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The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
Cut to the Core
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ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: June 29th, 2010 07:31 pm (UTC) (Link)


>> I think I'll print out those questions. <<

I'm glad to hear that.

>> As much as we think some of these ideas are ingrained in us, I do think we forget when we're writing and even revising, because we're close to a work and might know what's going on underneath that we didn't quite raise to the surface for readers. <<

I have a very intuitive, free-flowing way of writing. That means that sometimes I miss things that should be included, carry over too much authorial knowledge that gets in the way of this particular story, or get scenes out of sequence. When I do the first read-through to revise before handing the story to my first-reader(s), I often notice those missing bits, and it's usually because I'm running a checklist in my head: Character traits used in solutions? Plot twists present? etc. Then my partner Doug usually catches the excess stuff that needs to be deleted, the places where scenes are out of order, and the "Huh?" points where there is a reason for what I wrote but it's not sufficiently clear to the reader.

>>Regarding plot and important events, I think people do have to be careful about judging that. Sometimes nothing happens in outward events and the plot is static, but there is still movement, and often great tension. Interior action, I guess.<<

The universal rule of storytelling, for which other rules are simply instructions for reaching that destination, is this: The storyteller must provide the audience with a satisfying payoff for the time they invest in the story. Any method of achieving that result is acceptable, as long as it works.

So then, a story can be carried by any of its main elements: plot, setting, characterization, or occasionally theme. If you activate all those and the subsidiary elements and develop them well, you'll probably have a stronger story; but it isn't required. Different people like different types of story in this regard.

Furthermore, there are different types of plot arcs. The shape can be somewhat different, and the focus may be internal or external or emphasize different types of activity. But ultimately, the plot's job is that of a roller-coaster track: to give you a good ride. Most roller-coasters use human psychology, so they tend to build to a climax just like a plot does. But there are ones that just put you through screw turns or hairpins or other crazy stuff.

I've seen one writer, Christie Golden, successfully double-tap the beginning of one story, the end of another, and use hairpins in places that left me clinging to the story by my toenails. You pick up one of her books, the first thing you do is buckle in and hold onto the grab bar for dear life -- because you have no idea what's going to happen, except that it will be a wild ride and absolutely worth while. I've seen another writer, David Weber, tell a double-peak story that had to be split across two books, and a lot of fans were pissed about the "cliffhanger" ... which wasn't a cliff at all, but the necessary valley between the two peaks. So it's possible to build a plot that behaves quite differently than usual, but you have to be very careful with it because readers expect a fairly consistent plot pattern since that's what most (Western) stories use. You have to make sure the payoff is there, and that when people look back at the plot they can understand the shape of it.
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