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.


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Invisible. Working on that.
And hope to see you around more now!

Chris Fries said...

Thanks, Alex!

I'm also working on invisible writing, but at the same time, I'm trying to be less invisible in the blogosphere, too.

'Tis a paradox, no?

Susan Flett Swiderski said...

Welcome back. It's good to see you picking up this series again. Since you're talking about language, here's a question for you: do you think writers should purposely ratchet down their vocabulary, rather than risk writing over their readers' heads?

Georgina Morales said...

We all should choose to write before we blog, so never feel guilty about it.

What you say about for and proper grammar is very important. No matter how enthralling a story is, or how real the character seem, if the writing is bulky or grammar a garbled mess, not even your mom will be able to enjoy your book.

Now, I just wished people who actually know nothing but basic grammar stopped thinking they can asses the quality of every book that falls into their hands. There are so many bad reviews without merit, but indy writers get most of the bad rep and I think that's just wrong. Getting bad reviews because the story or ending wasn't to your taste is one thing, but saying an author is close to illiterate is taking it too far.

Anyway, I think balance between book perfect grammar and artistic permission is important.

Hope you have an amazing season Chris. Very Merry Christmas!

Donna said...

Me thinks I can learn a bit here. I need to go to your links and read the Parts I Missed.

DL Hammons said...

Unfortunately that seems to be the label agents have bestowed upon my writing so far....invisible! :)

But seriously, there's an important distinction there...

Invisible vs Impressionless.

Chris Fries said...

@Susan: Thanks! And that's a very interesting question... My instinct is to say "not really". But I also think that the genre we choose kind of helps sculpt the word choices we make. I wouldn't use the same words for a YA paranormal story that I would for an adult literary piece, so I guess that does mean I'm ratcheting down the vocabulary for that YA piece. But I'd have no problem using words from every nook and cranny of my vocab for that adult literary story. But the story helps choose the words also -- I'd never just use a word because I think it's an impressive word.

@Gina: I agree. And reviews are simply one person's opinion. Sometimes reviewers get a little too full of themselves -- or maybe it's just jaded from too many reviews -- and they start leaning much more towards criticism of everything. I hope you and your family have a wonderful Christmas also!!!

@Donna: Thanks! I hope you find them interesting. ;^)

@DL: LOL! True, that. And I'd never call your work impressionless, my friend.

Nicole said...

Yup, you nailed it! I love finding those great lines that work so well because they just feel so natural. Still working on getting a few into my own writing. ;)

Chris Fries said...

@Nicole: Thanks! I appreciate your kind words. And I'm right there with you, struggling with every sentence I try to write, lol!