In the West, plot is commonly thought to revolve around conflict: a confrontation between two or more elements, in which one ultimately dominates the other. The standard three- and five-act plot structures—which permeate Western media—have conflict written into their very foundations. A “problem” appears near the end of the first act; and, in the second act, the conflict generated by this problem takes center stage. Conflict is used to create reader involvement even by many post-modern writers, whose work otherwise defies traditional structure.
The necessity of conflict is preached as a kind of dogma by contemporary writers’ workshops and Internet “guides” to writing. A plot without conflict is considered dull; some even go so far as to call it impossible. This has influenced not only fiction, but writing in general—arguably even philosophy. Yet, is there any truth to this belief? Does plot necessarily hinge on conflict? No. Such claims are a product of the West’s insularity. For countless centuries, Chinese and Japanese writers have used a plot structure that does not have conflict “built in”, so to speak. Rather, it relies on exposition and contrast to generate interest. This structure is known as kishōtenketsu.
uGH this character has lived in the U.S. his entire life and his ancestors are mostly from Scotland and yet I keep hearing everything he says in a toff-tastic English accent
also: remember to take good notes, kids, otherwise you won’t remember when you shipped that 17th-century Scottish manor overseas.
Work was really chill and fun today (my second day!) because I was on closing shift and it’s a weekday so hardly anyone came in. I like all the people I’ve been working with. There was fog on the river tonight and it was beautiful, and I met a gorgeous guy on the light rail home (he was sort of staring so I grinned at him figuring that he’d either get embarrassed and stop looking or come say hi) and gave him my number.
(Sometimes I have moments where I’m like “Why is it only ever dudes that hit on me?” and then I realize that there’s probably more straight people than queer people in the world and also I’m presenting pretty understated femme currently and not “visibly queer” which shouldn’t matter but it does.)
I’m also 1,100 words behind on my NaNo, but I’ve decided that I don’t give a damn as long as I’m writing at least 300 words a day (which is about how long it takes me to get a really good groove going) because I don’t want to burn myself out on writing again and I’d rather be able to keep working on this project without hating it than have 50,000 words at the end of the month. I’m also rediscovering my writing voice in other ways, and it’s amazing, and I don’t want to lose it again.
I once had a week-long workshop with writer Jack Kreitzer. I was twelve, and I had just finished the very first draft of what is slowly becoming Our Eyes to the Stars. He told me I was a still pond that ran very deep, and I never forgot what I learned from him.
This sheet was one of the most valuable. Said is Dead.
For the next thirty days, the word “said” is your enemy.
This is lovely, I wish I had a hard copy of this
Really? Most style guides I have read say to use “said” for almost everything—because speech tags are supposed to be nearly invisible to readers, and nobody notices “said” unless you use it a bajillion times in a row, which you… really shouldn’t have to. Oftentimes other words A) call attention to themselves, which disrupts the reader’s immersion in your narrative and B) are more likely to be either redundant, at odds with the dialogue, or just let you be lazy with writing your dialogue. If you use “[character] said” 1/2 to 1/3 of the time, your readers won’t notice it, you won’t tell them the same thing twice or give them a verb that’s incompatible with your character’s speech, and your dialogue will have to be strong enough to stand on its own. If it’s clear who’s speaking, you can just dispense with speech tags completely, or you can use beats in place of an explicit speaker attribution (a beat is a short action—for example, “‘This is unacceptable!’ Beatriz Costa Takahashi slammed her hands onto the table and surged out of her chair.”) When you have dialogue and a character doing something in the same paragraph, readers will understand that the character was also the one speaking.
Beats also help anchor your characters in a real actual setting and helps keep your dialogue from becoming disembodied voices, though if they’re used too often they can overwhelm your dialogue and become distracting.
|—||Self Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King|
Day 2 - What’s the title of your story? Why did you choose the name you did?
The working title is Owe My Soul, from the song Sixteen Tons (after the line “I owe my soul to the company store”) because the plot bears more than a passing resemblance to the situation of the coal miners that inspired that song (IN SPACE!)
I enter libraries the way one is probably supposed to enter a cathedral: with reverence, with awe, with regard for the sanctity and splendor of the world and its inhabitants; with a great sense of relief that there is something greater than myself, and a momentary surrender of the pettier concerns of my life.
“The other argument that causes me to flinch reactively is the one which talks about writing the Other just like you would write any character—with respect for their individuality and uniqueness.
You know why I flinch? It’s because the assumptions flatten the problem. A poorly written book has cardboard cut-out characters, and a well-written book has thoughtful, nuanced characterisation. But I have spent a lifetime reading well-written books with nuanced characters that hurt me by erasing or misrepresenting me. Sara Crewe gets sent to boarding school because my home had a bad climate for her to grow up in. Libba Bray can in 2003write about a lesbian schoolgirl in Victorian England, but posit that Indians sell snakes to eat in a Bombay marketplace. And the White characters in Gone With the Wind, and Atlas Shrugged—two books I idolised and reread voraciously as a teenager—are iconoclastic in their individuality.
Asking an author to write the Other with respect and assuming it to be sufficient, is like telling a person that being polite to everyone is sufficient in their goal of being an anti-racist ally. This is crap. Your definition of individuality, just like your definition of politeness is culture-specific. And just like I do not want to see yet another Indian princess or lascar stereotype, I do not want to see a White American with brown skin and kohl and an elephant sidekick.”
How exciting! Fantasy is so fun! You can do anything you want to your universe, because it’s fantasy - which is really great, because you’ve always wanted cats to talk and everyone else to share your distaste of squash. Plus you could have magic! Or not, you know, low-fantasy works too. Maybe it will be another Epic/High fantasy, and surely you’ve got a trilogy in the works, or perhaps you’re writing steam punk…anything your heart desires! This is so fun!
What’s that you say? You say you have a hero in mind? Wonderful! Your hero is a strapping young farmboy? Yes? Well, okay. It’s been done before, but I trust you. He’s an orphan, you say? And the Chosen one? Oh, well alright. (Hey you steampunk novelist. Don’t walk away. I noticed you were writing about a young boy who wants to be an airship mechanic. It’s okay, just keep following along.) There’s a great big evil he must defeat in order to save his town, village, country, or the world? Well yes, there does need to be some antagonism in this story, so I’ll let that go, and of course your big evil needs monster or henchmen or something, and yes, this kid really does need a wiser, more experienced person to hel-he’s a man too?
Well you know it wasn’t uncommon for older men and younger male warriors in training to carry on relationships in certain societ- hmm? Oh they’re not gay? Are you sure?
I suppose. If you really feel that way. I just thought it would be interesting and realistic is all, but let’s get back to your story. So he needs a mentor, because he’s only a farmboy, and this older man actually knows what’s going on, but he can’t explain because…well you can think of why later.
What’s that? Oh! There’s a girl character? Lovely! What’s she like? I’m sure the hero here needs a friend, perhaps, or maybe a sister, or another advisor, and maybe just maybe- oh.
She’s the love interest?
Are you sure?
She’s particularly beautiful. Sweet, giving, and has been eying the hero now that he’s gone through some warrior training, and of course she’s graceful. (Is she an elf?) Oh, you gave her a sword. Well that’s a relief, those monsters/henchmen we tossed out into your world are crawling all over the place and so it’s a good thing to keep- she can’t wield it, can she?
No, no, you gave her a broadsword. Her fingers are soft and smooth like silk, you just described this two pages ago. A swords woman has callouses. And even if you lie about that, or gloss over it, you just gave a petite blonde a broadsword. (Do you know what a broadsword is? Have you ever tried lifting one, and then swinging it around for a half hour? Nevermind, don’t do that. You’ll hurt yourself trying.) She just lost the fight. So the hero could save her.
Let’s do this over again.
Particularly beautiful, blahblahblah, no broadsword. Okay. Good. She can’t fight? Well no, she couldn’t fight, she was trying to wield a broadsword on foot. That’s just not practical. What, you mean she really cannot fight? Well that seems stupid, she needs to do something-embroidery?
She’s going to embroider things? And do what, make the perfect cross stitch?
It’s because she’s a woman?
She’s a woman so she can’t fight, but she likes to embroider-
STOP. STOP STOP STOP STOP!
We’ve gone too far! This is absurd. She lives in a world where danger is at every turn, and the worst she can do is bat her eyelashes and faint? Nevermind her craftiness, it’s not like she gets to use it to stitch wounds on the battlefield.
What do you mean it’s realistic?
This isn’t realistic! How is she alive when you’ve painted a big red target on her back that says “Beautiful noble thing the hero cares about - steal me, I’m helpless to stopping you!”? Well but she’s a woman, and women were supposed to be cooking and cleaning and having children in this time. What time? Whatever do you mean, dear novelist? It’s unrealistic to have her be powerful, she’s a girl!
But this is a fantasy novel! There’s no such thing as having to stick to one time period, and remember, we were so excited to do whatever we wanted to in the world because of this being a fantasy novel and all! But this is like Europe! It was a misogynistic society! There was patriarchy! I am trying to be accurate in my portrayals!
THIS IS “EUROPE” WITH MAGIC AND THE UNDEAD. OR STEAMSHIPS. AND FIRE BREATHING CREATURES. THERE ARE DARK FORCES INVOLVED. THIS ISN’T GOING TO BE ACCURATE.
Fine, you know what? You want accuracy. That’s cool. It’s okay to base your world off of stuff in the real world. So that’s why she can’t fight! Why are you arguing with me on this?
Well because maybe it’s why she can’t fight! But maybe it’s not. Let’s just FORGET Europe. Look at Japan - women in Samurai families could train with weapons in order to defend their homes! that was a patriarchal society, and they still trained those women to fight. Or how about Mongolia? Not only were women in charge of the supplies, home tents, and animals, but they could choose to marry and were supposed to initiate sex. And they could fight or be a battle strategist too! And hey, Genghis Khan actually made selling, kidnapping, and raping women illegal under his rule! Maybe we can avoid implying that all brown people have mandatory rape festivals!
Get this, she doesn’t even have to fight to be powerful! [ableist slur redacted], huh? A woman wrote the first modern novel, remember? Maybe she’s a novelist, and wrote the equivalent of the Tales of Genji. Maybe she’s a diplomat, some of the Mongolian women acted like that. Or maybe she’s an adviser - a political adviser. Maybe she’s the Queen! She’s not the Queen? Well, maybe she’s running the show behind the scenes. Or she’s a spy.
Want to hear something even [ableist slur redacted]? Not all societies function/ed under the western notion of what equality should be! Sometimes being the woman of the house means a whole hell of a lot because you run the place where people eat, sleep, and live. And the men have a totally different separate function in society that is not greater or lesser in standing. You remember seeing all those reblogs on why its not okay for white girls to run around in Native American war bonnets, right? They’re worn by men who have earned that right in battle, and women generally don’t wear them. They had their own regalia. A lot of non-western/white cultures don’t have the same norms, traditions, domains split between men and women but that doesn’t make it misogynistic or even unequal. Try looking up stuff like dual-sex/dual-gendered systems, female husbands, and matriarchies and patriarchies existing in the same culture or society. Not all cultures function the same way white Europeans do! Remember that when world building.
So your girl could totally be in charge of the household and not be a simpering helpless blonde. That household may put her equal to her husband or the hero who goes out and fights without a domain.
Remember that hero we had at the beginning? He’s now without supplies, transportation, food, a place to live, or any money or support. All he has are weapons. Because the women of your world are in control of the households. Men are warriors. Whoops. He’s not going to get very far without supplies. Now he has to learn to deal in this society by protecting the female domains who keep him supplied and clothed. Maybe he has to take up quests in order to afford the way to defeating the bad guy.
You want to write women who do stuff besides have babies? Awesome.
You still want her to be good at embroidery?
Fine by me. Just fine by me.
What do you do with that farm boy now? Don’t ask me, I don’t have the damnedest idea.
Reblog — reblog — a thousand times reblog!
There’s female vikings and shieldmaidens, Queen Boudica, pirate women, just to stick with warriors. There’s women who worked as field nurses in just about every single war ever, and if you think that’s not a skill worth writing about I’m not sure I want to read your books. And who do you think runs everything while your farmboy hero empties out towns of able bodied men to fight in his adventure war? Embroidery? Who the hell has time for that when there’s a farm to run, a mill to keep working, the town’s law to uphold and it’s defenses to coordinate. If your farmboy takes all the men into his army, someone is going to have to run the smithy and keep the horses shod. Someone is going to have to work in the factories making sure that the army has ammunition. Oh hey, and speaking of WWII: FEMALE PILOTS.
I do embroidery for fun. I knit. I weave. I can do pottery. I’m not bad with power tools. I’m a bit rusty but I know how to shoot a bow. If push comes to shove I can pick up most any blunt object and put a real beat down on someone, even though I haven’t had a lot of self defense training. I know two ways to kill someone with my bare hands. This is just me, Jane Q. Boring and if I’m more interesting than the female companion/love interest of Farmboy: The Chosen, that says a lot about how much you don’t think women are capable of, and your inability as a writer to make something that’s relatable and real. Get your nose out of Tolkien’s rear end and actually talk to some women, find out what the average woman is capable of.
Since the recent boom of people reblogging my Drawing Improvement post, I’ve gotten questions about creating stories… well keep in mind that I’m not an expert on story telling but I’ll share my process of what I’m doing for a story that’s still a work in process.
ESTABLISH THE PLOT
Many people are going to ask, “What’s your story about?” and many artists (including myself) usually go “Uuuuuuh, I haven’t thought of it just yet! It’s still a work in progress!” it’s understandable to not have an immediate answer for this especially when you’re put on the spot. But thinking of the main plot is important. You may have this awesome character that you created, now it’s time to put’em to good use instead of floating around in your subconscious and giving the peace sign in a white void of drawing posts.
DEVELOP THE CHARACTERS
A good story needs good characters, thinking about the character’s personalities and qualities are completely crucial. While I could go on with character development, keep in mind that good characters have hard to overcome obstacles and flaws which makes them imperfect meaning they have room to mature and grow, which makes them interesting to see how they’ll turn out. Making a “perfect” character is boring. Remember, keep them interesting.
WRITE THE ENDING FIRST
This is something that many people don’t take into consideration when making a story. The ending of the story is the basis for all the happenings at the beginning. When you have the ending your next task is to think of “How and why did this conclusion occur?” That’s where the serious writing and brainstorming comes in, because now you need to build up this ending that you’ve put so much thought and consideration into.
Do you have an idea for your story but you don’t know where? Well, take note of it and put it somewhere safe. I have tons of ideas that I think’d fit in my story, but I have yet to find a good place to implement it, it maybe an idea I may keep or just get rid of all together, but I at least have it logged away for whenever I may use it just in case.
MAKE THE STORY YOU WANT TO READ
Austin Kleon said it best in his How to Steal Like An Artist post. Remember, you’re creating this story cause you wanna read it or believe you can do what you like better.
MAKE MULTIPLE BEGINNINGS
The biggest problem for people starting their stories is where to start it. I must have 5 different starting points for my story and I finally chose the right one I was satisfied with. It boils down to trial and error, so get started!
It’s not as long as my other posts, but I hope this helped nevertheless.
This is brilliant advice! I never even thought about writing the ending first.