Saturday, November 21, 2009

How Fiction Writers can Learn Story Structure

Working on Nano this year I've run across the same problem I always have--- I can think up story beginnings just fine, but what then? I've started novel after novel without completing. I've even written outlines for a few, but the only part of the outlines that seemed to be any good was the beginning.

Recently I bought a few books on story structure, outlining, and similar topics. They are:
Story Structure Architect: A Writer's Guide to Building Dramatic Situations and Compelling Characters
Book in a Month: The Fool-Proof System for Writing a Novel in 30 Days

Both of these books are written by Victoria Lynn Schmidt. The first one is most helpful in that it introduces the traditional story structure of three acts. The first act contains: a setup, the mood or tone, a hook, catalyst or inciting incident, the serious problem/goal, introduction of the villain and main characters, and a turning point. In the second act: the problem intensifies, there is a temporary triumph, a reversal, a dark moment, and another turning point. In the third act there is the final obstacle, the climax, and the resolution. (All these elements are described in a bit more detail in the book.

This was so helpful! Today I took my current work-in-progress, a steampunk story called 'The Aether Key' and jotted down some notes as to how I saw the story going going through all these steps. When I was done I had a rudimentary outline in which the story progressed nicely to a satisfactory ending, not the vague and unsatisfactory ending I had in other outlines I have written.

The second book, called 'Book in a Month' is even more helpful. It gives a step-by-step daily guide to writing a novel in a month OR for writing a detailed novel outline in a month. This is so helpful to me because I have such a hard time creating good work habits--- in particular I don't know how much is enough work for one day, so when I quit for the day no matter how much I've done I feel like a quitter.

Today--- doing day 2 of the BIAM (book in a month) schedule, I completed my assigned task--- to write 10 scene cards for the ten most important scenes in the book. In order to do that I had to do the task I described above where I jotted down how the story would progress through the steps of the traditional story structure.

I feel optimistic with this new approach. I think it might be a real help for other writers who, like me, are struggling with Asperger's/Autism Spectrum disorders or other things that might hinder them from writing success. For me, I wonder if my ASD has made it more difficult to discern story structure in the books I've read and made me get so caught up in the details I couldn't see the big-picture aspects.

Victoria Schmidt has a Yahoo group for writers following her method, called VBIAMClub. It does seem to be still active as there were 148 posts this month, but I can't see them as the moderator must approve new group members.

Have you used Book in a Month's schedule to write a book or outline? Please comment on how it worked for you, or if you are considering trying it.
ALSO: If you are willing, tell one odd detail about your current Work-In-Progress. I'll start: in my story, set in 1868, Adolf Hitler's father, Alois Schicklgruber, along with his mistress at the time, are in the US working out some details concerning customs inspections. At the story's conclusion Alois decides to marry his mistress and stay in the US, thus preventing the birth of Adolf Hitler.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Can People with autism/asperger's become published Fiction Writers?

No matter how much I work on my writing I always have one source of doubt: is it even possible for someone like me--- a person with an autism spectrum disorder (Asperger's)--- to become a published writer?

Yeah, I know there are a lot of writers from the past like Herman Melville who are believed to have had an ASD. But I'm wondering about right here right now--- me.

One of the problems is that people with autism/asperger's have problems with social interactions, understanding the social rules that everyone else knows without being told. So can we learn to write about social interactions?

Actually, when it comes to that part I don't think it's that difficult. But there is another factor. In real life, people I meet don't choose to be my friend---even though I try to be nice to them, and to act like I'm 'normal'. So will people want to be a 'friend' of my writing? I mean, maybe no matter how good I get at it, people will be able to tell it was written by the kind of person that no one wants to be friends with and so they'll want to read something else instead.

And in these days the writer has to be involved with marketing their books and I'd imagine the last thing any publisher wants is to be saddled with some autistic person that isn't personable enough to do well at things like interviews and book signings....

I once tried to get in contact with other folks living with autism/asperger's by posting something on a writing forum, but the admin took offense because my reference to autism wasn't politically correct enough for him since I had the poor taste to joke. Well, I guess it's okay to mention it on my own blog, I've said a lot of stuff I shouldn't here and have had no complaints from Blogger.

I've searched the net for writer's forums for autistic/asperger people but I just find a lot of resources for parents/caregivers of those with autism. Don't know what to do about it really, so those I would whine about it on my blog where at least I'm not bothering anyone....

So--- enough of that. To update my life for anyone that cares--- I'm still working on my NaNoWriMo novel but have stopped to outline using the method in the book "First Draft in 30 Days", don't know how well that will work.

I have mentioned on this blog that I've had two kittens die recently. They were the two kittens out of the current batch that actually liked me enough that they'd purr when I picked them up. Recently, though, someone abandoned two half-grown kittens here and one of them is really friendly. I've named him Chan-ho, after major league pitcher Chan-ho Park, and the other kitten is named Chantho, after the alien in Doctor Who. You know, the one who started every sentence with 'chan' and ended it with 'tho'? As in, 'Chan that was one weird Doctor Who alien tho'.  The picture at the top of this post is of Chan-ho.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

My Writing's Really gone to Hell this Nano

This year for National Novel Writing Month, I'm working on a project called 'Famine of the Heart' which is a dumb title since it sounds like a romance novel, and the actual story is a steampunk novel featuring sideshow freaks.

It's meant to be a lighthearted romp but the main theme seems to be.... hellfire. Specifically, the main character's mom is not saved (not in a state of grace) when she dies (killed while rescuing a child from a rampaging elephant.)

The main character Kerenza is quite sure her mother went to hell because: her mother had been guilty of the sin of adultery, when she is mortally injured she calls for a priest, but the priest who comes is actually an actor in a Roman collar, who cannot legitimately give absolution and also does not know how to encourage the dying woman to accept Christ.

The Christian theme of the story seems to be about forgiveness. Because Kerenza feels there is virtually no hope that her mother is anywhere else but in hell, she cannot forgive her father for having lured her mother into a life of adultery, and yet she knows that as a Christian she must forgive.

I know it's beginning to sound all boring, but there are also a lot of steam-powered machines and clockwork robots and stuff. And Kerenza is the only one who knows that an inventor's brother is Not To Be Trusted, and she really likes the inventor but they can't get involved because he's Jewish....

And then there are the conjoined twins, one of whom wants to be baptized and the other who doesn't want a drop of baptismal water touching him....

Which reminds me--- shouldn't I be working on my Nano novel right now? (I'm doing some outlining work for the next two days to figure out where the story is headed...)

My page at the NaNoWriMo web site.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

No More Head Shaving. Ever.

Sometimes my eyes see stuff that just isn't there. Like when I noticed an ad reading 'No more head shaving.' OK, what it really said was 'no more shaving' but what my eyes saw at first was way better. Imagine never having to shave your head ever again, for the whole rest of your life. I hope there's a product for that.....

If you're wondering why this post is tagged 'axe-wielding homicidal maniac'--- LOOK BEHIND YOU!!!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Oh, No, it's Nanowrimo!!!

Ok, it's November. It's been November for a couple of days now. I've even flipped over the page of my calendar to November already. So why wasn't I aware until just now that National Novel Writing Month, AKA Nanowrimo, had started.

I'm going to do it, of course. I've never finished a nanowrimo, but during my first Nano, I did get saved.

It happened like this. I was a Norse Pagan and had been one for over a decade. I'd even edited a self-published Norse Pagan magazine until my stalker ruined that for me.

I was working at my Nano novel and had decided to pray about it. The question, as a Pagan, was which God to pray to--- Odin, Thor, Freya? As a Pagan I did not disbelieve in the God of Christianity, I just believed that He was just one tribal/ethnic God among many.

On impulse I decided to pray to the Christian God--- I gave Him a challenge. If He would give me measurable help with my novel, I would become a Christian.

I didn't really expect any help. And I didn't finish my Nanowrimo novel that year. But I did complete over 120 pages, which came out to 50 pages more than my previous best on any one writing project. And so I became a Christian.

I'm glad I did even though it meant I had to commit to a life of chastity because of my new faith, rather than being chaste in a unplanned way because of my unattractiveness.

So, participating in Nano is important to me even if I don't win. My nickname on the Nano site is 'ilsabein'. If you are participating in Nano, look me up!

Now, I must get to work naming the characters in my story (they are a family of freak show performers) and then I must start my first chapter. I have no idea where the story is going. But that's all right.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Writing Christian Science Fiction: An Impossible Dream?

Writing science fiction and getting published has long been a life goal for me--- but Christian science fiction for a Christian publisher hasn't been a part of my plans.

In part it has been because I've considered it unrealistic. Christian fiction publishers are mostly evangelicals; I'm Catholic. And being Catholic isn't something I'd want to absolutely hide in my fiction. Would my work ever be accepted by readers?

But recently I've reconsidered and am reading books about how to write Christian fiction. None of the books have any high hopes for a work of Christian science fiction. The one that is most optimistic seems to indicated that 'spiritual warfare' science fiction is the kind that gets published, not something with space aliens.

The books have a lot to say about who is reading Christian fiction: mostly women, mostly evangelicals.... But who is reading Christian science fiction? Have there been any studies, formal or informal, of that? Perhaps I ought to ask some Christian science fiction writers what sort of people they believe are reading their books.

The second question: what do the readers of Christian science fiction most want to read? What Christian science fiction books are the most popular? What secular science fiction books are most popular with Christian readers?

I wish I could find the answers to such questions. Not that I would concoct some plotline based on what's popular. But knowing who the readers aare and what they like to read might help me pick what story-ideas might be the best one to pursue.

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