Learning a Lot

My current story project is a challenge. With two point-of-view characters of equal importance, the story passes back and forth between them, scene by scene, as it progresses. I put a lot of effort into designing the story, but ultimately, the finished outline was little more than a list of plot point events that guide me through the story’s structure. I know less about the details that lead from plot point to plot point than I typically do when I write a story. The story is still on track, but there are times I must pause to think about what happens next. It’s challenging, but fun. And, I’m learning a lot.

Making Charts, Graphs, and Maps While I Think

Some people doodle while they think. Some people twirl a pencil. Some people bend paperclips. I like to make charts, graphs, and maps while I think. These charts, graphs, and maps are useful. They always support what I’m thinking about, which is usually the story I’m writing.

My current story makes occasional references to the backstory. I realized I did not know the timeline of that backstory. The timeline is important because some of the characters are children whose ages would dictate how they responded to or participated in past events, and even to what events they might remember. To help ensure what I described about the children made sense, I made a timeline and age chart. Now I know, for example, that Naia was two years old when the Dragon War ended. She could not have done some of the things I had imagined her doing. I’m glad I checked her age before I wrote those scenes.

My stories are always better when I make charts, graphs, and maps while I think.

Timeline of events and age chart for characters.
Timeline and Age Chart

2019 Clarion West Write-a-thon Finished

My goal of designing another short story and beginning the writing of it has been met with the completion of the design of my Sten and Spice story and the beginning of the writing of the story.

Everything I’ve written recently has had a single point-of-view character. This story has two. The story is actually two stories that touch multiple times as the plot progresses. Conflict occurs between the two characters at those moments when the characters interact, but also, between the moments when the stories touch, the characters experience conflict with others who don’t like what they’re doing during those moments when the two characters are interacting. Ultimately, it all comes crashing down at the end.

This story is fun, but it is a considerable challenge.

Image showing two plot lines bouncing off each other multiple times with a boing sound finally ending with a splat.
Visual representation
of the plot of my Sten and Spice story.

2019 Clarion West Write-a-thon

Again this year, I’m participating in the Clarion West Write-a-thon.

This year the Write-a-thon corresponds with me beginning a new short story. I’m in the design phase. As I began structuring the story’s plot and character change arcs, I realized I needed more details in the back-stories of the world and its characters. First step became defining a clear timeline for past events so all of the stories that occur in this story world flow logically.

While I’m improving my writing craft skills, I’m having fun and I’m learning.

The Write-a-thon is a fundraiser for the Clarion West Writers Workshop. If you wish to donate to Clarion West in my name, go to my Clarion West Write-a-thon writer’s page and click on the Sponsor Lester D. Crawford button.

https://www.clarionwest.org/members/lesterdcrawford/

Clarion West Write-a-thon Badge
Clarion West Write-a-thon

Resolution then Edit

This novella has been a challenge, but it has been a good challenge. I like the story. Only the last few paragraphs of the resolution remain. Then, the editing begins. Getting the original words down can be a painful struggle, but editing is pleasant. I enjoy refining the story, improving word selection, and honing to make the story precise with no unnecessary fluff. This will be a fine story, a story to be proud of.

Word cloud of manuscript with the size of the words indicating frequency of words.  Beneath that is a picture of the 88 pages (the text of the pages is not readable).
Word Cloud and Pages of the Manuscript

Avoiding Deus ex Machina

Deus ex machina is a plot device where a person or thing is introduced unexpectedly and which provides a contrived solution to an apparently unsolvable difficulty.  I fear accidentally creating these.

In my current project, I have several situations that require setup ahead of time so that when the story arrives at one of those situations, the solution does not come across as contrived.  However, sometimes I haven’t fleshed out the events that would feel contrived if not properly setup ahead of time.

Tonight, I revisited earlier parts of the story to sow more seeds to cover the situations that are now beginning to take on their full form.  This weaving of story elements into a complex pattern is fun, but I will need beta readers to tell me if the setups work to prevent deus ex machina.

Symbols

A symbol is a method of attaching meaning to an action or item by associating it with something else thus giving the symbol a new, significant meaning in the story. Symbols are ways to inform the reader without using actual words to explicitly convey that information.

My current project is an origin story for a character used in a later story. When this character is introduced, I give her a locket I intend to use in the later story. However, this triggered the “Chekhov’s Gun” principle paraphrased as “If you introduce a narrative detail, that detail must be used later in the story.” I decided I’d deal with that later and moved on.

Then, I needed something to help express the character’s distress. The locket introduced at the beginning was the solution. It was related to a tragedy in her life, which was the cause of her distress, and it resolved the Chekhov’s Gun dilemma.

The magic of this revelation was how it affected the story’s ending. I knew what needed to happen at the end of the story, but I did not know how it would happen. In a rush of adrenaline induced euphoria, I saw how the locket defines the story and creates the ending. Moments like this make writing addictive.

Symbols are wonderful. I think I’ll keep them.

Locket on necklace chain.
Locket used as a Symbol

Motifs

A motif is a recurring element that has symbolic significance in a story. An example I noticed in the movie Hidden Figures (2016) was when child Katherine G. Johnson’s teacher handed her the chalk, and then later her boss handed her the chalk. Both times Katherine proved herself by solving a math problem on the blackboard. These scenes also ended with Katherine adjusting her glasses. The movie had other motifs as well, such as Dorothy Vaughan saying “attagirl” when she got some device to work.

I tend to do a few motifs without thinking about them. My goal is to improve my motifs by actively giving them the thought and planning they deserve.

Two scenes from the movie Hidden Figures (2016) when Katherine G. Johnson was handed the chalk.
Handing the Chalk to Katherine

The More I Write, the More I Learn

As I practice writing, I learn about the writing craft, I build skills in the writing craft, but I also learn other things because I do research to support what I’m writing. For the story I’m currently writing, I researched childhood trauma.

The two main characters suffered childhood traumas. That trauma drives the attitude and behavior of the point-of-view character. She suffered her trauma years ago and is now an adult. The other character is a child who recently suffered her trauma. It is easier for me to write the adult than to write the child probably because I can relate to how an adult who suffered trauma as a child might deal with it as an adult. I can’t do that for the child. Thus, I researched childhood trauma to gain an understanding of how a child reacts to trauma.

I learned many things from my research and I now have a better idea of how to write the child, but I also learned about me. While I did not suffer childhood trauma as severe as what some people have, there were things that left their mark on me. I now understand myself better and I understand why I can write the adult. However, even with this new understanding, I still have my childhood trauma scars. In part, those scars make me who I am.

The more I write, the more I learn, and sometimes what I learn is about me.

My Favorite 2018 Reads

I read quite a few books this year. Science fiction, fantasy, science fact, memoirs, current affairs, history, skill building, and self help are a few of their categories. I learned many things and I was entertained. These six are among my favorite reads in 2018.

  • “The Lost Continent” by Tui T. Sutherland
  • “Every Heart a Doorway” by Seanan McGuire
  • “Tess of the Road” by Rachel Hartman
  • “My Lady Jane” by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, Jodi Meadows
  • “Space Opera” by Catherynne M. Valente
  • “Educated: A Memoir” by Tara Westover
Book covers for my six favorite books I read in 2018.