evidence points to him/her that your character is certain that s/he has been set up.  But who has done this, and why?  And how can your character prove his/her innocence?
  • A sports car, a dare, and an obnoxious ex-girlfriend

This week’s total of words was 2728, the first story having 1669 and the second 1059! The first story was different from the rest, because it was the plot from one of my writing projects summed up and told from the perspective of one of the characters. It’s something that I won’t publish here, because I’d rather hold onto projects in progress and only reveal them when they’re ready, but it did help me visualize the plot, its problems and ways to fix them. The second prompt was just three elements I had to include in the story, which is something I always found fun to do.

Craft Book: Finished A Field Guide to Your Imagination. These last exercises focused on using imagination to solve problems, either disengaging the mind from the problem through a near sleep state or by lucid dreaming (which is another thing I would love to try). There’s also an exercise that reminds us to train our imagination to think outside the box, by imagining impossible things and going through them.

Finally, the last exercise focused on the physicality of imagination. Instead of sitting down and imagining things, move. It can be something as simple as going for a walk, or you can imagine yourself in your character’s shoes and do things as they would. Just now I remembered that the reason why we doodle is that it helps the brain stay focused and solve problems.

I found this exercise enteresting because, sometimes, I just can’t sit still when I’m imagining something. Sometimes, when I’m writing, I just have this overwhelming urge to jump out of my chair and move around. And not just when I’m writing. I can be listening to music, or reading, or watching TV, or even day dreaming. I don’t know, I think I’ve always been like this, and often I have to surpress these urges because there are other people around. I don’t know, am I weird?

Craft Element: Wrote the Writing Craft Elements post, which was way harder than I had anticipated. Granted, I should have taken notes and actually planned the thing, but I think it’s actually ok? I’m not really comfortable talking about and explaining things that not even I know if I’m understanding correctly, so please, if you find something that is wrong or you don’t understand, tell me. Still, it was nice to just research and then compare that with everything that I already know, and then writing it down. And I know that this kind of post will be helpful in the future when I’m in doubt over something, and for other people who want to learn these things but don’t know where to start.

Reflections of the Month

I think this month went great, in general. I mean, I reached the end, that alone deserves celebration considering the slump I reached about halfway through. In total I wrote 8 short stories, 11857 words, not to mention the posts here, which is not bad, and I’ve figured out where I want to go with the blog next.

If I could do something better, and it’s something I’m going to do in February, is organize my time. It’s very easy for me to procrastinate and make excuses later, which then invalidates the times when I actually had something to do. But that’s a topic for the Map, which I’ll publish either later today or tomorrow, depending of when I finish it.

Thanks for reading!

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