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I'd really love to

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Mercureality



Joined: 01 Sep 2004
Posts: 18
I'd really love to  Reply with quote  

write, a story, a short story, a novel. I, uh, have no idea where to begin though. I've read a huge volume of work - but, because I was immersed in it, I didn't absorb the techniques. Maybe it's like movies - unless you've already directed something, it's hard to notice the details: camera movement choices, scene choices, editing choices. I digress.

I don't know the simple building blocks of writing a story - when to include background, when to break from description into dialogue, really all the nuts and bolts of writing fiction. I hate my writing - I get frustrated because I know *what* I want to write (most of the time), but I don't know *where* to plug it in. The creative writing classes I've taken haven't helped much at all - I arrive at the same difficulties I've always had. So, the question is - can anyone suggest an effective method for learning the basics? A book on structure? Going back and rereading everything I liked and swiping style? Just writing my ass off until I figure it out? Any help would be appreciated.
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Post Sun Sep 19, 2004 7:12 pm   View user's profile Send private message
Unc



Joined: 18 Aug 2004
Posts: 300
Location: South of FRANCE
Re: I'd really like to  Reply with quote  

My immediate reaction is to start by "surfing a moment of inspiration." That is, at some point in the upcoming days, weeks, or months, an idea is going to pop into your head and make you say to yourself, "Self, that would make an *awesome* story."

My advice (which really comes from Ray Bradbury, in a talk he gave at my college many years ago which has proven itself true more times in the years since than you can imagine) is to -- the *moment* the idea strikes you -- stop whatever you are doing and write it down. Don't worry about the structure, or the characters, or any of the details. What you're trying to do is catch the idea before it's gone. Because more often than you think it *will* be gone if you don't act on it immediately.

What Bradbury said was (paraphrased), "These days, whenever I have an idea for a story, I stop whatever I am doing and write it down. If I am driving on the freeway (he lived at the time in L.A.), I pull the car over to the side of the road and risk getting a ticket until I've written down all the aspects of the idea. I've found that if I take the time to do this, I can go back to it later and retrieve something of the initial emotion or importance of the idea, and then flesh it out as a story. But I've also found that if I *don't* do this, and wait the ten minutes until I get home to my comfortable desk to write it all down, often the idea is gone."

It's an individual thang. Not everyone is like this. But I am, and Bradbury's advice has certainly worked for me over the years. And if what you're trying to do is inspire yourself to start a writing project, one of your first writing projects, I think trying to "surf the moment of inspiration" might be of use. Those first few moments are often critical, and if you can get yourself up on the board while the wave is still building, the rest of the ride is all downhill from there.

Post Mon Sep 20, 2004 2:35 am   View user's profile Send private message Send e-mail Visit poster's website
chris
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Joined: 02 Mar 2004
Posts: 3833
Location: People Republic of Northern California
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Merc

Quite honestly, I think the best way to approach your problem is to read some short stories by really good short story writers, then take a shot at it yourself using similar structure. Unlike screenplays, novels and short stories don't have standard structures, so, while you'll find dozens of books on screenplay structure, story structure sort of begins and ends with this: Beginning, Middle, End, not necessarily in that order.

I'd suggest reading the stories of Ray Bradbury for a good way to gleen the structure of story telling. The Illustrated Man is an excellent collection of stories with varying subjects. Because his stories are "speculative" fiction, the payoff tends to be one of plot. This is easier to grasp than say a story by Fitzgerald, Steinbeck or Salinger, who might be doing something a tad more elegant theme-wise, but less obvious for the new writer to learn from. Also, Bradbury's stories tend to be pretty short, under twenty pages, so you can sort of hold a sense of their structure in your head without a lot of analysis and deconstruction. (The stories of Richard Matheson, Robert Bloch, and other horror story writers were also very helpful to me in learning my craft. Your aspirations may be to write a story that is a vehicle for great ideas, but it's best to first learn how the drive the vehicle. Some of the other boardies may have suggestions for good crime short stories, which also tend to be plot driven, and therefore a good teaching tool for what you are considering)

As for when to write description, when to write dialog, hell, I was well into my third book before I felt like I had a handle on that. The best thing to help you along the way here is to write in scenes, with each scene meant to accomplish something (reveal information, advance the action). Here is where thinking in the terms of a dramatic presentaion, a play, movie, or tv show may help you. Description is your "establishing shot", then you describe what happens and people say what they need to say. Bottom line, it's really hard to learn. You just sort of have to write to get a feel for it. Just don't be so freaked about getting it right that you don't try it at all. The only way you will learn is to do it, make some mistakes, learn to do it better.

Some stories have all dialogue, some none at all. There are no rules, that's why I think it's one of the more difficult aspects of the craft. Pace is the important thing to keep in mind. As long as things are moving along, the story is advancing, the reader is being entertained, then whatever you're doing is the right thing. The moment your reader thinks, "Why am I reading this?" you've made a misstep.

Finally, by suggesting the writers and genre's above, I'm not saying that there isn't much to learn from Steinbeck, Fitzgerald, Salinger, Hemingway, Faulkner or even writers of the ninteenth century like Poe and Maupassaunt, but there are different lessons to learn from those writers. (Maupassaunt, by the way, wrote hundreds of stories with almost no dialogue at all.) The short story is breathing it's last gasp, I think, as a literary form, simply because no one but writers seem to read them any more, but for the writer, they are a great learning tool and any writer who hones his skill by constructiong some tight short stories, will be stronger when he moves on to longer work.

Post Mon Sep 20, 2004 2:50 am   View user's profile Send private message Send e-mail Visit poster's website
chris
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Joined: 02 Mar 2004
Posts: 3833
Location: People Republic of Northern California
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Wow, how weird is that? I was still working on my post as UNC posted his, and we both, independently, cited Ray Bradbury as the guy to learn from.

There you go.

Post Mon Sep 20, 2004 3:09 am   View user's profile Send private message Send e-mail Visit poster's website
Unc



Joined: 18 Aug 2004
Posts: 300
Location: South of FRANCE
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chris wrote:
Wow, how weird is that? I was still working on my post as UNC posted his, and we both, independently, cited Ray Bradbury as the guy to learn from.

There you go.



Doo de doo doo... (Twilight Zone theme) Cool

Post Mon Sep 20, 2004 3:25 am   View user's profile Send private message Send e-mail Visit poster's website
Mercureality



Joined: 01 Sep 2004
Posts: 18
thanks  Reply with quote  

thanks gentlemen - I'll explore your suggestions, and maybe I'll post a finished product for helpful deconstruction.
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If life is a blank canvas, I wanna be a huge goddamned paintball cannon loaded with chocolate mousse and angry squirrels.

Post Wed Sep 22, 2004 4:58 pm   View user's profile Send private message
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