What do you do when you you’re supposed to write one way but you naturally write another?

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:

  1. What needs to happen for the story to advance?
  2. Write that scene any old way I want with the advancing part happening.

What I’m supposed to do:

Scene-

  1. Character in scene has goal.
  2. Conflict prevents that goal.
  3. Disaster ends that scene with no goal attained.

Sequel-

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.

–from Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake technique.

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.]

image1
This is what we’re supposed to be doing. It’s more like pulling teeth. I should making a banner for that.
image2
There. That’s more like it. We may as well call it what it is for me. Not that I’ve ever pulled teeth before… maybe this isn’t the best simile for the job. Pulling teeth is usually done to someone else, and they holler and kick and put up a fuss. Well, it’s too late to change it all now, Matt, you’re saying. Might as well keep with the whole teeth theme. 

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:

  1. Character has fake pie-in-the-sky goal that they think they’re going to get. Rob bank, profit.
  2. 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.
  3. Disaster. Bank sets off alarm, car won’t start, robber must get away on foot.
  4. Reaction. What can’t I even rob a bank properly?
  5. Dilemma. Run away from police or rob someone and take their coat/wallet to put police off on description.
  6. 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?

Everyone wants conflict. We love it.

Even in our blog posts.

So, um. You. Reader. I don’t like the color of your house.

There. Now we’re in conflict.  Go ahead. Respond in the comments, or this’ll be one-sided.

But… now we have to decide: Am I the antagonist, or am I the protagonist? We certainly know, most of the time, that we ourselves are the protagonist, of course, but what if you’re really the antagonist and you just don’t know it?

If you’re defeated after the climax of the story, you were probably the antagonist. Unless, of course, it’s a false climax and you’re headed for a new bigger climax where you win big. Then you were the protagonist all along.

If you don’t know when the climax happened in the story, you’re probably still headed toward it. Climaxes are always climaxy.

WAIT!
What if you’re just the B story, and you’re going to help someone else at the end, so you’re really only there for parts 20-30% of the book/movie? Just a bit character who will save the hero at the end after the darkest hour?

Also, did you arc? Even villains should arc.

You do know how to arc, right? I strongly suspect that most of the broken people I know never arced, which explains a lot. If you would just arc, you’ll finish your book, you writers. The lie that writers believe: Writer’s block. The arc: Overcoming it to publish a critically acclaimed best seller and have Steve King texting you for tips on his next novel. Climax: Beta readers all are bitten to become zombies, you get no feedback, and at the last moment an editor you met through a blog comes through and developmentally fixes your messy manuscript.

Don’t worry about the zombie apocalypse thing. You managed to get your book published, even if civilization is in the toilet. The End.

Nice people write lousy fiction

I suppose that better fiction comes from people who are messier, who don’t mind wading into a scene where there’s conflict.

Because that’s what messes up my plotting. There I’ll be, setting up the battle to end all battles, and I’ve got my people primed and ready to go. There’s going to be Donnybrook!

But wait. Not really a plot twist, more like a balloon full of molten lead. The antagonist has flown the coop. There is no battle. No bodies. No blood. No bullets flying.

That’s awfully boring, isn’t it? No one wants to read that. Give us the figurative blood and gore. We want it. We need it. It’s necessary for fiction to have that.

That’s the point of the title. The nice people out there, they shy away from dragging everyone else through their messes. Fiction comes from the depiction of people in different bad situations. Maybe people who’ve been damaged by conflict in their childhoods might write weak fiction because they shy away from the nasty stuff. I don’t blame ’em.  Maybe you are the eternal optimist and think there’s enough conflict in the world. Maybe you’re just nice and want people to have a yellow happy face have a nice day sort of  blather. Either way, that is the insipid path to dullness.

Stories do not work without conflict.

So brace yourselves and make everyone argue. Peace is a nice thing to talk about in blog posts where you have no intention of doing anything to back it up, but it’s dullsville in fiction.  If you manuscript says, “The elves and dwarves had been at peace as long as anyone could remember,” I’ll fix that for you. Say, instead, “The elves and dwarves had been in a bitter war as along as anyone could remember.”  Everytime we get and elf and dwarf together, there’s a fight!

Plus, each scene needs that conflict goal thing. You know, the character has a goal. There’s a conflict. They can’t have their goal. Then you do the whole mourning thing, they come up with a new goal, and go to carry that out. Scene and sequel. Repeat this over and over. Apply structure, apply arc, add plot twists, you have a book.

I will now go make my characters fight some more. There’s way too much agreement.

New Secret Plan

Dave Koster over at On Writing Dragons made a good suggestion for the next conflict in my treasured novel, which I’m going to incorporate. Of course you understand that I’ve been doing a bit of seat of the pants writing. This is good and bad. Good in that it gets me writing, bad in that I sometimes resort to using whatever suggestions anyone wandering in to the blog makes and saying, “okay, that’s fine!”  I’m the authorial equivalent of the easy girl at the bar. Ply me up with a few drinks and then suggest anything you want for the plot. Sure! That sounds great! Let’s do it.

And that’s how I ended up with Gollum, Harry Potter, and Jack Skelington starving in a sinking lifeboat from the Titanic being hunted by the White Whale and Jaws in a tag team while Japanese Betty bombers try to bomb them out of existence.

You make choices… you have regrets.

His suggestion was to make the next conflict with the narrow minded angry villagers with pitchforks and torches (NMAVWPAT), instead of army vs. small unit or police vs. small unit. There’s some merit in it, and it’ll be do-able with some substantial work to incorporate the NMAVWPAT as a character. It needs a leader who will trigger the conflict, and it needs a bit of mention in the prior chapters to create the anticipation so the reader can see that one coming. NMAVWPAT as a character is one which is in an ugly mood, prone to easily peak in anger and inclined to do stupid things they’d repent of in person. The note is chaos and it typically does not end well; people get injured and killed, which creates more conflict and goals.

 

I think it needs more explosions. And radio coms.

Synopsis is bad

I picked up my 18000 word monster and tacked on another 1000 words.  See, I was stuck in this scene where it was an expository thing – we need to find out what the priest knows. I took Dave Koster’s advice and cut out the introductions. He’s right. You don’t want to read a synopsis again and again. We are all reading over your shoulder, so we know this stuff, yadda yadda. Cut to the chase. There are any number of books where I have this problem – I was thinking the starship mage series, the first book, was written in serialized chunks, then the author tacked the whole thing together without a re-write. Therefore, you get a synopsis of what’s gone on before every 3 chapters, and it’s annoying. I learned to skim/skip those. The book would be far tighter if we could dump those 2 pages of summary happening throughout the book. Keep the serialized pieces as is, but the stitched together version demands an edit.  It won’t hurt anyone if you cut 4000 words of unnecessary explanation out.

Military radio communications

It’s been a while since the hospital rescue, which may need rewriting. I read through it again and while the radio stuff is pretty solid, I think, it gives things a chaotic view, especially if you’re not familiar with military radios. Then again, I’m assuming most readers will be familiar with military radios or some variant of it and will be able to follow all that.  Coms are the way that infantry communicate with each other if they’re in all these large suits. You can’t yell to your buddy as easily (like “Left doorway!”), and if you have a fluid system to make the communications easy (to squad, to individual, to your immediate superior in chain of command) then it makes sense to use that. Anyone familiar with using multiple nets to communicate knows the difficulty in keeping them straight– don’t make the wrong radio call to the wrong recipient.

And coms that aren’t policed for uniformity in transmissions are also chaos. If you work with someone long enough, you get to know their voice and they don’t have to identify themselves on every radio transmission. You know their voice, their stupid accent, their favorite expletives they use when something doesn’t go right.  So that’s a tactical squad net, you aren’t as formal. When you start speaking to the chain of command, however, those guys higher up might not know your voice, or accent, or stupid expletives. So the superior guy needs to hear the broadcaster’s designation. I chose to go with the squad designations in a platoon – alpha, bravo, charlie, delta.  Each of those is 9 men, which is two fireteams of 4 plus the annoying squad leader. Each fireteam is broken down further into the fireteam leader (FTL), the assistant fireteam leader, a machine gunner and a loader, or the sci fi version of this.  The two fireteams are further designated as alpha and bravo. The radio call sign for the alpha fireteam leader is alpha-alpha-one.  Bravo fireteam leader is bravo-alpha-one or just alpha 5–it’s interchangeable. The squad leader is alpha 9.

Chain of Command (COC)

And the chain of command is pretty important. If your immediate superior dies, the next senior person takes their place. In the real world military, you’re supposed to know the roles/mission of the people you supervise, your own role/mission, and the role/mission of your immediate superior.  Thus, if a colonel gets killed, a captain steps in and takes over to further the mission.

This pecking order descends to the junior-most guy, the new guy on the fireteam. If his three fireteam members are dead, he’s in charge of his fireteam, at least until his squad leader re-assigns him.  Is it reasonable to assume that alpha 4 is going to know how to perform the fireteamleader role? Not really. It still happens in real life and sometimes unlikely guys turn out to do amazing things on their own initiative.

Tension

I think I’m going to tension the next scene by having an inconvenient conversation, where Father O’Hara and Yuen are finally going to have the conversation they should have had long ago, and right when Yuen knows there are people with guns who are going to come any minute now.  Stuff like that makes my teeth itch. It’s a mean writer trick. People really do decide to have important conversations at bad times, oblivious to the danger.  “Just go!” the reader squeals. “Talk about it later. Go!”

Meeting that deadline xbyfri

This is a miserable process.

The more I study character archetype, the more conflicted I am. (That’s good, conflict!) My goal? Fix the character archetypes to match the standards of whichever system you’re using (there seem to be several, Jungian included).

Doing that requires that I fix the story to meet the requirements of the character arc. The start point of the writing has been changed three times now.  It may get changed again. From my previous post, I had the story start with the navy crew detecting four ships. It was a yawner. Well written, but boring from a plot perspective. [Modestly speaking.]

So I yanked that out. Started it with the Captain getting on the bridge, evaluating the threat, saying alert the marines.

This is still inadequate because it’s not meeting a scene/sequel format.  I believe that the captain scene will also be dropped.

Alternate currently considered beginning: Marines get alert, get ready, load on shuttle, some equipment failures, shuttle launches when ship is in danger and the shuttles make their way back to the planet.  The ship becomes a bookend ship (destroyed in first act).  Obviously, this is moot, writing like this, since there’s no plot.  I’ve abandoned the one I have, so I need to go back and re-do that part.

But first things first! Back to creating a plot.  The one I have isn’t going to work, primarily due to the character arc.  I. Am. Throwing. Clumps. of. Hair. On. The. Floor.

Argh! back to my outline.  Define the character. Surround character with the stereotyped characters. Create goal. Create conflict.  Redo characters. Adjust story to characters. Expand from general short outline to one page on each act, then create scene sequel pairings with specifics: goal, conflict, disaster, recovery, dilemma, (oxford comma ftw) and decision.

This is going to be bloody.  Step back.  I will do this.  There will be a book series. I will prevail.

Friday Fun — Testing your story’s opening

Tossing this in here, because Wendy Thomas did a great list that I should probably tattoo on my left forearm.

Live to Write - Write to Live

Friday Fun is a group post from the writers of the NHWN blog. Each week, we’ll pose and answer a different, get-to-know-us question. We hope you’ll join in by providing your answer in the comments.

QUESTION: How do you test your story’s opening?

wendy-shotWendy Thomas: First of all, I sit on it. After I write my story, I give it time away to do a little bit of maturing. Because I’ve got tech writing in my blood and I feel comfortable with plotting (as opposed to pantsing) once the story and I have both had time to settle down, I go over the beginning with a checklist that looks very much like the rubrics you had to use when writing high school papers.

  • Is there a hook?
  • Have I introduced the hero?
  • Is there conflict?
  • Have I created tension?
  • Is there too much back story?
  • Have I grounded the…

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Scene and Sequel – bloody progress. xbyfri Part A

After playing an hour of terrible BF4–either everyone was hacking or I was terrible, or both–I settled down with Word to churn out my ten pages.  I managed to do 6.

This is an analysis of what I’ve written. I won’t reproduce the actual writing here, as there is no point. I will talk about my processes of what I’m doing. This might get messy. Those of you in front might get splashed with outline.

At this point, I’m putting content on the page. It looks pretty. Garamound, twelve words a line, and hanging quotes.  Yeah, that kind of pretty. What’s happening in the story is not pretty.

The first scene, the one that’s supposed to grab my reader by the throat and light ’em on fire and offer no hope at all… that one is meh.  Heart pounding excitement? Nope. A routine destroyer makes long range contact with four warships.

Yawn.

How dull.

Where’s the conflict? The XO is afraid to wake the captain. That’s it. That’s the conflict. And it’s not much of a conflict. See, we know that when the warships get close enough, then you HAVE to wake the captain and say “we’re in a pickle Captain” and maybe you get yelled at, but we also know if the ship gets destroyed, like so many bookend space vehicles do, it was justified for him to wake the captain and we aren’t emotionally invested in the XO because we know he’s going to die anyway, right?

So let’s discuss the bookend space vehicle.  A bookend space vehicle is a space vehicle that is destroyed or disappears in the opening scene of a book or movie. It may be the focus of the story to discover or uncover the reasons behind its destruction. Because it is frequently used, readers typically do not want to invest in the BSV at the beginning because it usually turns out to be a waste. If we start to identify with a character and the character is then snuffed out, we mistrust the writer because that was Not Nice.  The BSV does afford a good grabbing moment as the BSV can be put in horrible straits and suffer destruction and it makes an exciting opening scene.  If, however, the BSV is the focus of a Goal/Conflict/Disaster, it is almost impossible to provide a sequel to the scene and thus it is stand-alone.

So there’s my answer. Putting on my Pontius developmental editor hat, I’m going to have to scrap the scene and either replace it with a scene sequel or leave it out.

The next scene is the marines aboard the ship being alerted and them getting suited up and loading on to a shuttle.

Purpose? Introduce us to the marines, and then locate them on the shuttles for the upcoming Disasterous Space Battle.  Focus is on Lcpl Yuen, who leads a fireteam. We meet the fireteam and find out things about those four characters which fill in our background.

The writing there is adequate, but again, where’s the conflict? Um… Yuen has to get her team suited up in a hurry.  The new guy is slow.  That’s conflict?  I guess it could be.  Marines are about conflict. Maybe some background–the fireteam is in trouble for not being fast enough or efficient enough, and they’re under the gun.  If they screw up one more time, Yuen gets a negative counseling statement on her record. Who cares about immanent destruction of the ship when your career is threatened by the new private screwing up by the numbers all the time? If he fails, it’s your fault.  We know, as long as I’m writing this much detail about these characters, that we’re going to be packed up in their duffels for the long haul, and that even if the ship is a bookend, the marines are not.

Thus:

Scene: The XO and crew are terrified of the captain, who is asleep.
Goal: XO wants to get through the watch without any incidents.
Conflict: Possible incoming fleet is not acting friendly. When to tell the captain?
Disaster: Waiting too long to call the Captain when the ships are, indeed, unfriendly.
POV: XO (executive officer, second in command)

Sequel: The Captain bawls out the XO for waiting too long -in front of his troops-, and will put a note in the XO’s file derailing the XO’s career. Captain attempts to hail the incoming ships.
Reaction: XO mourns that his career is destroyed by drunkard Captain.
Dilemma: Should the ship run or turn and fight the fleet?
Decision: The ship will fight and probably lose.

To fix the scene, we’re going to have to emotionally invest in the XO and we need to ratchet the captain into a real Queeg character- a drunkard with a mean temper who will never be promoted above destroyer Captain. The focus is on the XO’s internal processes, not the brick brack of running the ship and routine contacts and all that jazz.

More on the marine section later. That’s going to need a good tweak to introduce conflict and make sense.

Military non-fiction – first person accounts and what they’re not saying

I’ve read about 20% of They Were All Young Kids: The story of Lieutenant Jim Flowers and the first platoon, Company C, 712th Tank Battalion, on Hill 122 by Aaron Elson, and a few things leapt out at me.

First, this book is a compilation of first person accounts, mostly a transcript of interviews and it’s not quite as polished as, say, Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption.  And that lead me to a discussion about “Not all soldiers are authors” and “not many authors are soldiers” with my treasured spouse.  Oh! Logic! Hello, third grade. Let me Venn diagram this thing. Unbroken was written by an author who compiled many hours of questions/answers with witnesses and digging for information and you can see that process in the final product. This book was put together as a memoir of events by the author who was there and events narrated by other survivors surrounding an assault on hill 122 in Normandy during WWII.

Second, when recounting their experiences, soldiers don’t talk about the shooting of enemies so much.  Twenty, thirty years after this experience, they remember with clarity small odd events, conversations, and injuries.  And that’s the part they’re telling us.  The platoon leader, 2LT Flowers, for instance, is hit in one foot with shrapnel, crawls out of his tank, then gets shrapnel wounds in the other leg from an artillery barrage, and tourniquets that injury.  After a day lying in no man’s land and encounters with German Fallschirmjaeger troops, he makes it back to a field hospital, and is remembered decades later by a doctor who treated him because he was in really good shape for a guy who lost both legs.

It’s what they are not talking about that is interesting.  I understand that taking another life, in combat, is a huge deal, or should be. Most guys don’t want to talk about this. But to get the essence of that, in fiction writing, is that something that the writer needs to do?  I’m reminded of the scene in the Princess Bride where Count Rugen says to the Man in Black as he’s torturing him, “And remember, this is for posterity so be honest. How do you feel?” The absurdity of this person standing there with a clipboard recording the victim’s feelings about torture is kind of what I perceive the idea of delving into the personal experience of taking a life in combat.

Nevertheless, you bet your bottom dollar that if you don’t get those feelings written down correctly, someone with combat experience is going to call you on it, and probably give you a one star review and hate on you for a while.  After all, your character didn’t react like everyone else reacts when they deal with this.

Back to They were…

The third point, sort of subject to the second point, is that these soldiers all remembered in detail their injuries or the injuries that happened to others.  Those seem to be fair game for memoirs.  They don’t do it in a dishonorable way–some go out of their way to rain praise on all the soldiers they served with–but there is a considerable amount of detail on the personal experience of each soldier.  We hear what happened to him, how a hatch may have broken someone’s fingers, or the German medic who bandages a GI’s finger in the field, but didn’t have any water and turned his canteen upsidedown to demonstrate it, and so on.  The German medic was remembered by two different guys, and it struck me as odd that a German medic is helping allied personnel, in a sort of I’m-a-medic-and-you’re-injured-so-I-help-you kind of universal mankind helping each other.  Contrasted with the cause of the injury–the medic’s own people shooting at the allied soldiers–it seems to be… counterproductive, I guess?  You’re doing your best to kill the other side, and then when you’ve hurt a bunch of them, you’ve got your guys helping them.

I’m not trying to rag on the medic, it just struck me as strange and decently human, amidst the rest of the combat.

The fourth point is that in a book about war, there is little conflict in the writing.  That is, the way it’s written isn’t nail-biting what’s going to happen.  Perhaps that’s a product of intervening years and the mellowing of the people involved, so their accounts don’t have the gripping narrative, even though the events were quite horrific and there was people burning to death, tanks exploding, guys with terrible injuries and bullets flying, artillery exploding, and the hell that is war.  They talk about it, but it’s minimized and sanitized.

There is one conflict that we see: a tank commander sergeant, before the battle, claims that his tank threw a rod and can not move in reverse anymore, so the tank is sidelined for the battle. Forty years later, the platoon leader, at a reunion for the 712 Battalion, is angered by mention of the sergeant, and the veteran discussing it with him asks why.  The Pldr thought the sergeant didn’t honestly have a reverse problem and did it just to avoid the battle.  The veteran takes it on himself to correspond with some of the guys who know about the tank, and they vouch for the fact that the tank was really out of commission.  The veteran talks to the Pldr again and the sergeants memory is now vindicated: not a coward. Just a misunderstanding.

Snowflake – structure and editing

I was about 15,000 words into a sci-fi novel and in a discussion with my treasured writer friend. “While I was outlining my story, blah blah blah,” he announced casually to me. “Aroo? Outlining?” I asked.  Because I hadn’t. Outlined. Anything. Just threw it on the screen, like you do.

“Post-it notes, whiteboard, outlining, blah blah blah,” he responded.  Post it notes? This sounded painful. I hate the prep work. Hate. It.  I just want to write.

But that’s stupid. Sure, you can write product for days and weeks and 120 thousand words later, you’ve got a novel but it’s poop because there’s all sorts of stuff in there that, you know, doesn’t advance the plot. It’s pretty. Yeah, pretty pointless. So back to outlining.

I pull out my trusty amazon tab and type in “outlining novels.” Up pops this book by Randy Ingermanson which has a link to a website. Cool, I want to get some nuts and bolts without purchasing anything yet.  I hit up Randy’s site,

http://www.advancedfictionwriting.com/articles/snowflake-method/

There’s steps, concrete steps to take to get your outline done in a few hours/days/weeks and start writing a successful novel. I take copious notes in excel. Then I start grinding.

I hate you, thesis statement. Does ANYONE like those guys? Except English Teachers, and I’m sure they’re just Toe the Line people who have to pretend to like thesis statements Because They Want to Keep a Job.  Yep, all in the name of expediency.  I start with my thesis statement. And it’s hard to boil the whole novel down into one sentence.  Gah!  But this is something that will force me to understand the entire novel and what it’s about… genre-wise, at least.  It’s not a milieu novel, or an idea novel, or a character novel, which leaves E, whatever that is.  (See Orson Scott Card’s MICE system, if you will.)

The paragraph is easier, because I get to type a few more words this time, and you might be able to tell I like typing words.  Thesis statement, one sentence for each act, and a conclusion.  This forces me to write the conclusion.  No wonder I bogged down at 15 K words… no road map.

Then there’s characters. Call me Leo Tolstoy. I got ’em.  That part isn’t hard. I can characterize til I am blue in the face and I’ll still have more.  But the questions — what are the goals of each character? What is the conflict? And so on– those questions force me to examine each character as a person, not just backdrop.  With a group of space marines, it’s tricky, because some of them don’t have goals, or don’t know they have goals, but some of them do.  That guy over there wants to be an officer, and that guy over there is doing it just so he can get off his crummy planet, and that girl is seeking a place to belong, and so on. Right away, I discover that with writing the second character as a foil for the protagonist, that another character is going to die because it’s going to make the scenes following far more conflicted as we see a sub-story: will the NCO be able to function as an officer?

From there, it was a matter of fleshing out each of the sentences in the story paragraph into an entire paragraph detailing the things happening in each act.  And then doing some reworking of the characters because the flow of the story needed some tweaks. I found out at this point that my main POV character was too lowly to be having much conflict, or at least the conflict I wanted to write.  See, there is conflict for a grunt, but it’s manifested as stay alive, don’t let your officers kill you off, and deal with the stupidity of your fellow grunts. Whereas, if the POV character gets a promotion from grunt to fire-team-leader, she’s now responsible for three other characters, has to deal with a second fire team in her squad, and interact with her squad leader, her platoon sergeant, and very rarely the platoon leader.  Maybe even moving her up to squad leader would make her problems come to the fore as the additional responsibility of managing 8 people instead of 3 would be more conflicty.

I haven’t made that final decision yet.

Then I was to write the story paragraphs into full one page summaries.  This part saw me hitting the high level logic of the story and finding more gaps and problems that needed fixing. How do we get from here to there? It was act 3 of the book that was the problem, and on the third re-draft I discovered that the planet the marines end up on has been invaded by another government’s army.

Interesting how that works, isn’t it?

I’ve been finally hitting the scene list, and that went pretty well– I just pulled sentence by sentence from the page summaries.  My Goal was to create the scene list with Scene/Sequel for each of the scenes.

My conflict was that this is not easy to do.  I’m trying to take a story narrative and ram it into S/S format. Ugh.

Disaster! The format of S/S isn’t fitting the narrative. So… I’m back to rewrite stage.  Scene. Sequel. Etc. Argh.