I am very happy and honored to introduce to you my dear blogging friend,Charles French. As a professor of literature, Mr. French is well versed in the world of reading and writing, and passes on this knowledge with his fellow readers in his daily posts.
In preparation for the release of his new book,Maledicus: Investigative Paranormal Society Book 1, I am pleased to be the host on day 6 of his book’s blogging tour. On today’s leg, Mr. French offers a glimpse into the very real struggle of titling a literary work. It is both a delightful read and encouraging one. So without further delay, I present:
The Evolution of the Title in my Novel: Maledicus: The Investigative Paranormal Society Book I
When I first began drafting my novel about 5 years ago, I was not sure about what title to use. Since I am a…
Today, I’ve chopped through 43% of Larry Brooks book Story Engineering, and I finished characterization. That was an interesting way to consider how that works. In a nutshell, he says there’s the surface dimension (1st level), which is the façade (oooh, a Basque letter) you present to everyone, i.e. charming ex-CEO who smokes cigars and loves the ladies. The second level is the back story on why you are how you are: upbringing, experiences, abusive uncles, car accident where you were struck by 57 Chevy on the corner near school and it changed your life at 17 so that you were permanently broken and now you’re an addict at 63 and trying to change and you’ve always wanted to own a copy of the car that almost killed you, etc. So yeah, it’s the psychology behind the character, and that backstory needs to come out in the first act so we get a clue to the character’s deeper ideals and why they tick. Then you have the third dimension, which is the times when their true character appears, not the first level facade. We see behind the curtain to the real person. And the third dimension moments define the character, whether they choose right or wrong, and why they choose that. (He doesn’t say this, but third dimension moments are also not usually on display, they seem to be triggered by some sort of conflict or event. Or maybe he said that in different words. I’d have to go back and reread it. That’s where the kindle isn’t nearly as fast as a dead-tree book.)
There’s a great deal more. He talks about character as structure (how the character develops throughout the story, which is, I think, the character arc). Essentially, certain things have to happen at certain times in the story, or it’ll be all fouled up. Your character needs to struggle all the way into the end of act 2, and if she overcomes that struggle before the climax, it messes up the pacing of the story because that becomes the new climax, and everything else after is anti-climactic.
I was considering this when I was reading Kate Colby‘s The Courtesan’s Avenger (Desertera #2), which, incidentally, was a great read. In it, her protagonist Dellwyn Rutt, a courtesan, has some serious flaws. And her backstory informs these flaws and the bad decisions she keeps making. She makes terrible decisions, but they make sense from the point where Dellwyn feels real and has very good reasons to make her flawed decisions. I kept yelling at the book, “Arc! Arc already!” Of course, if she’d arced, it’d stop being interesting because then nothing would happen. Nevertheless, it made for a good read and the character (and supporting cast) are well-characterized. They all have flaws, and this gets in the way of meaningful discourse, just like real life.
Today, I will read and attempt to embrace what Mr. Brooks has to say about Theme. I have a feeling that while I may see the words, I’ve never been one to grasp the underlying meaning very well. That’d be my character flaw. “Huh? There was a theme?” It might be my undoing as an author. Plus, there’s the aspect where I say, “why don’t we just have some nice shoot-em-up scenes.” Well-written, lovely, boring, non-thematic scenes that come out dry and meaningless, when instead I could be writing a thinly veiled polemic about the dangers of senior citizens running for president. As if that’s what the world needs, right now.
You may enrich the content of this blog with your treasured comments below. Especially if you understand theme.
Apparently, a lot of you know about this book. You’ve been holding out on me, why didn’t you tell me about it? This was recommended by a certain lady who is a proselytizer for story structure. Yep. Kristen. Anyway, Larry talks about the six things that make for a great novel. Being that I don’t want to make a mediocre or barely acceptable novel (or just learn how to spell acceptable. It’s got an a, not an i. Thanks spellcheck!), I thought I’d take Kristen’s advice, yet again, and look at this book.
So far, I’m through Concept, and beginning to chew through characterization. Everything makes a lot of sense, and except for Larry’s pontificating for the introduction and part one: what are the six… , you can skip to part Two: the first core competency if you want to get to the meat of the matter. If you’re a pantser and you need some convincing, read the intro and part one, since they explain why the entire process is far and above better for your writing than any mulling through it creative scheme you might cling to.
No, really. That isn’t my opinion. That one is fact. Backed up by tons of data.
Right, so, I’ll let you know how it goes as I get further through this thing. It’ll be interesting to see what the results are…
Marcus: So, let me toss this at you. If you have an editor (and you absolutely should) who is doing developmental editing, he/she’s going to want to see an outline SO THAT you don’t have to go back and edit the **** out of the manuscript after the fact. 2nd, creating a novel shouldn’t be (and this idea is from Kait Nolan, and I’m paraphrasing from her introduction to the Story Toolkit by Bischoff) like just getting in your car and driving off down an Irish road hoping for the perfect romance at the end, that’s more likely to end up in you running out of gas, in the rain.
Plus, changing your outline is much more simple than changing thousands and thousands of words. It’s an outline. A few sentences about what happens here, what happens there, and so on. The point is that you change the outline first so that number of words being changed goes down from 10000 to 250. That’s working smarter, not harder, right? (Show, don’t tell! Hahahaha don’t hit me. Sorry. Dave Koster loves that piece of advice. (See his comment in response to my inanity)) Take the screenplays for the Lord of the Rings vs. The Hobbit. Besides the fact that the Hobbit was a bloated little piece of filmmaking, the Producer was freaking pantsing his way through the movie, which means it isn’t an inspired drive through the Irish countryside to find some beautiful little colleen hanging out waiting for you at the end. It was a hugely wasteful production that cost a lot of extra money to make because Peter freaking Jackson couldn’t take time out to do a little planning. So, think of driving an enormous bulldozer around the Irish countryside, paying off property owners of the places you destroyed, and hoping to get there without a map. That’s Peter Jackson in a nutshell.
Did you check out 2,000 to 10,000? It’s a buck. Go get it and read it. Rachel Aaron shows the path to professional proficiency in this craft, and it ain’t down the no-outline road. That road has only one car going down it of any substance, and it’s got Maine license plates and belongs to Stephen King. The other road, the one with outlines? That’s filled with tons of authors who publish work after work, successfully, year after year. They have a system. It works.
JAMES JOYCE HAS AN UGLY EYE PATCH AND HAD A PACT WITH SOMEONE
I’m not going to dignify pantsing with any sort of half-mumbled “if it works for you,” because I don’t think it does. It doesn’t work. It’s a lousy system and has given such masterworks as the claptrap from James Joyce, who was clearly driving down an Irish road looking for something, but it wasn’t romance. Probably another bottle of Jamesons, as this one seems to be empty.
All those people who say, “I pants and I do just fine,” those people are evil demons who are trying to ruin your full potential. DO NOT LISTEN TO THEM. Especially the über successful ones. Because the only way they could be über successful was if they had a pact with the Devil, who is clearly a supporter of pantsing.
This is a real question. I know my style of writing, and I know what most of the experts say. I like what I write, but an honest appraisal of the work by any decent developmental editor would tell me in a few seconds that I’m not doing it right. So, in this, I’m kind of like the person who knows that smoking isn’t good for you but smokes anyway, because maybe it’ll be different for me, I won’t die wheezing in a bed of horrible complications of lung cancer and COPD. I’ll be different.
“I’m so Hipster When I Write: I Only Use Obscure Techniques Which I Immediately Reject When They Become Vogue.”
In Robert McKee’s book Story, he addresses the new filmmaker’s idea that they need to make their mark and create the movie that no one expects/thought of/ever made before. It must be avante-garde! The problem is that they never learn the classic forms and jump off into the deep end and make something that sounds arrogant and pretentious and flops. They didn’t do their work in the trenches making the normal wallpaper we know and love to consume. They had to think outside the box and it fails because they don’t understand how to think inside the box. And the box is what we are all buying.
Back to what I do and what I should do.
What I do:
What needs to happen for the story to advance?
Write that scene any old way I want with the advancing part happening.
What I’m supposed to do:
Character in scene has goal.
Conflict prevents that goal.
Disaster ends that scene with no goal attained.
1. Reaction to the disaster. Emotionally reeling character, etc. 2. Dilemma. Two not good decisions offered up. Either one sucks.
3. Decision – Character picks the best of the two.
If you’ve been reading anything here, you know that I am conflicted with conflict. No, actually, I’m conflicted by outlining. I hates it. I don’t like it. I try to outline, but I get bored and wander off to see if there’s any Ding Dongs left in the freezer. [There were, by the way.]
That’s a discipline problem, first and foremost. But once I get into the nuts and bolts of outlining a scene, I’m all, “well, I dunno, I want this character to accomplish this point.” Boom! Okay! Good. That’s the goal.
BUT WAIT! They can’t have the goal.
So… what you’re really saying here is, “the result of the scene has to be the 2nd best decision the character makes because the first decision will be thwarted.” Right? Am I wrong?
Maybe I write the scene and I say, “the character wants a million dollars by robbing the bank, but will settle for finding a twenty on the ground,” which is maybe what the character wanted in the first place, say he just wanted money for a nice lunch. “Finding a twenty on the ground is not the character making proactive choices, you dolt!” say the critics. They’re right.
Change that to, the character wants a million bucks, but he’ll settle for beating up a customer on his way out of the bank and taking his twenty. It seems stilted to have to write a scene with a fake goal (they’ll never get it), conflict over the fake goal, disaster when they don’t get the fake goal, and then a dilemma in which you present the REAL goal/decision.
So Scene is really:
Character has fake pie-in-the-sky goal that they think they’re going to get. Rob bank, profit.
Stuff happens that the PITS goal ain’t happening. Bank guards, forgot note, forgot gun, forgot nylon stocking to put on head. Bank is having toaster giveaway that attracts lots of extra customers. Car won’t start reliably.
Disaster. Bank sets off alarm, car won’t start, robber must get away on foot.
Reaction. What can’t I even rob a bank properly?
Dilemma. Run away from police or rob someone and take their coat/wallet to put police off on description.
Decision: Rob nearby old lady for her coat and purse. (Hilarity ensues.)
Next scene could be that goal is to take ladies coat and purse, but she’s a champion in jujitsu, so she puts him in a hold. He needs to escape. Etc. Except that would be too simple, so maybe someone who is just learning jujitsu is nearby and comes to the aid of the woman while he’s struggling to take her coat, and they tussle. The REAL goal of the scene will be to escape.
The secret is: FAKE UNOBTAINABLE GOAL THAT LOOKS REAL.
I guess that I’m not good at pre-planning the fake-unobtainable-goal (FUG), and therein is my constant conflict, which is there is no conflict, no goal thwarting going on on a major scale.
Thinking it through this way, however, is helpful to me. Maybe if I consider each scene with the FUG in mind, and then map out the dilemma (which of the two bad choices the character will take), then the scenes will practically write themselves. And… maybe pigs will fly.
How do you do it? What’s your secret? Do you just write scenes, or do you carefully pre-plan each FUG and so on? This seems like a lot of work, planning three outcomes for every scene/sequel. Or do you use a different metric to build each scene that rejects Randy’s method, above? Do you ever write scenes that have an obtainable goal?