Anne Rice On Writer’s Block

Many a time I’m asked how one overcomes writer’s block, how a writer keeps going, how one sustains one’s excitement. For me, in writing any book, there will be writers I read simply to refresh my spirits. I may dip into their books at random, or go to their short stories, or to the opening pages of novels that have always goaded me in the past to do my best work. How many of you have such favorite authors, authors you keep close at hand for the quick pick me up, for the quick clearing of the palate, for the quick caffeine jolt? With me now it’s Thomas Wolfe, but I keep Hemingway, Carson McCullers, Tolstoy, and Stephen King right here. I keep Mario Puzo’s “The Godfather” beside me. And always there is Dickens, Dickens and the Bronte sisters, and sometimes Nathaniel Hawthorne. I could name so many.

(Source: Facebook)

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Creating Characters According to Jim Butcher

From: http://jimbutcher.livejournal.com/1698.html

The main piece of advice is this: your characters need to be interesting in some way. They can’t be overly ordinary, because that would bore readers.

If you’re wondering what really makes a character interesting, Jim mentions there isn’t any one thing. However, a combination of 5 things can work together.

  1. Exaggeration.
  2. Exotic position.
  3. Introduction.
  4. Verisimilitude.
  5. Empathy.

Note: Jim Butcher says this is primarily “for writing fiction that people will actually want to read.”

1. Exaggeration is overdoing 1 or 2 character traits. One example is “Jack O’Neill is not merely wiseass and cavalier, but suicidally so.” Note that overdoing this can potentially lead to Flanderization in your story, so it’s a bit of a fine line. A larger-than-life character will naturally be more interesting than an ordinary person with an ordinary life, though.

2. Exotic position is putting your character in extra-interesting settings when they’re introduced. The “exotic” aspect can be a social, geographic, intellectual or moral position. One example is “A sentence about a thirty-five year old man sitting in an office is fairly simple and very boring. But it becomes something else entirely when it’s the OVAL office and the youngest president in the history of the nation has just been advised that a nuclear terrorist is loose in DC.”

3. For Introduction, Jim says “You never get a second chance to make a first impression. When your reader meets any given character for the first time, it is critical to make sure you get the bare bones of your character into his head immediately…. A solid CHARACTERISTIC ENTRY ACTION consists of introducing your character to the reader by bringing him into the story in the course of an action which clearly, sharply typifies who and what he is.” An introduction has to quickly and firmly establish who your character really is.

4. Verisimilitude refers to a range of things, but mostly making sure your characters are consistent and believable. “When you are writing your characters, it is absolutely critical that you convey to the reader the sense that your character is a whole, full person with his own life outside the purview of this particular story.” This doesn’t have to be elaborate, but it should extend to every main character you have. Doing it to minor characters can be done to great effect as well, as long as there’s a limit to how many characters. Too many, and readers may become confused.

Jim Butcher says you need to show your character’s emotions, reactions, and decisions. Reactions to events should be appropriate.

He also adds a section on a technique he uses when writing. There are two things he thinks about when creating a character, and makes notes of them.

  • Tags: words to describe your character’s appearance. You can use them to link to certain characters. “For example; Thomas Raith’s tag words are pale, beautiful, dark hair, grey eyes. I use them when I introduce him for the first time in each book, and then whenever he shows up on stage again, I remind the reader of who he is by using one or more of those words.”
  • Traits: trademarks, props, attitudes, etc. Easy identifiers for the character. “Harry’s traits include his black duster, his staff, his blasting rod and his pentacle amulet. These things are decorations hung onto the character for the reader’s benefit, so that it’s easy to imagine Harry…. Bob the Skull’s traits are the skull, its eyelights, his intelligence, his role as a lab assistant, his obsession with sex and his wiseass dialog. It works for the same reason.”

5. Empathy is making the reader care about a vivid character. “Or put another way, if you can make people love who you want them to love and hate who you want them to hate, you’re going to have readers coming back to you over and over again.”

“The articles here are just basic writing craft. They aren’t meant to be a comprehensive guide to written fiction. They’re just an introduction to a structured approach to story craft. First learn walk, then learn fly Daniel-san.” – Jim Butcher

Stanley Kubrick and Story Units

“A story is comprised of six to eight non-submersible plot units. This is what Stanley Kubrick told writer Brian Aldiss… [Kubrick’s] approach is to look at a long story as a group of short stories, which come together to create something far greater than a long narrative ever could, Kubrick’s method focuses on scenes, each with its own mood.” (Source)

tl;dr

  1. Status quo
  2. Changes
  3. Trials and tribulations
  4. Mission start
  5. Low point
  6. Indications of success, beginning Act III
  7. Confrontation
  8. (Epilogue: new status quo)

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8 Tips from Kurt Vonnegut on Writing Short Stories

(From Open Culture)

  1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
  2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
  3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
  4. Every sentence must do one of two things–reveal character or advance the action.
  5. Start as close to the end as possible.
  6. Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them–in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
  7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
  8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

Like most tips and rules about writing, these aren’t set in stone. Vonnegut once wrote “The greatest American short story writer of my generation was Flannery O’Connor. She broke practically every one of my rules but the first. Great writers tend to do that.”

Other pieces of advice from Vonnegut:

  • Find a subject you care about.
  • Keep it simple.
  • Sound like yourself.
  • Say what you mean.

How to write a novel, according to Stephen Power

In author Stephen Power’s blog post “How Do I Write A Novel? Or, Hugh Howey Is My Co-Pilot” he says finding the Wool series led to a breakthrough of sorts:

“It dawned on me… that in today’s digital world, a novel doesn’t have to be 100,000 words. It could be far shorter, and who couldn’t bang out 40,000 words? You probably write that many words in memos and emails each month. Brandon Sanderson writes that many in 10 days.”

He goes on to talk about how outlining can give you a book in 4 steps, more or less. 40,000 words is often considered “novella” territory (20k-40k). Still, you can scale up the wordcount goals until you get to where you want to be. Power says he ended up with a draft of 105,000 words without originally intending to – and already has sequels on the way.

This is how he does it:

  1. 2,500 word pitch. A very rough and basic outline on the story’s premise, characters, etc.
  2. 10,000 word outline. Here you fill in more details, laying out each act and major scenes.
  3. 20,000 word storyboard. This is a scene-by-scene outline going through each beat and general emotion.
  4. 40,000 word first draft. (Note: Most fiction novels have a wordcount of 50,000 to 100,000.)

Breaking a large task into smaller, more manageable pieces, is how a lot of people do things. Why should writing be any different?

Oops, more than halfway through 2016

I haven’t been doing much personal writing as of late for two reasons:

  1. I do freelance writing now. It’s decent money to ghostwrite articles for strangers on the internet.
  2. I don’t self-motivate enough. I could get more done if I pushed myself harder.

There’s also a sort of writer’s block gnawing at me. In my current novel, I know what I want to say and how to say it, but I have difficulty getting the words on the page. I’m not bored and the text is a little too fast-paced in my opinion. Maybe I’ve just been working on this project for too long, or I need more research.

Maybe it’s all related to this quote I found earlier today on Twitter:

(Source)

Consolidating the Hero’s Journey

Everyone seems to have their own take on the Hero’s Journey.

Drawing from sources I’ve encountered, I tried to get a clear picture of what an “ideal” Hero’s Journey should be. A couple of the parts can be cut if it serves the story better. Act II is always the bulk of the story. Sometimes Act III is shorter than Act I instead of both being equal length (steadily rising action to climax, then sharply falling action to conclusion of story).

Act I – Separation

The Ordinary World (beginning: 25%). Establishing the world, the characters, the conflict, the plot. Establish the needs and what the hero’s quest is.

  • Ordinary world
    • The known, the set-up, the status quo, limited awareness
    • Begin with the main character (in action – in a characteristic moment), show their normal world where they’re reasonably comfortable. Only include necessary information, and create a reason to care about the main character. May add some inkling about the character’s goals and desires.
  • Call to adventure
    • Inciting incident, the call to action, the catalyst, life in collapse, hook
    • Early plot point. Events begin to spin out of control, goals are forced out of reach, etc.
  • Refusal of the call
  • Meeting the mentor
    • Meeting the white spirit, supernatural aid,
    • Meeting hero/heroine may also/instead happen (or, more likely, at the start of Act II)
  • Crossing the first threshold
    • Energetic marker 1: end of the beginning
    • The point of no return, committing to the goal, break into two, turning point 1, awakening, possible minor sacrifice. New goals and desires may be established for the main character.
    • Threshold guardians, down the rabbit hole
    • Plot point 1, act 1 climax

Act II – Supreme Ordeal

The Special World (middle: 50% of the story). Characters react to situations and flaws are revealed. They may retreat from obstacles. Characters learn how to overcome their flaws and their problems, and to attack their obstacles with success. Before the midpoint: “Descent: The Abyss” and after the midpoint: “Ascent: Magic Flight”

Optional: Somewhere between “approach to the inmost cave” and the midpoint, there can be a section referred to as Meeting the Shadow Self (or “heiros gamos”/sacred marriage). Plot points: the wild bride/bridegroom, meeting the goddess/god, at-one moment with father/mother, finding love in the underworld.

  • Tests, allies, enemies
    • The fun and games, resistance and struggle, rising action and obstacles, belly of the whale, push to the breaking point, the special world, the land of adventure
    • Road of trials is the path out of the Belly of the Whale, involving tests and/or temptations
    • Main character responds to the inciting incident / main conflict, usually by trying and failing to overcome obstacles. Character tends to be mourning, running, hiding, analyzing, observing, and/or planning. May have a symbolic/metaphorical death. New goals and desires may be established for the main character, if they haven’t already been.
    • Opposing forces are defined
    • The Big Event
    • Pinch point 1: 1st battle
  • Midpoint (sometimes this is after “approach to the inmost cave” if it can be arranged, but not often)
    • Energetic marker 2: halfway point
    • Mid-act climax, moment of grace, mindfuck moment, moment of enlightenment, commitment to the journey, progress, revelation, intermission, new rules/information
    • Characters retreat and regroup after a doomed fight back, deciding on a course of action (sometimes a “night sea voyage” of infiltrating the enemy’s base)
    • True nature of characters revealed, shifting from victim to warrior. Character(s) begin to understand more about themselves, and how they need to change and become better to defeat/achieve/etc a person/thing.
    • Crossing the 2nd threshold
  • Approaching inmost cave
    • Challenges and temptations, grace and fall, resistance and struggle, complications and higher stakes, the bad guys close in, intensification, preparation, rising action, obstacles, elixir theft
    • Preparations, courtship, reconnaissance, shamanic territory, impossible test/obstacle ahead
    • Hero is proactive and shows initiative, having learned from their trials in the first half of the story, and is ready to attack. Hero fights back, hatches a plan, enlists assistance, demostrates courage
    • Hero confronts antagonist(s) in a “David vs Goliath” fashion
    • Pinch point 2: 2nd battle
  • Inmost cave (The Ordeal)
    • Energetic marker 3: Crisis
    • Dark night of the soul, abyss and revelation, the major assault, death of the ego, death experience, death of dreams, rock bottom, the ordeal, the crisis, big change, epiphany
    • The antagonists hit hard and ALL HOPE SEEMS LOST – doubt, fear, etc.
    • Generally the hero is called upon to sacrifice something (themselves, a friend, an item, etc) and doesn’t have to actually do it. It may be just a test of character to show that the hero is mentally willing to make the sacrifice
    • Crossing the 3rd threshold
    • Plot point 2, act 2 climax

Act III – Unification

The Ordinary World (end: 25%). The characters risk all and conquer their inner demons. They return to the familiar world triumphant, with perhaps one last problem to solve.

  • Final Push
    • The descent, the sprint, declaration, love takes a stand
    • New insights for characters, internal growth, main character now has all information necessary to become the primary catalyst in the story’s conlusion, main character will respond to the main challenge in a unique way.
    • Intermission before showdown
  • Seizing the Sword (Climax)
    • Energetic marker 4: Climax (more drama/action than marker 2)
    • Transformation, finale, break into three, the final incident, final battle, ultimate sacrifice, conflict solved
    • Main character can’t simply observe/narrate – has to step up and take the lead, conquering inner demons, to attain the Ultimate Boon they’ve been seeking. They’ve been stretched to the breaking point and have bounced back, transforming into a hero.
    • May be the conclusion of a chase (Magic Flight). The hero has the boon and runs, opposing forces in hot pursuit, as they engage in a dramatic final battle. Requires all skills and allies.
  • The Reward
    • Winners and losers are made clear
    • Seizing the prize, resurrection, triumph and knowledge, incorporation, master of two worlds
    • The hero may refuse to return to the ordinary world at first, having earned a place in the Special World through their deeds.
  • The road back & return with the elixir
    • Transformation and return
    • Loose ends tied up, crossing the fourth threshold
    • There may be a post-climax confrontation – opposing forces could follow into the ordinary world, or there’s something wrong in the ordinary world that requires dealing with. Or may be a boring return and time of reflection.
    • Rapidly falling action, denouement, new life, resolution, aftermath, a new status quo, freedom to live
    • Normality is created/restored for the characters, there’s a sense of catharsis, tension and anxiety are released
  • End Scene, celebration, and/or Epilogue

The short version:

Act 1 – Separation (Set-up: Orphan)

  • Set-up (ordinary world)
  • Challenge/catalyst (call/refusal)
  • Conflict made known
  • Threshold 1

Act 2 – Ordeal (Response & Attack: Wanderer into Warrior)

  • Road of trials
  • Big Event
  • Pinch point 1
  • Midpoint: Revelation & Threshold 2
  • Pinch point 2
  • Crisis & Threshold 3

Act 3 – Unification (Resolution: Martyr & Master)

  • Climax
  • Resolution, reward
  • Road back & Threshold 4
  • Dawn