lookingforoctober: (Default)
2017-09-24 03:32 pm
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Writing: another observation

Whenever I forget about going forward...

Whenever I start thinking about what's going on right now in the scene (and what factors led to this point), and quit thinking about where it's going...

That's when I tend to get stuck, and not even realize it. Because it's not stuck like 'oh no, I don't know where to go', it's stuck like 'oops, I was so interested in where I was I forgot to go anywhere'.

This keeps happening...lately, at least...because I'm working on writing better moment by moment stuff, and this is what happens when that gets out of balance.

Luckily, I usually remember at some point that stories need to move forward.
lookingforoctober: (Default)
2017-06-22 04:10 pm
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It occurs to me that the only time I really ask myself "Could this be shorter" and really mean it is when I have a real deadline with actual consequences for missing it.

(For example, most of the time, if I come up with a scene while outlining then after that I assume that it's there for a reason... which it probably is, but even so, there may also be reasons to eliminate it, or cut down the amount included in the scene, or... etc. etc.)


The problem is I don't actually like deadlines very much, even if they sometimes force me to ask questions that I should probably be asking all the time.

So I guess the next question is, having realized this, can I get myself to ask the question without having the deadline?
lookingforoctober: (Default)
2016-07-09 02:07 pm
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First Lines and Openings

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)
2016-03-03 02:26 pm
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Conflict Lock for Complicated People

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 :)
lookingforoctober: (Default)
2016-02-07 04:08 pm
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Hypothesis of the Day

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)
2016-01-18 02:41 am
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Another piece of the summary puzzle

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.
lookingforoctober: (Default)
2016-01-12 07:24 pm
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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)
2015-12-15 04:36 pm
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Be stories vs. Do stories

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)
2015-12-09 08:59 pm
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one more thought on outlining

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)
2015-12-08 06:10 pm
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Some thoughts on outlining

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)
2015-12-07 04:05 pm
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Ideas, especially impossible ones...

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)
2015-12-03 08:03 pm
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The Power of "No"

...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)
2015-11-17 04:21 pm
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One thing about writing

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)
2015-11-04 05:40 pm
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Software and Writing

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)
2015-10-29 02:50 pm
Entry tags:

Myers Briggs and Writing

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


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.)
lookingforoctober: (Default)
2015-10-27 03:04 am
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Why outline?

I've been trying to make outlining work for me, and it has been a struggle, but I've realized exactly why I need to make this work:

Writing words cannot be allowed to be the hard part of writing, because you have to write lots and lots of words (at least, you do if you're me, and want to actually finish one of the really long things in your head). It's okay if outlining is hard. You don't have to generate so large a quantity of outline.

I just need to get it into my head that outlining is hard, and that it's okay if every stage of expansion takes some time (and isn't perfect, that's okay too).
lookingforoctober: (Default)
2015-10-18 12:19 am
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Why you shouldn't leave drafts of posts in open tabs in a webbrowser...

I had a really long post I was going to write about how the techniques for writing non-chronologically are very similar to the techniques for writing multiple viewpoints, and today I went to look at it to see if I could finish it off and post it and sometime between then and now firefox ate it.

I can really only blame myself, it's probably been a month or more, but firefox is usually really nice about not eating things.

Oh well.

I wish I could remember what I said, though. It was mostly about worldbuilding, I think. Something about how both multiple viewpoints and non-chronological sections allow a writer to quickly and economically explore large portions of the world, I think. Or about how both of these are really good for exploring non-linear subjects (like worldbuilding, but there are probably other things that are non-linear that you might want to show)?

Something about change too, and how plot is change but to really explore a world you need to be able to stand still long enough to see it...or see it from different angles...

Or maybe...well, worldbuilding isn't plot, lots of things aren't plot, but sometimes the worldbuilding (or something else, character? group dynamics?) are almost more important than the plot (or have to be understood very well in order to understand the plot)? So it can be worth structuring things so that this is presented in the most effective order?

Or maybe about how historical change can show a world more clearly than any snapshot? Or how a snapshot can show certain complicated moments more clearly than any progression? And it all depends on what you want to show?

Anyway. It would have been a much more coherent post if I hadn't lost it, I'm sure, but I just wanted to note for the record (I sometimes look back at these things) that I was surprised to realize that if you want to move around in space in order to show different aspects of the world (or whatever), there are two options: move around in space directly (i.e. multiple viewpoints) or move around is space indirectly (i.e. move around in time too), and you can use a lot of the same techniques for each.
lookingforoctober: (Default)
2015-10-15 04:00 am
Entry tags:


You know that feeling when someone on the internet is wrong? And you feel like they need to be corrected, even though it may be a bad idea?

Is that what conflict in a story is, except that it's the protagonist who wants to correct them (needs to correct them, or even must correct them to survive), and it (probably) won't turn out so terribly badly, at least not in the very end?

Is that why conflict is supposed to be so good for stories? Because it creates that feeling, the one where you really want to see things change or be corrected? And so you read on...
lookingforoctober: (Default)
2015-10-08 02:46 pm
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Writing hypothesis of the day

The better it is written, the easier it will be to revise it, even if revising it means totally changing some aspect of it. (As long as revising doesn't mean totally changing all aspects of it?)

...or maybe I just want to believe that better writing in an early draft isn't wasted. I don't know. It seems to make sense...

...actually, I think I want to believe that I've gotten to the point where I know what to write well enough that I know what to focus on and won't write something where all aspects of it don't belong / need to be changed. Well, maybe I have, at that :) At least most of the time / enough of the time not to waste too much time. I guess I will see at some point.
lookingforoctober: (Default)
2015-10-07 04:03 pm
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Writing hypothesis of the day

You can leave out (as long as it's not the focus of the story) anything you want to leave out, except the well-earned consequences of the character's actions.