October 30, 2013

Derailing the Draft

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — admin @ 2:00 pm

November has always seemed an odd month to hold NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). We’re just coming off Halloween, preparing the house for the winter months, interrupted by Thanksgiving (which usually can derail even the best habits, eating, writing and otherwise), and the last week is the first official week of holiday shopping. So, it’s no surprise that I’ve never completed a first draft of a novel during November.

Heaven knows I’ve tried – 2005, 2007, 2008, 2009 – Some nice ideas came from those sessions, and some not very well thought-out ideas. And that’s my biggest problem with NaNoWriMo. The assumption is that the writer will somehow magically begin on November 1, writing from page 1, creating 1660 words a day, and keep that pace up until November 30, when a first draft sits awaiting NaNoEdMo (National Novel Editing Month).

In reality, however, only about a third gets written because, regardless of whatever technique you’re using, you will hit writer’s block. There are tools to get over this, such as writing partners, NaNoWriMo meet ups at local cafés and bookstores, and a variety of random character and plot twist generators.

None of these have worked for me. The meet-up is fine if you’re not a very social creature to begin with – otherwise you’re continually fighting the urge to engage in conversation and other niceties, and that in itself can be distracting and counter-productive. Plus, all that extra spending on coffees and snacks on a writer’s budget, and all the extra whipped cream and sprinkles on the holiday drinks and snacks – well, it’s a recipe for diabetic disaster.

The “rules” of NaNoWriMo, as loose as they are, are also non-conducive to completion of a first draft. Somehow, an entire month’s worth of writing has to be squeezed from the grey matter, regardless of how often you can (or can’t) fit in visits to museums, concerts, etc., to refill the creativity well, which, psychologically, is a recipe for disaster, since it reinforces the brain pathways that house the bad habits most writers haven’t eliminated from their routine. (Psychological studies suggest that habits, bad and good, are formed and eliminated through repetition over the course of around 21 days. If you haven’t figured out how to maximize your writing productivity by the time NaNoWriMo starts, you likely will not figure it out during November, and the bad habits will have had 4 weeks to establish themselves.)

In addition, according to NaNoWriMo, you’re not allowed to have plotted out the story in advance. This is, it seems to me, a recipe for disaster. If you don’t know the road you’re following, you need a map to get to the destination. Without a map, you may as well wander into the woods at dusk without a flashlight. Yes, I suppose you can just make things up as you go along, but doing so greatly reduces the possibility of achieving a successful first draft. And that kind of negative reinforcement, in itself, can create an enormous amount of writers block.

NaNoWriMo simply does not work for me. Instead, what I have noticed about my personal writing habits is that whenever I hit a block, it’s an indication that something more needs to be explored about my material – a character hasn’t been fully developed, a setting isn’t clear in my mind, something about the plot is tripping over itself. It requires a certain amount of distance and examination (sometimes self-examination) to diagnose and fix the block, but it’s always worth it. On a 30-day schedule, however, there’s no room for delay. Further, the earlier a block develops during the drafting process, the more fundamental the issue is, and therefore needs to be addressed immediately, before other things go drastically off track as well.

Of all the thousands of NaNoWriMo participants, I’ve only read of a handful since the program’s inception who have successfully published the end result after drastic rewriting. It’s not a great success rate, and it indicates that NaNoWriMo may simply be another creativity tool – something to spurn on discovery. But there are other creativity tools that can provide a clear focus for the story without spending 30 days foundering against self-inflicted block. Placed in this perspective, it’s a great beginners’ tool for writing, but once you’re done, what then?

I have yet to reuse anything that came out of NaNoWriMo in a serious project – most of the material is so specific to the project that it can’t be redeployed. I also have yet to successfully complete a NaNoWriMo – life (and Thanksgiving) inevitably derails it.

Having said this, I am using November to belt out a first draft, or the remainder of a first draft which I began work on in August. The plotting is completed (or at least as complete as any plot can be at this point), and the drafting has begun. But, I’m not putting some arbitrary deadline on the work. I know the best pace for my work, and there’s no way I can shoehorn it into 30 days. Quantity does not equal quality. And my personal goal is to write something that others will read – not something that ends up in a personal slush pile because I don’t know what to do with it.

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August 1, 2011

Good Old Freytag. Gus to his friends…

Image by Gabor
[Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons
Gustav Freytag.

I’ve just completed editing and posting Gustav Freytag’s Technique of the Drama to BrianTriber.com. I’ve yet to complete linking the Index to the rest of the text, but I’ll do that gradually. (It’s extremely time consuming and I have other projects that need attention — rest assured it will be done, but a lot of what an index used to do for books has been replaced by the computer’s Find function, so I feel less rushed about it.)

Of course, editing any text is like inhabiting the author’s world more intensely than simply reading it. It provides insight into not only the subject, but a taste of the way the writer thinks and structures (in this case, as was true with John Quincy Adams’ Lectures on Rhetoric and Oratory, the structure of the work was based on the structure discussed in the work.) So, there are a few thoughts unique to Freytag’s Technique that I’d like to share.

First, regarding Freytag and this particular work. There were points — infrequent but noticeable — when I found the text challenging not necessarily because of its subject, but its content. To clarify, Freytag was a product of his generation. As such, there were numerous nationalistic, racist, and sexist references in the text. If taken as a snapshot of the times, one realizes how much Freytag and his colleagues looked down upon female actors, Jews, and non-Germans in the theater setting. He was, of course, unaware of what would come down the pike almost half a century after his death, but as a time capsule, the piece certainly has future echoes of what would happen in Europe under the Kaiser and again under the Nazis.

Now, having said that, the book itself is an excellent deconstruction of theatrical arts in Germany circa 1880 or so (the sixth edition was translated into English in 1900). There are a few quirks regarding Freytag’s pyramid (on the right). The illustration, from Chapter 2 of the book, shows his pyramid. The quick breakdown is that each of the lettered nodes represents one of the five acts of the drama. The number of scenes per act is left up to the playwright. What the diagram may suggest (which you must be careful not to interpret it this way) is that the diagram is not only chronological, but also to scale. In other words, that each of the acts appear to take the same amount of stage time. The truth is, as derived from the text, that each act’s performance time is dependent on the number of scenes in the act. So, for instance, The Merchant of Venice is comprised of five acts, but the climax actually occurs about two-thirds through the play, and the catastrophe (more often referred to as the denouement) is the last eighth of the performance time.

Parts of the Drama: (a)introduction, (b)rise, (c)climax, (d)return or fall, (e)catastrophe.

Shakespearean theater evolved, of course, into other forms in other regions. Eventually German theater, modern English theater, Yiddish theater, and American theater all gave way to the motion picture and its 3-act structure (or 4-act structure, depending upon who you ask). This same 5-act structure finds its way into television, with 4 commercial breaks. This means that the introduction now takes 30 seconds or up to five minutes at the start of the show, the rise around 20 minutes, starting after the first commercial break and bringing us to the middle of the segment after the second commercial break. The climax and return take around five minutes toward the end of this same segment, and the catastrophe completes the show at around 30 seconds following the last commercial break. In film, Freytag’s five acts are broken into approximately 30, 30, 30, 20, and 10 minutes respectively, although with some action films, like the Transformers franchise, the climax is exaggerated into an hour-long spectacle, the return and catastrophe given barely 5 minutes to split between them.

The point here is that the dramatic form has been evolving over time to lean more heavily on the middle of the story, and simultaneously truncating the end of the story. I’m not sure what this says about our viewing habits, wether we’re being re-trained to appreciate a new structure, or whether the marketplace is pressuring film and television to adopt to the viewing public’s changing tastes. After alL, in a world of short-attention-span, it becomes difficult to keep the viewer after the climax has been resolved — once the emotional buy-in for the main characters have been resolved at the climax, how does one keep such an audience’s attention into the denouement? The answer seems to be to truncate the ending. (Television and movie series seem to have a leg up on this since multiple story lines are interwoven and get resolved in different episodes, so the denouement only has to address the main story line of the episode. Torchwood, Season 2 is a good example of this.)

Then the question becomes: do authors adopt their story structure to match the visual media to increase their audience? This seems like a slippery slope, but at the same time, it’s worthy of an experiment. After all, if the goal is to get a message across, shouldn’t it be tailored to the audience? I realize that this can border on agitprop, but there are stories that may benefit from this. Still, there is a reason the novel form still exists as it does, but you’ll notice it is much changed from where it was 75 or 150 years ago. I suppose the real answer will come along in the future, as our media continues to change. Who knows what impact the e-book will have on structure?

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February 11, 2011

Web References for the Writing Life

Filed under: Writing,Writing Tools — Tags: , , — Brian Triber @ 12:00 pm

The following is a running compilation of other blogs’ articles focusing on the art, craft, and business of writing that I’ve found helpful. It is primarily for my own reference. As such, article links may change without notice, but I wanted to make it available to anyone else who might find it useful. Wherever possible, I’ve provided links and citations. If you find an incorrect or dropped link, please contact me about the problem, and I’ll fix it. I hope this list of links will be as useful to you as it has been to me.



Jennifer Blanchard,
writer, magazine editor, creativity coach, and blogger atProcrastinating Writers.
4 Tools To Help You Manage Your Writing Time Better
Some great tools and tips to help determine where all your time is going, and how to carve enough writing time into your schedule. The article is posted at the Better Writing Habits blog.

Jodi Cleghorn,
writer, speaker, and blogger atWriting with Passionate Abandon.
Favourite posts: Writing Sex Scenes
What goes into a sex scene? And what should be left out? This posting by Aussie writer Jodi Cleghorn for the blogzine Write Anything discusses the top 5 mistakes in writing sex scenes, and gives an exercise on how to write more convincing sex scenes.

Teresa Frohock
author of the upcoming (July 2011) Misere: An Autumn Tale, who also blogs here.
Urgency Versus Action in Your Writing
What’s the best way to open a story? Should it begin in media res? Or does that always really work? Teresa Frohock suggests that as long as a sense of urgency is created, action isn’t always needed.



Kristen Lamb,< br/>
freelance editor, speaker, and now author, bogging at WarriorWriters.
Structure Part 8 — Balancing the Scenes That Make Up Your Novel
This is the eighth installment in a series by Kristen covering plot structure. This one specifically addresses the internal dramatic structure of a chapter.

Larry Brooks,
former Texas Rangers pitcher, scriptwriter, novelist, and blogger at storyfix.com.
The Single Most Powerful Writing Tool You’ll Ever See That Fits On One Page
A beautifully thought out checklist for writing a novel. It prompts the writer to fully consider four of what Brooks calls, the “Six Core Competencies” of novel writing: concept, theme, character and structure.



Suzannah Freeman,
former teacher, writer, blogger, creator of Write It Sideways, and guest blogger at Better Writing Habits.
Forget These 7 Things for First Draft Freedom
A great short list of things to avoid when drafting a manuscript. These should be printed out and hung next to the computer screen as a reminder not to get bogged down in those details that can derail a draft.



Colleen Coble
author of nearly 40 books, including the Mercy Falls series, and guest blogger at Rachelle Gardner’s Rants & Ramblings blog.
The Joy of Revisions
A light-hearted checklist of how to approach the highly anticipated, yet much dreaded revision letter.

Rebecca Rasmussen
author of The Bird Sisters, and guest blogger at the Writer Unboxed blog.
Explain, Exemplify. Translation: Cut It Out!
Rebecca shares her experience with making 100 pages of cuts to her manuscript, by sweeping away redundancies in her prose.



Tony Eldridge,
creator of Marketing Tips for Authors.
5 Tips In Responding to Criticism
These tips are good for dealing with any criticism in general, but the article is geared toward writers and their work.

Rachelle Gardner,
agent, and blogger at Rants & Ramblings On Life as a Literary Agent.
Marketing Your Self and Your Book
Things to plan for when building a marketing platform for a project, and for a career in writing, as viewed from the business side from the industry.

Penny Sansevieri
writer and founder of Author Marketing Experts, Inc.
How Long Is Too Long To Market A Book?
Great advice on redirecting book marketing focus, particularly applicable to non-fiction, but great pointers for fiction writers as well.
8 Secrets for Getting into Bookstores
A really thoughtful strategy for connecting with the reader through brick and mortar shops, although the article oddly only contains 7 secrets…

Dana Lynn Smith
author of the Savvy Book Marketing Guides, marketer, and blogger at The Savvy Book Marketer.
How To Write a Back Blurb For Your Book
A useful quick-reference with dos and don’ts of what to include in your blurb, plus a great sample jacket copy.



former Texas Rangers pitcher, scriptwriter, novelist, and blogger at storyfix.com.
Writers: Give the Gift of “Getting Off the Dime”
How do you respond to someone who says to you, “Oh, I’m thinking of writing a book too…”?
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