Friday, December 14, 2012

Deja Vu Blogfest 2012: Opposition!

Today is the 2012 Deja Vu BlogFest, hosted by DL Hammons over at Cruising Altitude 2.0

The point of this blogfest is to pick a post made earlier this year and revive it for a do-over, in order to give it another chance to be read. I decided to bring back an entry I made during the craziness of the A-to-Z Challenge back in April.  I chose this one because this is a topic I've again had on my mind as I've been writing lately -- just how much tension and opposition do I need to insert into my stories to hold a reader's interest?  I'm still trying to find the right amount -- I've gotten feedback in recent rejections that say I don't have enough and others that say I've overdone it and that the story feels forced and artificial.  So what's the right amount, and why do I even need to worry about it?  While I still don't have the subject mastered, I do I think I wrote some relevant comments on this back in April.

Thank you for stopping by and reading my revived Deja Vu post!  I really appreciate it. And HERE is the link for all of the participants taking part in the blogfest -- please stop by each of them to read and enjoy their choices for the do-over!


2012 A-to-Z Blogfest: "O" Is For...


For my entries in the 2012 A to Z Challenge, I will be focusing on writing elements that I find important and that I want to incorporate into my work.

Today, the topic is OPPOSITION.

As a writer who's still trying to learn all I can about writing, one of the things I keep coming across is that the basis for all effective drama is conflict. To hold my reader I have to incorporate conflict, tension, striving against outside forces or inner demons, risk, stakes, and other elements that basically boil down to the same thing – opposition. It doesn't have to be that THE FATE OF THE UNIVERSE hinges on every minor detail of my story, but there better be elements of conflict and opposition, even if it's only at the inner emotional level within a single character.

OK, I get it, and actually, I agree. To make for interesting reading, I need to make characters, scenes, and plot elements that highlight tension, conflict, and opposition.

Who wants to read a story about an average guy with a happy life who does average things and everyone around him is happy, and in the end, everything turns out ordinary and happy?

Not a very interesting story idea, I'm afraid.

But sometimes, in my philosophical moods, I wonder: Why is this so? By relying on tension and conflict, am I appealing to the lower elements within us all to peddle my stories? Am I preying on that same instinct that causes us to gawk at accidents, peer out the windows at neighbors in trouble, and gossip around the water cooler over coworkers cheating on their spouses?

Maybe...But I think there's more to it than that.

We relish the drama and tension and opposition in a good story, but we also cheer for the hero who overcomes it, or at the least, sympathize with the protagonist as they sink under it.

I don't think I'm glorifying suffering and opposition – I'm helping provide readers with an escape from the struggles in their own lives, at least for a short while. Or at least I'm connecting with them on a fundamental level and giving them validation that we ALL endure opposition in some ways.

It's not only what makes a good story. It's what makes us human.

So what do you think?

Thanks for visiting -- see you the rest of this month for more alphabetical fun!


And -- from today (12/14/12): Again, thanks for visiting as reading this revived post as part of the 2012 Deja Vu Blogfest!!!

Monday, December 10, 2012

WRiTE Club Wrap Up

Back in July, my friend Don "DL" Hammons of Cruising Altitude 2.0 kicked off his second annual anonymous writing competition -- WRiTE Club for 2012.  Don and his wife Kim received well over 100 entries for this year's event.  During the course of the 36 preliminary rounds, 71 of those anonymous entries were randomly selected to compete head-to-head (the losing entries were thrown back into the contestant pool, and one of them was re-selected to appear again for a later bout, which is why it was 71 instead of 72). During each bout, readers of DL's blog took part by commenting, critiquing, and voting for their favorites between the two contestants.

The competition went through:
  • 36 preliminary bouts
  • 18 first-round bouts between the prelim winners
  • 9 second-round bouts among first-round winners, with edited submissions from the contestants
  • 5 third-round bouts among the nine second-round winners and one wild-card, with new submissions from the 10 contestents
  • 3 quarter-final bouts among the third-round winners and one wild-card
  • 2 semi-final bouts between the quarter-final winners and one wild card, with edited second submissions.
  • 1 final bout between the semi-final winners, with new submissions, voted on by a panel of ten writers, agents, and others in the publishing world.
Some of you may remember that way back in July, I mentioned that I had decided to submit an entry to the contest.

Guess what?  I made it to the finals.

Today, the winner was announced, and it was Mark Hough, aka "Snivvy Crank."  His excellent piece was selected by a 6-to-4 vote.

I was the runner-up, "Raven Claw."

I have no regrets in losing to Mark -- in fact I'm honored, humbled, and a trifle amazed that I managed to wind up in the finals against him.  Mark's writing was humorous, gripping, and engrossing.  I was very impressed by how much story he managed to weave into 500 finely-crafted words.  He also has a tremendous talent for characterization -- his pieces were all driven by truly memorable and compelling characters.  If you haven't already, I really encourage you to check out his entries.  DL's finals post HERE gives links to each of them.

As for my own entries?  Well, here's a brief breakdown:

I.  My initial entry "Prey" appeared in Preliminary Bout #27. It was something I threw together specifically for entry into WRiTE Club.  It's from an idea I've had churning around for a while -- the hunter becomes the hunted, and a meek helpless old woman turns out to be something much more than she appears.  I also thought it might be fun to make the piece two parts, with a common ending line. It was a challenge getting it all under 500 words: Two scenes with separate PoV characters and all the paranormal groundwork needed to explain the reason behind the old lady's switcharoo. I also picked the name "Kali" intentionally -- it has both an urban, contemporary sound and the aspects of the Hindu goddess of empowerment and impending death fitted well with what I was going for in the character.  I'm not sure where this story idea may eventually lead, but I think it will need a longer piece, or at least a series of short stories, to fully flesh it out.  As for now, it's going back into the "ideas for stories" queue to stew a bit.

II.  My second entry "Storms" first appeared in Round 3, Bout #1, and was taken from a piece I started last year, kept hitting a brick wall with, and and then stuck in my dead-idea pile.  I used this because it's neither violent nor paranormal -- some of the comments in the prelims, combined with all the wide variety of paranormal stories submitted, made me want to go with something that was entirely different from my first piece.  The original story is unfinished and builds slowly, and didn't have the pregnant girl -- I wanted something with a little more emotional impact in the ending of the WRiTE Club version.  This was a story that was also HARD to cut down to 500 words.  I think it suffered from a lot of loss of nuance.  But either way, I'm not sure if this story will ever make it to a finished state, so for now it goes back to the bone-yard...

III.  My last entry "Invaders" was in The Finals, and was a reworking of an old Avartar-ish thing I wrote for a Creative Copy Challenge 10-word prompt (HERE's the original).  I just get a kick out of the idea that a highly-advanced, ruthless and deadly invading species would accidentally pick a cat as their host form.  But it could happen.  If they were scouting us, they could clearly see that the cat is the higher species on this planet -- ours certainly rules our household.  Even our dog gives her a wide berth.  But then, what means are the invaders going to use to achieve their goals?  "The Hairball of Doom?"  Anyway, I reworked the ending of the piece because the original relied on one of the prompt words, and I didn't think it would make sense out of context.  I also moved the cat right to the lap of power, so to speak, to give it more impact.  Finally, I changed the character names to Moros and Dolos.  In Greek mythology, they are the personification of impending doom and guile.  And as usual, this entry ended up being yet another case where I really struggled to get under the word-count.

I kind of liked that my entries were a wide assortment of styles and genres.  I think it reflects who I am as a writer -- erratic, quirky, and wordy -- I'm ALWAYS struggling to stay under word limits, lol!

And so, WRiTE Club 2012 is put to bed.  I enjoyed it and learned a lot from all the comments and critiques of my anonymous work.  I would really like to thank everyone who took the time to read and respond to my entries, whether you voted for me or not.

As for next year, I will definitely be involved again in 2013 (should Don want to go with another round of it).  But likely not as a contestant.  I want to offer Don as much help as I can, and I think I'll be able to do more behind the scenes than as a writer in the contest. And that way I can vote and comment without trying to also maintain my anonymity at the same time. ;^)

I want to deeply thank Don and his wife Kim for all they did to pull off the marathon that was WRiTE Club.  If you don't follow Don, I urge you to check out his Cruising Altitude 2.0 blog -- it's consistently filled with so much wonderful stuff!

And I also again salute and congratulate Mark Hough:  Your work was wonderful!  Congratulations, again!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Quest for Story: #9 -- Seedy Language

(Photo by Chris J. Fries - 2012: Seed Pod)
(This is post number nine in a ten-part quest to define "a good story" -- the kickoff of this quest was HERE)

Wow, it must seem like I just completely forgot about this blog, doesn't it?

I really do have to apologize for my dismal job of keeping it updated. It's been a mix of the usual suspects: work, family, impending holidays, and just too little free time.  The good news is that I have been managing to at least eke out some writing, so while I deeply regret ignoring any blog-readers, if time pressures force me to choose between blogging and creative writing, I have to go with the writing.  After all, this is a blog about my writing, so it makes sense that the writing should come before it, dont'cha think?

The little blogging I've managed to do lately has pretty much been over at DL Hammons's blog, where the two finalists of WRiTE Club 2012 have been revealed (read them HERE).  Now we're waiting for DL's panel of judges to come up with the ultimate winner -- this will be posted on his blog on Monday (and I'll wrap up my own thoughts about WRiTE Club here next week).

But, um...  anyway. Let's see -- my own blog.  Now, where was I?

Oh, yeah -- some sort of series about "A Quest for a Good Story," right? Well, let's review, shall we?  It has been quite a while...

I started down this path way back when I caught an NPR blurb on the radio about submitting an entry for broadcast, and they said something along the lines of " doesn't matter what it's about, as long as it's a good story."  That struck a chord with me, and I started thinking about what makes a good story?  I then expanded on these thoughts and kicked off a "Quest for Story" back HERE.

In Part 1, I hit on the importance of Character.  To me, that's the logical starting point and the centerpiece -- a good story HAS to have compelling characters.

In Part 2, I talked about Plot.  A good story has to have interesting events that are chained together.

Part 3 covered Voice, that combination of the author's narrative choices and writing style that lures the reader into the world the writer is creating.

I believe that the trinity of Character, Plot, and Voice form the core tripod that all good stories rest on.  Everything else I can think of can either be considered a sub-element of one of these three central facets, or a combination of two or more of them.  And I went on to expand on some of these in the later entries in the quest:

In Part 4, I wrote about the Beginning of the story.

Part 5 covered Conflict and Tension.

Part 6 was about Setting.

In Part 7, I discussed the Middle of the story.

And in Part 8, the last entry in the Quest I posted, I touched on a story's Meaning.

...and then I more-or-less fell totally off the blogging radar for the last two months.  For that I apologize once again.  Luckily, "proper pacing" was not one of the good story elements I was going to touch on.  ;^)

But with that review I think we're up-to-date, and there are only two topics left that I want to cover.

Today, we'll talk about one of them -- the mechanics of how to write that story.  To make these wordy doohickeys all go togetherish sorta, like, you know, goodly, and stuff...

Today we'll cover:


Obviously, no tale can be a 'Good Story' if a writer can't even put it together.  Nouns, verbs, adjectives, prepositions, and even -- if used sparingly -- an occasional adverb:  They all have to be strung together into coherent sentences. Punctuation needs to be used properly. A writer's vocabulary must be broad enough for the most effective words to be chosen. Rules of grammar need to be followed, or if broken, done so through a specific and conscious decision to enhance the story.

An author has to have their writing mechanics down well enough to transfer their story into the mind of the reader; to send the author's own thoughts out like seeds from a pod -- fully-formed, so that they may plant themselves into the psyche of the person reading the story.

But, while solid mechanics will form those seeds, much more is needed to make them as fertile as possible.  A writer needs to do more than construct simple "See Spot run" sentences.  A Good Story's words are musical and evocative, strung together in sentences that flow with pacing and rhythm. Simile, metaphor, dynamic adjectives, and lyrical imagery are artistically combined with alliteration, beat, meter and prosody to form sentences and passages filled with fertile and powerful messages, all working together to ultimately make the writing...


Seems counter-intuitive, doesn't it?

But the best stories have wonderful writing that a reader doesn't even notice because they've become so immersed in the story.  To have that happen means that the writer has connected with that magical sweet spot that is very hard to hit.  Too clumsy and mechanically weak and the reader is put off by the pedestrian writing; too ornate and over-the-top with "Hey, lookit me -- I'm writing!" hooptidoodle, and the reader is turned off by the author's pretension and grandstanding.

Often, when I read a really good story, it's only afterwards that I realize just how skillfully the author wrote -- how every word was perfectly chosen and put precisely in its place to build passages with powerful imagery and tantalizing rhythm.  But during my first reading, I was so busy just being engrossed and enjoying the story that I wasn't even aware of the writing.

That's the best kind of writing.