Tag Archives: story structure

Weekend writing

Today was a little odd, in that I didn’t get to write in the pre-dawn hours. My wife and I are both off, and this usually kills my schedule. It did today, too, but if I don’t adapt a little, I can’t get anything done.

I went to another room in the house, which required me to move a bit of equipment around, but it was that or nothing. There was a little distraction in that the light on the ceiling fan is hanging down by a wire.

This kind of thing irritates me. I got out the step stool and monkeyed with it for an hour, until my arms ached. I have to twist it until the threads catch, and you wouldn’t think it would be that hard. All I can say is the size of the piece prevents me from seeing, and working overhead doesn’t help either. It was something I had to feel. In this project, I failed. I have a better ladder, so I might try again tomorrow.

As far as word count, it feels like about 2000. Not my best day by a long shot, but not awful either. In one more critique sized chunk I’ll break 30,000 words. This scene doesn’t lead to rapid word count either. I just finished an action packed section, and Lanternfish escaped to the open sea. As captain, James needs to think about his next move.

This is important stuff, because he has a balance to maintain. Open seas are relatively safe, but the war torn coast where he’s headed is dangerous. Privateers loot enemy ships to supply their own country. Pirates don’t want uniforms and boots. They want something more valuable. He also needs intelligence and needs to decide how best to gain it. Between strategic moves, keeping his crew motivated, the ship supplied, and more, the captain has a lot to keep track of.

This works in the scope of a book, because it can’t be all action and/or humor all the time. Readers need a breather, too. It isn’t like I don’t know what James is going to do, but I want to make sure I sell it correctly.

James is one of the more serious characters aboard the ship. I’ll have to delve into something more colorful as they set their course.

I’m once again noticing the value of a large cast. Lanternfish tales never seem to have me worried about the word count. I can always dip into something the crew is doing to add a bit of color.

If I can hit 2000 words per day, I’ll break 30K before the weekend is over.

In another part of my life, the wifi in this house improved when CableOne finally decided to replace their ancient router. However, the new one came with dead spaces, one of which is where I work. I was looking into various pieces of equipment to boost the signal, then decided to talk about it with my son. He’s been looking into the same thing, so he was well versed.

He pointed out the new routers come with two signals. He suggested I try the other one before buying any equipment. I didn’t even know what he was talking about. It seems the router is identified twice in searches, the only difference is that one ends in 5G. Not every bit of equipment is functional on 5G, certainly not this old iPad. I made the switch and all is well in wifi land.

I point this out, because some of you might not know this either. If you’re having wifi troubles you might try this simple trick before spending more money.

Advertisements

40 Comments

Filed under Writing

Working on the other stuff

It’s another zero writing of new fiction weekend for me. There are a lot of reasons, and I’m not going to complain about them here. It seems my only option for writing time is to leave the house and go somewhere quiet. I hate the idea of being away from my coffee pot and bathroom for that long, but it could be possible.

I may get a couple of hours next week some time. If I do, I’ll try to make the best of them.

Sprinklers needed some work around here too. I am not a tool guy and never have been. My talents lie elsewhere. I’ve done everything I can, and it’s time to bring in an expert. If I can set things up for after payday it would be perfect. I’m trying to preserve enough money for a work trip to Lewiston.

I can take advantage of continental breakfast at my hotel, and there is a lunch provided one day. I’m still going to need enough gasoline to get home, so I’m trying to be conservative.

Today I tried to work ahead on Story Empire posts. My series on story structure ends Monday, so I hope you’ll all show up. I’ll have to remember to add the back links to the older posts in the series.

I decided to add some expansion packs in my next few posts over there. You know how popular video games sometimes release an expansion pack, that’s the term I’m stealing. The first one will be about fairytale structure. I have it roughed out, and a couple of weeks to polish it up.

There are at least two others I want to include in future posts. They work in conjunction with the hero’s journey, or whatever other structure you might be using. They aren’t required, but could enhance your story. That’s why I’m calling them expansion packs.

I may work ahead on them tomorrow too. That way I feel like I’m being productive, even if it isn’t what I want to be working on. Sometimes working ahead helps clear my slate so I can get more done when I finally score a good writing day.

Tickets to see the new Avengers movie tomorrow. Hope all of you are having a great weekend.

38 Comments

Filed under Blogging

A fair writing day

I didn’t hit it with a vengeance today. My crew is in a new country, and I needed to get some of the flavor on the page.

To do this, I used one of the unexplored supporting characters and weaved in a bit of his backstory. I think it worked out pretty well. He’s from this continent, and has proven useful.

The advantage is to have built fences. Now I have to live within those parameters, and I find it helpful. I could go back and change everything, but I usually find this to be a positive step.

There was a fight with the enemy sailors, but not in a way that would get them destroyed by the locals. (It wasn’t a dance off either.)

I’ve decided to let them tour outside the city while the foundry prepares their order. I’m thinking something do do with wine production, maybe stomp a few grapes. I think I’ll include some bee keeping, which could lead to some mead drinking as well.

It only seems logical that people who spend months on a ship would want to do things off the ship when the chance presents itself.

Maybe I should buy a good bottle of mead for inspiration. I’ve done stranger things.

Somehow, they should have a new problem to face when they get done playing in the countryside. It doesn’t have to be major, but I think the story would benefit from that. It’s time to do some more daydreaming about this issue.

Writing took me up until noon, but it was enough. I broke the 70,000 word barrier, and there is a lot of story to write yet. I usually suffer trying to stretch something to novel length, but that won’t be a problem here.

I dabbled with Lisa Burton Radio, but that didn’t take much time. Most of my afternoon was spent watching a baseball game. They won this time, so maybe my curse is broken. I hope so. It’s a lot more fun watching your team win.

Tomorrow is the day I call my parents, and my wife is driving home too. I don’t expect to get much done, but you never know.

28 Comments

Filed under Writing

Unexpectedly Productive Today

My wife and I were supposed to spend the day together. She volunteered to watch the grandkids so their parents could go skiing. They took the kids over the weekend, but I understand that sometimes mom & dad need to do things without the kids too. To my surprise, the babysitting took place at their house, not mine.

Well, now. (Visualize me rubbing my hands together.) I headed for the writing cabin. Lisa* met me in the lobby along with Yak Guy and a smelly Hermit. I waved my hand under my nose.

“I understand,” Lisa said. “I turned off my sensors. You said we were writing him in the winter and it wouldn't matter.”

“Guess I never counted on being indoors during the winter. Are we done with the giant lion?”

“He's out on the patio, just in case.”

I headed out back and went over my last chapter.

“I'm not too happy about having to gorge all that food down, but I'm grateful for the work,” the lion said.

“I needed you to look totally full. I appreciate your dedication.”

“I'm available for rewrites, or even scenery shots if you want.”

“I'll have Lisa stay in touch.”

“I gave her my card, would you like one too?”

I really didn't, but it seemed important to him, so I accepted it.

“Maybe next book you'll need a lion with some dialog. I can do accents too.”

“Good to know. I have to get back to the Hermit now.”

The lion left, and I got to work on the Hermit section. Yak Guy and the Hermit got along fine, but the Hermit's lessons didn't come across well. I decided to go with it. It's almost like when the card is dealt upside down. I decided it was more realistic to a reading that way. Not everyone is going to get through to a student. Yak Guy learned more from some than others, and it just seems more natural to me that way.

When we sewed it up for the day I'd written over 4000 new words. I googled a few things, and discussed them with Lisa. She gets the information as fast or faster than I do.

“I know you've been struggling with this next section,” she said. “What are you going to do?”

“I could drag this out forever. It might involve a secret trip to visit the Research Sirens again, and I know I'm not supposed to do that. I think it's time to make an executive decision.”

“Yeah?”

“Ring up the Hanged Man, and let's get him over here. I'm skipping around for the sake of the story. I really don't feel the need for Justice, and I want the Wheel of Fortune later on.”

“I can have him here tomorrow. Are you okay? I picked up some of that salted caramel cocoa you wanted to try.”

“I'm good with it. I got what I needed to out of the challenge, but I want to deliver a good story too.”

“But you couldn't skip the smelly Hermit guy?”

“I guess that's just how it worked out. Now about that cocoa?”

“I'll get it ready, and fumigate the lobby while the kettle is heating up.”

*Lisa is my personal assistant, and the spokesmodel for Entertaining Stories. She's also a robot and has her own stories.

33 Comments

Filed under Muse

News and vignette

I got up late today and procrastinated with various forms of social media. I always flip through them before starting a writing day, but I lingered long enough to know I was goofing off. I still managed about 2800 words of The Yak Guy Project.

Yak Guy is the one where I’m trying to use the Major Arcana of the tarot as my story structure. I’ve had to meld some characters, and take a few out of order. Several things go on at once, and it doesn’t make sense to take them one at a time. For instance, the Empress character is also one of The Lovers. This overlaps the training of the Heirophont. I already had some of The Lovers, so I kind of moved faster on this section. It’s time for Strength, The Hermit, and the Wheel of Fortune. I may take some of these out of order, because it makes more sense to my story. I kind of want The Hanged Man before the Wheel. Right now I need to dwell on it some.

In other news, I woke up with a character and setting again. I don’t particularly want to dwell on her for weeks, and sometimes writing a vignette will get them out of my head. Here goes nothing, and remember I’m free writing this one:

Barbi Baronski awoke with a ringing in her ears. It was dark and dusty, and every muscle in her body ached. She stretched and her hands touched concrete overhead.

She’d driven into the city to model a new line of fitness wear, but couldn’t remember if she was going to the shoot or driving home. Daylight was visible if she looked along the ground above her head. She tried to rollover and crawl, but it was too tight in here. She slid along on her back using a kind of frog kick with her legs.

The ringing faded a bit, and Siri’s voice asked, “What can I help you with? What can I help you… What can I… What?, What?, What?…” Barbi kept sliding. Her back became a slow motion road rash of cuts and dirt.

Fresh air seemed like a wonderful thought, but it was dust, smoke, and grime. The sky above was brilliant blue, but there were no contrails, birds, or even trees. She pulled herself out of the rubble and sat upright.

The remains of her tattered top fell on her lap. Her $200 jeans were mostly threads, but clung together by some miracle. The entire world was silent except for the ringing in her ears. She covered herself with her right arm and stood up tentatively. There was nobody around. The place looked like a gravel pit, except for a twisted streetlight that snaked through the rubble.

She always drove home on 76, and thought she recognized some of its outline. Thank God her trainers survived. She walked for miles through the rubble. Pieces of automobiles dotted the landscape, and tiny bits of building foundations started appearing. The farther she walked, the more the rubble started to look like something. She stopped covering herself, because nobody was around at all.

By mid afternoon, her stomach reminded her that she was starving. She spotted a few walls and veered off her path to investigate. It turned out to be a family restaurant of some kind. A shard of mirror showed her that nearly six inches of her brunette hair had been singed away. A copper pipe produced a small blue flame at the end. The gas lines were still on out here.

She dug through the rubble and found a single can of refried beans, a tiny frying pan, and a bent chef’s knife. She used the heel of the knife to chop the can open enough to get it in the pan, then held it over the open flame until it smelled edible.

She kicked through the rubble and turned over a small table. A piece of concrete served as a chair. She managed to bend the tines of an old fork into a relatively useful position and ate in silence. Hardly health food, but it was food and that’s all that mattered now.

Across from her on a piece of remaining wall were three huge frames. Two were missing everything, but the third one appeared to be the dinner menu. It read:

  • Meatloaf $6
  • Prime Rib $13
  • Rack of Ribs $11
  • Sides…

The rest was torn away and it appeared to be cloth of some kind. Threads dangled in the breeze. She finished her beans, and used the bent knife to cut away most of her fancy jeans. $200 custom cutoffs? She split the pants legs and used some electrical wire to make them into a purse of sorts. She placed the pan and the old fork inside.

 

A rock smashed the remaining glass from the menu and she removed the cloth, cut a hole for her head and used more wire to stitch the sides closed. She looked down at her new shirt which now read:

 

Prime

Rack

 

Barbi tucked the bent knife into her belt and headed into the setting sun. Home was important, but if it wasn’t there any longer, she would head west until she found a new place to call home.

 

***

I have no idea what caused the disaster, aliens, war, the refried bean festival. I also have no intention of finishing Barbi’s story, but something may come to me in the future. These vignettes are a way of retiring some of the ideas I get. Sometimes it works, and sometimes I have to revisit them even years later.

There was more too it, like a dried up river, and talking to a snake. The snake represented an ancient survivor, and Barbi drew a parallel to herself as a survivor. I figured the post was long enough, and maybe Barbi could go on her adventure without me.

How about it you writers? Do you ever wake up having been visited by the muse? Do you make notes, forget about it, start another project? I can’t write all of mine. Barbi could be a good character, she’s obviously strong. Maybe she can be a side character one day, or maybe her story will come to me later.

It appears my muse is getting back into shape. Back to the paycheck job tomorrow.

27 Comments

Filed under Short Stories & Vignettes, Writing

A short fiction trick

I’ve been putting off this post for a long time, because it’s got to be a long post. The reason is it has to include a bit of micro-fiction to pick apart. Some of you might like the trick, some of you might like the story, but I’m going to post it anyway.

I’ve been seeing more posts about writing short stories on Blogland. Some of them are good, but most of them could be summed up by saying make them short. That’s so obvious as to be pretty unhelpful.

In order to share this trick, I have to give you a story to pick apart. Since I’m allowed to post an excerpt for promotional purposes, I’m choosing one from the Experimental Notebook. It isn’t my fault that it makes a complete story in 900 words. If you like the story, there are more in the Notebook for 99ยข.

50 Gallon Drum

It’s just an old 50 gallon drum. It sat alongside Mitchell Creek, just across Daddy’s field, for as long as I could remember. It may have fallen off someone’s truck, or it may have been dumped there beside the washer and dryer that had been there for years. It had blue paint once, but that’s faded over the decades.

My dog and I checked it out when summer came. Mitchell Creek was always a good place to catch tadpoles, or even a frog if we got lucky. The drum had a band and latch around the top, but it rusted pretty good in the spring rains.

I remember that I could look back at the house and see my bedroom window from where the drum sat. The trees were all young then, and there wasn’t much shade. Mitchell Creek Road ran up the other side, but Momma didn’t want me to go that far.

We didn’t find much more than garter snakes around the rusted appliances. Momma told me girls don’t play with those, so we never brought them home. When the wild roses bloomed, we had every kind of butterfly you can imagine, and even hummingbirds showed up around that old barrel.

In ’04, a bunch of yellow-jackets made a home in the barrel, and it became a place to avoid. They lasted for a few years, until the swallows found them.

That winter, Mitchell Creek became the preferred path for a red fox to get to his hunting grounds. We never saw him, but the tracks showed where he passed.

My old dog took to using the shade of the barrel during the brutal summer of ’05. He’d get his drink from Mitchell Creek, then curl up beside the barrel during the heat of the day.

That was the same summer Momma started on her nerve medicine. Daddy let a couple fields go fallow so he could spend more time with her. He leased those fields to a big agribusiness in ’06.

’07 was the last year the dog went to Mitchell Creek. Daddy buried him out behind the barn. It was a good year along the creek. The hazelnuts produced a bumper crop, and my dog would have enjoyed protecting the nuts from the squirrels.

Billy White felt his first bare breasts along Mitchell Creek Road in ’08. No, they weren’t mine, but we’re about the same age. They belonged to Connie Turner, who was a JV cheerleader that year. Billy played third baseman on the high school team, and he could hit a ton. It seems only natural they were interested in each other.

Billy carved their names in a young walnut that grew ten feet from the barrel. They’re still there to this day.

The farmers burned the stream banks in ’09. They said the willows were getting too thick. It really doesn’t help, they just grow back thicker than ever. It killed off the roses and hazelnuts for a few years though. That about ended the blue paint on the 50 gallon barrel too. It curled up and fell off in the flames.

The fires cleared away enough brush that you could see the road really clear. Hundreds of cars drive by every day, and not one in a hundred pays any attention to the junkyard that Mitchell Creek became.

The muskrats moved in with a vengeance in ’10. All that fresh young willow growth was like a dinner bell for them. The party lasted until late winter when the foxes returned. Owls showed up too, and flew off with a few muskrat kits.

In ’11, a barn cat gave birth in the old washing machine. You would think the kittens would be cute, but they were wild as hell. One of the owls grabbed a grey one on a cold September night, but she raised three to adults.

The barrel slid three feet downstream in ’12. The snows were deep, and when it thawed the flood almost took the road out. The barrel sunk about nine inches in the mud, before the summer sun baked the mud hard.

The willows still hadn’t grown up much. The barrel became a resting place for crows and ravens as they headed somewhere else.

In ’13, magpies nested in the walnut tree. That was a noisy summer. Those babies were hungry, and their parents worked ’round the clock to make sure they all had enough to eat.

The hazelnuts returned that fall. Nobody picked them, and they attracted many a fat mallard that winter. Billy White and Connie Turner were newlyweds, and Billy picked off a few of those mallards for Sunday dinners. He had a dog that looked a lot like my old dog. He’d jump right in the water and bring back the ducks so Billy didn’t have to get wet.

We lost Momma in ’14. She never did get over her sadness. The medicine helped for a few years, but the sadness won out. She’s buried in Mitchell Cemetery, about a mile from the house.

Daddy hasn’t been the same since. He didn’t plow the fields, and didn’t even try to lease them out. I think he has what they call a broken heart. He just stays around the house and watches the weather all day now.

The cars still drive by on their way to, or from, work. The wildlife ebbs and flows along Mitchell Creek. The old drum is still there too. It’s just a 50 gallon drum, but it made a great place for a passing truck driver to stash my body in 2004.

***

There’s the story. I got a ton of nice comments on this one, and it makes a great example for this tip. We’re going to pick it apart now.

I relate this story structure to a magic trick. I learned the words in a movie called The Prestige. It’s been a few years, so I had to Google the words to refresh my memory. The premise is the stages of an illusion performed on stage.

  1. The Setup: Get the central idea in there right away. The title of the story isn’t too soon. Show the audience readers what the illusion story is about.
  2. The Performance: This part is relative to The Setup, but it’s all about misdirection and deception.
  3. The Prestige: This is the ooh aah part of the story. This is the big revelation that readers never saw coming.

The title is 50 gallon drum. It’s also in the first sentence of the story. Where did it come from? What does it look like? How long has it been there? These are all established in the first paragraph.

The Performance part is the body of the story, but I’m not leaving the theme of the 50 gallon drum behind. I beat it, well, like a drum. We start getting to know the narrator. Catching tadpoles sounds like something a young person might do. We strengthen that by referring to Momma.

We establish that our narrator is a girl, and reference roses, butterflies, and hummingbirds. By now, the hope is that readers are along for the ride. A girl hanging out along the stream, catching tadpoles, and sniffing the roses.

This is where I establish the timeline. 2004 wasn’t so nice. This is an important year with ties to The Prestige part of the story. Yellowjackets are a kind of wasp that eats carrion. Not everyone will pick up on that, but if you’ve ever had a picnic in the American West, you know about yellowjackets. The end of the story tells us exactly what they were feeding on, but not yet.

Our narrator has a dog, and he keeps going to the stream and hanging out. He knows what’s going on. Most readers aren’t even going to notice that the dog is going to the stream alone.

Momma starts on nerve medicine, and Daddy loses interest in farming. I wonder why?

Then it moves into the ebb and flow of nature along Mitchel Creek. There isn’t so much that I could lose readers, but a few paragraphs are easily digested.

If I did it right, my readers are along for the ride and enjoying the passing of years along this neglected country stream.

By the time I get to The Prestige and pull back the curtain, readers aren’t expecting this at all.

I don’t use this method all the time, but it’s a neat trick to know if you write short form. It’s almost like a three act structure for a short story. I think it gives writers a little more value than an article that says, “Use less words.”

I’ve been writing short form stuff ever since. I think this works better with micro-fiction up to about a 3500 word short story. It could work on something longer, but I don’t know if you can carry out The Performance phase for 30,000 words.

What do you think? Does this sound like something you might like to try? Do you want to read the Experimental Notebook? Does sharing a look behind the scenes ruin the story for you? I’d really like to know what you think, so tell me in the comments.

I’m going to a seminar in Atlanta next week. I’m taking my old iPad, so I’ll post something along the way. I’ll also get a chance to participate in comments and read your blogs during my down time. My posts during the week won’t be quite this long, I promise.

51 Comments

Filed under Short Stories & Vignettes, Writing

Leave your characters alone

Yeah, it's a play on words. This is a writing tip, of sorts. It wants to become a several thousand word post, but I'm going to try to focus.

Where do you feel safe? Most folks choose their home or room. Others might choose a crowd somewhere. This is because humans have an instinct for personal safety.

Even children will crawl into bed with parents to feel safe. Now let's turn this on its head.

We see characters who meet the villain in a crowded place. This is to eliminate some perceived danger the villain poses. We take away the villain's power – temporarily.

Now place your heroine deep in the desert. It's nighttime. She has her rape whistle in one hand, and a keychain pepper spray in the other. It's only 50 miles from the nearest person who can hear the whistle. Add in a two headed werewolf and you're golden.

The environment adds an underlying stress of its own. This also plays to human instinct, and you don't even have to explain it. Your heroine doesn't have any water in this desert. It's going to be scorching tomorrow- if she lives that long. Maybe there are rattlesnakes around too.

Think about one you've all seen before. Sheriff Brody and friends are in a small boat on the ocean. Captain Quint smashed the radio, and there is a killer shark with a powerful hunger.

If you've never been in a rat bag old boat and out of sight of land, you've missed out. (I've been in that situation.) I felt cheated when they swam to shore at the end. Until that point, they were out to sea.

You can't swim all that far. Even lovely water is still colder than your body temperature. Eventually, you're going to tire out, and the warmth is going to get sucked from your body. People instinctively know this. It adds stress to the story without losing focus on the killer shark.

If the shark gets bored and leaves, hypothermia and drowning are still real possibilities.

I like to move my characters around. Even leaving town adds a subtle smolder to the story. Wrong turn in the big city. Apple Maps that can't be trusted. There are all kinds of possibilities.

I like to plan these things out ahead of time. Last Saturday, I watched two NPCs running behind Dr. Who to escape a monster. They're all together, and within touching distance. One woman made a hard left and hid inside a room. She actually watched the others run the other way. The monster killed her.

Nobody wants this. This is bad. Your character shouldn't ask to be excused at the dinner table like this. “Great dinner, Mom. I'm going into the creepy cornfield now to confront the monster with a paper clip and a Swiss Army knife.”

To avoid this you should have a plan that both moves into isolation, and a logical escape plan. It hasn't been acceptable for the cavalry to arrive at the last second for decades.

Isolation can be used at any point in the story, but it nearly must be used at the end. This is where the hero faces the villain on the villain's turf. This is the part where I want to stretch this into a huge post, but I'll resist. In books, everything ties together but I'll focus.

Note that Sheriff Brody didn't lock the shark in an interview room. It all went down at sea.

This isolation can be physical, like Sandra Bullock drifting through space, but there is an opportunity for it to be more spiritual too. Maybe your heroine refuses a marriage proposal from the most eligible bachelor in front of everyone at her daddy's country club. They all want something she simply does not. She follows her heart and becomes a sponge diver in Florida. She was isolated in a crowd.

Unfamiliar settings and isolation are powerful things. The bad guy has an advantage, and skewing the odds adds that delicious tension a good story needs. Many times you get the advantage of an inbred fear to underly the main points.

So how about it? Do you ever think about this writing tool? Do you plan for it? Possibly outline around it? I do, but I know there are many seat of the pants writers who may have different methods.

Let me hear it in the comments. (I used copy and paste to set this up. It all looks great. If it comes out as one big paragraph, I won't be able to edit it for hours. I'm busy at work when this posts.)

30 Comments

Filed under Writing