1. MattTalent
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    MattTalent Member

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    How do I write about multi-day events, such as going to school every day?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by MattTalent, Mar 17, 2014.

    Hey everyone, this is my very first post on this forum. I am writing a sci-fi/action/romance novel about a teenage guy named Xavier who goes to school and meets a girl named Vega. For the first two weeks of school I wrote about each day, but of course I can't write about EVERY day of the year (that would make for a boring and "wordy" story), and I have no idea how I could skip large time frames without making my story sound choppy and interrupted. I've really only begun writing the outline, but here's what I have so far. By the way, this is my OUTLINE AND IDEAS, so it's going to look rough and disorganized because I'm just jotting random stuff down. The outline is in quotation marks.

    "Story ideas:

    Sci-fi/action/romance

    Set in 24th century


    Schools have teleportation classes and ultra-modern desks. Technology is almost literally everywhere, even in peoples’ clothes. People couldn’t be any happier with their way of life now that global warming has been overcome and they are now living in an almost fully sustainable environment. Racism is non-existent, the gap between rich and poor has been eliminated, and now everyone is living the good life. So, what could possibly go wrong in this perfect utopia? Well, our beloved machines have become so sophisticated that every new electronic device that rolls out of the factory...has a mind of its own. Genetically mutating our own bodies is the only way to get even against our greatest creations. It’s a terrifying global battle between humans and computers. Who will become the dominant species on planet Earth?


    Characters:


    Xavier - a boy with autism who is outgoing yet could be shy around some people. He grew up in a small town before his family moved to the city, where he attended high school. He loves music, video games, and creative design. His favorite class is teleportation.

    Vega - a beautiful girl who Xavier meets in his teleportation class. She lived in the city since birth and had a lot of friends in elementary school and junior high. Her family moved across the city because her father got a new job, so she and Xavier (as well as a number of other people) were new students at the school. She loves music, riding her bike, creative design, and going on nature walks. Her favorite class is math.


    General plot:


    Xavier wakes up from dream recalling his past, first day of high school, takes pedal-powered rapid transit monorail to get to school

    At high school, assembly welcoming new students to the school

    Xavier’s day at school, excited about teleportation because he’s always wanted to try it since he was a little kid

    Teleportation teacher tells class to sit wherever they want, Xavier meets Vega, but nothing more than just small talk

    Learn fundamentals, then try teleporting a paper clip between desks

    Go home, talks about first day at school

    Second day at school but no classes on his schedule, Xavier quickly settles in, decides to explore the grounds of the school as well as the wide variety of clubs and extracurricular activities

    Third day (schedule alternates every second day) Xavier’s classes are getting interesting, current environmental affairs class starts, talk about how we overcame global warming but we still need to be sustainable, learn about 20th and 21st century crisis, in teleportation he learns more about Vega, and they teleport chocolate bars and pencils across the room, teacher warns the class not to teleport homework assignments

    Fourth day, Xavier decides to join a club where people can hang out, play games, and make music. He makes some more new friends there, but none quite as special to him as Vega, who he is quickly gaining a fancy for.

    Fifth day, the school throws an all-day party for having completed the first week of school

    On the weekend, Xavier’s family heads out to a special resort

    Monday, Xavier attends lecture on 20th and 21st century technology, Vega’s birthday is Thursday, she invites him to her party

    Overview of next two days, teleportation class is cancelled

    Thursday he completes his first homework assignment in current environmental affairs, attends Vega’s party that night

    Friday Xavier takes a zero-gravity survival session, accidentally teleports his desk into a wall, shattering it, pays for it by holding his electronic wristband near his teacher’s wristband (students and teachers wear special wristbands that work as phones, currency holders, identification, locators, and reminders)"

    As you can see in the outline here, I'd like to detail the first two weeks to really begin to immerse the reader into life at this school, but I don't know how to skip large time frames, and I do not want to talk about every single day because then it would be too "wordy" and boring (and yes, I know those books when I read them!)
     
  2. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Welcome to the forum.

    First of all, you need to decide the actual story. I don't see one. Then, you need to give the reader a reason to want to read your story and care about your characters. You won't accomplish that by giving the reader a daily report on school, regardless of the century. These are details that you, the writer, need to know but that would bore a reader. You say that you want to "immerse the reader into life at this school" but there's no reason for the reader to want to be immersed. What I suspect, and what is very common, is that you are enthralled with this futuristic school life you've created and what you are really doing is immersing yourself in it. That's fine. But there's no story there for us, at least not yet.

    You may want to check out John Neufeld's Lisa Bright and Dark for an example of portraying high school life without getting caught up into the daily routines.

    Also, if you are going to portray a character with autism, you need to understand autism. I have a grown daughter with autism, and my wife is an expert teacher of children with autism. It is a sensory-perception disorder, and people with autism typically perceive the world as chaotic. They tend to look inward and be non-social, and they often use repetitive, seemingly bizarre behaviors as a means of bringing order to their view of the world. Children with autism often have intense difficulties with transitioning from one activity to another, one place to another. So, the very idea that a boy with autism would find "teleportation" as a favorite activity is quite a stretch. Any overload of the senses is likely to bring disorientation and sometimes severe acting-out behaviors. Is there a specific reason your story requires a character with a developmental disability?

    Good luck.
     
  3. MattTalent
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    MattTalent Member

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    Well I actually have a mild form of autism myself, but that was just a thought. I could immediately remove that part from my character profile if I want to. And then again, it is a rather rough outline, so I still need to do a lot more to try to get it as concise as possible. And I want the story to be in 1st person view.
     
  4. Bryan Romer
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    Bryan Romer Contributing Member Contributor

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    Have you given any thought to the machines? Just because they become self aware, it does not mean that they will be automatically hostile to humans. If they are hostile, what are they doing? An enemy without form or purpose will be very boring.
     
  5. MattTalent
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    MattTalent Member

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    I still need to think about exactly how that might occur.
     
  6. MattTalent
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    MattTalent Member

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  7. MattTalent
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    MattTalent Member

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    I don't know how this is going to work out, but I just thought that maybe machines might end up competing with humans to rule the planet and become the dominant species.
     
  8. Bryan Romer
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    Bryan Romer Contributing Member Contributor

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    Although I have some reservations about that concept, let's say we go with it, once again, what are they doing, specifically? I ask because it will affect what your human characters do and how they respond.
     
  9. MattTalent
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    MattTalent Member

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    I kind of imagine it being a flat-out war, where the robots form alliances and use strategic ways to try to take down our civilization. And as for the humans, it would likely involve a lot of combat as well as survival, but I'm trying to think about how to not make the violence go "over the top", since I'm pretty sure excess violence would turn off most readers.
     
  10. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think that by presenting each of the first two weeks of school, you're going to get more of a "choppy" feel later than you would by jumping between important events from the beginning. You will have established the precedent that your story marches along by measuring time, so that when you break that precedent, the jolt will be far more than if you'd initially established the precedent that your story progresses based on important events.

    And your reader will not accept boring events, so if you present each day, something interesting has to happen each day. For readers whose lives are mostly boring, an unbroken two-week sequence of exciting days will feel unrealistic.

    I would suggest going through some books to see how they handle transitions. Taking my own advice, I just picked up By The Pricking of My Thumbs, by Agatha Christie:

    - The first chapter depicts the two main characters at breakfast, discussing their Aunt Ada and the fact that they'd better visit her. It ends with them still at the breakfast table. This chapter achieves the immersion-in-the-characters'-lives that you're after, but it achieves it in about three paragraphs; the rest of the chapter does other things. (And, in fact, those three paragraphs also do other things; they do at least double duty.)

    I realize that these characters have relatively ordinary lives, while yours is in a school of a new type. But the school isn't that much of a new type--it still has teachers, kids, and classes. It's a school, and we all know schools. So you don't need to walk through ten school days to immerse us in a school. You could do it in a few lines, with a quick conversation about an assignment, or Tuna Surprise at the cafeteria. If you insert the characters into a situation that brings up the readers' memories and feelings about school, you've achieved immersion.

    There may be other things that you want to communicate, but you don't need to communicate those in text that is dedicated to immersion--you can communicate them in text that does double or triple or quadruple duty. A scene in which a dragon bursts through the floor of the chem lab (first job) can also communicate that a character is a hated bully (second job) by showing everyone's surprise when the bully steps forward to defend a classmate (third job) while the teacher backs away and makes it clear he's a coward (fourth job) while making nervous gestures that we eventually realize meant that he was summoning the dragon (fifth job.)

    I realize that your immersion work does several jobs--introducing the school, introducing the character, introducing his love interest, presenting his meeting the love interest. But a sequence that does a dozen character-development and setting-development jobs is still going to feel empty if it doesn't have some plot-related job as well. People need that "what's going to happen next?" feeling, and if they just see school plodding along, they're not going to have that feeling.

    - Returning to Agatha Christie, the second chapter starts with the main characters ringing the bell at the Home for elderly residents, where Ada lives. No discussion of how they got there or how long it's been since that breakfast discussion, because it really doesn't matter.

    The second chapter ends:

    "Well, that's over," sad Tommy with a sigh, as he got into the car. "We shan't need to come again for at least six months."

    But they didn't need to go see her in six months, for three weeks later, Aunt Ada died in her sleep.


    - The third chapter begins:

    "Funerals are rather sad, aren't they?" said Tuppence.

    The book skipped the death, the notification of the death, the journey to the funeral (it's referred to very briefly as "a long and troublesome railway journey", but not depicted), the events at the funeral, etc., because none of those matter. Three weeks are gone, and we don't feel a jolt.

    We don't feel a jolt, because that tends to be how we remember our own lives. We don't say, "I last saw my aunt at the end of June, and then the next day I ate cereal and eggs and went to work, and the next day I ate a waffle and went to work, and then...." in a sequence leading to, "...and the next day I was told that she had died, and the next day I ate toast and muesli and packed for the plane ride, and the next day I got on a plane to go to her funeral..."

    We remember what matters, and what doesn't fades away. And even something that matters, like being told that one's parent has died, doesn't necessarily have to be a scene; it can be reflected in later events.

    I would recommend writing scenes for what really matters, and not worrying at all about tying those events together. Once they're all written, you will probably learn that you usually just need a line or two between scenes. It sounds like what matters is your character's first success at teleportation, and meeting the girl, and how he feels about his new school, and so on.

    You might even learn that you don't need any of his school time--you might end up starting your book with Xavier and Vega running from their school as it blows up, or some other event that's already into the adventure.

    > Xavier wakes up from dream recalling his past, first day of high
    > school, takes pedal-powered rapid transit monorail to get to school

    I would also recommend against starting with backstory--that is, I'd eliminate the dream about his past.

    And I'd be very careful about how you introduce things like the pedal-powered concept. It's cool, assuming that I understand the phrase, but however cool it is, you still don't want to appear to be instructing the reader--settings facts need to be introduced subtly and smoothly. I think that the first three examples below don't do the job, and the fourth one is doubtful, too.

    Backstory:

    Joe settled into his seat and fitted his feet into the pedals. Each rider had a set, and each was expected to do his part by pedaling to help the car roll. The power from the pedals went through a gearbox for each rider, so that each could pedal at his own speed, and was then directed to the wheels...

    Stilted backstory conversation:

    "Wow, Joe, what's this under my seat? It looks like bicycle pedals!"

    "Well, James, you are new to our town, so you don't know that our mass transit is powered by the riders..."


    Backstory with a little character story:

    Joe settled into his seat and fitted his feet into the pedals. He was tempted to slack off and let everyone else do the work of getting the pedal-powered car to its destination, but his mother had always taught him to do his part.

    Semi-concealed backstory conversation:

    Joe dropped into the next seat and leaned down to strap his feet into the pedals. Glancing sideways at James, he said, "You're sweating. Maybe you should file for an Idle Seat pass, get a little rest."

    James glared and increased his pedaling speed. "Very funny, very funny. Get started--nobody on this bucket is doing their job, and I need to get to work."


    The above still isn't good enough, IMO, unless we somehow focus the reader on the interaction between the characters, so that they aren't even aware that they learned something about the setting.

    Anyway, I seem to have veered away from your original question. My answer to how you handle breaks is that you almost ignore them--you just jump from a scene that matters to another scene that matters, with an absolute minimum of transition text.
     
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  11. Smoke Z
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    I seem to recall that in some of the Harry Potter books, entire months just disappear with barely a mention. I think in Goblet of Fire, Harry has at least a month to figure out a clue, but there was just vague "he's procrastinating" mixed in with something else for two pages, and suddenly his time is almost up.

    You could try giving broad strokes where time isn't that relevant. Basically if nothing happens, we don't hear about it, and it vaguely exists as "a couple boring weeks."

    Is this a school with long homework assignments? Perhaps you could mention a test on chapter two and then later mention studying for a test on chapter seven.

    It looks like a cool bit of worldbuilding, but how does it affect your character? What is his role? We are all the heroes of our own stories, even if someone else is having a more exciting story.
     
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  12. MattTalent
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    MattTalent Member

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    Ok thank you everyone!! And I LOVE Harry Potter, almost to the point where I'm obsessed with it. I know that in the first book it seems to do a lot of worldbuilding, whereas of course as the series progresses, people already know lots about Diagon Alley and Hogwarts, so obviously it just focuses more on the important events after. I might have to go back and re-read the series once again so that I get a better understanding of how it's all done. (Obviously I won't plagiarize anything, I just want to see how she skips various time frames.) Once again, thank you all, but still feel free to provide more input and comments as you wish!
     
  13. JayG
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    JayG Banned Contributor

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    You're thinking in terms of the flow of the story, everything that happens during the time of it. And that's fine because you need that. But the reader doesn't. Several things to take into account:

    First, is that as Alfred Hitchcock observed, “Drama is life with the dull bits left out.” So instead of conversation we provide the essence of the conversation. We leave out the trips to the bathroom, the "Hi, how are you?" conversations, etc. So comb through the events you listed and see which of them either move the plot, set the scene, or develop character. The rest are dull bits.

    Second is that we are not focused on the events and reporting them. Those are facts, and history books are filled with facts. They can be interesting but not, as a rule, entertaining. Emotion is supposed to be entertaining.

    In telling a story you might say, Walking was nearly impossible because she was exhausted. But still she went on." But that's a report and about as exciting as watching grass grow. But, provide something like: Exhaustion made even the act of thinking an impossibility. It grew, step-by-step, demanding she let herself sink to the cold wet ground and sleep—that she concede defeat at last. It was over, and only a fool couldn't see that. But from somewhere deep within, from a place where the bright spark of honor still burned, came determination that could not be denied. "Fuck sleep," she muttered as she stumbled on.

    Look at the difference. The facts are identical. But the second version is in her viewpoint, not the author's. it's character-centric not author-centric. It's emotion, not fact-based. It's meant to entertain, not inform. And note that "step-by-step." I included. That's a little trick to give the feeling that time is passing in the story as the reader is learning this. It gives a cadence that's matched by the arrival of the parameters of her exhaustion. And as part of it she's reacting. Although I phrased it as if I'm telling what's happening, as presented it's her reacting to the exhaustion, thinking she should give up, and evaluating the idea of stopping. So we have her perception and her reaction and decision making, condensed to a few words. The parameters of her problem, in her point of view, in other words. And knowing that, the reader will react to her decision by cheering her on, almost as if it was happening to them.

    See the difference in approach? Instead of telling the story as the author, the reader is made to know what the protagonist faces, as that character views it. And that makes the reader wonder how it comes out. In other words, a hook.

    It's not an approach to telling stories that you're familiar with because it's unique to the profession of writing fiction—part of the craft of the writer. And as you can see, knowing a few little tricks like that makes the job easier and more fun for writer and reader. So as you can guess, I'm suggesting that you pick up a few. The public library's fiction writing section is your friend in that, but in your case, given that you're just starting out, a really good introduction to the ins-and-outs of constructing a story that sings to the reader is Debra Dixon's, GMC: Goal Motivation and Conflict, available for either Nook or Kindle.
     
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  14. MattTalent
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    MattTalent Member

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    Thank you, JayG. I want to write my story in the 1st person POV, so thanks for the tips! Since I'm using that perspective, yes it will be very important for me to really get my character's emotions incorporated. And that quote from Hitchcock, "Drama is life with the dull bits left out," seems to really hit it home. I'm guessing The Big Bang Theory is a type of drama in a way, and I paid special attention to how it applies what you said, to retain the most exciting parts. Once again, thank you very much. Your input is veery helpful and it's definitely pointing me to the right track.
     
  15. MattTalent
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    MattTalent Member

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    Like what you said, ChickenFreak, about the pedal-powered mass transit concept, I agree that something like the last example (obviously worded differently and maybe a little more refined) is definitely better than the first three. I'm sure that I now have a better understanding on focusing on only the most important concepts. I think that once I start writing I'll write my first draft and then refine and edit everything afterwards. Thank you very much.
     
  16. JayG
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    JayG Banned Contributor

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    That's a misconception. Wearing a wig and makeup to try to look like the protagonist at some time after the events took place changes nothing but the personal pronouns you use. There is no difference between, "She shook her head and walked away," and "I shook my head and walked away." None at all. Which person you tell the story in has to so with how a given writer chooses to present POV. but it is not in and of itself point of view. That comes from inside, be the story in first, second, or third person. This might help clarify.
     
  17. MattTalent
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    MattTalent Member

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    Thank you. Just out of curiosity (I will not be using this POV) but if I wrote in 2nd person, I guess that would be like "You shook your head and walked away," like those stories where you choose what events happen?
     
  18. MattTalent
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    MattTalent Member

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    Your article on different characters' perspectives on the same scene really helped me as well!
     
  19. JayG
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    JayG Banned Contributor

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    Exactly. It's often done in present tense, "You shake your head and walk away." It's the writer equivalent of, "I can play that song with my back to the piano," I think, done more for the challenge of it than a belief that it's a great way of telling a story.
     
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