Posts Tagged ‘plot’

Excessive Pride and Self-Confidence as Motive in Storytelling: Characterization and Plot Example Article About Writing Better


Friday, August 12th, 2016
William H. Coles

An example of excessive pride and self-confidence in story excerpt from "Nemesis".
___________
After he was fired from his job as audiovisual technician, Fred demanded early retirement, threatening to sue, and received forty-percent of his salary. A pittance of what I’m worth, he thought. Fred’s dismissal humiliated his wife Veronica. “Get a job,” she said, irritated to have him perpetually at home.

“I think I’ll start writing a syndicated column for the newspaper,” Fred said, emboldened by his recently acquired disgust–through his intent viewing of TV extremist news–of how seriously deficient America had become.

“You’re lazy,” Veronica said.

“Lazy people do not reach my levels of success,” he said.

Veronica was thin and had a nervous tick that shut her left eye making her right eye widen and exposing the white of the globe as if in unilateral fright. She would leave Fred after twelve loveless years. “You’re a jackass,” she said.

“Don’t be your unreasonable self, Veronica. It only demeans you.”

“A halfwit,” she said.

“Now it’s name calling, is it?” Fred said.

“It’s not a name. I’m not addressing you. I’m telling what everyone knows. You're an incompetent, unemployed, self-absorbed, idiot–the only human in existence who has pride in his failures. And I hate you.”

In an instant Fred assessed the entire scene as some hormonally induced, paper-lantern feminine crisis not worthy of his attention. She’d come around. She always did.
____________
This excerpt is from the short story “Nemesis” about an arrogant man with excessive pride (hubris), failure to heed warnings, unshakeable belief in being right, inconsiderate of others’ views, and stubbornly ignorant of knowledge, who causes the death of the only love of his life. You can READ [5085 words] or LISTEN TO [34 minutes] the story here: http://www.storyinliteraryfiction.com/original-stories-william-h-coles/nemesis/

The Greeks knew excessive pride and self-confidence invited destruction (hubris–>nemesis). For the writer of stories, hubris is a human trait that can vitalize plot development and characterization. Look at these examples of hubris inviting destruction:

1. A famous athlete has extramarital affairs and said he thought that normal rules did not apply to him and that his excellence in his sport entitled him to whatever he wanted with no consequences. He lost respect of family, fans and sponsors and his career is ruined..

2. A president believes his status makes him invincible until his involvement in the illegal breaking and entering scandal forces his resignation.

And you might also enjoy these classical literature examples of pride and downfall: Oedipus Rex, All the King’s Men, Frankenstein.

The award winning novel McDowell incorporates full use of hubris that results in destruction of a famous doctor's career and freedom. He becomes a hunted convict that ironically allows new opportunity to regain some value to his life with unselfish caring for others. It’s a prime example of hubris and nemesis followed by a rebirth. It’s a good read. Available in all formats including audio.



Seven elements for writing fiction stories Article About Writing Better


Friday, June 17th, 2016
William H. Coles

For writers striving to improve the creation of fictional stories in prose, here are seven essential elements in creating stories.

The elements: Prose, Characterization, Plot, Narration, Setting, Imagery, Meaning/purpose.

Prose relates to diction, syntax, and voice. The intense poetic elements of lyric prose can be used to pleasing effects for a reader both as a secondary and prime element. For memorable stories, most readers prefer a distinct, often authoritative voice, for narrator and characters.

Characterization (creation of a fictional character) is most effective when developed by in scene action predominating over discursive narrative telling and when excellence of other elements is achieved: dialogue, narration, internalization, and voice.

Plot is all that happens in a story and is almost always dependent on a beginning, middle, and end and thrives of tried and true characteristics: character-based; momentum on reversals and recognition, mystery and suspense; and often linear, interwoven with emotional, character, and story arcs. Great plots provide conflicts early, both in story and among characters.

Narration is storytelling. Characters act out in fiction stories, narrators tell story, and authors create story with imagination and uniqueness. Point of view choice is tailored to the needs of story. Each point of view has advantages and disadvantages and must conform to reasonable story-related credibility and reliability, and adjust to requirements of suspension of disbelief. Authorial control of the narration through the narrator must be consistent in style, transparent (almost always no authorial intrusion), carefully chosen for story understanding and purpose, and meticulously crafted.

Setting orients the reader to time, place, and physical and psychic distance from story action, environment, and obstacles to plot progression. Most stories provide settings through subtle integration in other elements avoiding extensive description. Other stories rely on the poetry of beautiful settings for maximum reader pleasure.

Imagery relies on imaginative prose with innovative yet absolutely accurate word choice within the boundaries set up by story development. Momentum in the writing with image-inducing prose should be pervasive to prevent reader disinterest.

Theme/purpose. Every story should engage a reader, entertain the reader, please the reader, and provide recognition or enlightenment (theme/meaning) so the reader will never see the world again exactly the way they did before the story was read. Fiction stories are not character sketches, memoir, biography, or journalism with untruths. And every story has to have more than an authorial catharsis describing authorial lives and events. Fiction is art that emerges from imagination and is created with skill and structure.

References:

Preparing to Write the Great Literary Story

Literary Fictional Story

Character in Literary Fictional Story



The Seven Fundamentals for Writing Fiction Stories Article About Writing Better


Tuesday, April 26th, 2016
William H. Coles

There are many ways to think about the great writing of great fictional stories. Both readers and writers can benefit by learning seven elements and appreciating the interaction of these elements in an individual story. For the reader, appreciation of authorial skills can be more easily enjoyed and admired, and for writers, learning to determine their strengths and weakness in the creation of the different elements can be valuable to balance story for an effective presentation.

Prose
Characterization
Plot
Narration (POV)
Setting
Imagery
Meaning/purpose

Prose relates to diction, syntax, and voice. Lyric prose with intense poetic elements can be used to pleasing effects for a reader both as a secondary and prime element. Most readers prefer a distinct, often authoritative voice for narrator and characters.

Characterization is a key element for a literary story and is often most effective by in scene action predominating over discursive narrative telling. It’s importance in story development in the great stories is unique and individual and requires talent and practice. Dialogue, narrative, internalization, flashback, diction, memory, voice are opportunities for character development in effective ways different, and at times superior, to characterization in film or in drama. Almost without exception, great stories

Plot is all that happens in a story. For great stories plot is almost always structured with a beginning, middle, and end; frequently is character-based; depends for momentum on reversals and recognition, mystery and suspense; is primarily linear, and is interwoven with emotional, character, and story arcs. Great plots provide conflicts early, both in story and among characters.

Narration is storytelling. Characters act out in fiction stories, narrators tell story, and authors create story with imagination and uniqueness. Point-of-view choice is tailored to the needs of story. Each point of view has advantages and disadvantages and must conform to reasonable story-related credibility and reliability reliability, and adjust to requirements of suspension of disbelief. Authorial control of the narration through the narrator must be consistent in style, transparent (no authorial intrusion), carefully chosen for story understanding and purpose,, and meticulously crafted.

Setting orients the reader to time, place, and physical and psychic distance from story action, environment, and obstacles to plot progression. Most stories provide settings through subtle integration in other elements avoiding extensive description. Yet, some stories rely on the poetry of beautiful settings.

Imagery relies on imaginative prose with innovative yet absolutely accurate word choice within the boundaries set up by story development. Momentum in the writing with image-inducing prose should be pervasive to avoid loss of engagement of the reader.

Theme/purpose.
Every story should engage a reader, entertain the reader, please the reader, and provide recognition or enlightenment (theme/meaning) so the readers will never see the world again exactly the way they did before the story was read. Fiction stories are not character sketches, memoir, biography, or journalism with untruths. And every story has to have more than an authorial catharsis describing authorial lives and events with description without imagination and discursive rumination of authorial thoughts and opinions. Fiction is art that emerges from imagination and is created with skill,  structure, and revision.



Eight Fundamentals for Writing Fiction Stories Article About Writing Better


Wednesday, February 4th, 2015
William H. Coles

Eight fundamentals for writing fiction stories.

Prose
Characterization
Plot
Narration (POV)
Setting
Imagery
Meaning/purpose
Drama

There are many ways to think about the writing of great fiction stories. Both readers and writers can benefit by thinking of eight fundamentals and appreciating the interaction of the elements in an individual story. For the reader, appreciation of authorial skills can be enhanced and admired, and for writers, learning to determine strengths and weaknesses in the creation of the different elements can be valuable to balance story for an effective presentation.

1. Prose relates to diction, syntax, and voice. Lyric prose with intense poetic elements can be used to pleasing effects for a reader both as a secondary and prime element, but clarity, accuracy, and concrete over abstract provide most effective prose for significant storytelling. Most readers prefer a distinct, often authoritative voice for narrator and characters.

2. Characterization is a key element for a literary story and is often most effective by in scene action predominating over discursive narrative telling. Its importance in story development in the great stories is unique and individual and requires talent and practice. Dialogue, narrative, internalization, flashback, diction, memory, voice are opportunities for character development in effective ways different, and at times superior, to characterization in film or in drama. Almost without exception, great stories integrate characterization and plot progression to create character-based fiction.  And each, at least, primary character has a recognizable core desire that contributes to solid logic of character motivations and reactions.

3. Plot is all that happens in a story. For great stories plot is almost always structured with a beginning, middle, and end; frequently is character-based; depends for momentum on reversals and recognition, mystery and suspense; is primarily linear; and is interwoven with emotional, character, and story arcs. Great plots provide conflicts early, both in story and among characters.

4. Narration is storytelling. Characters act out in fiction stories, narrators tell story, and authors create story with imagination and uniqueness. Point of view choice is tailored to the needs of story. Each point of view has advantages and disadvantages and must conform to reasonable credibility, reliability, and requirements of suspension of disbelief. Authorial control of the narration through the narrator must be consistent, complete, and meticulous.

5. Setting orients the reader to time, place, physical and psychic distance from story action, environment, and obstacles to plot progression. Best stories provide most settings through subtle integration in other elements avoiding extensive description.

6. Imagery relies on imaginative prose with innovative yet absolutely accurate word choice within the boundaries set up by story development. Momentum in the writing with image-inducing prose should be pervasive to avoid loss of engagement of the reader.

7. Meaning/purpose. Every story should engage a reader, entertain the reader, please the reader, and provide recognition or enlightenment (meaning) so the reader will never see the world again exactly the way as before the story was read. Great fiction stories are not character sketches, memoirs, biographies, or journalism with untruths, and every great story has to have more than an authorial catharsis describing authorial events and characters with description and discursive rumination.  And for significance, authors create a moral framework for the story world that helps define character actions and thinking, suggest meaning, and enhance logic of the drama.

8. Drama keeps a reader's interest, moves the plot, and builds character.  Drama is conflict the precipitates action and requires a writer's ability to insert action in scene, in dialogue, and in narrative description.  Drama also can move the reader to feel the story and the characters.

Summary.  Writing fiction that is character-based with dramatic plots and meaning is an art form requiring both talent and diligent hard work and self evaluation.  Studying and learning the skills to use fundamentals effectively is essential in becoming a successful storyteller, but also useful in revision of early drafts to seek balance in the presentation and consistency in the writing.

 



Creating Effective Scenes Article About Writing Better


Wednesday, July 16th, 2014
William H. Coles

In writing scenes, three primary elements of great fiction writing and storytelling are functioning pervasively: setting, characterization, plot movement.  One will predominate, but the three are always integrated, all contribute to the effect of a good scene, and every element is specifically acting in the story being created and developed; no extraneous or unrelated ideas or images are used.        

Setting 

Readers need orientation to time and place.  Once time and place are established in a story, readers need to be updated in any scene where place of story action has changed, or where significant change in time has occurred.  And in a scene, attention to concrete clues that aid in reader visualizing scene are important.  These aids in visualization can be in dialogue, in dialogue attribution, or in narrative, and need to be carefully chosen to not call attention to their contribution but to provide useful subtle reminders that help visualize and orient the scene. 

For example of developing concrete imagery:

“Don’t do that!” he said while eating.

Better.

“Don’t do that!” he said taking a bite of his cheeseburger.

Better (if pace and context are appropriate).

“Don’t do that,” he said.  With a serrated cutting knife, he sliced his cheeseburger and thrust half of it at her. 

Concrete modifiers can help establish setting and stimulate images too. 

The car went around the corner and made her sick.

Here is a revision to meet the opportunity to develop scene and action.

The Porsche convertible cornered on the two-lane country road and the twisted seat belt cut into her bare shoulder, her hand covering her mouth as she retched.

Characterization

Fiction writing develops characters.  Narrative telling should not dominate, He was really tired and felt like taking a nap type of writing.  Instead, develop a character’s immediate state of general constitution for the reader through action.  He stumbled over a fist-size rock, his fatigued muscles unable to keep him balanced, and he fell forward, his hands outstretched to protect him, but his weary arms collapsed and his face hit the gravel

Internalization can be used for characterization in a scene too.  She detested superbly fit people.  She thought of all it took to maintain good health as narcissism close to sin.

And dialogue should be a source of characterization by what is said, how it is said, and the credibility of syntax and word choice being credible for the character speaking.  (Dialects can be used, but are usually effective only when used sparingly without calling attention to the writing.)  Samples of different characters speaking of the same thing:

“I do not care for apricots.”

“Apricots taste funny sometimes.”

“Apricots have a sweet yet tangy taste.  Not my favorite.”

“Them orange things taste like shit.”

“Apricots suck.”

“Growing apricots is a waste of time.”

“I wouldn’t pay one cent for an apricot.”

“You can use an apricot instead of lime for a tempting twist to key lime pie.”

“Apricots make me sick.”

“I saw the new crop of apricots at the store today.  They brought back sweet memories.”

“I can’t forget the texture of apricot.  Disgusting really.”

Each of the above might fit a variety of characters, but even more significant, many would not be consistent with most characters.  Authors need to be able to create dialogue from within the worldview, intellect, experiences, and memories of the character they are creating dialogue for.  For characterization in great fictional storytelling, it is imperative to write outside the authorial self when creating effective dialogue credible for character.

Plot Movement

All stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end, and the scenes that are the steppingstones of a reader’s journey through a fictional story also have their beginnings and ends.  Everything in storytelling is pushing to the end, and specific a end for each story, each scene, and scenes and stories depend on plot progression.  The writing creates happenings that advance the plot (and grow the characterization).  So in scenes, no matter what the predominate purpose (setting, characterization, plot movement), the action starts, advances, and stops.

Consider this scene whose primary purpose is setting, yet is developed with plot momentum (and a touch of characterization) from beginning to end.  First, the less effective, then the revision.

The locomotive with colorful cars behind followed the track that snaked though the valley.

Any movement perceived is really implied. Now with action:

The steam of the locomotive reddened the face of the engineer as he leaned out the window. The track curved many times ahead. He wondered, as the clouds gathered, if the printed banners with the czar’s name flapping above the red, green and white decorations so carefully applied on the cars behind by the birthday celebrants, would be dampened, maybe even destroyed, by rain. He gripped the waist-high metal lever jutting up through a slit in the floor and shoved it forward. The locomotive strained ahead tilting to the left when it reached the first turn.

Good writing is essential to convey momentum in scene.  Compare:

There was a bird on a limb. Static.

The flying bird settled on the limb. Improved with some action.

The olive branch quivered when the claws of the sparrow grasped the sturdy twig. A lot of action.            

As an author creates scenes, a sense of momentum also needs to be at every level of the writing—even paragraphs, sentences, and words.  Success depends mainly on vocabulary.

For example:

1) Verbs

Look for different degrees of action in the following: (Note how action is related to specificity.)

ate–swallowed

moved–walked

understood—discovered

told–described

told—elaborated        

went—drove

lay—reclined

cooked—fried

cooked—poached

killed—bludgeoned to death

began—ignited

NOTE: Use of certain verbs may convey a degree of action or a type of action that does not suit the scene or the narration. (Example: “His humor ignited her admiration” should not, in most circumstances, replace, “She smiled at his joke.”) Authors need tasteful and accurate verb choices to develop pleasing writing styles with momentum.

2) Nouns.

It is particularly useful in description of settings, or any narrative in a story, to choose nouns that have energy. Here are nouns that have different energies.

rock–hawk

telephone pole–computer

road–river

shadow–glitter

3) Adjectives.

Adjectives restrict a noun, or a verb form.  Compare adjectival forms and their effectiveness for lively writing.

motionless steamroller

waiting steamroller

tilted steamroller

rusted steamroller

 

dead acrobat

breathless acrobat

plunging acrobat

immortalized acrobat

revered acrobat

decaying acrobat

perspiring acrobat.

Note: Adjectives are not equal in effect in a specific context, each has a different energy relationship to a unique noun.

4) Adverbs.

Examples: Talk (verb)–-incessantly, often, irritatingly, lovingly, uncontrollably, loudly, softly.

NOTE: that every one of these adverbs could be replaced by a construction that showed rather than told. Example: For ”loudly,” an author might use, “When he shouted, little Jennie winced and covered her ears.”  Probably too many words for too little effect. In this instance, maybe the adverb is better: “Jake spoke loudly to her.”

Final thought.

Here is the message.  For every effective story in fiction, a writer needs to create scenes with effective elements: setting, characterization, and plot movement.  For further reading click here.



What Exactly Is a Character-Based Plot? Article About Writing Better


Saturday, November 13th, 2010
William H. Coles

 

This post has been moved to storyinliteraryfiction.com. Click here to read.

 



Exposing the Dark Side of Academic Fiction Workshops Editorial Opinion


Thursday, August 26th, 2010
William H. Coles

The end of a number of summer fiction workshops highlights again the influence of academic writing programs on the quality of contemporary literary fiction. Most contemporary literary writers progress through their careers, with variations, like this: college English major; attend MFA program; published work (often workshopped to the point of committee writing) promoted by MFA program; teaching position in creative writing; new work poorly received and published mainly by friends and colleagues in the literary community. This scenario produces unpalatable fiction not of the quality to have any commercial value, and usually consists of autobiographical or memoir material, usually told in the first person and strong on voice because story is lacking, and usually consists of descriptive narrative of past events with minimal dramatization. And this scenario almost never develops quality teachers capable of the complexities and challenges that writing of great fiction demands.

The result, and many will argue although the raw truth is evident, is literary fiction is boring, unpalatable, and unreadable to the majority of readers. A writer who has the intellect and the talent to produce great fiction with meaning has few resources to learn the skills of writing fiction, and studying in an MFA wastes valuable writing time. The most devastating effect of MFA programs is the result of the universal trend to tag any graduate as writer and teacher, which is often not true on either count, so these teachers are thrust on eager students as competent.

Here are recent events, all true, in workshops that work against the writing of great literary fiction. Collectively, these scenarios dominate the teaching of creative writing and erode valuable education of writers eager to write literary fiction constructed with dramatic scenes and affecting meaning and enlightenment about the human condition through story.

One teacher demanded that the action in a short story could be no longer than twenty-four hours, citing Aristotle as the source of this command. Aristotle, of course, never conceptualized a short story. And mention of famous short stories such as "A Simple Heart", by Flaubert (a lifetime) and "Lady with a Pet Dog" (months) by Chekhov were not mentioned in the pronouncement.

One teacher suggested an"'inventory" of things a character would have — empty a purse, go through a hope chest, explore a glove compartment for things to stick in the story as revelatory of character. This inventory-list activity does have value, of course, but it suggests that character development in a great story is description of things, when in truth great characters are best developed by unique and story-specific actions in scene and clear exploration of desires and emotions.

More than one teacher required a notebook. Ideas, scenes, characters, all described in detail from life. The idea was that when you were writing and you got blocked, you could go to your notebook and pull out a cute scene, an interesting character trait, or a vivid image to insert. Ridiculous. Great story writing is not a collection of unrelated ideas, no matter how cute or clever. Great literary stories come from story specific details imagined for best story effectiveness, not pulled from (although they may be stimulated by) the pantry of authors' experiences.

One teacher emphasized the importance of going a little crazy with the writing, a sort of free association in bizarre contexts and without fear of salacious or shocking effects on some readers. When asked if clarity in prose and structured story telling was important even in the crazy periods to keep the reader oriented to story, his answer was "no." "Writing stories is an art form," he said. But the great, memorable, literary stories are founded on clear prose, clear ideas, clear plot progressions, and not random, disparate ideation. To profess otherwise is to send beginning authors on a self-destructive, albeit easier, path to mediocrity.

One author/teacher shared his desire to fully incorporate the author's voice in his stories. He did not see this as memoir or autobiographical, and did not see the danger of excluding imaginative story development outside the author's experiences, nor of promoting ideas and opinions as the most reliable way to create the great literary story with meaning that readers might enjoy. His teaching of authorial catharsis as story writing also arrogantly assumed that what the author thinks and says will be important to a large number of readers. In his case, he had neither the intellect, talent, nor life-fascination of others to attract the attention of a serious reader of literary stories.

One class was the completion of many exercises during six workshop sessions. No manuscripts were reviewed. Not one exercise was designed for in-scene action, or developed for effective inclusion with what would come before and after the exercise when inserted in a story. Every exercise was based and judged on descriptive narrative and dialogue, all static approaches to the creation of fiction that is structured on a series of interrelated scenes that contain conflict, action, and resolution.

In one class students held hands with neighbors, closed eyes, and thought of words that were called out into the silence in the hope of stimulating something to write about. The goal was to get something on the page based on a random thought. It implies that writing fiction comes from the subconscious, and then is developed through description of the random idea, and other ideas that might follow. Definitely not the way to learn to write a memorable, meaningful, literary fictional story that needs structure. Literary stories are not built on description, but on the actions of characters and the change in perceptions of characters and readers as a result of these actions. The subconscious is a source, but it is the conscious where imagination develops action with meaning.

Many classes are openly advocating an author writing about him or herself. "I want to read about your story, not someone else's," one teacher said. He yearned for creative memoir, often enjoyable, but not the same as creating the great literary fictional story with dramatic scenes, meaning, and enlightenment.

A common practice occurs in every workshop. A student's writing is evaluated on word choice, rhythmic sentences and pleasing syntax, surprising and delightful prose, but rarely (if ever) is a writing segment (or story) considered for purpose. Does the writing have a purpose that develops character? Is the purpose of the writing to advance plot logically? Is the purpose of the writing to contribute to meaning, theme, and enlightenment? Is the purpose of the writing to meet your 3000-word daily quota or to structure a story with well developed characters through action? There is an alarming inability of present day teachers of creative writing to understand and teach the essence of a great story. And there is little awareness of the consolidated negative effect of workshops on the writers trying to create literature with the advantages of traditional storytelling.

One prominent teacher/editor said: "For me, there is no difference between creative nonfiction and fiction." He unintentionally revealed his dismissal of the potential of fiction as an art form to create great literary stories, and his promotion of literary fiction as a description of the author's memory and thoughts, as opposed to the creation of story through dramatic action on imagined characters. At another occasion, he admitted he preferred nonfiction, even though he made the final choices for fiction selections for a literary journal. These attitudes are discouraging to writers of literary fictional stories, and destructive to the survival of great fiction as a venue for lasting, memorable stories.

Beginning writers have few ways to evaluate the value of workshop leaders. Word of mouth is most helpful. But finding a workshop valuable to the writing process of great fiction requires multiple workshops to begin to know the true value of any one teacher's abilities. Moment for moment, the best way to improve in the writing of fiction is the meticulous study of authors who have achieved what the student wants to achieve. Students need to discover how authors created their effects on readers. This is not copying style, as so often advocated in workshops. It is, instead, learning how to tell stories effectively, with clear prose and solid control of characters' desires and emotions within the cobweb of a structured, purposeful plot. Writers must make their own discoveries through individual study on what will bring success. Overall, workshops can be valuable, but should not be a primary source of learning for the writer.

You might enjoy the post Top Ten Rules for Fiction Workshops.




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