Posts Tagged ‘craft’

Why Consistency is Important

On to a new topic today, Squiders! But first, I want to tell you about a promo that’s going on through tomorrow, March 17. You can get a variety of fantasy novels or series for free or $.99 through here. I’ve got my first novel, Hidden Worlds, included. There’s some good stuff (I may have bought a couple myself) so take a look!

So, we’ll start with why consistency is important today, and then in subsequent posts we’ll look at ways to build up and maintain consistency as well as what to do when life is getting in the way. Like the submitting/publishing posts, there’s some stuff I’ll leave off the blog posts so that there’ll be some new info in the book when I put it out, though I’m not quite sure what exactly as I haven’t finished outlining this book yet. But that’ll be done before next week.

Merriam-Webster defines consistency as a “harmony of conduct or practice with profession” which is a bizarre way to put it, if you ask me. The Oxford dictionary defines it as “consistent behavior or treatment.” (And also “the way a substance holds together,” which is irrelevant to this discussion.)

If you do a quick Internet search, you’ll find several dozen articles on why consistency is the key to success. But what it basically comes down to is this: if you’re not regularly doing something, practicing it and improving on it and trying new things, how can you expect to be successful?

I heard a tenet once, many years ago, that said you have to write a million words of crap before you get anywhere. Not sure who said it originally, since the writing community picked up the idea and ran with it. A million words sounds like a lot. It’s 10 100K word novels. 20 50K, if that’s more your length. It took me about eight years to get through my million words of crap, and that’s not counting earlier stuff from my teens.

So, to be specific, why does it pay to be consistent with your writing practices:

  • Things get done. A novel can seem like an insurmountable goal, and if you’re writing once or twice every month or so, it very well could be. By writing consistently, you can break a goal into something manageable and see that you’re actually getting closer.
  • It helps improve your craft. The thing about that old “practice makes perfect” saying is that it’s true, to some extent. Sure, there is the occasional odd duck who can put out a story that gets them everything they want on the first go, but most people have to work at learning some aspect of the writing process, whether it’s plotting, description, characterization, structure, etc. Writing consistently can help you learn to see the errors in your own work, and also help you try out ways to fix those errors.
  • It keeps you from getting rusty. When I was younger, I’d write for, oh, six months of the year, and then take the other six months off and do other things. Whenever I came back to the writing thing, it was as if I couldn’t remember what I was doing. Sure, it’d come back eventually, but I could have saved myself a lot of time and pain if I hadn’t taken such a long break.
  • It helps you push yourself. Most writers have a list of things they’d like to get done eventually. For example, I’d really like to write a cozy mystery someday. Maybe set in space. By writing more consistently, you can get through projects faster, which leaves you time to experiment, or to say to yourself that maybe now, finally, is the time to try the epic time traveling romance you’ve always wanted to do.
  • Writing becomes a habit. And habits tend to get done in a day around everything else.
  • More opportunities will come your way. If you’re more consistent, you’ll probably build up a reputation in your writing community for being dependable, which means that when that editor needs a last minute story to round out an anthology they know you’ll be good for it. Or if that small press you’ve had your eye on opens a call for historical romance, you’ll have a novel waiting in the wings ready for submission. Or if you’re at a conference and overhear an agent say that they would give up coffee to get their hands on a MG scifi adventure with a female protagonist, oh hey, you just finished one up last month.
  • The writing business isn’t for the faint of heart. Writing can be very depressing. There’s a lot of waiting and rejection and a lack of response, and if you’ve got one novel done and you’re waiting for it to sell for a million dollars and make you a bestseller, you’re probably going to be disappointed. It helps to move on to new things, to have more than one project, to keep your mind off of what a single project is (or isn’t) doing and to keep your momentum going.
  • It keeps you up to date. The publishing world and its trends change often, and it can help you tailor your goals and what you’re working on if you’re generally aware of what’s going on.

Anything I’m leaving out, Squiders?

Premise vs Plot vs Structure

Some time ago, Squiders, we discussed¬†Premise and Plot. (That’s a fairly short post, but for those too lazy to click through, the basic gist is that a premise is the idea of the story, whereas the plot is the series of events in a story.)

Today we’re going to expand this a little and talk about structure. What is structure? The structure of a story is how the plot is presented. It’s chronology, viewpoints, tense. It’s when certain events happen in a story.

The plot doesn’t necessary vary based on structure, but the structure can make for very different stories with the same plot.

For example, let’s say we have a plot with plot points A, B, C, and D.

Story 1 is presented in a linear fashion, so A, B, C, and D are presented to the reader in the order they happen.

Story 2 is presented in a nonlinear fashion, so we start with C, go back to B, then back to A, and finish up with D.

Story 3 has multiple viewpoints, so character 1 presents their side of the story, and then character 2 presents their side.

Story 4 intertwines A, B, C, and D with a separate story of plot points E, F, G, and H, alternating between the two plots.

The plot points don’t change because the structure changes. The events still happen in the order they happen. What changes with the structure is merely the presentation.

Your story has a structure whether you think about it or not. Some people plan their structure out in advance, whereas others just happen.

Perhaps the most common structure in story-telling is the Three-Act structure, which consists of a beginning inciting incident, a middle section where conflict builds, and a final concluding section. There are, of course, other structures, and even Three-Act structures can vary, based on when the turning points in between acts fall. (Some people say the inciting incident should occur about 10% of the way through the story, while others say 25%, for example.)

A common variation of the Three-Act structure ¬†looks more like an increasing sine wave (sorry, engineer, don’t know how else to explain it) where a series of mini-climaxes accompany the act transitions, leading up to the final climax at the end of the story.

So.

Premise = idea

Plot = series of events

Structure = presentation of plot

Antagonist and Protagonist

Craft post today, Squiders.

Protagonist, antagonist. Self-explanatory, right?

Well, to some extent, yes. But let’s talk nuances.

Your protagonist is the main driving character of your story. It is the person whose dilemma we care about the most. In most cases, this is the main, viewpoint character but not always. (A “main” character may play a narrator or sidekick role instead.)

Additionally, scenes and subplots can have a different protagonist from the overall work.

In simple terms, the protagonist is the person trying to accomplish something in any particular scene, plot, or work. In more general terms, the protagonist is usually the main character, the one who readers identify with and stay with throughout the story.

An antagonist, by definition, is someone or something that stops or tries to prevent the protagonist from getting what they want. In many cases, especially in a clear good vs evil plot, this tends to be what is referred to in the writing world as a Big Bad. (Or maybe it’s a TVTrope that we writers have just stolen. I am unsure.) The Voldemort to Harry Potter, the Empire to the Rebel Alliance, the Maleficent to whichever prince it is, the Ganondorf to Link–you get the point.

But ANYONE who acts in opposition to the protagonist is an antagonist. To continue with the Harry Potter example, because that’s probably the most univeral, both Snape and Draco would be considered antagonists as well. But so could Hermione in some cases.

Have I lost you?

There’s places in the narrative throughout the series where Harry (our protagonist) wants to do something, and Hermione actively tries to stop him from doing whatever it is. Since she’s acting in opposition, she counts as an antagonist in those scenes.

Protagonist and antagonist are highly subjective and depend on the point of view. Flip viewpoint character in a scene and who’s the protagonist and who’s the antagonist can swap.

And an antagonist doesn’t need to be a person. It can be an object, a force of nature, even a character’s own thoughts and feelings. Whatever is preventing the main character from getting what they want counts.

But almost everything will have both, in some form. Because without both, you lose conflict, and without conflict, a story isn’t interesting.

Know any really interesting interpretations of protagonists and antagonists, Squiders? Share them with the class.

Why Don’t Writing Groups Write?

So, back when I lived in California, I had a lovely group of people that I would write with. We’d go to a coffee shop, get a drink, maybe get a pastry (I am partial to chocolate pumpkin bread. Mmm), and we’d catch up for a few minutes, and then we’d write. For two or three hours at a go. And maybe we’d discuss techniques or craft or processes, or help someone with a plot issue, but the main point of the activity was to get something done, whether it was a new short story, editing an old novel, or fighting through a query letter.

We moved back to Colorado almost three years ago now, and I’ve yet to find a group whose point is doing rather than talking. I did have a Wednesday night group going for a bit, but while we sometimes got writing done, mostly we just socialized. And I’ve tried group after group, and they’re all either critique groups–which is good if you’ve got something written, but no good if you haven’t–or are craft groups, which is where people sit around and talk about how to write.

I dislike craft groups a lot. It’s not that I think I know everything about writing and don’t think I have anything left to learn. I don’t think that can ever be true of a writer. I just find that I tend to have a lot more experience than the other participants, and we spend a lot of time going over basics, or whoever’s leading’s trying to push their particular style on everyone, or we spend a lot of time working on activities designed to teach us how to do whatever, and I really really hate spending perfectly good writing time on writing exercises.

I despise writing exercises. I cannot learn through writing exercises and they make me extremely grumpy.

Every now and then I try to round up people who I feel are at a similar level to me, or at least write the same genre, and try to get a writing writing group going, but thus far it’s amounted to nothing.

What’s a girl to do? (Aside from sending the Landsquid to kidnap people, because I understand that’s frowned upon by society.) I have a lovely online group, but it’s very different to sit in a chatroom and write with people instead of doing it in person. (For one thing, your chatroom is not going to catch you if you’re off playing video games instead of what your should be doing.)

I’m going to try out a new group tonight–I found them at DCC, actually, when I stopped to talk to one of the other small presses, and while they alternate craft and critique meetings, I’m hoping I can at least network and maybe find some people up for writing. Also, the craft ones seem like they don’t always have a set topic, or someone presenting necessarily, so maybe they’re more discussion group-y, and I would be okay with that.

What do you look for in a writing group, Squiders? Have you had luck in your area?