Monday, May 30, 2011

Conflict and the Mechanism of Story, Part 2

Clint Johnson—Conflict and the Mechanism of Story Part 2
  Conflict is the high-grade fuel of a story, the drama, the reaction of resistance, not just tension.
Dramatic Conflict needs: 1) Need. Character needs something, a motivation. This need breaks the character from routines of life and creates action. Tip: We don’t want real life, we want an assimilation of real life. 2) Opposition. Opposition to the above need must be equal to or greater than the need itself. 3) Action. What the character does, says, thinks, to overcome the opposition. This includes internal and external action.
  How your character responds to your plot=the real story. What do they want for themselves and others?
  Central needs for youths: Individuality with community or trying to become someone he/she is please with that others can accept while there is opposition.
  Nonfiction: The perception of a need, not creating one. Use the point of view in which you can be honest; this is your point of view for someone else’s story. Show why they might have done something. Use Need, Opposition, Action in non-fiction too.
  Like a person with chronic pain, we adjust or adapt. In order for it to feel like things are getting worse (rather than adapting to the crisis or pain), conflict has to increase at a significant rate/pace. There are little breathing places of relief along the way before the next stomach punch.
  The main character has a need that motivates them into action. If the need isn’t achieved, what will happen? What is at stake?
1) External/Public Stakes: Social, often large scale, plot driven, world ending.
2) Internal/Private Stakes: Poignant, individual, self-worth.
  Weave both external and internal together. A stake affecting multiple people will intensify it. (Having to diffuse the bomb before the building explodes.) A stake affecting a significant person will broaden, complicate it. (Having to diffuse the bomb in the building where your wife works.) How far you push depends on the story/genre you want to tell. Take your characters into places the reader didn’t want to go. Comedy takes pain. Love characters for their flaws. Happiness has to be earned or it is resented. Endings can be win, lose, or draw.
Clint had us think of a story idea we wanted to write. Then he asked us to 1. think of an internal stake for the MC and, 2. how can you intensify it? Conflict it of major importance to a story and something I've struggled with. I hope these tips help you as well as me.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Conflict and the Mechanism of Story

LDStorymakers Conference Notes #2:
Clint Johnson—Conflict and the Mechanism of Story Part 1
  Writing is primarily a craft/skill that can be learned. If you work hard enough, you will be published. Writers need two dominant skill sets: 1) Language—learned by exposure, and 2) Narrative/Story—universal human language. Take conscious control over your own creative process.
  Components of Writing were compared to an engine. You need more than a spark plug. You need all the parts put together. Think of the story as a whole and conflict is the fuel. Conflict is the most essential component. We want high grade fuel.
  1. Conflict forces action. Characters don’t want to break routines or risk failure. Conflict forces them to act or go away from routine.
  2. Action reveals character. These actions show who they are.
  3. Revealed character facilitates reality. Characters do things that feel authentic, make the distance between reader and story narrow. Reader believes.
  4. As disbelief is suspended, identification increases (identify with characters). Begin with an individual instead of something universal. The individual will go toward the universal and a broad audience can identify with it.
  5. Transmission of emotions/meaning. We tell stories to figure out what they mean. Even data has to be interpreted. Lead the reader into a different place through one set of facts. Story = mechanism of meaning. This is how we are wired to think.
  Don’t write for interest/theme sake. Write for emotion. Some people read for ideas more than emotion. Someone interested in your story idea will pick it up anyway. We read for a vicarious experience of emotions.
  You might want to try this exercise Clint has us do. Start with a story idea you want to write about. 1. Identify a protagonist need. 2. Identify an opposition to that need. 3. Identify the initial action the protagonist will take. This is a good way to start your story. Good luck!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Refining Your Writing

LDStorymakers Conference Notes #1:
This week I’ll share some thoughts from Angela Eschler of Eschler Editing on Refining Your Writing. Angela hit upon various topics of interest. I’m certain you’ll find something of interest too.
Conflict: Characters need goals—even little ones—in each scene. Action is interesting but the reader needs to wonder about the characters. The end of a scene should meet with disaster toward the goal. The character then has to do something else to accomplish the goal, moving the plot forward. Pacing slows when the reader loses track of whatever the character cares about/the goal is interrupted. The point of view should stay with the character needing the goal or the one who is preventing it. Page Turner Tip: End the chapter before the goal is met.
Setting: Incorporate the characters into the setting; give a sense of them in the description. You can use the setting as the voice of the characters and tell their emotions without saying it directly. A character stuck in a setting can add tension.
Hook: Anything that makes the reader want more, questioning, create tension, emotionally grabs the reader. The hook should hint at the plot problem together with emotions. It foreshadows more than one problem or theme. Quirky characters and settings are hooking. Take it deeper.
Endings: A little loss and a little triumph equal a satisfying ending. Earned endings are best.
Power of Language/Trimming: Can you cut 2-4 words from each sentence for economy? It should not change the info or meaning. Use Search and Find. Cut anything repetitive where you’ve used different words. Don’t spell out what can be told in other ways. Make certain that metaphors start with something familiar and are applied to the unfamiliar. If they don’t share insight, cut it.
Find a tidbit you liked? I'll share more next Monday. Thanks for stopping by.

Monday, May 9, 2011

First Chapter Contest Award

  Wow! Just came back from an awesome writer’s conference—LDStorymakers. You know what they say: The more you learn, the more you learn you don’t know. It’s a mixture of that and recognizing concepts I’m “getting”. Though harder to implement, I can recognize more of what needs work in my current project. Sometimes it’s overwhelming because it takes revision after revision . . . . I think it’s impossible to catch all those things in one sweep or even to write thinking of all the concepts in my head. Practice, practice.

Historical Winners-Me and Scott Lockwood
  Drum roll please. There must be some things I’m getting right because I got great news when they announced the chapter contest winners. My Historical Fiction chapter won 1st Place in that category! It feels like all the effort was worth it. One of the biggest perks is that 3 LDS publishing companies will view my manuscript immediately instead of placing it in the slush pile of entries.
My best critic and supporter, Melissa Cunningham

Judgment Day. Four judges evaluated my submission and gave feedback. This is always a touchy subject for the entrants; it can really vary. Typically there is a harsh judge and an easy judge. This time the harshest judge left comments indicating his/her reasoning or train of thought that led to their rating. Thank you, whoever you are. Now I can make a better decision of what to fix because of those reasons and not wonder if the judge ate something disagreeable for breakfast.
  Writing Tip: When we get feedback from a judge, a critique group, or even a friend, try to evaluate it in the perspective of what you have learned about the concept instead of emotional attachment to the writing. Can this feedback strengthen the writing?
  Head Back next Monday for specific tips and information from a class or two. 

Monday, May 2, 2011

Staying Positive

  I’m excited that the Storymakers conference is just around the corner. Conferences always pump me up and give me weeks of great tips to try out and blog about. If you’re going, I hope to meet you. If not, come on back here for some highlights I’ll be sharing.
  This week I’ve been pondering on how important it is to stay positive about one’s writing. If writing is a passion in your life, it’s worth the bumpy road to keep at it. Do what you need to to look forward with hope. Believe in yourself! This might mean going to a conference. It might be something as simple as latching on to a compliment from a reader or an exciting new idea for your WIP. Take whatever boosts you to do your best and run with it.
  The past two months have been extra busy for me. My substitute teaching job picked up two long term positions. Couple that with problems preventing my critique group from submitting or meeting and I found little time/motivation for writing. Desire was still there, but I felt something like a ‘middle sag’ to my story. I needed a boost.
  Several things helped me overcome this and plow through it. But it wasn’t without a struggle. A respected fellow-writer agreed with me on some of the problems concerning my WIP. These are fixable, I had to tell myself. I still love my story. Staying positive was crucial. Then another author gave me some encouragement that minimized these problem areas. I realized that I shouldn’t let the first person block my goals. They didn’t have all the information needed to make this judgment anyway.
  Finally, I gave a first-time reader a scene from this ‘sagging middle’ to critique and he said he was drawn into the story and almost forgot to be looking out for things. Woot! Just what I needed to zing me into further writing. I’m gonna remember this one until the next time I need a boost. With this upcoming conference, I’m sure that the next time won’t be very soon.