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.
lookingforoctober: (Default)
1) I thought I was outlining to the paragraph level. It turns out I overestimated my ability to condense. (Note that I'm not sure outlining to the paragraph level is a good idea, I just wanted to try it out.)

2) I'm really not sure how it happens that I can outline something so that it's very very detailed (even if not quite paragraph level) and then be unable to write it that way when I come back to it. Even though I know I thought about it a great deal when making the outline, things still need to change. I guess that's revisions (or whatever you want to call it).

3) I hope things may be turning out better from outlining (I'm not sure I'll be able to tell), but I'm not sure it's an actual reduction in work. It might be a reduction in difficulty of any particular bit of writing, though. Taking the switchbacks instead of climbing straight up the side of the mountain?
lookingforoctober: (Default)
I just had a really awesome idea for a long term plot for one of my roleplaying characters. Unfortunately, I have my doubts as to how well this is going to work out in practice, in the game he is in, given other things going on, etc.

Should I:

1) Try to enlist other people in the game in my idea and make it work! You never know what will end up happening, so it's worth giving it the very best shot at happening.
2) Keep it a secret, take steps to try to get it to happen, let it influence the development of the character, but try to be flexible if it ends up becoming impossible. It's a long shot anyway, but maybe it can still shape things up to the point where it becomes impossible, and that way it's not totally wasted and no one can explicitly say no, either.
3) Do nothing, eventually it will wither and you won't have to worry about it any more. Ideas are a dime a dozen, and the one that seems so shiny right now will fade more quickly than you think.
4) Try to turn it into a story... Good ideas deserve to be developed, even if you have to do it all by yourself (and even if your stories to write list is already prohibitive).

More generally, what's the best thing to do with ideas that don't quite fit current projects?
lookingforoctober: (Default)
...when it comes to creativity, or at least my creativity, it's not really an especially good power, but there's no denying that it's powerful.

I was thinking about a recent "no" that I received while roleplaying, and it suddenly came clear to me just how much of my writing process is structured around never ever ever saying no to myself. I write drafts, but I don't revise them, I write the next one by pulling things out of the first draft and expanding and forming them into a new draft. (This works because most of the things I call drafts are a bit more like outlines, or long lists of ideas. Or sometimes collections of words without the paste that makes them sentences and paragraphs. My drafts are weird.) But anyway, in each successive draft (or each successive pass, or whatever you want to call it), I say "yes" to some things, and leave some things alone (they fall out of the story, usually, unless I revive them in a future draft), but I don't (usually) say "no".

I know, this is a difference that makes no real difference, it's all the same in the end, but...I'm pretty convinced that it would be much harder if I had to say no. If I had to delete things out of the draft to form a new draft. (And yeah, I have to do that eventually, eventually it does get to the point where things occasionally have to be deleted, but I put it off as long as possible.)

Being told "no" from the outside (I'm back to thinking about roleplaying again) actually kills my creativity for a while, as I sit around and sulk about why it was wrong for someone to tell me no and what they should have done instead, instead of actually doing anything productive. (I'm now feeling sort of guilty about a few times when I've said "no" to other people... But sometimes it has to be said, to avoid worse problems later on. Just...no fun, from either side really.) It's not quite that bad when I tell myself no, but I at least feel way more productive when I don't tell myself no, and really, how you feel about writing is important.

(As for roleplaying, I think part of what I like about it is that the "no"s are actually usually pretty rare. I mean, usually you don't get the sort of "no" that totally negates something you did or wanted to do, you just get the sort of no that says "that happened but you didn't succeed" which can almost be viewed as a "yes" disguised as a no, because it still moves forward. Or the kind of no that says "no one wants to do this with you right now" which at least isn't explicitly "no", it's just silence. Silence isn't so bad.)
lookingforoctober: (Default)
Since I explained (rather a long time ago now) why Orphan Black, however much I enjoy it, doesn't totally work for me because it stops without exploring the logical implications of the story elements it brings in, I thought I'd make a post about things that do work for me on the level of really satisfying logic.

(This is not supposed to be in any way comprehensive, just some things that popped into my mind.)

First, I don't know if this is an officially recognized subgenre, but since this is the sort of thing I really want to write, I've been noticing that there's a decent amount of what I'd call ecologically focused fiction out there (and it tends to be logical, in the form of exploring the logic of how fictional organisms / magical creatures / people with different biology and abilities than humans fit together into a system):

Martha Wells' Books of the Raksura - Although the creation of fictional ecosystems is something that shows up in her earlier works, it really comes to the forefront in the Raksura books -- she explores alien group dynamics in a non-human social species that is nevertheless very understandable from a human perspective in a way that's really cool.

Marie Brennan's Lady Trent books - Dragons, and how they work, how they relate to their ecosystem -- plus how the properties of dragons relates to economics and politics -- which is to say, the human ecosystem. It's not all natural history, there's quite a bit about cultures too, and the way they're presented tends to be logical, too, because the question is usually how to get along with and interact with that culture, not about which culture is right or wrong. (I.e. the values presented are getting along and not offending other cultures, and it takes logic and figuring things out about how other cultures work to do that, often.)

Patricia C. Wrede's Thirteenth Child series - I know these have been criticized for other reasons, but the ecosystem stuff is well done IMO, especially in the second and third book.

Janet Kagan's Mirabile - This is one of the most awesome books ever, and the premise of the stories is exploring the implications of various ecological things, and/or solving mysteries associated with an alien ecosystem coupled with a very weird (but interesting!) thing that happened to the genes of all the animals the colonists brought from earth.

Janet Kagan's Hellspark - Also has some ecological components, but I feel like there are other things that are more important there. It's all satisfactorily logical and interesting (to me), though.

Rosemary Kirstein's Steerswoman Books - The Lost Steersman is my favorite, but oooo, the concept, and oooo the execution. These books are wonderful, and very logical, and very scientific, and there are awesome aliens, and stuff I can't tell you about because it would be spoilers, but it's all amazing.

Max Gladstone - I suppose this is arguable on the ecosystem axis, but it just feels like his books fit into this category to me. Something to do with the approach. Treating humans ecologically? Treating humans systematically? Exploring systems involving (very tangible) gods and humans, and what difference gods / magic makes on a large scale? Something like that.

And a few more:

Charlie Stross -- I don't always like Stross's books, but it's usually more the premises (not so much into eldritch horrors, so that takes out the Laundry books, etc.) the execution is really interesting and the book I read recently was enough about systems and logical consequences to really interest me despite the premise.

Seth Dickinson -- I wrote a rambling and incomplete post (which I never actually posted) about why the ending of The Traitor Baru Cormorant didn't quite work for me, but it boiled down to not sure I agree with his assumptions, which is not actually a logic problem, and the way the book used how things work and logical consequences in economics and politics was fascinating.

Elementary -- not the cases, but the way they explain how people can and even should relate to each other scratches my logic itch somehow.

Leverage -- because they always play fair, so it's fun to watch it all come together, and because it almost always makes sense (there are like two episodes over five seasons that I recall going what? about).
lookingforoctober: (Default)
You can't write the same thing twice, in two different contexts, and have it be exactly the same thing.

Not even if it's a fact (and especially not if it's a made up fact), not even if you're very carefully paraphrasing like they used to tell you to do in school to avoid plagiarism. If there are different words, it's not the same thing. This is because fiction isn't really about facts, I suppose. The opinions (and the characters having those opinions) matter a lot too.

This is both fun (if you want to play around with it) and annoying (if you want to decide things and those "facts" keep being slippery). It's probably best to just try to make it fun.
lookingforoctober: (Default)
Two Things the Mind Does

To simplify in a way that would probably be horrifying to the author of the post above, the two things that the mind does, I'm going to call logic and values. The post above explains in far more detail.

If I had to pick, I'd say that I'm generally more interested in logic than values. I rely more on logic, and I find values a bit...well, I am willing to concede that lots of things are matters of opinion or dependent on context... Not everything, but lots of things.

This affects how I consume stories too. I like logical stories, that explain what's going on so that it can all be followed like some kind of complicated story proof. I want to know what everything is, with all the steps for how it was discovered to be exactly that filled in. Especially when it's science fiction.

And it occurred to me that some of the things (probably a lot of the things) that I consider "explanation lacking" are actually appeals to values. Specifically, and this is one that I've seen multiple places, "creating new weapons is bad" is not meant to be a logical argument or to be a response to any specific situation or to take into account any of the complexities of a specific situation, it's supposed to be...it's the end of things. If you find out there are new weapons being created, you can stop there, because you know the value of the situation, and the value is "this is bad".

Which is...definitely a cognitive shortcut at best, and a ridiculous way of assessing a situation at worst, but it's probably going to work most of the time (especially in fiction), which is after all what cognitive shortcuts are supposed to do. I mean, I agree, I'm not in favor of new weapons at all. And yet, I don't consider that to be the end of any possible question about what's going on.

For example, Spoilers for Orphan Black Season 3 )

This is actually why I have a hard time with Orphan Black, I think. I mean, sure, it's fun to watch, and the characters, especially the sisters, are all great and Tatiana Maslany is the most amazing actress ever, but I expect some logic in my science fiction, and Orphan Black pays lip service to the idea of the story being based on science (epigenetics! protein folding! to the extent they address it, I think they know what they're talking about), but in terms of story, it keeps coming up to something value-based and stopping, and then having a fight scene or a chase scene or a party scene or whatever. They don't want to share any of the details of what something is, they just want to know if it's good or bad.

I feel like the whole idea of "tropes" fits into this somehow too, but I don't understand what a trope is well enough to speculate. (Look, trying to be logical again!)

Oh, also "chemistry", yes? Totally based on value assessment, not logic :)
lookingforoctober: (Default)
Writing software and writing fiction are not the same thing, and this is a post about writing software. But as it points out,
Making software is probably more like writing fiction than any branch of engineering, in how it's made of decisions. Fiction, too, is 100% made of decisions.


It's a very interesting way of looking at both fiction and software, and as someone who's created both, I completely agree with the idea that programming and writing fiction have their similarities. In fact, that's part of where my recent push toward outlining comes from -- remembering how useful the design phase was in writing software. Also, I have used something a bit like class diagrams for playing around with mapping out relationships in one of my projects, and every now and then, I've played around with the idea of using sequence diagrams for plotting. And I still may, if my outlining ever gets to a level where it would be useful. Software is, IMO, a bit further ahead than fiction in terms of developing good visualizations to help with design.

But anyway, the thing that really stuck out for me here was this:
It is true because reaching the very end edges of our ability to anticipate how we are going to want things to be and coping with the unknowns we encounter is part of the fundamental nature of developing software.

There is a joke in science, "If we knew what we were doing, we wouldn't call it 'research'." I have long wished we had an expression for a similar sentiment about programming. Because programming naturally, regularly, and just about always involves an encounter with the unknown, and having to reckon with what you didn't reckon with.

...

No one will ever write a spec that is so foresightful that it will correctly anticipate all the decisions that need to be made, and all the revelations that emerge along the way about what the decisions should have been.
The thing I have to remember, even as I try to come up with my own personal design process, is that what is called the waterfall method in software development, moving from design to implementation without ever looking back, doesn't really happen (as the article points out). You never move from design to implementation and then never so much as tweak your design to fit what you learn as you go, and you never move from an outline to writing real words and then never mess with the outline again.

(Although I have to admit, I keep thinking that part of the reason for software design is coordination among a team, and if I'm creating an outline -- a design -- just for me, instead of handing it off to someone else or needing to be able to hand it off to someone else, then it ought to work better...

But this is clearly a fallacy, because I am changing. Maybe not much, but I learn more, and change my mind as I learn... And the point about the process of creating something leading to the unknown, and to, inevitably, new insights as you grapple with what was originally unknown, is also very true. You don't know how something works until you've already made it. No matter whether it's just you or a whole team.)

Anyway, I know I have a bit of a hang-up about this and have to realize it over and over again, but I am once again reminded that the outline doesn't have to be perfect. Furthermore, while iteration more commonly enters the writing process as "revisions" and "drafts", a more agile process is probably a workable thing in writing, just as it is in software :) I really ought to remind myself of exactly what software has come up with in terms of agile processes, and how that might work for me as a writer.

Also, NaNoWriMo just started, and I'm pretty sure that's where the term "pantsing" originated, and in any case as NaNo begins, I've been hearing about the perpetual theoretical dichotomy between "planner" and "pantser" again. So at this point, not really seeing exactly why anyone would want to draw a line, I just want to say, I am pantsing through the design of my outline something fierce lately. (Although I do really hate the word "pantsing".)
lookingforoctober: (Default)
Every now and then I end up interested in Myers Briggs, the model of personality...this time, I ended up on this page, reading about the four functions: Sensing, iNtuition, Thinking and Feeling (the middle letters in Myers Briggs).

At the same time, I've still been thinking about the article I already linked recently about writing the perfect scene, because by some weird coincidence, I keep seeing this stuff repeated elsewhere. (The first link is still written in an irritating prescriptionist way, fair warning. The others are advice-y but not quite so irritating, IMO.)

And it suddenly occurred to me--

All of these patterns that are being presented in these articles boil down to action-reaction, which is pretty simple, but that's not the sum of what they are about. It's not just action-reaction, it's specific kinds of action-reaction, and the specific kinds model to the four functions, Sensing, iNtuition, Thinking and Feeling.

So maybe these patterns are not just about how to write action-reaction, but how to write it in a way that will have something for everyone, no matter which function they prefer to use, or which function they relate most strongly to? Because these patterns use all of them, which means that within the course of a scene and a sequel, if the writer follows the pattern, they'll have presented any reader with something to relate to, something to latch on to.

The scene - sequel pattern uses both sensing and intuition, which are about how a person processes information, either in terms of facts or ideas. A scene has a conflict, which is clearly dealing with facts, it's having facts pushed upon the character and forcing them to do something about it. It's all about what is there in the here and now. And then a sequel has a dilemma, which is about exploring ideas and generating possibilities.

The motivation - response pattern uses both feeling and thinking (though it does say that either of them is optional, but since the motivation - response pattern is supposed to be the lowest level thing and occur over and over, you can leave something out of a few repetitions of it but still have a lot of it). A response consists of a feeling, followed by a reflex, followed by ration action/speech (i.e. thinking). So thinking and feeling are both right there in the description.

And happily, thinking about it this way helps to make it more general. If you want to write a more intuitive story or character, you can have more sequels, more instances where the character is exploring the world and discovering possibilities rather than dealing with the here and now in terms of conflict. I want to say that you ought to be able to take thinking or feeling up a level and model your scenes after them too, or take sensing and intuition down a level (perhaps to structure the motivation part with either facts or possibilities?)

I think it's really all a matter of focus -- you can write more about any aspect you want, while minimizing other aspects -- but it also provides a way to focus without losing sight of the big picture, the whole that really needs to include all of these things. And by circling around to each aspect and not leaving anything out permanently, you are probably less likely, even in a story or a part of a story with a strong focus, to completely lose whatever part of the audience is going to be paying more attention to certain things.

For example, if you want to write a story with a stronger internal conflict, you'd probably focus a lot more on the thinking and/or feeling parts of it (the reactions, the dilemmas) than on the action parts of it (the motivations, the conflicts). (That sounds weird mostly due to terminology, I think. Internal conflict is not using the word conflict in quite the same way as "conflict" in the scene model, IMO.)

I think this probably also applies to acts, and to the story as a whole. It might be interesting to try to map types of climax to these functions... Achievement, revelation, discovery, realization. Well... Okay, maybe not, the climaxes are more about something final, and the functions are more about process.

On the other hand, if you look at the end point of a process:

Achievement = Sensing
Revelation = Thinking
Discovery = iNtuition
Realization = Feeling

Maybe?

So if the climax is the end point of the process, then a book with a climax of achievement should maybe focus more on sensing? I.e. on conflict? And one with a climax of discovery, more focus on intuition? I.e. on exploring possibilities / working through dilemmas?

Acts could be focused a specific way too... So you could have an act where primary axis of change happening to the character is through what they feel, or through what they think. Or through what possibilities they perceive, or through the facts that they know about.

And what about turning points? Structuring your turning points like this? Hmm, turning points are about the world, aren't they? Everything changes, not just the character. (Or am I misunderstanding turning points? Now that I've written that, I'm not so sure what exactly changes at a turning point.)

But in any case, that leads to the big weakness I see with this: the world as a separate entity almost disappears. It only exists as seen through the character's perceptions. Some, of course, might consider that a strength, and perhaps it is, but I like my worlds. I mean, yes, you can see the world through the characters...or I suppose you can have lots of "motivation" sections that delve more into the world...or you can go full omniscient and see everything through the narrator instead of one of the characters?

Anyway, I think it's got a lot of possibilities as a model.

(Sort of a side note, but I think introversion vs. extroversion can also apply to writing. Introverted writing is the kind that tries to simply show the reader something or share an understanding, and extroverted writing is the kind of writing that tries to make the reader feel or think something.

As for judgment and perception, well, some writing is clearly more interested in structure and some more interested in flow, right? Though...well, it sounds like if you use this model, it ought to be all about structure and not flow, because just look at all those definitions and structures. But...this is about the perception that the reader will get about the writing, not about whatever process that was used to create it. So structure vs. flow is really more how you arrange the pieces, IMO. I think you can do flow in this manner, it's more about how you move from one thing to the next. If it always follows, that's flow / perception, and structure / judgment would be more when you put things out there in little chunks and the structure slowly forms, but you have to wait for it. ...and if you really want to do both at once, with different aspects of the story you're presenting, then you're just really ambitious.)
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