1. Reynard's Ambition
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    Reynard's Ambition New Member

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    Style Decorating the Novel: beyond simple craft and into art

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Reynard's Ambition, Dec 4, 2014.

    Hello there!

    Newbie here… Ever since starting to read Harry Potter as an 11-year old boy who was just about to enter high school, I have dreamt of becoming a fiction author. I’ve written quite a bit, but being a perfectionist I have never written something I thought should be published. Hence I started seriously studying the craft.
    I’ve read quite a lot on writing scenes, keeping suspense, assigning roles to characters, dialogue, etc. Stein on Writing, Corbett’s Art of Character, Lajos Egri… Hell, even the Dramatica model – an interesting new look on old concepts, but there mind-warp of a model is too deterministic even for me. After a while, the advice all starts to sound the same and I’m getting a good grip on it.


    There’s one area still stumping me: I call it “decorating” or “translating structure and themes into symbols”.
    · How can I write a variety of original, effective metaphors, descriptions and characterizations? Describing the setting sun as “a bright yolk” and a character’s questioning as “being caught in the breakers of a vicious ocean” only works so many times. I can’t keep on using nature and the cosmos as sources all the time for everything.
    · Where do I find inspiration for writing unique, captivating characters who haven’t passed through the pages of countless others as well?
    · How can I discover intruiging, novel settings and conflicts and how can I find a whole new perspective on established themes and conflicts?


    Obviously, this is the area where the author’s individuality is expressed, as well as the one where the difference is made between the chaff and the wheat. Nevertheless, it would be great to find a resource where the focus lies on unlocking a way of looking at the world that allows me to dress the skeleton of structure and conflict with the flesh of character, metaphor and unique perspective.

    Would you guys have any recommendations for me?
     
  2. Okon
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    Okon Contributing Member Contributor

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    Something about this doesn't jive for me. Why do you have the so-called "skeleton" and "flesh" of a book divided into two categories? I thought the plot would directly influence theme, and the characters would influence plot, and etc etc..

    It sounds like you're asking for a book that explains how to come up with interesting content. But that's pretty much the one ability that does separate wheat and diamonds and shit (me being the latter). That's... the work you have to do with your own creativity and experiences.

    If you are asking how to be more creative, then I'd recommend learning/experiencing more of anything. Yes, anything. Each subject you invest yourself into will allow another perspective, full of story conflict, setting, and metaphors. Some of the best fantasy writers are historians, because they have a wealth of content from which to select, combine, and modify.
     
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  3. Fitzroy Zeph
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    Fitzroy Zeph Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think you will find what you are looking for through process: both writing and reading. It never hurts to read at a higher level than you want to write, even if the stories aren't quite your style. Try Cormac McCarthy, Jose Saramago, William Gass, Salmon Rusdie and tons others that are really good authors. William Gass' new novel Middle C has more amazing metaphors in the first 50 pages than I hope to write in the rest of my life. Jose Saramogo has a way with sentence structure that is not of this earth.
    Thankfully, there are no fiction generators.
     
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  4. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    I think what you're going for is the authors own style and perception. Something you can't learn through books or technique it just emerges with practice. However you can train yourself to be more observant by taking a notebook around with you and starting to write down what you see - but with your own angle. It's like noticing a girl with blue hair - instead of simply saying blue hair find a comparison - hair as blue as a bomb pop, a freezie, a frozen corpse. Or she looked like a Jem and the Holograms reject - dated yes, but if it's only for practice it's all good.

    Metaphors are simply the layering of one idea over another - the more observant you are the more you get away from easy comparisons and likenesses. If you want to add style to your work read poetry - watch how sharp and fluid the metaphors and language is.

    Get away from the how to books - some are good, when it concerns structure- but most are not interested in discussing the writer's style and that only comes about by developing your vocab, playing with sentence structure and angling sentences to suit mood.
     
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  5. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Try to make your imagery interconnected. Foreshadowing is also good.
     
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  6. matwoolf
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    matwoolf Contributing Member Contributor

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    Death to the 'colour by numbers.' Jump off the ledge and see if anybody follows after you. Actually, they do all that when you are dead. But these 'engineers' are a bloody festival of pillows, mmm, zzzz, very good. C'mon writer, we are the last bastion of the skill free zone.
     
  7. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    You just learn to play with words - it become a natural habit. Sometimes I see something beautiful and immediately try to describe it in my head. Other times words just pop into my head - an interesting phrase, or just words. Like today, I thought of the fragment, which would stand alone as its own paragraph, and it goes like this: Grimace. A shake of the head.

    I wondered what the context would be - probably someone's death, maybe a hospital scene where someone couldn't be saved. Nothing overly original. But I have a feeling that little "phrase" I thought of would pack a frigging good punch when inserted into the right context and built up properly.

    Chances are I'll forget about it in a few days' time lol.

    But in any case, that's kinda how it comes.

    As a personal comment, your breakers of vicious thoughts - it sounds a little like you're trying too hard. ('White yolk' strikes me as odd and would suit a certain sort of voice, but I'd have guessed it would be fairly specific and could easily sound off)

    If you enjoy elaborate and very flowery language, I suggest you read your favourite authors who write in a similar style. Elaborate isn't bad, but elaborate writing goes wrong very, very easily and you need to learn the proper balance of things. And you're only gonna get that from reading the actual writing in use (hence, favourite authors), and then try it yourself.

    I think the only way forward is just keep playing with words. Sometimes it'll work. Sometimes it won't. It's all part of the fun. Pretty soon you get a feeling of what works and what doesn't. Nature and cosmos are filled with great analogies and metaphors - as long as you vary them and space them out, use them to your heart's content.
     
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  8. Fitzroy Zeph
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    Fitzroy Zeph Contributing Member Contributor

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    These are the french fries of my literary world. I keeping trying to wean myself off of them, but damn if there isn't so many flavours to try.
     
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  9. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Hi @Reynard's Ambition. Welcome to the forum.
    It sounds like you need a teacher to go with all your study, someone who can give you specific feedback on what you've written. You might find reading the workshop threads useful. Look for things that mirror your writing and see the feedback given to others. If you don't want to post online (and you need to see the rules before you post in the workshop here), you might look for a local critique group to join.

    If I might make a suggestion, one writes a story, one doesn't decorate it. You'll end up with purple prose if your goal is to decorate. That is not the essence you are seeking, rather what you want is to convey emotion and substance.


    These things come with practice and experience. And most importantly, become a good observer of life around you and read across genres and read different authors.
     
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  10. Reynard's Ambition
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    Reynard's Ambition New Member

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    First of: wow. Such an array of thought-out, genuine responses. I’m used to cold indifference or outright derision and scorn on other fora (for other subjects). Thanks for that.

    Honestly, I was expecting responses in the vein of “it’s a matter of observation and individual expression, it can’t be taught”. I'm looking for advice and guidance on developing just that, not a paint-by-the-numbers as matwoolf so colorfully said.

    Well, I'm looking for a resource that can help/guide me in developing my ability to be observant and to recognize the dramatic potential in what's hapening around me, as well as developing that way of looking at the world around me to uncovering gems and finding novel ways of looking at/phrasing those things.

    Regarding the skeleton vs meat thing:

    what I meant was that the ‘skeleton’ represents the underlying premise, themes and structure whereas the ‘flesh’ is the actual setting, particularities of the conflict and uniqueness of the characters.
    For instance: a young orphan has to come to terms with his tragically earned fame and battles the establishment’s denial of the continued existence of his parent’s murderer and general evil-doer. J.K Rowling chose to flesh it out by having it be about a wizard and having it take place at a boarding school for wizard kids, then adding allegory to Nazism.

    In a world threatened by an evil overlord, one young person has a previously hidden heritage that puts them in the position of being the only ones to defeat evil. They will have to recruit valuable allies, and overcome some demon or limitation or acquire a skill or weapon, and probably travel many miles, to be able to come face to face with the enemy (star wars, every third-rate fantasy etc.).

    These are some Fantasy examples, but I could go on.

    Hmmm... Good point. I guess the question then becomes: how can I learn the skill of finding the gems for good fiction hiding in the ball of dirt that is the human experience? Guess THAT has to be learned through experience as well :)

    About historians making great fantasy authors: you have a valid point. I often find myself delving history primers to find inspiration, though most are too superficial to be very useful. More "this guy allied with that guy and overthrew that dude" rather than giving insight into culture, Zeitgeist, dominant currents etc. of the time.

    Well I can give you some examples of attempts at those, some of which are quite abstract but interesting nonetheless. In any case, thanks for the suggestions!

    I was getting tired of reading those books anyway. I wanna write some fiction dangit! THe notebook suggestion I've heard before... It might be worth trying.

    You may be right in the end; I might be looking for quality in the wrong place.

    Like any author, purple prose is a chief enemy of mine as well. Nevertheless, not all of it is purple prose. I’ve read several scenes where such description was crucial. A description of the night, its sky and events, helped characterize a suicidal character in one novel. The description of a setting sun helped create ambience and tension in another, as the main character was facing a duel at sundown. One author characterized a character by having another think “his face was an implant”.
    It’s all about characterization and tension, as well as establishing an atmosphere. That’s the kind of thing I want to be able to do consistently, efficiently and impactfully. (Three adverbs in a row, damn that’s awful).


    I think you may all have a point... I'm looking for a book to teach me what experience, observation, reading and critirism should teach me. Thanks for the helpful suggestions! You may see me in the workshop yet.

    Thank you all
     
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  11. Komposten
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    Komposten Insanitary pile of rotten fruit Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Welcome to the Paradise in the Web! :)
    This community is awesome! :love: :friend:
     
  12. matwoolf
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    matwoolf Contributing Member Contributor

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    But OP...you put so much effort into your response, why not channel that talent to a creative write, rather than all this stuff...in the gentlest and nicest meaning of the word.

    You are not the only one. It is a general point for society.

    :)
     
  13. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I didn't say your writing had purple prose, I said "decorating one's writing" was a tad purply.

    No worries. This lyric is being passed around my writer's group as a great example of similes and metaphors:
    It's a reminder not only how great of a writer Dr Seuss was, but also that you can find excellent examples everywhere, not just in adult literature.
     
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  14. Reynard's Ambition
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    Reynard's Ambition New Member

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    I didn't spend a lot of time on my posts though, as you can see by the lack of proof reading :)

    Thanks for the dr. Seuss suggestion, Gingercoffee. As a non-anglophone, I never grew up with his books but I do like his metaphors.

    Well... You've convinced me I'd be better off spending my time reading and writing fiction to improve. I'll find you guys in some other thread :)
     
  15. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    The most powerful metaphor is the one you invent yourself in the context of your work. For example, you may compare the evening sky to the color of the peaches the character used to pick as a child in his grandfather's farm. I've noticed that this sort of thing isn't done very often in literature, so it's a unique way of using literary devices.

    For unique characters and settings, draw from experience. No two people experience the same things or meet the same people. Good luck!
     
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