Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Tuesday prompt: #18 2013

This is about punctuation control.  A writer must have control of the basic tools of writing.  So this prompt is about being conscious of your sentence structure.  When a person is writing a draft, she should be automatic in handling punctuation and usage and not spending time thinking about where the commas go.  That is for later when a person edits. But in this exercise, you will be aware of sentence structure and proper comma placement. 
  • Search out the rules for the following popular comma uses:  compound sentences, introductory clauses and phrases, direct address, dialogue, and appositive and restrictive clauses and phrases.  
  • Once you have the rules, write a story consciously making sure that each sentence contains at least one of each of the rules.  Be conscious of the punctuation conditions.  Your story won't be great, but what you practice is what you perform.  
You want this to be automatic when you write and at your fingertips when you edit.  Writing is about communication and punctuation ensures that happens cleanly.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Narrative Mode: #11 Dream Vision

The dream vision format can manage on just two characters:  the dreamer and the guide. This format has both an outside story (outside of the dream that is) and an inside story (which occurs inside the dream).  Seem familiar? This a variant of the frame narrative.

  • The dreamer starts out awake, though several authors who have used this have avoided the opening waking segment that is traditionally used. It is up to the writer to determine how long the dreamer is awake before he falls asleep and the means by which he falls asleep and therefore into his/her dream. Sleeping due to exhaustion, meditation, normal sleep pattern are common, and I suppose being knocked out would suffice as well.  The waking hours provide the laying of the outer story which is the difficulty that the awake dreamer is suffering. This can be the loss of a loved one (already quite famous in The Pearl by an unknown writer -- the same believed to have written Sir Gawain and Green Knight).  This outer frame is useful because it supplies the drama needed to find the wake dreamer so unhappy that he seeks sleep to avoid it and finds his answer or solution in the dream to come.
  • Now we have the dreamer sleeping.  He finds himself in a landscape both familiar and unfamiliar (the nature of dreams, you know).  Soon in his wanderings, he comes across an individual (the guide) who challenges the dreamer to an examination of a philosophical nature.  Strangely, to the dreamer, this has nothing in common with the problem he is experiencing in the waking world.  But he gets drawn into the discussion.  In the various forms of this narrative mode, this can be provided by more than one individual: talking animals, plants, bright lights, etc.
  • It is common to the form to carry numerous motifs, repeating images and themes.  So this is a style of writing that calls for deep description, symbols and metaphors.
  • Over the time of the dream, the dreamer begins to gain an understanding of other issues of either greater or equal value.  He suffers a change, giving his support, emotional investment, and loyalty to this new ideal or understanding.  
  • When he awakens, what was once his greatest sorrow though unchanged or remedied is no longer his driving force.  He has found a new faith.  "The Dream of the Rood" follows the path of an unhappy man whose guide is the tree which later became the cross that Christ was crucified on.  It is a very short example of the form, but a very worthy one to examine.
  • Here's the clincher:  the dream vision narrative is a poem and a very old format.  But no prose writer should let that stop him or her.  It has good bones and could be fleshed out in prose with some creativity and a strong muse.  
 The Little Handbook of Narrative Frameworks available on Smashwords and Amazon.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Narrative Mode #10: Heinlein's Three-stage character

Though examining what Panshin coined as the Heinlein individual (see Heinlein in Dimension by Alexei Panshin) is largely a discussion of character development, the process of the development is a narrative mode that one can use to design a novel around.  So to start, I'll list the features of this three-stage character of Heinlein's.
  •  Young Innocent
  1. Stage one is the young but competent innocent. He doesn't know his way around the situation he is in, but that is mere youth and inexperience.  He frequently is taken advantage of and abused before he gets angry enough to respond.  
  2. It is at that time that he meets his mentor, who is an elder who recognizes in this upstart a youthful version of himself.  So Young Innocent gains a mentor who is non-too-gentle in his teaching practices.  "Life is not patient, so why should I be?" is the philosophy.  And life isn't patient, giving Young Innocent plenty of further knock and nicks which Mentor then trains him to respond to properly.  Young Innocent is known to ignore the early lessons but soon comes to appreciate the efforts of his taskmaster.
  3. Young innocent still has rather naive views, but he is learning and values Mentor's guidance, even comes to depend, respect and love Mentor.
  • Grown up and sporting thick skin and questioning mind
  1. Stage 2 is the now experienced, ready-to-take-on-anything loner who has gotten over the loss of his mentor (everybody has to go sometime) though it nearly broke him when the loss was fresh.  But he is beyond that now, capable, quick in the moment, has the world by the string and is swinging it gaily while wrestling alligators and counting his loose change.  
  2. Most books end with this stage as the finished product.  Some let him grow old enough to find his own Young Innocent to foster.
  • The elder statesmen of the Heinlein Individual
  1. This is the quick-handed, quick-tempered elder we will see at the early part of the book as the mentor for Young Innocent.  
  2. He is highly knowledgeable, understands the society he lives in and how to manipulate it to fit his needs and has a world view that is highly cynical.  
  3. That world view alters when he finds the young innocent, an emotional connection he has managed to avoid for a long time.  But time is limited, and he needs entertainment for his remaining days, which have been rather charmed and therefore boring. 
  4. And so the circle is closed.
This now brings us to examples.  Heinlein's Orphans in the Sky and Citizen of the Galaxy are good plots to examine.  But I am going to be quick about it. In Orphans Hugh Hoyland finds himself in the upper levels of a lost-in-space generation ship that has long ago also lost sight of its purpose, and he is now in the clutches of undesirables.  Hugh is our Young Innocent, and the main undesirable is Joe/Jim the soon to be Mentor for Hugh.  He teaches Hugh the truth behind the mysteries, in his very cynical way, and in time becomes attached to Hugh, which means he needs to stop playing king of the hill and nanny to Hugh and make change.  And the circle is closed (yup, don't want to completely give away a good story).

As for Citizen, Thorby is Young Innocent, a slave boy that is purchased by a normally disinterested bystander who has been doing fine on his own for years, one Baslim the beggar.  On this new planet, Thorby has no protector, no experience and no value.  So Baslim provides these things, but at a cost: Thorby must accept training.  Baslim has now taken on not only the care and feeding of an innocent, but he no longer can just natter about with no concern about anyone but himself.  Then society gets itchy and .... the circle is closed.

 The Little Handbook of Narrative Frameworks available on Smashwords and Amazon.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Tuesday prompt: #16 2013

My scene: Sydney Carton in the carts on the way to the guillotine.
Think about your favorite book, then narrow your favorite parts done to one scene.  Get it firmly in your mind and think it through adding details to your memory of the event.  When you think you have it well established in your mind, fully involved in your senses, sit down and write it. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Narrative Mode #9: Shakespeare's HAMLET as a narrative plot

Following the Hamlet narrative brings a lot of tension and mystery to the piece.  The complex changes in the character make for a dramatic, dark plot line.
  • The main character (we'll call him Fred) suffers the loss of someone important in his life and learns through unlikely or supernatural means that it was caused by someone close.  
  • Fred is conflicted by his loyalty to those close to him and the fact that he also blames them for the tragedy. This gives you plenty of room for contradictory qualities in the character because there is the constant question of madness.  
  • Fred's desire for revenge, as well as making it public who is responsible, exacerbates his loss of control over his own life and injures others.  And he drops further into madness or perhaps it is all a ruse to flush out the perpetrator.
  • Anger and jealousy are driving forces. 
  • An innocent person suffers, and Fred is so involved in revenge, he considers the injury (mental anguish and later a possible suicide) just collateral damage, which supports the belief that he is going mad.
  • Death is an important feature: death of those important to Fred or who were the cause of the tragedy.  This could be modified to be death of a relationship, death of faith, or death of hope.  But destruction of Fred's sense of right and fairness is essential.
  • With Hamlet, his efforts to get revenge ended in the death of his mother, his uncle (who killed his father), his girlfriend, her father and brother and Fred himself. 
 The Little Handbook of Narrative Frameworks available on Smashwords and Amazon.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Tuesday prompt: #15 2013

Description practice:  it's a river.  Describe it - season, slow trickle or wild ride, color, texture, temperature, sound, engulfing or barely present.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Narrative mode: #8 The Christ Figure

A traditional narrative plot is the Christ Figure.  It works well with stories which require a hero but follow the version where the hero does not survive the challenge he has to face.

  • There must be a social catastrophe in the making.  
  • Tension should lead up to it with the designated hero a known quantity: always reliable, always there to help others, and yet he will lack belief in himself though he always meets the demands that seem to feel likely to overwhelm him. That's his role in life and he accepts it.
  • Alternate:  He can even be a recognized rogue who is thought of as less then worthy, but that is merely misunderstanding.  He has never met with a challenge that has caught him ethically or spiritually before. No one expects him to be of any use in the conflict that is building.  But something this time drags him in, inspires him.
  • In either case, now society needs someone to rise and meet the danger that is coming to the community. (This can be more personal: one character with a personal tragedy and one hero who doesn't know he can make a difference.)
  • There needs to be subtle change and subtle challenge that will bring the hero into the bout of his life.  Whether he is the recognized do-gooder or the ne'er-do-well, he takes part in the effort to slow the arrival or stop it all together.  He even seems for the moment to have saved them all.
  • However, the challenge has greater complication than anticipated, greater danger.   Here is the greatest tension, for the hero must make a difficult decision.  Never has he had to give so much of himself, never had he expected to. But the hero chooses sacrifice to ensure that the community survives.
  • And survive it does, with the reciprocal challenge of being better than it was, worthy of his sacrifice.  The perfect hero is purer than imagined.  Or if the hero was the less-than-model citizen, then he is glorified, proving that everyone can rise to the finer self.
Tale of Two Cities by Dickens makes use of this narrative.  Sidney Carton, an excessive drinker, flawed to the extreme, faithless, presents himself as promised to be the saving grace for another human being should the need ever be called upon.  Neither his lifestyle nor his philosophy supports this promise.  But the condition he set forth does arrive, and he becomes a savior, giving his life so that another person, more worthy than himself, may live, and in the end, he gains worthiness and personal faith, and those he has sacrificed himself for reach the safe haven he hoped to give.

 The Little Handbook of Narrative Frameworks available on Smashwords and Amazon.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Tuesday prompt: #14 2013

Have you ever played the game of looking at people you don't know, and you come up with their back stories?  That is what you are going to do today. 

What's her back story?
Character's current situation:  Her name is Ruth, newly divorced raising a seven-year-old son on her own.  Timid, small boned and stoop shouldered, she has finally found a job at a local window and door mill.  Her first experience for the night is to stack blocks of wood being trimmed to a precise length by an experienced chopsaw operator.

How did she get to be here?  What is her story?  What caused the divorce?  What made her once stand proud?  Does she lack education, confidence, family support?  What did she used to want more than anything else in her life?