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

 

 

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Week 2 Update + Plans for Week 3

This week, besides my usual tasks, I focused on how I’m going to organize my posts from now on. I’ll talk about this during the update. This week I ended up publishing two posts, a midweek update and a short story with a comment, had some views and gained some followers, though for now I’m not going to concentrate on that. As I said, at least now in the beginning, I’m only going to be concentrating on creating content to publish at a later date, while researching aspects on writing and publishing my thoughts and findings. While having people checking out the blog and liking what they see is something that I cherish (though it also gives me some anxiety), it’s not what I’m really concentrating on right now.

Week 2 Update

Like last week, I achieved all my goals:

Novel: Read three chapters of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. From now on, and as I’m going to explain later in this post, I’ll be reading as much every week as possible since I’ve given up on the idea of making a separate post about it every week. In terms of the book itself, I’m still in the very beginning and don’t have much to say. After all, in terms of narrative, it’s establishing the setting and the characters, as well as Tom himself and his life.

Short Stories: Read three short stories: “Os Três Homens Aderem à Revolução” [The Three Men Join the Revolution], “Sentado no Deserto” [Sitting in the Desert], “Costureirinha (uma lenda Lisboeta)” [The Young Seamstress (a legend from Lisbon)]. All three stories had aspects I liked: the first one focuses on the men, but doesn’t show them in the revolution, only their plans to travel– how they end up in one is hinted at through their conversation, which mentions the (historically important) date of their trip; the second one deals with questions of social class and social responsibility; the third is a story told in the form of a legend, which is something I’d like to write myself.

Prompts: This week I used these prompts:

  • “I got this for you,” your character’s spouse says as s/he hands your character a gun.  “I have the feeling you’re going to be needing it.”
  • As your character is pulling out of the parking garage, she looks in the rearview mirror and lets out a shriek.  There is a woman she doesn’t know sitting in the backseat of her car.  “Don’t be scared,” the woman says…

In total, I wrote 3709 words. The first story has a total of 1989 words, the second 1720 and, unlike the last two, they both had a clear ending! Maybe it was because I was aware of it this time, maybe it was just the nature of the stories/prompts, I’ll continue to pay special attention to this.

I have a tendency of wanting to continue the stories, even the ones I feel are finished, like in the case of the second one. This is because I feel there’s more that can be told– the goal of the story is met, but the characters continue their lives after it, and I think there’s just a part of me that wishes to continue writing about them. My way to deal with this is to write a sequel or a longer work based on that short story, although I’m fully aware that, often, this isn’t possible.

Craft Book: I did another two exercises on The Field Guide to Your Imagination. One  focused on reality, and the other on one’s future self.

When it comes to the first exercise, I didn’t really complete it because it involved going on social media. I don’t really use my social media profiles because, after a while, I just stopped seeing what was the point in them, and they also started to unnerve me. There’s a certain sense of unreality when it comes to the reality presented on social media. There’s also the fact that I’m a very private person, so even if I had a lot to share on social media (which I don’t) I wouldn’t be very comfortable doing so. The exercise was to reflect on what I envy when looking at other people’s profiles, and why we do so. I try not to feel envy, even when I wish to have what other people have. I feel longing, but not something as strong as envy. But I can still say that, in terms of envying what others have, it would mainly come down to experiences. Going places, doing things, being able to share it all with others. On the why I feel it, it’s just my desire for more than what I currently have, to live more than what I’ve lived thus far. Of being able to connect without fear.

Last time, there was an exercise focusing on our past. This one is dedicated to an imaginated future self. I do think about the future a lot, as a sort of distant thing that will arrive sooner or later, though not much about how I will be. I have a certain, vague idea of what I want– work as a translator while also having a career as a writer, hopefully having success as both– but, in a certain way I’m afraid to do so. It’s important to imagine what we want in order to know what it is and work for it, the problem is that I don’t want to imagine a scenario so perfect and grand that it might, in a sense, sabotage me. And I’m not only talking about sabotage in the sense of me screwing up things for myself; I have this vague belief that the universe will knock me down if I dare to dream too high. It’s kind of ridiculous, but I’ve been disappointed before and it has affected me. Another thing I’ll have to overcome or deal with during my life, I guess…

Craft Element: This week’s element was Show and Tell. I’ve decided that, instead of making an individual post for every element, I’ll just compile the information for all of them and publish it on the last week of each month. This way, I can research more thoroughly and organize my information better.

Still, and to sum up, a story needs to have both Show and Tell, it’s just important to strike a balance. If you only Tell, your story becomes stale, without details and difficult to picture in one’s mind. However, there are things that you don’t need to Show. For example, if a character travels to point A to point B, it’s only important to Show the journey if it’s important for the story. If not, just say that the character traveled to point B.

Plans for Week 3

My plans are the same. I’ll be reading more than the required 2 chapters/stories and write my impressions on my Updates post. I’ll also be planning out and starting my Craft Elements Masterpost to publish at the end of the month (around the 29th, before I post my Map of February). I’ll also post more updates during the week if I feel so inclined.

Have a good week!