Thursday, August 10, 2017

How do you start a story?



There are many ways to start a story, of course. There are many ways to do all the things you have to do to write good fiction. But my way is I start with a character and situation. I try to make, inherent in that character and situation, a conflict and the kernel of what the story might be about. Then I build my story from there.

Alas, I think it's easy to confuse a cool setting or even an interesting character with a STORY. When one of my students says my story is about ancient Rome and there's this really cool dragon in it and some mythical creatures and I've got this character named Sid. He's funny. You'll really love it.

I think, I want to.

I say, Great. But what's it about?

I just told you.

Not really.

It's about ancient Rome.

You told me about setting and you mentioned character. What's it about?

But--

This can go on for a long time. Sometimes the student gets it and sometimes they don't. A cool setting is not a story. That can be a great part of the story. The setting can be fertile ground for the conflict needed to build story. By itself though, not so much. Not at all, really.

Story is more than setting. It's more than a building a character. It's the movement, the progression of character and plot within a design. It's about making the right choices--which conflicts to focus on for example--because you have a clear sense of character and plot movement. Obviously there are many other aspects of writing that need to work, too--great language, dialogue, voice, as mentioned-setting, etc...but this idea of story and its development is crucial.Whether you're an outliner or discovery writer, working on this sense of progression and design can be crucial to finding your way in your novel.

For me, starting with a character and situation,  and building from it helps me find my way.



Sunday, May 28, 2017

How you begin & How you develop the Beginning--a strategy

•How to begin
Character in a situation…and the situation must have potential for CONFLICT
A boy and a girl from warring families fall in love. (this may have been done once or twice)
A boy’s father dies and he suspects it’s murder—worse that his uncle is involved and maybe his mother.
A policeman owns ten cats and comes home one night and they’re all gone.

A sea captain becomes obsessed with finding and killing a large sea mammal.
THEN TO DEVELOP THE BEGINNINGYOUR MC WANTS SOMETHING BUT SOMETHING GETS IN THE WAY SO THERE IS A STRUGGLE.
NEEDS SOMETHING—DEEPER STRUGGLE
OR ANOTHER WAY TO THINK OF THIS--
MC HAS GOAL/AN OBSTACLE GETS IN THE WAY.
HOWEVER YOU SEE IT—the character’s conflict WITH self, another character, society, natural world, supernatural world, technology drives the story, develops characters, creates progression

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Conflict--an interview

Instructor Q&A: Brian Yansky

“We read fiction to see characters struggle and overcome or fail to overcome the conflict in their stories.”
-Brian Yanksy
Brian Yansky is teaching a class for the Writers’ League of Texas called “Developing Conflict in Fiction” on May 27 at St. Edward’s University in Austin, TX. The class will identify and discuss different kinds of conflict and how to use them in novels and stories. Read the interview below and visit the class page to learn more.
Brian Yansky
Scribe: First off, why is it important to develop conflict?
Brian Yansky: Conflict is at the heart of all fiction. It develops characters, propels plot, and makes setting relevant. We read fiction to see characters struggle and overcome or fail to overcome the conflict in their stories. From a writer’s POV, creating conflict within your characters and between your main character, other characters, or perhaps society or nature or any number of other possibilities builds narrative. You’ve got to have conflict.
Scribe: Do you find that characters are developed with a specific conflict in mind, or do conflicts form based on the characters?
BY: Both. For me, usually, I start with a character and a situation. The situation has to have the potential for conflict in it. The character wants/needs something, and something gets in the way of her want/need.  This is one way to build a central conflict for the character. However, as the character develops, other conflicts will occur to the writer. It’s a process. The character creates conflicts by her actions in trying to deal with problems and conflicts.
Scribe: Are there any specific tips you rely on to generate conflict within stories?
BY: The big tip is to start with a character in a situation that will create conflict from the inception of the story. But beyond that it depends on the story. A character in conflict with society—  for example, Hunger Games, 1984, To Kill a Mockingbird – will find conflict everywhere because they’re struggling against something large and powerful.  Just generally, I look for friction inside a character, between characters, or between a character and setting or a character and plot. Developing this friction will develop conflict, which will develop character and plot. That’s why conflict is so essential. It helps the writer build her story.
Scribe: Have you noticed any trends of less-common conflicts emerging in contemporary fiction?
BY: It should be pretty clear that I think conflict is in just about every story. Whatever the new trend is, it will have conflict and writers will find creative ways to make the conflict different and unique.
A trend that’s been done many different ways is “end of the world” stories. The setting creates immediate conflict in these stories. There’s conflict between survivors and other survivors, or those pesky walking dead or a world consumed by nuclear winter, or aliens, or gods.  One of my favorites in this kind of story in recent years is Station Eleven. If you’re looking for a good “end of the world” story, check that one out.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Why do I write?

Sometimes I wonder why I have this compulsion to create characters, to worry over a sentence, to make stories.  Why do I do it?  There are many answers. A list of them wouldn't be hard to make. But there's also no clear answer.

Why do we love the things we love?  And the answer to this, like the answer to why I write, is a mystery buried deep beneath the layers of reasonable and perfectly acceptable answers.

I've always loved dogs. Always loved stories--movies, comic books, and then books. I've loved people. I love some people. And the list could go on...because there are a lot of things I love but...I write out of obsession and dislocation and attraction and habit and...need...

 Writing makes me happy, sad, angry, satisfied. It feels like I have a purpose. Finish the story. I'm almost always working on something and, whatever else is going on in my life, I have this story that needs to be finished. Writing is thrilling,  difficult,  annoying; it's a lot of things at once. Maybe above all  it's compelling. Writing stories compels me to move through my days, my weeks, my months.  I want to get the damn thing finished--though of course there's always a part of me that doesn't because then I'll be pulled from the world of that story and into the uncertainty of a new story.

So in a way there is this constant in my life. The many changes, the moves and stands, the trials and the failures and successes, the life I live, always has this going on in it. A story I'm trying to tell. A story that needs to be finished. So maybe that's my best answer. I write to finish the story.


Friday, September 2, 2016

How to Begin...

So there are many, many ways to begin a novel. Some people start with ideas--I do sometimes--and their process is to attract other ideas and build characters and story from this idea beginning. Others start with a bit of story--this happened so... They make up characters that will help them build their story. They develop them Or maybe they already have characters in mind because the origin of the story is an article or a some spin off a movie or something that happened to them or someone they knew. Some writers begin with a single scene idea or even an image. I read one novelist say he began a novel with someone he once saw--a girl on a boat leaning on a rail and looking down at the sea.

Point is--writers work differently. Not only that but sometimes a writer will use different methods for different stories. Creative types are that way. T I've started a novel with an idea. Alien Invasion and Other Inconveniences started with a simple idea--what if aliens invaded the earth and killed off almost all the population? What would happen to the survivors? And the story, beginning with that premise, took off for me.

BUT most of the time I start with a character first and a situation.  Let me give you some examples.

A boy and a girl fall in love but their families are at war.

A young man thinks his uncle killed his father but his uncle marries his mother and the young man struggles with taking action against the uncle.

A ship captain becomes obsessed with hunting down a big water mammal.

A girl must compete in a state ordered game to the death; if she doesn't kill everyone, including a boy she's known since she was a child, she will die.

These may look a little familiar but, hey, most stories have been told. It's your particular spin on them that makes them completely new. But really--there are an endless number of situations you can imagine characters in. Be creative.

This is just the beginning. Some hard work--developing the character in the situation-- is ahead.  There are many ways to approach this too. That's kind of a theme of mine when I talk about writing. THERE IS NO ONE WAY. Find the way that works for you. I'll get to some approaches on developing an initial situation and character next blog.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

One Simple Way to Help You Write Better Fiction(language)

I think the tell and show problem happens because in the throes of creation we're grasping for main points of action and reaction and variations of them. We want to get them down before we lose them. I do this. A lot.

So what happens is we get the structure of a paragraph wrong for fiction. Our paragraphs, in an inexperienced writer this can be many, many paragraphs, become structured like we learned to structure them in our high school essays. Topic Sentence. Development of that topic sentence. Repeat and repeat and repeat.

We tell the reader what we're about to show them and then we show them.

Wrong.

And we don't see it because we tell ourselves we are showing. But the problem is we're telling first and then we're trying to show with the rest of the paragraph.  Causes lots of problems. For example, it drains a paragraph of suspense. If you tell the reader what will happen first and then show it, well they know, don't they. It makes the paragraph feel repetitive and sometimes clunky. Often it will even undermine development of the paragraph because the author won't see choices he would if he were in the mind of his character moving forward. Above all, it weakens the verisimilitude of the paragraph.

Instead of telling and then showing--just show. We want our paragraphs to stay in the POV of the character experiencing the scene. We want to experience it with them. See it through them.

Like I said. I still tell and show. But in revision I'm conscious of this problem and I look for it and do my best to stay in POV. I think it's made my fiction stronger. Hope this helps.

Friday, April 1, 2016

video

Once I know the ending, and sometimes this takes me a while, a draft even, I can start figuring out how to design my novel. I need to know where I'm going  to know how to get there, to make every scene work toward that destination. Endings, so important.