Archive for August, 2017

To revise a fiction story, apply fixes judiciously and consider significant change. Article About Writing Better

Monday, August 28th, 2017
William H. Coles

The flood threatens! Noah needs an "arc." He hires a carpenter who constructs a roughly-shaped wooden cube 120 feet high, wide, and deep. To know the front of the "arc," Noah has a figure of a maiden sculpted in flowing robes that is attached to a corner of the cube's top and tilted forward, hair flowing, as if in a strong wind. Great. The bow!

Now Noah needs an aft. He fastens a discarded wagon wheel  to the side of the arc opposite the maiden. Jumping Jehovah! The stern! And for passenger access, he cuts a large-diameter circle on the top of the cube. Superb! For passengers to see out he fashions four windows on each of the "arc's" sides and bottom. And of course his passengers need "facilities." He attaches a sturdy wide platform that extends over the "arc's" side with a circular hole at the far end for potty use. Finished!

He advertises with smoke signals for pairs of people, animals, and things to apply for vetting. But at his celebration party, the heavens split wide and a deep, and a loud, unfriendly voice tells Noah it's a stupid idea and it will never work. "Do it right!" the voice booms.
Noah hires a consultant who destroys the figurehead, moves the stern wagon wheel up two feet, and occludes seven of the twenty windows. He enlarges the hole at the end of the potty plank to accommodate larger passengers.

Noah, happy with revisions, throws another party. But that loud voice squelches the reverie.  "That's not an "arc," you degenerate nincompoop." Noah trembles with fright; thunder and lightening prevail; the voice says: "To hell with you!"

WHAT is this ABOUT?

There is an alarming corollary between our Noah and beginning writers of fiction stories striving to be the best. Noah had no knowledge, and probably no ability, and built a cube for an "arc." To distinguish the"arc," he embellished it with useless articles. When he failed, he sought fixes here and there from a consultant when the basic problem was conceptualization and structure.

Compare beginning writers. They take a creative-writing workshop and submit manuscripts for critiquing.  To the students concerns, fellow students critique the manuscripts while the instructor oversees discussion.  At workshop's end, students have copies of their manuscripts splotched with circled or crossed-out words, squiggly lines, arrowheads, and smiley or frowny emojis–hundreds of fixes that are mostly ineffective (like covering windows, removing a figurehead, and enlarging a potty hole to make a cube into an arc). Valuable instruction is almost never offered on how stories are structured and characters are shaped with action scenes and plots infused with drama.

Sadly, academic teachers often ignore fundamental concepts. Great fiction as literature: 1) is  imagined and created, not just described from memory; 2) has strong characterization that drives plot progression, 3) is structured to engage, entertain. and enlighten;  4) requires concrete imagery, momentum, clarity, and meaning, 5) is revised with significant change when needed and not just fixed with an addition here or deletion there, or even just adding another hundred words.

After attending over a hundred plus creative-writing workshops, I believe  academics has failed students with poor, unqualified, inaccurate, lifeless teaching that has resulted in the decline artful literary fiction–fiction that uniquely enlightens about human struggles in a constantly shifting culture and society. The quality of contemporary academic workshop teaching is a cultural tragedy riddled with memoir-based storytelling and prose generated from authorial ego, the "literature of self."

ADVICE.  Learning the art of creating fiction is best achieved by careful analytical study of the great, lasting stories the author admires while simultaneously finding talented, selfless, and enthusiastic instructors who both write and teach well, and will mentor the deserved.


The Spirit of Want

The Spirit of Want is an acclaimed, award-winning novel by William H. Coles
that illustrates the ideas in the post above.

Rate and Logic in Revealing Story information in Literary Fiction Article About Writing Better

Monday, August 14th, 2017
William H. Coles

All writing conveys information and, in fiction stories, how and when information is revealed impacts the understanding of the story as well as shapes points of expectation and installs suspense and credibility. Little Red Riding Hood is essentially a story about predators of children, about how children must: obey their parents, know the dangers of world, and never speak to strangers. The story has many forms, all have persisted for more than a century because crucial dramatic information is revealed that delivers meaning with impact, an essential element in this story’s longevity. Compare these two examples.

(1) Little red Riding Hood is determined to take a basket of goodies through the woods to grandma’s house. (2) Her mother warns her of the danger, not to talk to strangers, and not to dilly-dally. (3) In the woods she meets a wolf and tells him about her journey. (4) The wolf runs ahead and devours Granny. (5) Red finally gets to Granny’s;  the wolf, now dressed in Granny’s nightgown, eats her.

Okay. Basic essentials and the story is there: a desire, parental warning, telling stranger of grandmother, wolf eating grandma because Red disobeys and ignores truths, Red punished for her errant ways.

Now look at a different rate and positioning of information revelation.

(4) Little Red Riding Hood’s grandmother was killed. (3) Red met a wolf in the woods on her journey to grandma’s house and told him about grandma even though (2) Red’s mother warned her of the danger of speaking to strangers and the dangers lurking in the woods. (5) So when Red finally gets to Granny’s, the wolf, now dressed in Granny’s nightgown, eats her. (4) The wolf had run ahead of Red to devour Granny.

A story is still there but not as effective. Information revelation is not prioritized and many ideas are followed by what seem to be non-sequiturs, a consequence in the second story of the story timeline disrupted by events being told that happen at different times in story time–Granny died and then we're told the wolf ran ahead of Red, for example.  (Inattention to a timeline and rate of revelation of story information is a very common writer’s error that often weakens the potential of a story’s effect.)


In creating effective stories, the author must be aware of ideas and how their logical positioning and delivery makes or breaks the story for readers. Compare these processes of (1) positioning scrabble tiles on a board to find winning combinations, or (2) sifting through jigsaw-puzzle pieces to join them for a complete, understandable, and meaningful image.

Thanks for reading.

Illustrations by William H. Coles.


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