[Caelum's Scrapbook] Use Your Words.

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[Caelum's Scrapbook] Use Your Words.

Postby Caelum on September 21st, 2011, 8:10 pm

A fellow player and I were talking shop a while back. It became a conversation about formal writing education, structure, character diamonds, plot prongs, et cetera. I have belatedly remembered my promise to provide a brief over view on these things. They are, in my experience, habits that the majority of consistent writers do organically even if they fail to have labels or even conscious realization for and of them. The benefit of knowing the labels, of having the vocabulary, has been for me the ability to look at my work and the work of others and within relatively short order identify what is missing or flawed. Of course, at that juncture I am better empowered to correct the situation. Now, whether I both have and take the time do it is another story.

Anyway, that will be coming soon. For now, I give you one of my favorite poems: “At A Window” by Carl Sandburg. It reminds me always of my NPC Cian Noc.

Give me hunger,
O you gods that sit and give
The words its orders.
Give me hunger, pain and want,
Shut me out with shame and failure
From your doors of gold and fame,
Give me your shabbiest, weariest hunger!

But leave me a little love,
A voice to speak to me in the day end,
A hand to touch me in the dark room
Breaking the long loneliness.
In the dusk of day-shapes
Blurring the sunset,
One little wandering, western star
Thrust out from the changing shores of shadow.
Let me go to the window,
Watch there the day-shapes of dusk
And wait and know the coming
Of a little love.
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[Caelum's Scrapbook] Use Your Words.

Postby Caelum on September 23rd, 2011, 1:44 am

This one is because promises are meant to be kept.

Writing About Writing

A fellow writer told me that writing about writing causes her to feel like a pompous ass. It was then I realized I agreed with her. It does make me feel like a pompous ass and maybe it damn well should. Yet I am fully aware I have no more than the next person to feel self-important about and have included a static disclaimer which I will repeat here: this is absolute rubbish, so take it with a shot of whiskey or not at all.

It requires a certain amount of ego to write. You must first dare to consider the possibility that the asylum in your head is worthy of being mapped, that the voices you hear possess enough resonance to find echoes in ink. And if you dare to expect anyone else to actually read what you write, then your ego must be inflated enough to be capable of containing the necessary amount of courage.

And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.
- S. Plath.


I am acquainted with several talented writers who fear, despite their passion for the pen, that their lack of formal education in fiction writing causes them to fall woefully behind the crowd. This is not always true. It harks back to the argument of formal education versus self-education. Yes, there are critics who seem to exist for the sole purpose of denouncing anything not written with massive homage to craft intricacies.

Well, fuck ‘em. If it’s good, if it reverberates, if it speaks to me in a language I didn’t even know my bones could understand, then who gives a damn?

Do you?

If so, this is not for you. There is nothing to see here. Move along, move along and take your pen pretensions with you.

Ideas happen in a frozen rush. They form always, interminable, and at unexpected intervals pop like match strikes against all of your senses. You lose track of where you are, what’s playing the radio, airing on the television, and God knows whoever and whatever else might be watching. They can paralyze or ride you to your feet, spinning, muttering as though you’re caught in an infinite conversation with the universe, with the hours, and in buckshot-like scatters of language, clips and phrases of coherency, you are abruptly speaking in the tongues of angels even if it is on the devils you are elaborating. You have lost your moorings and, aware of it, grope for both a hold as well as a hand up higher, always higher and so find a pen or cigarette, a keyboard or a drink (the very fortunate find all of these) and because the minutes are mumbling dire warnings of running out and the taste of fear in the back of your throat says sweetly this all may go pew-pew or kaboom or up, up in ashes and embers if you don’t get it out, get it down, right now, before your heart thuds another beat, you write.

Habitual writers I've found often subconsciously develop the below structures naturally over time. They have an eye, they have an ear, they have a talent, a something that tells them that this needs to happen here and that needs to go when. As someone who has been passionate about writing since a little girl but never received any formal education in it beyond standard English and Lit curriculum prior to college, I learned that I was one such person. Yet the things I discovered at the feet of the late Peter Christopher and other personal heroes taught me the vocabulary of what I was already doing and in doing so allowed me to better see when and where I was doing it wrong.

Why this story was not coming out right. Why this character kept coming across as flat. Why this manuscript dragged in the middle and why this piece of performance poetry pulled the punch it desperately needed to break faces.

I don't know much. I feel really, amazingly arrogant even daring to post this in a writer's forum that is occupied by so very many truly excellent writers, the majority of whom I cannot so much as hold a candle to. However, with encouragement from a fellow player and the reassurance of another, I've dared. I hope at best that you gain some small insight and aid from it and at worst you don't lynch me for a hypocrite.

I have arranged these in order of regard to writing based role player versus other forms of writing. Notably, I am for the most part avoiding topics of writing mechanics and focusing mainly on structure.


First and foremost: Give your character a goal.

Seriously. For the love of all that's holy. Before you do anything else. Give your character a goal. Big or small. Ridiculous or sobering. Sweeping, irrational, epic, selfish, tiny, plain. Obtainable or not. Worthy or not. It fails to matter insolong as it is a goal and it is theirs.

This is necessary for a multitude of reasons, but primarily for the fact that:

Goal + Conflict = Plot = Story

The formula is that simple. That is how any decent writer in the history of the world has achieved success. One of my favorite novels, The Curse of Chalion by Bujold, has a protagonist with a clear, concrete goal that he is striving for the duration of the book.

You know what that goal is?

To sit down.

I kid you not. This is a tale of faith and politics, sweeping histories, intricate world, resonate characters and it is built entirely upon:

Protagonist Want to Sit Down + Everything Continually Keeping Him From Doing So = Plot Skeleton = Awesome Story Built Off Of It

Frodo wanted to get into Mordor and destroy the ring. Gatsby wanted the girl. The Count of Monte Cristo wanted vengeance. Hamlet wanted to bring his father's murderers to justice. Cersei Lannister wants unthreatened autonomy. Sam wants to eat green eggs and ham.

Give your character a goal. Whatever it is. It will keep you moving with them.

Which Leads Me to the Second: the Character Diamond

I could write a dissertation on this, but this is a pretty good explanation on both what it is and how to do it yourself. I will nutshell here.

Characters are people who possess both hard traits and soft traits. Permanent and flexible. There are doubtless many adjectives you could use to describe your character, and many of them can be categorized beneath broader headings. Some of these descriptions are situational and others reflect more constant aspects of the character.

You create a character diamond by finding four of the "broader heading" words. Two of them must be reflective of constant traits. The pair of constant traits are divided between positive and negative. The other two broader heading words must be reflective of common yet still situational traits and also divided into a positive and a negative.

Example: Dor's constant traits are "loyal" (positive) and "distrusting" (negative). Her situational traits are "direct" (positive) and "flighty" (negative).

So what the hell kind of good does this do, right? Easy. In addition to assisting you in developing your character, it works right back into a character's goals and thus their plot and finally their entire story.

The constant traits are not supposed to change. They are traits you are to remain true to with your character always, no matter what. (I say that, but I will also now say that they can change but only, only, only the character earns that change through epic plot work.)

As these traits will always exist with your character, they enable you to better a) ascertain their goal, b) learn how these traits will both aid and hinder your character toward their goal.

In other words: (a)Goal + (b)some of the Roadblocks and grease towards Goal (= Plot = Story)

The situational traits do all the things the constant traits do. Use them in the same manner, but what they can do that the constant don't is crucial: they are more inclined to alter and in doing so display the evolution of your character during the course of the story.

Third and Finally, Plot Structure 101

This is a pretty good over view of the standard Three Act Plot. I am a big fan of the three act plot versus the Five Act and rare others. As I'm getting tired and feeling incredibly self conscious about all of this, I will stick tonight with the three act.

Rule the first - Do not make the mistake of paying attention to plot alone. Plot, I mean, as defined as the series of events that culminate ultimately into the story. If you have created a fully dimensional character (and cast) with goals, these things will happen organically much of the time. Not all of the time, of course, but often enough.

The Three Act Plot is broken down as follows:

Act One
Set the stage. Provide pertinent backstory. Introduce the character/s. End the act with the Turning Point (also known as the conflict and Plot Point One).

Act Two
The conflict is all up in your business. This act is all about the conflict, the inner and outer journey, the struggle and the fight. Upping the stakes. Speeding up. Momentum. It ends with Plot Point Two (or the Climax or the Second Turning Point) to turn the story in a different direction. It's the "almost lost, last second save", the "holy crap giant secret revealed that changes everything", the "finally got the super magic sword necessary to achieve goal".

Act Three
Wherein your character either achieves or fails to achieve the Goal.


This would be where I write an awesome conclusion. Goal Achieved. ;) It is late. I feel the need to go hide in a corner. Take luck.

Goal + Conflict = Plot = Story

- katie.
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[Caelum's Scrapbook] Use Your Words.

Postby Aidara on September 23rd, 2011, 4:14 am

Katie,

I only got half way through this, and I am already falling in love with you, seriously.

Unfortunately it is also the Season premier of The Office tonight and so... I'm going to have to come back to this later.

I know you said that you feel like an ass writing about writing, but I don't think that's true at all. It's pompous if you're talking about stuff everyone knows like you're the only one that's thought of it, or writing it just to be heard rather than help someone.

I know I've mentioned that I doubt myself before, so you're helping me with this. I'll have to add more later...cause omgtheoffice.

<3 Jules
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[Caelum's Scrapbook] Use Your Words.

Postby Caelum on September 26th, 2011, 12:37 am

Image


It is known.
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[Caelum's Scrapbook] Use Your Words.

Postby Caelum on September 26th, 2011, 6:39 pm

A Note On Plot

I have been told that a handful of people found my earlier post on writing structure helpful and/or inspiring. That is wonderful! I admit to being uncharacteristically self conscious about it. It would make my day if anyone decided to workshop their characters with those applications replied to let me know. I’m weirdly fascinated by such things and would love to see yours.

That said, after posting I realized I had more to say. The most salient of these had to do with the Three Act Plot Structure. All of this has a whole lot of “duh”. The vast majority of writers in this forum seem to already know much of this, though maybe as I previously mentioned not all possess the appropriate vocabulary to label it. Lables suck everywhere but here. Here, labels let me see where I’m screwing up.

The Three Act Plot (and the Five Act and any other I haven’t rambled annoyingly on about yet) can be layered. Circles within circles or, as Frank Herbert said, plots within plots. You can have one Plot Structure for your whole character and then a Seasonal plot structure inside of that and then thread plot structures inside of that. In fact, the more you have, the better in my opinion.

Example:
Caelum’s Character Plot:
Goal (Go Home) + Conflict (Home Is The Bloody Torn Up Ukalas) = Plot (Finding A Way To Heal the Heavens)

Caelum’s Fall Season Plot:
Goal (Make it to Denval to Find Out WTF is Up) + Conflict (Denval is Long Way Away and Dangers Abound) = Plot Skeleton

Caelum Thread Plot 1:
Goal (Find Teacup Piggy to Make Money With) + Conflict (Pigs Are Slippery) = Plot Skeleton

Caelum Thread Plot 2:
Goal (Get Food In Belly) + Conflict (Piggy Doesn’t Wanna Die) = Plot Skeleton

Obviously, these are over simplified; but that’s the entire point. It helps me to oversimplify what I’m doing because ideas tend to come at me full of flesh and madness. This way I can figure out the basics of what I want to happen and can remember to apply my character traits towards the help and hindrance of resolving the conflict.

Insolong as I don’t lose track of my character’s goals and traits, the plot with all its multitudes of greater detail will not stall. Will not. And if in Act Three of any layer where Character Achieves or Fails to Achieve Goal, the Goal is thusly changed, all the more interesting.

Give your character a goal because Goal + Conflict = Plot = Story.

(I’m gonna start mumbling that in my sleep.)

- katie.
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[Caelum's Scrapbook] Use Your Words.

Postby Caelum on September 27th, 2011, 3:47 am

A Note on Storyteller Plot

Static Disclaimer: this is absolute rubbish, so take it with a shot of whiskey or not at all.

The plots presently piling in my mind are legion. There are Pycon sized and Isur sized and everything in between. This is because I'm insanely useless and have PC plots as well as guest mod plots as well as a citywide plot and all of the smaller plots within the aforementioned poking at my brain with pointy sticks.

This is to help me remember how it all is supposed to work out.

When building the plot structure for a guest mod thread, the first thing I desperately attempt to wrangle out of the player is what their goal is for the thread. Do they want to learn projection? Open a business? Have their character get their rightful body back? (Thanks, Kendall.)

The problem comes in on two different levels.

1. The player does not have a concrete goal.
or
2. The player has made the mistake of thinking their goal for the thread is their character's goal. Or vice versa.

Allow me to explain.

My goal for Izdihar in a particular flashback thread (that I really, really need to find time to resurrect) is to meet the qualifications for her seasonal income by displaying how she built her present business.

That goal is mine. Izzy knows nothing about this goal. Izzy is being racist and shady in the desert. What does she know about all I do for her? What does she care? Nada.

OOC goals versus IC goals. Simple, right? I wish.

It's an easy mistake for me to make when starting a thread. It's not that I don't know the difference, it's that I don't stop to think about it all the time. The result is all to often me in the middle of a thread that has stalled because I thought my goals for it were going to be enough to push it through despite my complete failure to ascertain what my character's goal is in it.

You see?

I have seen this in other players too. As a storyteller, official or not, I believe it to be of utmost importance to finagle out of players not only what they want out of a modded thread, but what their character will want. Armed with that information, it is a great deal easier to create, borrow or out right steal the appropriate NPCs with (THIS PART IS VERY IMPORTANT) equally as concrete goals of their own for the thread.

That's right. I have screwed up threads for other players by failing to give the NPC I was modding an appropriate goal. Why is that even important? Who cares as the modded thread is clearly for the PC and the NPC/s are but supporting cast?

Easy.

The true depth of a character is shown in writing by their interactions with other characters. Period. The more characters with one a character has interactions, the more facets of their personality are displayed. A PC cannot be shown off to their best ability nor make real progression if the NPC they are playing off of is flat. The NPC will be flat, too, if s/he does not have a goal.

To take things one step further, worlds are just like characters. Offical storytellers in this forum are responsible for world development. Worlds are shown in their true depths and many facets by their interactions with characters. Is a world going to have a goal? No. Their function is different. Worlds aren't goals. Worlds are the ultimate Plot Vehicle.

More on Plot Vehicles later.

Below is an example of a modded thread formula:

PC: Goal (Learn Swordsmanship) + Conflict (Swords Are Sharp & Weapons Are Dangerous) = Plot (How to learn the sword without maiming self.)

NPC: Goal (Teach PC Swordmanship) + Conflict (PC is a klutz) = Plot (How to teach PC the sword without anyone at all getting maimed.)

Plot Vehicles: Location (Training Ground), Cool Weapons, Warrior's Philosophy

That is it at its most basic. I'm a dork who actually writes those things out for even so uncomplicated and straight forward a plot for a modded thread. It really comes in handy, however, when it gets twisty. Like so:

PC: Goal (Steal Stormgem) + Conflict (A all the way through Z)
NPC: Goal (Guard Stormgem Owner) + Conflict (PC trying to steal from owner at any cost + B, C, D, etc.)
NPC 2: Goal (Assassinate Guard for Ulterior Motive) + Conflict (Guard is badass.)
NPC 3: Goal (Serve Dinner to Stormgem Owner) + Conflict (Thieves and Assassins getting in the way)
NPC 4: Goal (Eat dinner, go to bed) + Conflict (All Hell Just Broke Loose!)

Then you throw in gritty details about each NPC, going so far as to create complete Character Diamonds for some, add a couple plot vehicles with location, potential magics, et cetera, and you've got a twisty little tale to tell. A twisty tale that is really easy for me to lose track of (and thus let some poor player's modded thread stall) if I don't have everything hashed out like so.

I tend to get the whole plot skin in some weird and unwieldy idea bundle and then have to break it down. It rarely happens the other way around though, frankly, I prefer it that way.

Time for bed again.

Katie: Goal (Go To Bed) + Conflict (Doesn't Know When to Shut Up) = Somebody Get the Duct Tape.

- katie.
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Postby Indigo on September 27th, 2011, 4:06 am

Damn right/write. :nod:
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Postby Oracle on September 27th, 2011, 2:29 pm

I just want to say your scrap blows me away. It is one of my favorite to stalk. :)

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Postby Colombina on September 27th, 2011, 7:35 pm

Thank you very much for this wonderful resource! I am happily perusing it. Don't feel pompous writing about writing (tho I agree it's hard not to). Your sincerity for the craft shines through without being didactic.
It's a comfort to see methods when you feel the process is a bit of madness. :)
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Postby Caelum on September 28th, 2011, 8:38 pm

I was asked today if I have already plotted out a character’s End Game. The answer is yes and no. Yes because I have a list of probable conclusions wherein Penultimate and Ultimate Goal is achieved or not achieved and if either scenario the Ultimate Goal alters.

Example: Caelum’s Ultimate Goal is “to go home”. Insolong as home is defined as the heavens, it is likely that the achievement of this goal will result in an end of the character’s story. However, it is entirely feasible that his definition of home will change and/or that his Penultimate Goal and SubGoals will too change, multiply, who knows.

What I am drafting – the long version of Caelum’s workshop rehaul – is not a hard, finalized outline of his entire story. Not by a long shot. It is instead what in the screenwriting industry refer to as a “bible”.

When you want to sell a new television series before having written all of the episodes, you compile a bible which is essentially an outline/synopsis of what it’s about, what it’s going to be about, et cetera. There are a lot of gray areas out necessity. As a producer you don’t always have screenwriters for all your episodes or even just one yet for your pilot. Thus, you can’t know everything they’re going to do within the boundaries of your bible. Hell, we’re talking writers here. Even if you knew them already but the episodes were unwritten, you couldn’t know how it would ultimately go.

For these reasons I’m renaming Caelum’s workshop “the Bible”.

Hehehe.
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