Want to buy or sell something? Check the classifieds

What are you Writing?

belfastboy

I'll Lock Up
Messages
8,712
Location
vancouver, canada
Worrying too much about structure can be deadly. William Goldman probably addressed the subject best, he said something like, "Find A structure." And that's about all I've read from him on that subject. Good advice. Don't let structure get into your head until you are sophisticated enough that allowing yourself to get that technical doesn't put out of the whole experience.

I look at it like this: There's a writer and a reader. The two have a contract. The reader will set aside his or her everyday life and read what the writer has to say ... but the writer has to make it worth their while. The exchange is about trading attention for entertainment or knowledge or both. Ultimately, structure is what the writer gives to the reader in order to convince them that what is coming IS going to be worth their while. That's the purpose. The fundamental. The strategy.

Believe it or not, unless you have been divorced from western culture your whole life, you probably already understand the tactics, the method of achieving a result good enough to get a first draft down. It's hard to apply much of what many of the books have to say until you do that.

Books on writing, especially books on screen writing (where doing it right is like doing great Haiku), go wild on structure. If you are a practiced writer who is in control of your medium it's all useful and can be used artfully. If you are not the advanced stuff will just slow you down and gum up your head with junk. It's worth knowing that people talk a lot about "three act structure" but there is NO RULE WHATSOEVER that you need to structure in three acts. It's just that you don't have a pattern until you hit the number three, so it's sort of the minimum: Introduction, development, resolution. "Development" can usually be about as many "acts" as you want ... until it gets dull or the least bit repetitious ... then you need fewer.

For beginning writers (for screen or literature) I like to recommend Linda Seger's "Making a Good Script Great." It gives just enough on each of the many subjects it covers to inform you and get you thinking, but not so much that it causes creative paralysis. It is also about REWRITING. As above, messing around with too much instruction before you have a draft down on paper in some form is a waste of time. The material in any writing "how to" book is just confusing until you have some work of your own to directly apply it to.

There is a lot of good books out there once you get going, each is got some quality ideas and some nonsense. I could go on about them all day but it's better if you spend your time writing.

P.S. I made myself type out several chapters out of a number of books I admired just to see how the writers were doing what they were doing on a word by word basis. I made myself type hunt and peck style to REALLY make it a technical experience. It really made me note how much or how little dialog they were writing, how long the paragraphs were, how deep into description they went and what their pace of information was like. It's a worthwhile exercise.
 

MikeKardec

One Too Many
Messages
1,147
Location
Los Angeles
I work differently than that, and my method is pretty unorthodox. I tend to think of a character or a situation that is intriguing to me and then build a story around it. I just begin to ask myself questions and keep going until I have a complete story. I often uncover a lot of things by actually writing the story - and that, for me, is one of the best parts of writing, the discovery process.

You can pretty easily track the genesis of most Steven King stories. There's a fundamental question at the core that is usually tied to his perverse sense of humor. 'Under what circumstances could a starving man survive by eating himself?' (shipwrecked heroin smuggler) 'How could I create an equal struggle between a man and a pigeon?' (put the man on a two inch ledge on the outside of a skyscraper) 'What happens when a novelist wants to kill off a famous character he no longer wants to write?' (the character comes to life and starts stalking him ... this one is SO true it's insane, writers are constantly trying to escape their most successful creations and those creations DO haunt them endlessly!)

But note those descriptions, like AmateisGal is saying, it's all about the exploration of a situation. I always call it 'having a dialog with it.' You tell it something (or ask it something), it tells or asks you something. You have to be open to change and to learning from what your work (which often seems like it is coming from somewhere else if you do it enough to open that channel) tells you. You can't do that without being willing to actually DO it, not waiting around for inspiration ... though I do plenty of that too. To my credit I'll say that at it best it's surgically precise, specifically targeted waiting for the answer to something or other ... at its worst it's just procrastination.

I like to get both a fundamental question nailed down (so far none so droll as King's, unfortunately) and a situation that I know I'll want to live in for awhile. Condemning yourself to a prison-like story is for more unhappy people than myself. I do a lot of research but, like my comments on structure above, that can be a trap and can sometimes make simultaneously telling the "truth" and telling a good story seem impossible. I try to save research and structure for rewriting or I work in layers doing just enough research and structure to get started then adding complexity and such as I revise.

UPDATE: I finished the Introduction I was writing when I started this thread. Doing those 25 pages was MUCH harder than doing the book it introduces ... possibly harder than the whole series of 3 books that it's a part of! You never know which bits are going to be your friend or your enemy! Now, it's my friend, but last month ...

Now to re-revise the book based on what got into the Intro and what didn't.
 

belfastboy

I'll Lock Up
Messages
8,712
Location
vancouver, canada
Mike: Thank you for taking the time to respond. Great input as I can get lost in the research of the "how" and neglect to actually "do". I have followed Stephen Kings advice and have read a lot the past two years. All the way from revisiting the classics, Melville, Tolstoy et al to modern to popular contemporary fiction. If nothing else it has been instructive in learning what I appreciate in writing and in a writer. I now have three main categories (with a number of subcategories); writers who tell great stories, great writers, in that they use the English language beautifully but their characters and plot are just so so, and
beautiful writers who I think are full of crap and I hate what they have to say but they say it wonderfully.
I guess there is a 4th category, those that put it all together like Melville/Tolstoy and that is why they are the masters.
I want to write interesting characters with my words supporting them and their story. It does not have to be beautiful but at least not get in the way!
Thank you again.
 

MikeKardec

One Too Many
Messages
1,147
Location
Los Angeles
Okay, here's more sage advice (snicker - I don't take myself too seriously and neither should anyone else):

Butt in seat, write every day, the more you do it the more your unconscious will open to it. Your conscious mind creates the discipline and poses the questions, your unconscious answers ... once you get religious about making it produce something, even crap.

It will be bad before it gets good. Good is what rewriting is for. In the beginning just brain vomit, get it on the page ... then you can dialog with it, negotiate with it, fix it up or throw it away.

Interesting characters: One way is high personal stakes and conflict about how to achieve them. That doesn't mean action movie, hanging off a helicopter stakes, but it does mean something that is VERY important to you character. The clearer it is to you the easier it will be to write because they are pursuing that clear goal. You do not have to immediately (or ever) tell your audience what the goal is, but YOU have to know.

An example: A couple of years ago I wrote a western comic book for DelRey. A posse is chasing someone who seems to be an Outlaw. The posse is convinced to take another Criminal out of jail to track him. This Criminal's goals are 1) to use the opportunity to escape himself, 2) to keep the posse from realize they are being used in an escape attempt, 3) to get revenge on the original Outlaw for betraying him.

It's a bit more complicated than that, but if the catch the Outlaw before the Criminal escapes, the Criminal goes back to jail. The Criminal can't get revenge without leading the posse to the Outlaw. Logically, escape is desperately important. Emotionally, revenge is desperately important. The two goals seem in opposition and the story's job is to figure out the logical/emotional journey that answers this conflict and to have fun watching the Criminal try to keep his agenda(s) secret or seemingly unthreatening to the posse.

What a character wants and his or her conflict about how to get it aren't always combined in the inner life of just one character ... but it can work well when they are.

Need to escape. Simple. Need for revenge. Simple. Need to keep it secret. Semi simple. But none of those things are nebulous.

A character who needs to "learn how to reconcile with his only friend" ... nebulous. You can't get a hold of that sort of stuff. It's not a tool, it's a fog bank. Yet that's ALSO what this story is about ... you just get to it through the medium of the chase and the secret desires.

I could write this same story about two housewives competing in a school Parent/Teacher Association election as long as I find the clear goals (stakes) to use as storytelling tools.

Figuring out all the nuances of the western took roughly 40 drafts with down time between a good dozen of them. Exhilarating AND exhausting!
 

2jakes

I'll Lock Up
Messages
9,680
Location
Alamo Heights ☀️ Texas
Butt in seat, write every day, the more you do it the more your unconscious will open to it.

I dabble in oil painting.
One day I went to visit the studio/home of a successful oil painter.
There was canvases, drawings all over the place.
She had shelves of charcoal, water colors & various other works.
People would come in to the studio to buy her art.
I told her how great it must be to be able to do something enjoyable
& on top of that get paid .

Basically she told me the same thing that you said with regards to writing. ;)
 

belfastboy

I'll Lock Up
Messages
8,712
Location
vancouver, canada
Mike; My apologies for the delay in responding but.......as you suggested I put my butt in the seat and began to type. The conceit of "waiting for inspiration" is truly a trap. The act of writing, when I am willing to get the hell out of my own way, inspires me.
Thank you, your input is greatly appreciated.
 

AmateisGal

I'll Lock Up
Messages
6,029
Location
Nebraska
Mike, as usual, you offer tremendous insight into the writing and creative process. I also echo belfastboy's gratitude. :)
 

MikeKardec

One Too Many
Messages
1,147
Location
Los Angeles
As a teen ager I remember hanging out with a friend who was a pretty good guitarist and a guy who was a country rock icon. My friend asked how to get to the next level in his playing. Country rocker dude says, "Well, I play scales four hours a day." Okay. Four hours a day, every day, for life ... think a sound and it comes out your fingers! Scary but that's what it takes to be good. Of course you can be half good with less work and that's not bad either.

I really pay for it. I write, then I get involved in technically executing what I've written. A decade ago it was writing films then producing them. That means three months to a year or so on the script then nine months from pre production to release ... not mentioning all the time in trying to sell it. Writing and producing a comic book ran about two years to get the writing perfect then two years working with the artist. Writing and directing my last audio drama a year on the script (plus three months from when it was a TV movie script) then about 450 days of production and post. Now I'm just finishing preparing three books, I'm co-author with my deceased father, and writing "bonus features" for about 40 more. That will be three to four years writing and then three plus years of follow up, marketing, planning the schedule (so complicated the publisher keeps losing track of where we are), creating the website to explain it all.

The gaps where I do technical stuff (though LOTS of fun) between writing really kicks me out of the creative mode. I go through significant relearning and retraining my unconscious to open up. I don't have a very social life so the technical part is fun because I get to work with people, many of whom are my friends. I try to make the sort of stuff mentioned above overlap a bit but even so it's hard. My father, once he had some success, had it nailed. Just write. Seven days a week, five to ten hours a day. It's hard on the back but if you love it it comes easier and easier. He didn't get into the zone. He was the zone.
 

AmateisGal

I'll Lock Up
Messages
6,029
Location
Nebraska
As a teen ager I remember hanging out with a friend who was a pretty good guitarist and a guy who was a country rock icon. My friend asked how to get to the next level in his playing. Country rocker dude says, "Well, I play scales four hours a day." Okay. Four hours a day, every day, for life ... think a sound and it comes out your fingers! Scary but that's what it takes to be good. Of course you can be half good with less work and that's not bad either.

I really pay for it. I write, then I get involved in technically executing what I've written. A decade ago it was writing films then producing them. That means three months to a year or so on the script then nine months from pre production to release ... not mentioning all the time in trying to sell it. Writing and producing a comic book ran about two years to get the writing perfect then two years working with the artist. Writing and directing my last audio drama a year on the script (plus three months from when it was a TV movie script) then about 450 days of production and post. Now I'm just finishing preparing three books, I'm co-author with my deceased father, and writing "bonus features" for about 40 more. That will be three to four years writing and then three plus years of follow up, marketing, planning the schedule (so complicated the publisher keeps losing track of where we are), creating the website to explain it all.

The gaps where I do technical stuff (though LOTS of fun) between writing really kicks me out of the creative mode. I go through significant relearning and retraining my unconscious to open up. I don't have a very social life so the technical part is fun because I get to work with people, many of whom are my friends. I try to make the sort of stuff mentioned above overlap a bit but even so it's hard. My father, once he had some success, had it nailed. Just write. Seven days a week, five to ten hours a day. It's hard on the back but if you love it it comes easier and easier. He didn't get into the zone. He was the zone.

WOW. You are a super busy guy! I have my hands full just writing a few articles a year for AMERICA IN WWII magazine plus writing my novels. Of course, there's that pesky 8-5 job, being a mother to a teenager, and dealing with stupid chronic illnesses. I've often wondered if I would be happy just staying home and making my living writing novels and my history articles (and of course, with hubby's help, we would be financially stable). But I really think I would need a part-time job. I tend to get depressed and feel isolated when I'm alone too much (even though I am a HUGE introvert), and I think that stifles creativity. Maybe if I learned to regularly schedule things outside of the house it would work, but I don't know. There's something to be said for having the financial stability of a full-time job while writing - especially today when making a living from writing alone is pretty much impossible unless you're Stephen King or Nora Roberts.
 

belfastboy

I'll Lock Up
Messages
8,712
Location
vancouver, canada
I have pondered that question about many of my activities, my activities of choice as opposed to my paid work necessary to pay the bills. My perspective now as I approach retirement (at least from paid work) not sure the activities would have held up to the repetition. The key thing is being in choice, I do them when I feel like it, when the mood strikes and when it doesn't I don't. But if I had to write to pay the bills, if I had to sing, if I had to fund raise, if I had to umpire that next ball game I think much of the allure would be strangled out of it. I admire those that find their passion AND earn a living at it AND sustain that passion over time. I have not found that so I work a job I enjoy, bring my skills and gifts to it everyday and discover other things that bring me joy and fulfillment.....just not everyday.
 

MikeKardec

One Too Many
Messages
1,147
Location
Los Angeles
WOW. You are a super busy guy!

I'll bet you are as busy as I am or even more ... even though I left a few of the less fun or demanding things off the list. With the overlap there is about seven or eight years of work laid out there and the film work sort of ended in 2001. I've written a couple of TV Pilots and Bibles since then but had no luck in the VERY restricted world of series. I have no family of my own to have to take care of so that opens the path a great deal though I really don't recommend that sort of solitary life.

The main thing is that it creates this bizarro left brain/right brain confusion. Dad somehow worked it out for himself. In the early part of his career he ignored the technical side or it was done for him (often poorly) by editors, then he had my mother, then he had me. Not having anything better to do I sort of turned it into an art form ... but he could just write. And he wrote and wrote and wrote. He kind of had to, to maintain our middle class lifestyle and put something away (artists, they never know when the fans will give up on them, so if they're smart they SAVE), he had to write 3 to 4 novels a year! He was busy!
 
What am I writing? I just started a weekly feature on a major activism site--no link, because it's politics, though my column is kind of a melting-pot of whatever underreported stories catch my eye plus a lot of "Today in History" and commentary on various foods, beverages, books... a little corner where the site's members can take a break from the "daily grind" of the usual stuff for a bit.
 

MikeKardec

One Too Many
Messages
1,147
Location
Los Angeles
What am I writing? I just started a weekly feature on a major activism site--no link, because it's politics, though my column is kind of a melting-pot of whatever underreported stories catch my eye plus a lot of "Today in History" and commentary on various foods, beverages, books... a little corner where the site's members can take a break from the "daily grind" of the usual stuff for a bit.

Good deal! We all need a break, especially from politics. Doing the research also sounds fun too.
 

belfastboy

I'll Lock Up
Messages
8,712
Location
vancouver, canada
Good deal! We all need a break, especially from politics. Doing the research also sounds fun too.
Mike: I have found a person willing to read the draft and tell me her version of my story. Thank you, this is an important step as the "story" is really clear in my head and the question is; have I translated onto the page? I have another 10,000 words or so to finish the story but I now have a deadline to work towards.
 

AmateisGal

I'll Lock Up
Messages
6,029
Location
Nebraska
What am I writing? I just started a weekly feature on a major activism site--no link, because it's politics, though my column is kind of a melting-pot of whatever underreported stories catch my eye plus a lot of "Today in History" and commentary on various foods, beverages, books... a little corner where the site's members can take a break from the "daily grind" of the usual stuff for a bit.

Longtime no see, Diamondback! :) Great news on the column.
 

AmateisGal

I'll Lock Up
Messages
6,029
Location
Nebraska
Had a glorious writing session on my novel last night, though it did mean I went to bed around midnight again. I am just much more creative in the evenings. Still, the lack of sleep is worth it.
 

MikeKardec

One Too Many
Messages
1,147
Location
Los Angeles
Mike: I have found a person willing to read the draft and tell me her version of my story. Thank you, this is an important step as the "story" is really clear in my head and the question is; have I translated onto the page? I have another 10,000 words or so to finish the story but I now have a deadline to work towards.

Just remember that any good idea they think you had, it's your whether you thought of it or not because you inspired their imagination in that direction ... and that's what it all about. It's always best to get a couple of people and discover where the similarities in opinion lie. But that means you need three or more reliable readers. At the moment I have none. My editor just quit to work at another company and I could only partly trust her because she'd always give me the party line from the publisher. The party line is not such an issue with fiction but about 80% of my work this year and next is non fiction so it's a bit trickier.

Good luck and keep writing!!!
 
Longtime no see, Diamondback! :) Great news on the column.
Longtime no *be*, Melissa... I drifted away a few years back after it seemed like everybody who'd made the Lounge so interesting and sometimes even fun was going or gone, and now having drifted by idly wondering what was up with the old haunt only to find that Powers is gone... well, it's not the Lounge of ten years ago. :( And while there might be gems among the new crew, it still stings a bit to think of past lights gone out, whether unwillingly like Twitch and John in Covina or voluntarily like so many who've sought greener pastures... sorry, wrong place to wax nostalgic for the Good Old Days.
 

AmateisGal

I'll Lock Up
Messages
6,029
Location
Nebraska
Longtime no *be*, Melissa... I drifted away a few years back after it seemed like everybody who'd made the Lounge so interesting and sometimes even fun was going or gone, and now having drifted by idly wondering what was up with the old haunt only to find that Powers is gone... well, it's not the Lounge of ten years ago. :( And while there might be gems among the new crew, it still stings a bit to think of past lights gone out, whether unwillingly like Twitch and John in Covina or voluntarily like so many who've sought greener pastures... sorry, wrong place to wax nostalgic for the Good Old Days.

I was gone for a few years, too, and just came back in the middle of last year, I believe. I missed this place. But yeah, I do miss a lot of former members.
 

Forum statistics

Threads
102,332
Messages
2,903,375
Members
49,462
Latest member
Jupiter11111
Top