[sticky entry] Sticky: Hi!

Aug. 16th, 2016 12:05 am
lookingforoctober: (Default)
Hello, and welcome to my blog! This is a public blog, please feel free to follow and/or comment in any way you wish.

I don't post a lot, but when I do, it's usually about writing, because I'm interested in techniques and details about writing far more than anything else. I am currently writing a fantasy/science fiction story that I expect to be multiple volumes long (so the kind of series that's basically one long story), as well as another novel (which might have sequels, but I'll get there when I get there). I also occasionally write fanfic (these days, it's more Yuletide once a year, but you never know!)

I also post occasionally on random things I'm watching or reading.
lookingforoctober: (Default)
There are some people, I understand, who like the first line of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice because it's clever, amusing, and makes a good hook.
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.
Me, I like it because it's extremely easy to understand without any previous understanding of the story, introduces a concept that's going to be important to the story with a minimum of fuss, and lets the reader understand what's going on so that when one gets to Bennets in the next sentence, one knows exactly what they're talking about.

What I don't like in a first sentence is a "hook" that introduces two characters that the reader doesn't know in a way that doesn't make it clear what their relationship is, a very blurry and disjointed setting, and a situation that seems to be ominous but it's not exactly clear why. Yes, it is very mysterious and a little ominous; no, I'm not excited about figuring out why. And when the first scene is an exercise in pulling clues out of the narrative to figure out who these people are and what's going on and where they even are and why they're even talking to each other...

I mean, I'm pretty sure it did the "hook" thing by the book, and it's supposed to be that way because it's supposed to make you want to keep reading to figure out what's going on...but I was not hooked. I don't want to spend all my time figuring out when I could spend my time understanding.

This is what I like about the openings of Diana Wynne Jones books too. They pretty much start off with something that's immediately understandable, and go from there, explaining and expanding until you're painlessly right in the middle of a story. I can read from the first sentence on as easy as anything. It's not in media res, it's usually very much summary rather than right into any action, but I'm in almost immediately. No time spent going "Huh?"

That is what I want in an opening.
lookingforoctober: (Default)
Summary: The three main threads in this movie, what I liked, what I didn't like, every thought I have about it, overall judgment. Lots and lots of spoilers.

Did I say spoilers? Why yes I did. )

And considering that I have written and written and still not got through most of my thoughts on this movie...clearly I have way too many thoughts on this movie. Perhaps I will be back with them tomorrow.

Star Wars

Apr. 15th, 2016 05:42 pm
lookingforoctober: (Default)
Having been spoilered for basically everything, watching The Force Awakens was a distinctly odd experience. All the things I knew about happened, but the focus was just...different than expected. It makes me wonder what it would have been like to watch the movie unspoilered. I guess I'll never know.

(I watched it again to try to make it be a movie and not a collection of events, but ... *shrug* My current theory is that it was just too visual for me.)
lookingforoctober: (Default)
I'm still planning on writing about my more general process step by step, but I've been...I don't know if busy is quite the right word, but I've been distracted at least, and somehow have managed to get behind on almost everything. (I'm not sure how that works, you'd think that there would be something that has been keeping me busy/distracted and which I'm therefore not behind on, but...)

Anyway. Today I was thinking about writing, and it occurred to me that while I feel like I have a fairly good process in terms of plot, and in terms of being able to organize my plot according to a structure that I'm happy with, I have basically no process/structure to guide me when it comes to things like worldbuilding and characterization -- and yes, this is partly by design, because I have confidence in my ability to do them, and I was more worried about plot...

But looking at my current project, I'm pretty very disorganized about worldbuilding especially. I think of something and try to stick it into my notes somewhere, and then... what? It sits there, and I can't find it when I need it. And yeah, I can always come up with more, but it would be more efficient not to, wouldn't it? And to be able to find the stuff that I know I already came up with?

So in the hopes of coming up with a better filing system for non-plot story notes, I'm going to list out the current ad hoc structure and what it's good for.

Under "Ideas!", I have folders for books 2 and 3 (into which I drop thoughts with absolutely no attempt at organization because I'm not writing books 2 and 3 right now), subplots, mode, theme, inspiration, characters, setting, timeline, structure, round holes, square pegs, and todo.

Of these, todo is meant for things that I mean to do in the very near future, and is hardly worth comment, structure has one file with one sentence in it, so I guess it didn't need a whole folder, timeline is really out of date and mostly contains stuff that probably ought to be moved to square pegs (which I will just go do right now...) and mode is something that I haven't developed a lot yet but is a really good idea for later development.

So that leaves subplots, theme, inspiration, characters, setting, and round holes and square pegs.

You would think than subplot would be plot-related, but it's quite possible that it's misnamed... It's more raw material for subplots than actual plotty material itself. Not incidents or events so much as forces that are going to cause incidents and events. The most useful thing in the subplot folder is exploration of the goals of various actors in the system that is the world I'm creating. And goals grow into actions...

Related to subplots (actually, generated from the subplots folder, along with a few other sources), square pegs are things that I want to put into the plot but don't know where yet, and round holes are places in the outline that are vague and need details. I've merged the round holes and square pegs, but I'm not totally happy with the results of that, I'm also working on a world-level outline which should clarify some of the high level world-changing stuff that the plot needs to hang on (but this world-level outline is a big sheet of paper with lots of post-its, so it doesn't have a folder anywhere).

So this stuff, the goal is to eventually merge it into the outline, so I guess that's okay. It's not really structured properly now, but it should be eventually.

(There is a question though -- when I'm finished integrating this into the outline, what do I do with the raw material? Does it get sorted off somewhere as irrelevant and used up, or do I need to re-file it somewhere so that I can continue to use it?

The subplot material has a lot of good character stuff, for example, lots of information about various organizations, etc. etc. I think it needs to stick around for reference. The other stuff can probably be deleted once I get it into the real outline.)

Which leaves theme, inspiration, characters, and setting.

I have no idea what I'm going to do with the theme stuff.

Inspiration is notes from stuff I've come across in various research or just my normal reading that I think will be useful for generating ideas. It's really a pre-idea stage.

Characters and setting are ideas that are actually not plot-related. Funny how I thought the whole ideas folder was not plot-related, but most of it was.

I guess the truth is that plot can be made out of anything, but... there's also the fact that things can be present without being plot (I am defining plot here as being characterized by action or change). So some of the characterization might end up turned into plot, but not all of it. Some of it will be description or come out in conversations or moments, not in big actions that change everything. Some of the settings will exist without changing. Etc.

So I guess in my mind, the big distinction in the ideas folder is how close the idea is to being incorporated into the story. I have inspiration, which is pretty far from being ready to go into the story (I'd think of it more as "questions to ponder"), I have what I'm going to call "being", characters and setting, more static than dynamic, more summary than specific, and is not really supposed to go into the story until later, when I'm actually writing scenes and doing details, not just big picture plot stuff. When I can make "Char X is like such and such" into something that informs a moment in time.

And then I have "doing", actual events or things that are meant to become events, stuff that's pre-plot, stuff that's going to (hopefully) get incorporated into the outline.

Well, that was interesting. Now I guess I can go reorganize my ideas folder according to this structure, and see if that makes me feel more organized.

Outlining

Mar. 16th, 2016 06:44 pm
lookingforoctober: (Default)
I think I'm moving away from the view that outlining is for the purpose of making sure it's possible to get to the end, and toward the view that outlining is for the purpose of making sure that the structure the rest of the writing is going to depend on, the core of the story is...I don't know that beautiful is quite the right word. Solid? Elegant? Immaculate?

Either that or my perfectionist tendencies are running away with me.

(But seriously, a flaw in the premise, or a flaw in the outline, maybe you can fix it later -- if you are not a seriously lazy person like me who will resent having to make changes later on -- but there is always the chance that it will be a flaw forever.)

MCU

Mar. 14th, 2016 02:13 pm
lookingforoctober: (Default)
I was reading some reactions to the recent trailer for Captain America: Civil War, and I realized that my brain has, in the time since Age of Ultron, smoothed out quite a few of the parts that make the least sense (to me). I mean, it's not that I've completely forgotten Johannesburg, for example, it's just that I've just classified it under "fanservice" because in my mind, it's there because apparently Iron Man vs. Hulk is cool, instead of under serious plot that I have to grapple with.

And I've sort of reconciled with the fact that there is going to be a Civil War movie, which used to terrify me. I guess I've jettisoned all the stuff that Civil War was terrifying about. Like caring too much about Tony Stark, or actually Steve Rogers.

Which is in one sense good, in as much as having a fandom is good (I don't do much fandom stuff, but I do roleplay MCU characters). I'm still waiting for a new fandom to replace MCU, so it's nice that the old fandom has morphed (in my own mind, at least) into something that I'm generally okay with from some perspectives.

But on the other hand, it means that when talking with people, there can be some huge bumps when my assumptions and smoothing process hit hard against their assumptions. I don't think this is necessarily even a comics/movies disconnect any more, though that used to be my go to explanation. The movies have enough discrepancies now, enough fuel for varied assumptions, that it's become a field of potholes. Everyone hits a different one, and lives in a different MCU world.

I am so ready for a new fandom, this one is just too hard to connect with other people over.

Was I saying this a year ago?
lookingforoctober: (Default)
And by complicated people, I mean me as a writer, or even me in general, I can always find complications. (But I would like to make it clear that I don't think simplicity is a bad thing. It's just not a thing that I seem to be able to manage. In fact, I probably admire it more when I see it because I just can't write that way.)

A conflict lock is a pretty simple concept, which I first ran across here, and the first time I saw it, I thought it sounded amazingly useful. This was about the time was I figuring out that I had very few antagonists in my stories, so the idea of antagonists and what to do with them came as a revelation to me.

Since then, I've frequently tried to achieve a conflict lock in various stories, and most of the time, I've failed. So I'm starting to wonder just how useful it really is (to me, at least) after all.

There are two sides to this. On one side, it's a really attractive concept, something that pulls everything together and fuels the whole plot because the characters feel like they need to keep putting themselves into conflict with each other in order to achieve their goals.

On the other hand, whenever I try to actually achieve the conflict lock, my characters tend to slip out of it. My character twist and squirm and find substitutes, avoid the conflict one way or another, take detours, find a different perspective, bring in outside help, change the situation, and so on and so on.

And you know what? That's story too.

Watch them twist, watch them explore options, why not? It's interesting to see what they'll do, what obstacles they might come across in the detour, how the substitute might prove to be not quite as good as the original...

Or what makes it as good or better. It's all interesting.

The problem, perhaps, is with the idea that everything is conflict (I seem to struggle with this a lot). I don't actually believe that every story is a battle. Stories are reflections of life, and that's no way to live. I just don't like framing things that way, that is really not the metaphor for me.

And yet... I don't want to abandon the idea of conflict lock entirely. It's just... okay, you have a protagonist and an antagonist. And if they want things that conflict directly, then that's a conflict lock, and it's really simple, except that it's also really hard to get to that point (for me).

But the world is never made up of two people, two sides, one extremely simple conflict. There's a whole world out there, this is where the substitutes and the detours come from, from trying to get around the conflict by bringing in other factors. But if the world keeps throwing these people back at each other, for one reason or another... then there's still a conflict lock.

It might be a sort of accidental conflict lock, based on the random factors going against one character or another. Based on the world having random factors, based on there being more stuff going on than what shows up in the story. Based on the characters we see doing things that might have an effect later on, that might go off screen and compound in weird ways, or cause those butterfly chaos sorts of things to start happening, and then...

The world changes around the characters even as the characters change within the world.

(And when I say world, I just mean everything that's not a named and well-defined character. Or maybe everything / everyone that's not the protagonist and the antagonist. However you define the world, there are never enough well-defined characters to comprise the entire world, there's always stuff happening just out of sight...)

Although I suppose there are some stories with a wider scope than others. Actually, I think this is why I write science fiction/fantasy and Crusie writes romance.

Crusie says that the antagonist shapes the plot; I'm starting to think that I prefer it when the world shapes the plot. The world shapes both the protagonist and the antagonist, keeps them within the plot...plus, if you think about it that way, it allows the exploration of different aspects of the world as the world impinges on different aspects of the competition between the protagonist and the antagonist, and I'm always for more exploring of the world.

And because the world (any world) is usually in dynamic equilibrium, which doesn't mean that it's standing still, but more that things are pushing against each other from all sides, and on a global scale all these forces that make up the world cancel each other out (more or less, generally, unless suddenly everything changes, which has been known to happen in the world, but change or not so much change is generally believable because for every force that wants to change something, there are forces that want to keep it the same too...)

But even if you don't want the whole world to change, thing could believably become unbalanced a bit locally -- and when you're writing, you get to pick which direction the world pushes on the characters specifically, because this could go either way. It stays true to the nature of the world, no matter which direction you pick for the world to push...

Or you can have the characters take a look at the world and decide to try to support change or to support the status quo... Or try to use some of these forces to accomplish their own goals...

And I think at this point, perhaps there's a difference between what is part of the plot and what is part of the story. Or maybe what is part of the story and what is part of the plot? I'm not sure, terminology confuses me. But there are a whole bunch of cause and effect links that make the world work in the background, and they don't have to be written. I don't think this stuff needs to be explained in the story, though as the writer, it really helps if I do know all these things.

Or at least some of these things.

But as for presenting them in the story... Worlds are very complicated. Perhaps what I really need to present to the reader is more...the feel of things, in this world? What sorts of things fit into the world?

I think that the world, as presented in a story, needs something to keep it from appearing to be totally random. But also from appearing to be governed entirely by understandable cause and effect links...because who understands all the cause and effect links in the real world? I might be thinking of theme, or I might not. I don't think I'm thinking of worldbuilding, especially not the kind where you answer a ton of questions about every aspect of the world. I don't want something to expand things here, I want something to focus everything. Repeating patterns or some kind of structure or thematic organization? A look at the the being side of things rather than the doing side of things, with things that are linked together by ideas rather than cause and effect?

That's how I think it might be best to approach the world, when it comes to the world and it's effect on plot. Find a focus, an idea, a feeling...

There is a problem, though. If the world is an opponent, then how is it possible to win? Or to come to any sort of resolution? With an antogonist, it's always theoretically possible to defeat them. An antagonist is a person, with weaknesses. How do you defeat the entire world, though? Without an antagonist, it's hard to have an ending. (At least, it's harder compared to the really easy end condition of "antagonist defeated, the end".)

Which is why I think that the antagonist is still needed. The world can't be the antagonist, but the world can (and should) shape the story.

At least, that's my theory for now, and how it seems to be working in the novel I'm currently trying to outline :)

Venting

Feb. 29th, 2016 03:56 pm
lookingforoctober: (Default)
It would be really nice if, when you called to get customer service, they would listen to what you have to say, instead of clearly not listening to what you said in the first place (because you have to interrupt to repeat it when they get it wrong), filling any possible silence with a vast stream of umms so that you can't possibly get a word in edgewise, and then putting you on hold several times without letting you say anything there either.

I mean, I got what I wanted, but I feel very irritated nevertheless.
lookingforoctober: (Default)
Sometimes when I'm outlining (or writing) I come across something that I don't know. Usually I know something about what's needed, but not everything. And usually, stopping to figure it out would be counter-productive because ... well, because I could come up with an answer, but the right answer probably ought to grow out of some other part of the story than the one I'm currently working on.

Call them holes. They probably have a shape (the function they need to play in the current section, a few characteristics of whatever fits there, but not a full definition). But lots of things might fit, one way or another, and I don't know what the best thing is.

If I try to hold it in my head, I'll probably forget (I have a terrible memory over the course of years and books worth of stuff).

So I need some way to capture holes, so that I remember to try to fill them when I'm writing other sections.

(I suppose I could just make a list, instead of trying to remember, and see if that helps. To go with the list of stuff that probably ought to go somewhere but I'm not sure where. Or maybe I could tag scenes as having holes...the list is probably easier to look at and muse about, though.)
lookingforoctober: (Default)
If every story is about change, and every change can be viewed as a tiny death (death of the old, growth of the new), then every story has aspects of tragedy.

(Of course, since comedy is (IMO) about proportionality (or lack thereof), taking this idea too seriously would lead to comedy.)
lookingforoctober: (Default)
I've been meaning to write about my process for quite a while now. Originally, I was going to just write one post about my writing process and be done with it. But the more I put it off, the more I realized that maybe this was something that wouldn't fit into only one post...because the more stuff I thought of that I wanted to say about each step of the process.

So then I was going to write a post about the first stage of outlining... But somehow I never did, and eventually I realized it was because I had a lot to say about the process of creating a process before I moved on to actually talking about my specific process.

So this is that very meta post.

The process I'm going to be talking about is something that's been developing for a while; I suppose I really started thinking about some aspect of it two Yuletides ago (2014 -- Yuletide is the one time when I tend to be moderately ambitious as well as actually finishing that moderately ambitious story, so I tend to learn a lot from Yuletide). Two Yuletides ago was when I realized one of the main aspects of my process as it has developed: get through to the end, and then worry about the rest (instead of making each part perfect as I write them), because it's more important to have everything there than to have everything perfect. I did it because I just really wanted to finish the whole story I had in my head, but after Yuletide, I looked at what I'd done and decided it was good.

Finishing has always been a struggle for me, but it turned out that a really useful thing that process could do for me is to make finishing seem possible. So now one of my goals in having a process is that I always want the path from where I am to a finished product to be fairly obvious (even if I don't end up following the path I think I see, even if things turn out differently than expected as I go along, as is usually the case). Process helps me keep writing and not get discouraged.

I've added more to the process over the course of last year, working toward a better understanding of story structure, and it all came together during Yuletide 2015, and the process I'm using now (I'm in the middle of outlining a novel) got its first test-drive then. I don't think it's final yet, so even though I'm planning on writing about "my process", really all I want is to get down some of the things that I've done so that I don't forget what worked, so I can start to think about why it might have worked (and if there's anything that might work better), and whether I might be leaving anything obvious out that really ought to be part of my process.

I have a few other goals when it comes to process. I've already talked about making getting to the end seem possible. Another goal is that I want to have a process that will work for things of any size. Maybe I can get through shorter things more quickly, but I don't want to have to rearrange the whole process just because I'm writing a short story, or a six part monster of a story. Story is story.

And of course (I think this is the point of having a process at all) I want to keep using the same process over and over again, and make it better, so that writing becomes easier and easier because I know what I'm doing and what actually works for me. I've done this in the past on an ad hoc basis, but I want to pay more attention to what works and what doesn't necessarily work.

The final goal I have for my process is that I want to make each step of the process seem easy. (This is sort of weird to me, I used to be far more into doing things that are difficult... I liked being heroic and conquering the impossible tasks. I don't seem to like it as much any more, probably because... well, most of the things that I want to write are really long, and one can only be heroic and go full speed ahead for so long. So I'm going more for a tortoise-type process, and a confidence that eventually I'll get there :) ) So my process is full of baby steps.

However, having said that, I also like complexity, so there are places where my process embraces complexity in a way that I wouldn't necessarily expect to be appealing to anyone but me. But hey, this is my very personal process, which I'm developing around my strengths and weakness and preferences and goals. When I call it "my process", I really mean it. I'd be surprised if it worked for anyone but me, because it's got a lot of steps to cover things I find difficult (structure, plot, I need to add something for tension) and totally ignores things that I don't feel I need the support for (character, worldbuilding).

So that's what I want out of a process in general. Specifically, these are some of the approaches I'm using to meet these goals:

1) Quick passes and lots of cycling through the story. I've quit calling them drafts because draft seems so much more heavy-weight than what I do. This is not, of course, unique, it's sort of like the idea behind something like NaNoWriMo. Do it fast, then take what you have and do it again. This keeps me from getting stuck on any one idea or problem, and it lets me keep a more holistic view of the story.

It also lets me change what needs to changed on each pass without getting annoyed, because I haven't usually put too much work into the idea that needs to be changed.

Things do seem to change quite a bit between passes (and this is something that used to happen to me when I was more perfectionist in early drafts too, and I remember that eventually I just got totally sick of revising and gave up even though I could see how to fix something, I didn't want to do it). So the quicker I make each pass, the more light-weight the early writing, the better things seem to work for me.

2) I generally start off with very abstract ideas, so my process moves from abstract to specific.

In a lot of ways, my ideas move from ideas about forces and oppositions and dynamics and relationships to (eventually) specific events and telling details. The details come last, but that's not because I don't think of them at every stage, it's just... they might not be the right details, they might not all fit together, they might not tell a story unless I pay attention to the story and then come up with the details that fit.

There's no guarantee that I can come up with a story if I start with details, but starting with something abstract and drilling down does seem to result in a story. And I can always come up with more details, so even though I might lose some cool details, well, that is the price that has to be paid sometimes.

3) My process is based on the idea of fractals. (I may have gotten the basic idea from the Snowflake Method, but that one doesn't work for me at all.) The idea of fractals is that you repeat the same pattern at different scales, so however much you zoom in or out, you keep seeing the same pattern. Or, in other words, you start with a certain pattern, and then you fill in each section of that pattern with smaller versions of the same pattern... (This is hard to explain, here have a video by Vi Hart.)

The pattern that I use is motivation and reaction. It's motivation and reaction all the way down, at every scale. I think this makes sense -- it makes just as much sense to look at the second half of the book as a reaction to the first half of the book as it makes to write a couple of paragraphs containing a character's motivation followed by a character's reaction.

(Also, so long as I'm talking about reactions, another link to an interesting post that I happened to run across as I was writing this. Not exactly the same kind of reaction, but interesting!)

4) I suspect that my process is more complicated than it needs to be, and even though I like complicated, perhaps I will be able to streamline it as I grow more practiced at some of these things. Perhaps writing about my process will help with that :) I suppose only time will tell.
lookingforoctober: (Default)
So I've been reading Clausewitz's On War (deliciously thinky / categorizing book, I'm really loving it so far, even though I keep wondering what he would have thought about WWII), and yesterday I was surprised that he categorized the quality of resolution mostly under "feeling".

Today I realized that motivation is also mostly a feeling. You can't really logic your way to motivation (or at least it's pretty hard, in the same way that logicking your way to any emotion is hard), you have to feel it.

(Unless maybe you hook it to something you do feel, like duty? I feel like this is often the hack that people try with motivation, at least. New Year's resolutions, for example. Try to set up things so that doing what you want to do is something you should do. Speaking purely for myself, this is generally not sustaining. If it's all duty, or if the duty aspect comes to predominate, then I can dutifully do things for a while, but then it inevitably breaks.

...but some people may have stronger senses of duty. It suddenly occurs to me that when someone said to me that they were doing something out of a sense of duty, what I got out of that (oh no, that'll never work) was probably not what they meant to communicate (very possibly more like don't worry about this getting done because I have a strong motivation to do this)... Communication is hard.)

(This also reminds me of a conversation I had about the Ancillary series a while back, and the role of emotion in setting priorities...)

So now I'm wondering, if motivation is mostly a feeling... It seems like this is an important revelation that should help me to sustain my motivation, and yet...

I mean, the only way to motivate myself that really works is to start doing something for the sake of doing it, for the pleasure of the task, and hope it grows and sustains itself.

I suppose now whenever I lack motivation, at least I can blame it on the mysteriousness of emotions.
lookingforoctober: (Default)
At one point, I thought that one function of summaries was to allow for presenting events out of order, or thematically.

(Patterns and summaries are really hard to do in an immersive sensory scene, the more detail and immersiveness in a moment in time you want to present, the less you can skip around to a different point in time without it being distracting or jarring and without losing some degree of sensory immersive experience. Which may be the point, in some cases. I think some styles actually court the effect of jumping around and reorienting the reader slowly, either as a form of tension or because the jarring effect fits the story. But more generally, if you're not actually going for that, then you can have the character think about other times, you can do flashbacks, but if you have the character think, the actual moment fades, and if you do a flashback, then the moment is gone until you actually jump back to it.)

It occurs to me that if this is the case, then another function of summaries could be to present a clearer point of view about events. The closer the writing is to completeness, the more "raw data" is included, the less the character's perspective shows in what is presented. It's all presented. But if you summarize, then what and how it is presented is all about character (whether the narrator, the pov character, whatever) and their long term perspective.

Infodump

Jan. 12th, 2016 07:24 pm
lookingforoctober: (Default)
I am still sort of in love with the motivation - reaction pattern for writing. I've written about it before, and it's a really simple pattern for structure at the paragraph level (approximately), where you write something from outside that will motivate the character, and then you write their reaction in the order of feeling, reflex action, and then thoughtful action (you don't have to include all of them every time).

I've been using it at every level, not just the paragraph level, and it's really good at clarifying my thinking. The thing I like best about this pattern (at the moment) is how much it focuses my writing, especially the stuff about the world. Because anything about the world falls under "motivation", which means that it has to have the potential to cause a reaction, and not only a reaction, but a reaction that furthers the story. So you can't just go putting in motivation willy-nilly...

Because really, the motivation is not the story. The reaction is the story. (Okay, simplifying. But you can have a lot of motivation and if no one reacts to it, there is nothing story-like about that piece of writing.) Or possibly the dance of motivation and reaction is the story, you need both, and they need to be in balance.

Which brings me to the idea of infodump (i.e. big chunks of exposition). In the motivation - reaction model, I'm pretty sure that the way you recognize infodump is when there's a ton of motivation with no reaction in sight. It doesn't have to be a lot of reaction, but it does have to be there. The more it's just pure motivation (pure facts), the less story-like it is.

Incidentally, I've been reading Cherryh, who I tend to think of as a very worldbuildy author, and yet, the book I'm reading is actually full of this pattern. Lots of reaction, even in the sections that are mostly about presenting information.

I've also seen a pretty clever way of getting that reaction in there on a show I was watching -- the infodump was placed into the past, as a flashback, and the reaction part was placed in the present, which gave some flexibility to showing the reaction (flashbacks can be a bit more disjointed than if it were a real scene), and also gave an opportunity to show a more considered reaction, rather than an in the moment reaction, which is actually exactly what was called for. Because a really big revelation infodump can have a reaction that's nothing but shock, which is boring, so showing the later reaction showed the interesting part of the reaction.

The show also did something else interesting later on, for another scene that could have been very much infodumpy: it showed multiple characters reacting in various ways at various speeds (based on what these characters already knew, their personality, etc.). So there was one character reacting to the infodump with anger (pure feeling), one reacting with thinking and action, one reacting with the shock and keep listening/prompting behavior that kept the information flowing...

Another interesting trick is that you don't have to show the motivation until it actually motivates. So either you can make sure it is going to motivate, or you can just not really get into the details of the motivation until it becomes relevant.

It's like when you start a new job, and they give you a giant stack of documentation to read about something or other related to your new job... It is horrible, starting a new job and having to read all that (and I personally usually have a hard time retaining any of the information without any actual job experience to hang the information on). You don't want to write a story like that. Stories should be fun :)

But if you summarize the scene where the character reads the very important document (probably not knowing how important it is), you can have the character remember (and be motivated by) any relevant information at the point when it becomes relevant, which is probably the point when they're going to act on it. On at least make some kind of decision about it, to act or not to act. And because they care, because they're reacting, you end up not with infodump but with a motivation/reaction going on. Especially if you have them working through the motivation and reacting to each part of it.

(I also have a theory about summaries, which is that summaries and presenting things out of chronological order go hand in hand... it's not a fully developed theory yet.)

But it's important that the point where the reaction happens (whether it's thinking or acting) needs to be the first place where it becomes relevant. You can't have lots of places where this motivation could have been brought up, but wasn't, at least not without a reason.

Another tricky thing about this is that the point when the information becomes relevant is probably also the point when things start moving quickly, so you might not have room to put in all the information...but in a way, that's a good challenge, since it exercises the summary skills of getting down to the most important nub of information that has to be there, and leaving out all the rest.

Although it really depends. Background information doesn't necessarily belong in action scenes (and at that point, it probably doesn't matter, because if you're a character in an action scene, you're probably reacting to right now, not to background information... but background information goes pretty well into a dilemma scene, interspersing various bits of information with reactions and/or plans and/or exploration of the space of possible plans.

So if the character has time to think, the character has time to think about background information, and that's probably the point that the background information becomes really relevant. Or at least, that's one theory.

Actually, here's a thought: if you've got a lot of info to dump, make it into a dilemma, something that the character wants to explore and think about and ask questions and react to various options of dealing with and then finally decide about. If you've got a little, then you can drop the one sentence bombshell and race off into action. Dilemmas are like a thorough search for understanding, whereas action can also lead to understanding, but it's not really searching. Action is also exploring the world, but only one path through the world. So action is good for simple things and moving the plot along, and dilemmas are good for complex things.

Time is an issue too, but only in so far as pressure makes a good motivation if you want to move the story along but the character wants to have a dilemma. Pressure can turn a dilemma into action. (Of course, some stories really are dilemma stories, and exploring the dilemma is the whole point. So in that case, too much pressure can be counterproductive.)

Anyway, it's also interesting to contrast this way of thinking about infodump with usual advice that I've seen: to hide the exposition/information in the background, and make it look like it's serving some other purpose, like being more complete, fleshing out the world with details, giving a sense of being there, etc. This is actually really tricky, because either you have to break it up into teeny tiny bits and yet somehow make sure it's memorable (if it's not memorable, then the effect is exactly the same as having the character know it without giving the reader the complete version of the details, because if the reader doesn't remember the detail, it doesn't matter if you included it or not), and if you get too much of it clumping together it can still interrupt the flow of the narrative with something that seems irrelevant, and is the cause of the infodump problem in the first place, when too much of this artfully concealed stuff isn't concealed well enough.

Basically the break it up strategy is exactly the same as the infodump strategy in terms of location in the text (i.e. chronologically, and possibly long before it's needed to motivate an actual action), it's just trying to be a bit less obtrusive about it.

So the problem with the break-it-up strategy (IMO) is that plot takes a lot of room, but summary doesn't. And if you want to stick something into the narrative before it's needed, then if you want the reader to actually remember it, then it probably needs to be part of the plot, which means you need to disguise it as having a different plot purpose than the one you want it to have later. And you probably can't do this with everything (or if you do, this is a really big source of ever-expanding stories, and I should know).

If it's not plot-relevant exposition, then I think the break-it-up strategy works better. If it's worldbuilding, for example, then you don't need specific details in the same way as you do for plot points. You don't need anything in a specific order either. Worldbuilding, it might be painful not to include some detail that you really like, but it won't break anything if you leave it out, if the world still basically feels the same. If you leave out the detail that justifies the plot, this is generally not a good thing.

But this is getting into a different topic: what is story and what is support for the story. Which is something I want to think about (along with the question of whether ideas have natural lengths, or it all depends on what you want to do with an idea, or how much you like clumping ideas together), but I think I've written enough for now.
lookingforoctober: (Default)
I just want to state for the record that I didn't go into Yuletide intending to write a 20,000 word story, but the writing this year was a really good experience (much better than last year when I barely got the whole thing done in time). I felt in control of my process, not just hoping that I'd somehow manage to finish. I knew what I was doing. And for the difference, I credit outlining :)

(Although I think it could have done with another pass or two...I might write a post about my outlining/many iteration method, how it worked, where I would have put more work in if I had more time, etc., for future reference.)

Anyway:

Cultivated by LookingForOctober for song_of_staying
Words: 19,680

Fandoms: Uprooted - Naomi Novik
Kasia & Agnieszka, Marisha

Some seeds planted by the Wood take a long time to grow.


And I wrote a treat too! It is absolutely amazing to me how much easier it is to write and finish something and keep it short when I'm also finishing something else at the same time. (It has to be finishing, working on multiple things at the same time is something that I frequently do, but it has no magic.) I think it's really a trick of the mindset -- when I'm already feeling ruthless about one story, it's easier to keep another story focused?

Now if I could only learn to do that normally...I might manage to finish more things.

Contrivers by LookingForOctober for geri_chan
Words: 1,630

Fandoms: Foreigner Series - C. J. Cherryh
Irene & Cajeiri

The difference between Irene's mother and Cajeiri.



I also wrote a couple other fics this year and I'm pretty sure I never linked either of them here, so:

The Silly Sister (Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen, Georgiana Darcy & Catherine Bennet, Mr. Bennet)
Georgiana and Kitty try to persuade Mr. Bennet that Kitty is more sensible than she used to be.
Words: 2,340

Millie is Finished (The Chronicles of Chrestomanci - Diana Wynne Jones, Millie | Millie Chant)
Millie's experiences at the Swiss finishing school.
Words: 5,590
lookingforoctober: (Default)
Most stories are "do" stories, about things happening, not about a static situation. About time passing, not about a moment in time.

But here is a "be" story: http://www.lightspeedmagazine.com/fiction/here-is-my-thinking-on-a-situation-that-affects-us-all/ (Here is My Thinking on a Situation That Affects Us All, by Rahul Kanakia).

On first thought, the existence of "be" stories (and scenes) makes me question the idea that the only constant thing to be found in a story is change...

Ursula K. LeGuin says it this way:

I define story as a narrative of events (external or psychological) which moves through time or implies the passage of time, and which involves change.


(Which just goes to show that LeGuin has a far more nuanced understanding of story than I do, since I read this and then remembered it as "stories have change". That little bit about implying the passage of time is pretty clever. But anyway...)

My example "be" story has change in the past and implies that there will be change in the future, so it implies the passage of time, but it doesn't actually show time passing. The now of the story doesn't really move.

But there is more change to it than that. Some of the change is implicit, and depends on the reader comparing the situation described in the story with current reality.

But some of the change is discovery -- it's the reader, not any of the characters, whose discovery is most important to this story, because it's the reader whose understanding of the situation changes.

I think the amount that the reader must bring to the story is important to a "be" story, maybe even what makes something into a "be" story for me. If the reader were watching a reader-stand-in character discover what the reader discovers, it would be a "do" story with a climax of discovery. As it is, the climax of discovery takes place entirely within the reader.

(This is also the danger of the "be" story, that the reader may not bring the right things to the story, and then it won't work.)
lookingforoctober: (Default)
Knowing what order things happen is not always the same as knowing what order to write it in, and can in fact get in the way of telling the story effectively.

I knew this, I just forgot.
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