1. Lost In Actualization
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    Lost In Actualization New Member

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    Misc Questions About Novel Writing For An Advanced Beginner

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Lost In Actualization, Jul 11, 2015.

    Hey everyone. So I'm going to ask some complicated questions, and then some simple questions, because my creative writing knowledge is very advanced in some ways and very laymen in other ways. But if you see a simple question, please don't just assume they're all like that and link me to a beginner's grammar lesson or something. My background is basically, on the "pros" list, I've taken lots of English classes, but almost all focused almost exclusively on grammar and expository writing, essays and so forth. That's not a pro in itself, but combined with the other pro which is that I've always picked up English easily, the state of my forum posts not withstanding, and I'm the type of person who always got near perfect scores on the SSAT verbal and SAT verbals through the years, I had tons of exposure to literature as a child, and so on. But the "cons" of my knowledge is I've never taken a novel writing classes, plus I forgot certain things I did know, which is why there is one grammar question (kind of) on here. In any case, I definitely am looking for good fundamental knowledge, even beginner knowledge if I don't know it, for the novelization/structure type of questions that I've never had any education on whatsoever. But I'm also looking for the advanced stuff in the other areas, so please don't just send me to the FAQ as some of these questions are quite specific. Here they are. Thank you everyone for your input if you have any!

    - How many of you write full outlines for your novels compared to having a general idea but making it up as you go? How many of the "top writers" (or however to put it) would you say use full outlines?

    - After introducing a character in first person, there are a few things you can do: describe their appearance immediately, give back story on them, give anecdotes about them, give them dialogue then have internal monologue anecdotes about whatever they said, etc. I'm wondering if any great writers or anyone else has ever written about the structure of this type of thing, whether there's any kind of formula that works well (i.e. introduce character, two-to-four sentences of description of appearance, then two-four sentences about back story and how the protagonist knows them, then a final anecdote related to the back story that demonstrates the core personality of the character and their relationship to the protagonist, then the character can talk and the story can go on). That way it's very organized but of course I just came up with that myself out of nowhere so there is probably a better way.

    - How do you structure like Hemingway, and how do you structure like Nabokov? I ask because I feel like they are opposites in the way they structure sentence to sentence, so I feel like if you could understand the two extremes, then you could most things in between. I believe I write more in style like Nabokov, nowhere near as well of course, but just in terms of how I write long sentences, and how I'm always trying to fit every whole idea into one sentence, or at least make things connect and flow really well. For instance, the sentence I just wrote. I always felt like everything just flowed better if you weren't writing one-clause sentence, period, after one-clause sentence. But when you read Hemingway, it flows despite that. It's almost like Nabokov is trying to get all the pertinent information of an idea or a joke into one sentence, like the set-up happens before the coma, the punchline happens after, and that way the whole joke is set-up and completed in one sentence so it hits harder in a way, even if the joke has ten parts and you have to write one sentence nine different commas in it. But then with Hemingway it's like the opposite. Not only is he breaking everything up into multiple sentences, but it's almost like he'll put them out of order sometimes, or leave out a piece of information from the first sentence until the third sentence. He also uses 2nd person sometimes and changes tense, so I'm curious what people think of that. For instance this passage from The Sun Also Rises:

    "Cohn, I believe, took every word of "The Purple Land" as literally as though it had been an R. G. Dun report. You understand me, he made some reservations, but on the whole the book to him was sound. It was all that was needed to set him off. I did not realize the extent to which it had set him off until one day he came into my office."

    He also does something in the second bolded area quite often which is repeat certain things unnecessarily. Instead of writing "it was all that was needed to set him off, far more than I realized until one day he came into my office," in one clean sentence, he breaks it up into two and repeat the words "set him off" two sentences in a row. This is something that's very conflicting for me because when I was young, I always asked why we had to learn all this stupid grammar, why we couldn't just write how we talked, since that's where our personality often is anyway, in our delivery. But then the more schooling I got, you get taught to avoid this at all costs. They want it concise. Why repeat the same words twice when it can be shorter? And yet when Hemingway does it it feels relaxed, confident, like it breaths better. Who's fretting over a few extra words if it reads better?

    I almost wonder these days if part of becoming a successful writer is forgetting all the rules you were taught, at least about things like that, and just writing in a voice that feels natural even if it doesn't follow the rules.

    So I'm wondering if anyone can add anything on these various questions about Hemingway. Obviously you can just tell the distinct way he writes when you read it, but I want to understand the secret sauce so if I actually wanted to sit down and write like various great writers, I would at least understand that methodology even if I didn't have the talent to construct the plots or characters or prose that they do.

    - The sentence, "Those that didn't know him thought he liked peaches, but he actually liked oranges," I often write out similar sentences using "but in reality" after the comma instead of "but he actually." "Those that didn't know him thought he liked peaches, but in reality, he really liked oranges (or in reality, oranges were his favorite, or "he preferred oranges"). That's just an example of how in the English language, there is often more than one option you can choose for the connective tissue of your sentences. I'm wondering if there's any resource that kind of lists all the connective tissue options and tells you which reads best under which circumstances.

    - Past tense in 1st person vs present tense. I usually write in past tense, but I want the protagonist's thoughts and reactions to be in the moment. In other words it's not past tense like, this is a person who lived through the story, and now he's looking back and telling it. I basically want a present tense story with the better-soundingness of third person. When it comes to describing actions, it's pretty simple.

    "So I went to the ball game, hoping to witness my first home run. Nothing happened until the third inning, when Fred Mungle hit a grand slam, and the crowd cheered like crazy."

    Well, it's simple except for one question:

    - Can you skip time in past tense if you want it to still read like it's happening in real time to a person, or no? For example the sentence says "so I went to the ball game." If that's happening in real time, it's basically like, we're getting into this guy's head right at the point where he went to the ball game, hoping to witness his first home run. So that means at the point we check in with the protagonist, the game hasn't started, he's there. I mean obviously you can't describe every second of being in someone's head for every minute of the day, from the moment the story starts in the book's timeline to the end of it. But once you establish a location and a time in one scene, like 'okay we're skipping to me going to the ball game now and that's where we are now and it hasn't started yet and we're going to be here in real time until I leave," then once you've established that, do you have to refrain from skipping forward until the scene basically ends, then the timeline can kind of "go dark" again and skip ahead to the relevant point in protagonist's experience? But I worry about skipping ahead in already established scenes if I want to maintain that we're experiencing this world in real time through the eyes of a person. I also wonder about stuff like this with sentences like "she went to fill the car with gas, before picking her daughter up for school," because the first clause is action, in the moment, she went to go do something, but the second part is "before doing x." The language of it on a technical level kind of implies it already happened, like you already knew. Not like she went to fill the gas tank in one moment, then after that was over, she went to the next thing in the next. It's like you're already at the end of that, you already know she went to pick up her daughter, so you're summing up both actions at once. She went to go get gas half an hour ago, plus she went to get her daughter after that, and now she's doing that and we're in the present.

    - So that was one of the questions about this sentence. "So I went to the ball game, hoping to witness my first home run. Nothing happened until the third inning, when Fred Mungle hit a grand slam, and the crowd cheered like crazy." The other question I had was about what tense to use when you're no longer describing actions like that, but beliefs or thought. Say the protagonist keeps going after that sentence. "Fred Mungle hit a grand slam, and the crowd cheered like crazy. I believe that baseball is the best sport, I always have, and that moment proved to me once more that I was right." I mean that's a sentence combining different verb tense conjugations. Again it's a bad example because I think you'd just write "I believed that baseball was the best sport, I always had, and that moment proved to me once more that I was right." Believed stands in for the present, and then "had believed" would be the past within writing in the past tense. But there are times with other verbs, not "to believe" but ones I can't think of right now, where it's not as clear to me, where if I use the past tense, even without "I'd" in front of it, it still sounds like the protagonist is talking about the past, what he used to think, not what he thinks now. Like maybe: "Fred Mungle hit a grand slam, and the crowd cheered like crazy. I thought that baseball was the best sport..."

    That doesn't work. It sounds like further in the past than "Fred Mungle hit a gram slam" which is clearly happening while he's at the game. It would have to be "I always thought baseball was the best sport, and..." but that's different. So what am I missing here and how do I write about the plot and action of my story in past tense, but still just happening now basically, but keep the thoughts, beliefs, and reactions of the protagonist in the moment?

    - How many words/pages is the average chapter of a novel, and how far have you guys exceeded that? I'd ask how far you've undercut that as well but my problem is writing too much (no kidding), not too little. How long is too long to wait before most of the main characters are introduced? This is one area where I do need a crash course in all the fundamental knowledge that is out there in terms of actually structuring a novel because I always hit a wall where the plot I've planned out isn't off course or anything, but the prose itself kind of gets off course, or I'm writing a paragraph about how the protag feels about something that happened on page five, only for the same topic to come up on page 25 and 35, so how many times is too many? I have a lot of major themes that are part of the story, it's very symbolic, but it's not like "first 10 pages is theme 1, second 10 pages is theme two." There are certain characters and certain aspects of the plot that lead more towards certain themes, but they're also all surrounding the protagonist from the beginning of the plot, and it's not like just a separate character will deal with a theme or discover it or bring it up to him, he has his own feelings about various things from the beginning of the story, so I have to allude to that at least a couple times early. But how many times is too much? How do I possibly balance twenty different themes from the start, rather than just kind of putting everything where it feels right in the moment and then editing once I see where everything ends up? Is there any formula or methodology that exists out there that writers can repeat or is it all just feel and I guess a more specific outline where you can not just plot out the plot and scenes, but maybe where you're going to discuss some of those themes? I'm really interested to hear everyone's take.
     
    Last edited: Jul 11, 2015
  2. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    Wow. Possibly you are overthinking things - I don't think you're going to find the formulas you're looking for, for example.

    A few slightly more concrete comments - Hemingway died in the 60s, Nabokov died in the 70s. That's half a century ago. They're great writers, but I'm not sure it's a good idea to structure your writing style based on either of theirs, since writing styles have changes since they were popular. Who's your favourite writer who's still writing, and still selling?

    re. full outlines - it seems like a fairly even split, generally, even among very successful writers. I'd say you need to experiment and see what works for you.

    re. your question about skipping time - I think this is one of the places where you need to understand the difference between telling and showing, and use the one that's appropriate. If you're starting a new scene, have it start where the scene should start, which means have it start where the important stuff starts, not when the characters arrived at the ballpark or whatever. But if there's something important about arriving at the ballpark, and then something important happens a couple hours later, you can use 'tell' to show the passage of time. 'Show' the first important thing, 'tell' that time passes, and 'show' the next important thing.

    I think the answer to your last paragraph is going to be really subjective - I've seen chapters that were one sentence long, and I've seen ones that lasted for tens of thousands of words.
     
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  3. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I think you're thinking too much in terms of structure and formula when fiction is really more of a creative pursuit. Of course there are techniques, but there's no one way of doing things, as you've found out yourself by comparing Nabokov and Hemingway. They both work, though they are vastly different, but it's in how they make their style work that's the key. And that only comes with lots of practice. Theory and studying can never replace actual experience.

    And with that in mind, I'm curious - have you ever actually written any fiction before? You seem overly nervous, which at its worst can give you writer's block. And how much fiction do you normally read?
     
  4. izzybot
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    izzybot Human Disaster Contributor

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    I do both, myself. My current novel is very much a seat-of-my-pants kinda deal whereas I'm currently planning in extreme detail a different project, and a third that's probably going to be sort of in between. It's not only what works best for you, it's what works best for the project you're doing - the one I'm planning in detail has a lot of internal references and nuances and shit I need to make sure I keep in order, which just isn't necessary for my other stuff.

    Someone might have, I've no idea, but I'd caution against relying on formula. It's going to be dependent on paragraph flow and style and really dependent on each instance of character introduction. Thinking about it, I've introduced characters with a line of dialog, with description accompanying an action, with description and internal monologue, and with just description, so I suppose those are the things that've worked out well for me in given scenarios with my specific style. One of those descrips + monologue was one sentence. One of the simple descrips was the better part of a paragraph. It varies and there's no 'right' way of doing it.

    There is no perfect writing style. Averaging out between two other writers, no matter who they are, how good or well-known they are, is not the way to develop your own style. If you feel you write more like Nabokov, don't worry about not being more like Hemingway - just do what you do better.

    I don't think you're going to be able to find any kind of exhaustive list of such things. I'm not sure that that kind of phrase is called, grammatically (hilariously bad at grammar for a writer, over here), but if you can figure it out / someone else knows, just google it and maybe you'll find something. My suggestions would be to just take note of those things when you read the, maybe start compiling your own list if you want or just commit them to memory.

    So write it better :p

    No one can stop you.

    'I believed' or 'I thought' implies that he possibly no longer thinks baseball is the greatest sport, while 'I believe' or 'I think' says that he still does. I'm not totally sure I understand your question though.

    Depends on the novel, depends on the chapter. The rule of thumb I'm going by is about 4000 words, a rather arbitrary number I arrived at by doing some research about here, on stackexchange, and some random articles on the topic, but in reality my chapters lengths are running 200, 4700, 5300, 3700, 1200, 5200, 2500, 6700 ... it's all over. Like Bayview said, some chapters are a sentence, or a word, and some are an entire book.

    I apologize if these responses seem flippant or short, but honestly, I really do think you're overthinking these things. The best thing you can do is start writing. That's the best way for you to learn about writing - just get in there are do it. These things tend to work out in the process.
     
  5. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yeah, agree with the earlier comments - you're waaaaaay over-thinking this. Sit down and tell a story. Then tell another one and another one. Read a lot, in a lot of areas (even nonfiction). Once you've got basic grammar down, writing is a learn by doing thing.

    As I've said so many times on so many forums: Just tell me a story.
     
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  6. Aaron Smith
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    Aaron Smith Contributing Member Contributor

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    I remember when I was young and I was sitting on the floor by the hearth listening to my grandfather telling me about how he should tell me stories about World War II.

    Go with the flow. You could have spent all this time writing.
     
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  7. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    Stephen King says he doesn't use them; Ken Follett says he does. Both keep me glued to the story and turning pages. To me it's obvious, when reading, which of these writers I'm reading because King's stuff feels organic and fluid whereas Follett's feels more structured. But these are currently my two favourite authors and I would never say that one was better than the other.

    When I write, even if I pants my way through a first draft, eventually (if I want the story to feel compelling even to myself) I end up writing an outline or synopsis and the next draft is based on that. And for me, I rarely become really engrossed in any story I'm writing until after the outlined draft is finished. Because of that, I'm going to try NOT pantsing my way through a first draft next time around.

    I used to write with a partner who insisted there be an outline before we wrote word one. This was screenplays and really, I think it would be very difficult to have input from two people without an outline.

    Bottom line:
    Well, I don't think there really is one.
     
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  8. Lost In Actualization
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    Lost In Actualization New Member

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    Thanks Bayline for your suggestions (don't want to quote the whole block), as well as everyone else. Someone mentioned writing is more about creative feel than formulas, which of course I agree with, but here's the reason I asked about formulas. And yes I have written before. Again I am just going to state "facts" about myself as objectively as possible since that will help people help me and there's really not a lot to be gained out of censoring yourself on the internet because you're worried about sounding modest, so here goes. At this point in my life, from my experience, my (obviously biased and subjective) belief is that the creative and logical portions of my brain are on overdrive to the extent that I am indeed "wicked smaht" in those areas, extremely good at math (in my opinion), extremely good with ideas, with writing about complex ideas and even just creative feel in terms of writing well in shorter, self-contained instances. Whatever level of smart person is doing complex calculus in their heads without a calculator, I would say I'm the level below (hah, well so would most people but you know). I did do very well on the SAT math years ago the first time I took it and took my three year old calculator which was dead when I tried to turn it on there, so I mean I do think of myself at a certain level in terms of that type of thinking, just not Matt Damon Good Will Hunting super-human levels. But I was the best in my high school math classes the first two years and I never used a calculator and barely any paper. Once they got into problems that could only be solved with calculators because they relied on formulas the calculator had memorized but were considered almost impossible to do on paper, that's where my powers stopped, or least I didn't know the formulas and I was never going to be able to do like 50 page proofs in my head, so I had to start using a calculator. Then I placed out of the required math classes at university and haven't studied the subject since. But I am very good at that type of thing and I feel the same way about my writing, obviously not in these forum posts where I'm just trying to phrase all my questions in a legible manner as quickly as possible, but when I'm taking the time to write well. But only in shorter form which I'll get to, and which I assume is a problem for many.

    Those are my strengths as I see them in terms of writing and creative thinking or sharp thinking or however you want to put it. On the downside, and this plays a huge part in trying to write a full novel and why I'm asking about formulas, at this point in my life my organization skills are terrible. I hardly ever organize anything in advance because growing up I never had to. My Chemistry teacher when I was maybe 10 or 11 tried to show us the formula she wanted us to use to solve whatever it was, and of course when they're showing it for the first time they have to use an easy problem, so whenever I'd see something like that it was always, well it's so easy, I'll just solve it this way in my head, I don't need to bother with the formula. I mean this would happen in all my classes as a child. And of course the teacher would always say, "well maybe you don't need the formula yet for this problem because I'm just showing an easy one so everyone can grasp it, but as we move further into the subject later in the semester, the problems will get a lot more complex and you'll need the formula." Now if that had been the case the first, second, or tenth time, I probably would have learned my lesson. But even though the problems did always get harder throughout whatever subject in whichever semester, 9/10 times I could still solve it the same way or just come up with a new formula. Because you know how schools are, they always want to give you like the most basic, slowest, but "safest" formula in the sense that there probably existed faster ways to solve 90% of the problems we were given by other means, but the only "one size fits all" fix was the drawn out formula, and that's what they teach you so you never run into something you can't solve with it. But if you could come up with the fastest/easiest way to solve each new problem by yourself as they came up because you understood the "root cause" or however you want to term it, because you understood all the patterns and relationships that made up the overall formula so you could pick out and apply only the necessary ones to each new problem, then you didn't need to write out the whole slow, "basic" formula on paper every time.

    But now I need the formula. From what I know about brain chemistry, if one part of your brain is on overdrive, it can cause another part to be on "under"-drive, and I'm guessing that's the case with me. Not only am I bad at organizing, I'm no longer very good at talking to people in real life. Not that that's relevant to my writing, but I wouldn't feel right if I didn't shit on myself a little bit after speaking so positively of certain aspects of myself in the prior paragraph. I'm just too analytical, I usually know the point someone is about to make even if it's a complex point that takes three minutes to articulate and I've only heard the first three words, and then I just have to kind of wait for them to say everything I already thought of in a couple seconds. Most times any sort of debate or complex topic is brought up I immediately see all the points and counter points that anyone could bring up on every side, as well as every false step or basically miscalculation in logic that's being made and where it's being made in the other person's attempted logical sequence. I can give an example if necessary but I'm trying to make my posts shorter. Anyway I'm so analytical I basically have the entire discussion in my head in a few seconds and then I'm kind of just waiting, scaling it back, self-censoring the parts of any subject that aren't culturally sensitive because I know people react emotionally and don't necessarily always care where the logic leads if it leads somewhere insensitive. It's not just one person saying something, the other person has no way of knowing what, and then once they hear it, they can respond in kind. My brain kind of skips ahead now, which leaves me way more options for responding because I already know where it's going, but the other person usually doesn't, so then I have to go back so I don't skip ahead of them, at which point I'm no longer sure what to say, or of the thirty things I thought of that affect this subject, I say the first and fifth thing instead of the first, second, third, fourth, then fifth thing, and it loses them and they look at me funny.

    So that's what you're working with in terms of writing skills. I'd say I'm like that basketball prospect who has all the best tests out there, tallest, fastest, best agility, all the potential in the world, but who has never been coached in his life, never knows where to go, and has no understanding of the positions on the court (i.e. the structure of a novel).

    And here's what I'm trying to get at in terms of formulas, the basic problem I have. What I'm trying to write is, in a sense, a lot like the film The Virgin Suicides. Certain bad things happen towards the end of the film you may or not be able to guess if you haven't watched it (I'm trying not to provide spoilers), and little explanation at all is given for why characters did what they did. On first viewing, you don't really get it, there just doesn't seem to be enough information in the film to really make sense of it. But if you watch it again you notice all the symbolic lines and stuff like that which are meant to explain what the characters did.

    What I'm trying to do is a little like that. I'm writing in first person, and the book starts out like a coming of age book. The character is just living in the normal, real world, and has a love interest, and for you all you know you could be reading Twilight, minus the vampires. I almost want it to feel like it's a run of the mill coming of age book at first. Nothing "happens." He goes to school, has a love interest, is coming of age. It's not going to be a two-character book so obviously I need to flesh out more than that for the beginning, but the beginning was never where a lot was meant to happen. I do have the rest of it mostly mapped out with a lot of plot developments, but basically what happens is the character slowly goes a kind of insane, and it's only after that happens that his insanity causes him to do x, y, and z which then causes all these things to happen in this crazy plot in the second half which is kind of contrasted, crazy protagonist and certain crazy plot aspects, against the sane protagonist and certain related things that happened in the seemingly uneventful first half that then start to explain the change that happened to the character.

    So why questions of structure? Because in this sense it's non-linear. It's not a non-linear story in terms of chronology, but it's not just a "story" I can write from beginning to end, going from one event to the next. There are let's say 10 "triggers" for the character's insanity that happen, and some of them are abstract, so they can pretty much go everywhere. Where do I put them?

    For example, let's just be completely random. Let's say one of the causes for the character's insanity is that he has severe body image and self-esteem issues due to our culture's obsession with beauty, and these issues eventually combine with a bunch of others to cause his insanity. So how do I get this across kind of under the radar? One of my ideas, probably the idea anyone would have, is in an early scene where the protagonist is driving with another character and talking with the character. They'll have some dialogue, and he'll say something "as (he) turned left on Hawthorne Ave," and then the next time, it will be:

    "That's ridiculous," Shelly responded. I turned onto the freeway entrance and we passed another Calvin Klein billboard. If someone could tell me when we as a society decided six-packs were no longer good enough, that you need to have an eight-pack now, I would really appreciate it.

    "I know it is," I said. "But you have to admit she was onto something."

    So hey that works, but it doesn't help at all because there are a million things I could with this and no understanding of the methods people use to make those decisions. For instance, in that example, the protagonist has a reaction, really an implied opinion, to something he's seeing, voiced as an internal monologue, and it's kind of woven in between lines of dialogue that have nothing to do with his internal monologue. So essentially you have an external convo between two characters and an internal convo, i.e. two convos at once, happening at the same time, about two different subjects. Is that allowed? Is that "good writing"? I have no idea. And what about whether he'd say it out loud or not? Obviously the character isn't going to say "man I hate that billboard I have body image issues," but he could definitely make that eight-pack comment, which is kind of funny and sarcastic, out loud and just have it seem like a joke, without the other person ever being the wiser that it's coming from a place of severe self-esteem issues.

    And then where do it? How many times? Gatsby is a great example. The story itself, in terms of the characters, is basically just a love triangle (love square if you think the real love story was Gatsby and Carraway), and economics, new money vs old, how people make their money, the American Dream. But Fitzgerald also brings race into it, albeit briefly, and many other topics. Many of the characters are at dinner and Tom Buchanon just brings up randomly how he believes there is a negro problem or something to that effect. It's not really tied to the plot you can do that at any time. You want to establish the prejudices of the "old money" crowd, and you want to establish the elitist, condescending world view of Tom's character, so you have that conversation early in the book and never bother with it again. But what if you wanted the book to end with Tom running over a black guy instead of what actually happened, and you want the answer to why, and whether or not it was intentional, to be in his psyche, sprinkled throughout the previous pages of the book, rather than something obvious in the plot. And maybe you want to tie those sprinkles of racism to another ten different things in his psyche you've also sprinkled throughout the book melded with the plot and everything else? Where you do put each of them? Do you still have the racist convo at the beginning of the book, so readers have a chance to forget in their conscious mind but maybe still remember subconsciously until it clicks again in their conscious mind again at the end? Or do you want it directly in the chapter preceding him running over a black man so that it's fresh in everyone's minds why he did it? And if you're trying to get across that a character is racist (just for example), do you want him just randomly proclaiming it at a dinner table kind of randomly, or where another "character" (but really you the writer obviously) leads him into it, like "I really love black people! What about you guys!" Or when you're kind of combining ideas and story like this, do you always want to think up plot situations that fit the idea? So if I want to get across that Tom Buchanon hates black people, I don't just write that randomly wherever I feel like in the book, I actually come up with a situation where Tom runs into Donald Sterling or something, or maybe Tom buys the Clippers from Donald Sterling and now he has to deal with all these black players all the time, so as the writer you go from an interaction with a black person, or an interaction with a person racist against blacks, and then from you that story/plot interactions you can then easily transition to Tom's internal reaction, which is "I just talked to a black person, and that totally reminded me how I hate them" or whatever.

    And then how often do you have to drive these things home? Do you just mention west egg vs east egg once on the first page and expect people to get it? "Oh this is a commentary on the American Dream, new money vs old money, I get it now, now I'm going to read the whole book through this context as the author intends." Or do you have to keep bringing up the idea at pivotal moments in the book to drive home what's happening? Basically I know i can tell this story as a story, because that's only like half of what's happening. It's how do I weave the thematic arc, which involves multiple themes, into it? How often do I have to reinforce the themes? How do I weave in the internal monologue? I have internal monologue for the protagonist that illustrates to the reader x number of themes through his subjective world view. I have other characters that themselves function as both representatives of certain themes and as full fledged characters with purposes in the plot. Some of them overlap. I have no idea how many times to mention a given theme as internal monologue inside the protagonist's head, how many times to mention a given theme in relation or response to a character that represents it or has something to do with it, how many times to overlap these things, at what point in the story to do these things. Right now I have 60 pages and maybe 10% is dialogue, another 10% is story, and right now it's like 80% theme set up, five-inch internal monologue paragraphs between lines of dialogue, just a mess. My plan is to just take it all out all at once, save it somewhere else, try to make a really detailed outline this time which includes themes not just story, and then put back only what my outline says is necessary, where it is necessary, in edited form. It would be nice if there's some sort of application that allows you to put large blocks of text into like an excel box, but then allows you to put a different title on the box that once you click it, it takes you to the whole paragraph. That way I could label what I'm cutting out instead of having to go back and reread all of it a thousand times so I can remember exactly what was said and then try to put it where it's meant to go. But that's the issue I have, as I've described, I have no idea where any of it's supposed to go because my project is so complicated in terms of mixing internal monologue with story and themes. Hopefully I've described my issues better this time.

    As for Hemingway being outdated, who would you guys recommend as good authors to read for like the fundamentals of first person writing and internal monologue that I could then maybe extrapolate out of and maybe have a better idea from the experience of how and where to balance story vs theme vs internal monlogue (not to even mention the character's insanity means I'm dealing with subjective reality vs reality, there are certain things he thinks he has figured out at the beginning that he's actually wrong about, but he thinks he's right at the time).
     
    Last edited: Aug 4, 2015
  9. Lost In Actualization
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    Lost In Actualization New Member

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    Not at all. I appreciate the help. I did start writing - that's how I got stuck and ended up here! The problem is I don't know how to structure it and no one seems to have any answers besides do what feels best haha. I know my themes in my head, I know my main characters, I know the plot. I just don't know how to structure and balance them. I got 60 pages maybe more in and realized my balance was like 5 year old level, so I came here. I mean it's a first draft and there's nothing I've written that I can't still use in one form or another. I kept finding places where certain of the important themes seemed to fit, so I immediately went for it because I didn't want to leave out any themes by the end, plus that's just going to be kind of the way the book is "born," warts and all. I might be able to start the first chapter in the protagonist's head entirely, showing the places his head can go that probably most people's heads haven't been, and that would be like a "hook." But outside of writing a good hook first chapter which is always doable even if you have to ignore the plot, once I do have to get into the plot, the first half of the book's story is not going to blow anyone's mind, and it's not really supposed to. It's meant to be all about introducing and establishing characters and their themes, and all that's supposed to keep readers interested is likable characters and their interactions, the protagonist's developing love interest, and the Lovecraftian/David Lynchian gut sense that something is happening beyond the reader's understanding, even though everything seems normal, and they have to finish the book to understand what. Then the themes lead to certain changes in certain characters, which causes certain things to happen, and then everyone's mind gets blown and I make the cover of Time magazine and start dating Taylor Swift. Haha.

    And I mean, that's kind of what I did (edit: the writing structure, I mean, not the Taylor Swift thing), it's just too much. It's difficult to have 70 pages before the story really starts, before the second most important character even gets introduced. I did too much theme-ing, too little of the character interactions. I know I'm going to have to go back and wrestle with it, and I'm probably going to even have to write every theme down on paper and every character and then try to mix and match and really, like coming up with my own formula, analyze each and every situation on paper and try to come to a decision through logical deduction of where everything should fit. But before I do that I'm hoping I can find some sort of rule or advice that helps you simplify these decisions at least slightly, because right now it's just such a mess and I don't have any clue which direction to turn. Right now the only way I can solve this is to basically go on a month-long binge where I bury myself in the project 10+ hours a day and analyze everything on paper and basically write these rules from scratch for myself and teach myself something I have no knowledge of. Like if someone else knows the quadratic equation by heart, they can just tell you, and you can apply it to what you're doing and save a lot of time. Otherwise, you have to sit down with a piece of paper, start with "2+2 = 4" and then go from that onto the next step and basically calculate the equation all by yourself from scratch, like the way it was first calculated before it was ever "known," instead of being able to rely on all the modern knowledge accumulated by mankind since then to save time so you don't have to go back and discover it all yourself. Well that's sort of the situation here. I could maybe come up with the quadratic equation myself, but it would take a long time. I'm sure if I read and write enough now that I've actually pinpointed by trouble spots on this project and focused on those things, I will eventually have a better way how to do things than I do now, but since I do already know my trouble spots and they're so specific, I'm really hoping some knowledge already exists on the subject and I don't have to be a pioneer on this. The Time cover and Taylor Swift's phone number are enough for me, in life. I don't need to also be a pioneer. :D

    I mean... I've never taken a novel writing class, but I can't imagine it's just "here is how you do grammar so you can write a proper sentence. Now that you can write a proper sentence, to write a novel, just string 30,000 of those together and use your 'feel.'" No, I imagine there's more to it than that. They don't teach anything about structuring, internal monologue vs external dialogue, all these things? I mean these are the details, the complexities, where the magic happens. I can't believe no great writers have come up with guidelines to adhere when dealing with those things.

    One of my major problems is I'm not writing Harry Potter (not saying I could do that any easier, but I'm not attempting it so I don't have that problem), I'm trying to write, in terms of the complexity of the themes and the character psyches, basically a Great Gatsby type of novel, except if we're being honest, Gatsby reads almost like a novella, there are complex themes but they're more hinted at than fully explored. What I'm looking at is like that, just probably twice the length, also dealing with the protagonist's insanity and unreliable narration... yes, my book, which for the most part doesn't exist, is already more complicated than the Great Gatsby :D

    Of course I know what you're thinking, I know what I'm thinking. Maybe Joe Schmoe who just made maybe his fifth post on "writingforums.org" and who admits he's never taken a novel writing class shouldn't be trying to write the "Great American Novel" (with capitalization). I know. Hell that's what I'd think if someone I'd never met was pontificating about their great novel idea on a forum, and that person would think the same of me now. We all think we have something, that's why we're here (or if you're just starting to learn basic grammar or something, it's because you want to learn to write because you think you have something to say, which is close enough). But I also think I have a pretty good example of all the things I don't have or "get," and I'm spending hours upon hours posting here trying to explain them so I can find fixes for them. My idea is my idea, it's what I have, I've been fleshing everything about it out for a long time and it's the only idea I've been doing that with, and as complex as it is, I feel I have a way forward how to pull it off if only I could learn something about how to structure it.
     
    Last edited: Aug 4, 2015
  10. Aaron DC
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    Aaron DC Contributing Member

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    I get the formula thing. I call them patterns, but they are the same concept. I think part of the issue is a writer's voice is distinctly theirs. Like a finger print, it's unique. Unlike a fingerprint, you develop it through 2 things:

    1. writing practice
    2. life experience

    If I understand you correctly, people are not going to be able to give you a formula because it's unique to each writer. But beyond that, the structure is unique to each story. If they could, you wouldn't be able to follow it because it would not be an expression of you and your filters and life experience and mentality and creative process, but it also wouldn't be relevant to your story.

    There are some fundamental tenets, such as avoiding purple prose and advancing the story, but timing of character introduction, chapter lengths and structure, etc, are pretty much writer + story dependent. Bottom line: story trumps everything.

    If you are looking for a technique for developing your structure, I highly recommend getting out of your own head and into the heads of your characters. Work out what drives them and what they want from life, see where that takes you in terms of story development.

    If you would like a good precis of the concepts that make up story and structure, there's a nice list of these basic concepts here: http://www.designthroughstorytelling.net/periodic/

    You will need to decide which elements you choose to construct your story and its structure, but I think that page will provide a good launching pad for your research and formula construction.

    HTH
     
  11. Lost In Actualization
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    Thanks Aaron for the advice! Maybe because my problem is I'm over-introducing and over-explaining my themes, I should try writing the first draft without them at all, then see which ones the story doesn't make sense without at all and write them, and every other theme, out as just a list on a piece of paper, and then go through my first draft once it's "finished" from beginning to end... basically my first draft, without the themes, would be like a house, and the themes would be the furniture. Once I finish the whole house, then it will be much easier to look in every room and figure out, room by one, piece of furniture by piece of furniture, which piece of furniture goes best in which room. The problem is the themes are so intertwined with the story and this is assuming all the themes would just be separate internalized paragraphs I could add in after the fact, rather than relevant to dialogue exchanges and the plot. I would basically have to leave gaps in certain chapters where themes would otherwise probably be discussed in some way, but since I wouldn't be able to feel sure about it until I finished the first draft, I would just have to leave a gap, which would then further impede my finishing it because gaps are more variables to account for.

    Maybe I should only write down the themes that come up naturally in dialogue or that are crucial to moving the plot forward in the first draft? Then kind of figure out where to re-insert maybe the "sub themes" that could be more just like driving past a Calvin Klein billboard with a difficult-to-attain body image on it, which you can kind of just sprinkle into the story with a sentence and it doesn't have to lead to anything else. The problem is most if not all my themes are not really like that, but if nothing exists out there on structuring and mixing themes with story then I'm thinking my best bet may just to be to cutback (delete, for now) most of the long thematic paragraphs, since that has been my main structural problem so far, and focus more on the story, before going back over everything a bunch of times and adding things back in and basically massaging it and wrestling it with feel for long enough until I have every word of my book memorized and I just innately know the best place to put everything through sheer force of will. I definitely think it's doable, especially if I can summon the patience to read 10 or 20 more books before going back to writing, this time actually focusing on the problems I have while writing, now that I've really keyed on what they are with this project. It just goes back to the analogy I gave to the quadratic equation which is that I'd prefer to not have to research and teach something to myself if the knowledge already exists out there. Obviously you still should read anyway, but just in terms of these questions, I think I'll get a lot further a lot fastesr being taught by someone who already knows than I will trying to figure it all out for myself.
     
  12. Aaron DC
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    Aaron DC Contributing Member

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    Based on your writing in this thread here, I would strongly encourage you to prune the living snot out of your themes, yes.

    A plan from start to finish would also avail the skeleton / basic infrastructure you mention above. Add in character definitions, interviews and motivations, and I think you could write the story with its required themes based on an outline rather than the first draft. But that may be something you need to confirm yourself.

    Try doing some critiques -- they are fantastic for developing an understanding of writing. And will allow you to post a chapter of your own after a while. That chapter would help people assist more than the high level concepts you are trying to impart here, I believe.

    Good luck with it.
     
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  13. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Okay, I understand where you're coming from. I, too, did tons of successful expository writing in my student and post-student days. In fact, it's the only kind of writing I did for many many years. (I'm 66 years old, now, for perspective.)

    There is a formula for expository writing. It was drilled into us from day one at school. Those of us who 'got' that formula down had no trouble writing essays, etc. We breenged through school, no bother.

    Now comes the hard part. There is NO FORMULA for successful creative writing.

    Many different authors will develop their own formula. But they will develop it via trial and error. And while their suggestions may be helpful to know, you don't need to follow them to the letter. In fact, you probably shouldn't. Or at least don't follow only one author's method. Sample as many as you can, pick up pointers, but don't put yourself into a straightjacket.

    You will need to let go of the notion that there is a magic shortcut to writing a novel. There isn't. Because your grasp of grammar, punctuation and spelling is good, that won't be too much of a bother for you. However, you'll discover that many of THOSE rules can get flung out the window when you're writing for a different purpose. In fact, sticking hard to nitpicky, arcane rules of grammar and punctuation can make your fiction stiff and unreadable. So ...basically, loosen up.

    Have you actually spent a lot of time reading the authors you're discussing? Hemingway, Nabokov, etc? Are they authors who appeal to you? Just curious. The best thing you can possibly do is read fiction, if you want to write it. And no, you don't need to analyse it as you read. In fact I'd suggest not. Just read for pleasure, and get a feel for how it sounds, how it looks on the page. Then when you go to write your own story, you'll have an idea of what storytelling looks like and sounds like. Allow the style of your favourite writers to infiltrate yours, but don't consciously copy them. If you do that, you're selling yourself and your own potential voice very very short.

    What I love about creative writing is that there are no RULES. Stuff either works or it doesn't work. Success is all down to how appealing your individual voice is, how unforgettable your characters are, how compelling their stories are. That's all 'heart' stuff, not head stuff.

    As @shadowwalker so rightly said : Tell me a story.
    @Aaron Smith remembers his grandfather telling him stories about WW2.

    If it helps you loosen up (which you DEFINITELY need to do!!! :)) start your 'story' with the old trope: Once Upon A Time...

    Pretend you have an audience sitting in a circle around you, the people who would most enjoy reading the story you want to write. These are people who will hang on your every word, will 'get' all the points you make, will love your characters, will get excited at the excited bits, will be sad at the sad bits, will want to know, more than anything, what will happen at the end. Just 'talk' to this audience (even if it's only a single person) directly (on paper.) What comes after 'once upon a time' in your story? Forget some formula about introducing a character. Just start with 'once upon a time, there was an angry man who hated his....'

    Of course if you're writing for adults, you'll edit out the 'once upon a time' beginning when you have finished writing your first draft. But don't be afraid to say or do ANYTHING you want while telling the story first time. This is creative writing. This is the time to engage with your imagination. Just stick with your imaginary audience while you tell the tale.

    Don't over-intellectualise this process. It should come from the heart. Make your imaginary audience feel your pain, your joy, your engagement with life and what makes people tick.

    Once your first draft is all done, then you can apply more technical expertise to honing it to perfection. And then you can show your story to real people, if you want, to get feedback. But don't let your desire for perfection hamper your efforts at the start. This is the time to let your imagination and feelings have free rein. Don't worry. Have fun. You will not make ANY mistakes that can't be corrected later.

    I know this process, because I went through it myself. I can still do expository writing if need be, but I now have two distinct writing voices—and I love the creative one a whole lot.
     
    Last edited: Aug 4, 2015
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  14. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    How can you write a story, and then write in the theme later?

    Example, East of Eden was all about the translation of one phrase in the Bible...Thou mayest...the point being that humanity has freewill. What is the point of the story if you don't understand that theme? How could you even think of writing it without?

    If you want to write a GREAT NOVEL with a meaningful theme, you need to know what that is before you start. It will colour every word you write. If you want to write a story that will entertain people, you probably don't need a theme.
     
  15. Lost In Actualization
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    Thanks again Aaron, I will try that next time I feel up for it (about to sign off).

    Wow, that's one deep animé! No but the way it would theoretically be possible to write part of my story while leaving out the themes actually fits this example rather well. Sure, when the entire book is an analysis of one topic, then you need that topic at the top, a la the poem in Pale Fire (yes I've read some books by Hemingway and Nabokov). But what I want to do is not an analysis and its not one topic. So I might want to speak to a certain theme early, in which case I would have to introduce it early, but others I might not want to speak to until later, in which case it doesn't need to be mentioned early at all. And when I say "speak to," that sounds a lot like analyze but only because I clearly chose the wrong words haha. Sure, the themes that come up in conversation, that consciously change character motivations or actions, cannot be separated. You have to include them to have the story from the get go. But a lot of my themes are kind of in passing or they're background information. They aren't directly relevant, theme per theme, to any one action or character motivation that you can link directly, but altogether they make the backbone of the world affecting certain characters. They're almost interchangeable and yet pivotal in the whole.

    Here is probably the best example I can give: let's say the story is about a Christian man who eventually commits suicide, just for an example, but he doesn't commit suicide for just one thing, or as a direct reaction to something bad happening recently his life. Let's say he eventually kills himself because he succumbs to the idea that much of humanity has become morally corrupt, and those who haven't often die tragically (in his experience). And let's say he comes to this way of thinking because both his parents committed suicide when he was a child, at which point he turned heavily to Christianity, only to see all the news about child molestation in the Church, and now he can't help but see what he believes to be moral corruption everywhere he looks.

    So how would I do this? A paragraph about how his parents killed himself can go at the beginning, or later on when someone asks about his parents, or at an opportune moment in the plot. Then at any other time in the book, multiple times, whenever the character is watching TV or surfing the internet, there will often be girls kissing, sex scenes constantly, porn pop-ups on the computer. Again, it doesn't really matter where, just that it's in there enough to represent the theme of what this character, from his deeply Christian viewpoint, views as examples of moral corruption. So then when he kills himself at the end out of the blue (or whatever), leaving only a vague note about how "the Words were not heeded, and he who did heed them still received nothing but pain" you have the clues you need sprinkled in the book to figure out he's talking about Jesus's words or God's words and that humanity hasn't heeded them, while he did and received no salvation from it on this earth, and that's why he killed himself. But because the theme moral corruption is almost a background theme, something that can be represented on TV and in the world at any point without affecting any specifics of the plot along the way except for the end game (the suicide), it is something you can add in after the fact to an extent. But of course, this:
    So that's not actually going to be a viable strategy for me in total, but maybe it's something I could try to a certain extent.

    I think you're onto something in the similar point you made about unlearning hard rules and writing more freely without worrying about them. I mentioned a hunch I had about how writing a good novel might require unlearning certain rules (not repeating words in successive sentences, all sorts of things. One rule we learned was never use the verb "To Be" -- that will sure make you police what you write and make you write as if you have Hitler over your shoulder, let me tell you. That verb is required for 90% of the sentences like ever. But in terms of the formula, I don't feel so much that I need a formula to write because I was taught expository writing, but more because I wasn't taught novel writing. I'm not looking for a formula that will write your book for you, just the same kind of fundamental knowledge I was taught about expository writing, except about novel writing. I got taught hundreds of rules about expository writing, including structure. There aren't even five or ten that exist when it comes to novel writing? I just don't get that but then maybe it's just that none of us were taught them.

    I'm not intending to do that. What I was really hoping for is just the same baseline fundamentals of novel structuring and internal monologue vs dialogue as I was taught about expository writing. If someone can just show me how to hold the bat, I'm not the type to shy away from developing my own swing. But if I don't even know whether I'm supposed to cross my arms while holding the bat or not, well then it's going to take me a long time to go from there to swinging it like the pros do without any guidelines to help me, whether I have a natural feel for timing a pitch or not

    I don't know why people keep saying I seem stiff/nervous as a person because I probably make more off color jokes on here per post than most! Is it like a old English overly proper gentleman thing, like I watched too many Woody Allen movies and now I talk speak way too propahlike as if I'm super uptight? Or is it more to do with my personality or the length of my posts or something else? Just curious because a lot of people here are saying it and no one anywhere else has ever said that about me. If I had to guess what everyone is picking up on, it's probably me being almost frantic, not nervous. I'm trying to ask a semester's worth of novel questions all at once, and by all at once I literally mean two days, and I had to type it all. I've only been on this forum two separate days, the day I joined and now coming back, and each time after spending hours writing my initial questions, people would then respond with more questions or comments, or they'd want me to explain the questions better, so I would keep getting sucked back in to write more. And the same thing happened today. So that's probably what you're reading. I spent 5 - 10 hours each of the two days typing topics and responses to various people, and I'm basically just in the zone, barely registering anything else that's going on around me, just "frantically" trying to finish each post as quickly as possible without leaving anything out (because as long as my posts are, people always still have questions about what I meant exactly because I didn't explain it enough or well enough, so then the next time I try to be even more detailed, and a few years from now I'll probably be writing 30 pages per post because it never works haha. Just another bad habit I have to unlearn). But if I had to guess, that's probably what people are picking up. I am typing 60 miles per hour over here and ignoring commas when possible in the name of finishing fast.

    More great advice, thank you! I'm just worried my characters are going to be undermined by the huge chunks of internal monologues between single lines of their dialogue, and other basic mistakes I made when writing a good portion of act 1. Now I know better than to do that in general, but I still don't know when a chunk is too long and when it isn't specifically, whether internal monologue can still be mixed in the middle of actual dialogue if the internal monologue has nothing to do with the actual dialogue, and so on. I'm sure there's a name for that but I don't know it. Everyone keeps bringing up "feel" but there is a formula to "feel," many formulas, as well. If one author's words read with a better feel or flow to them, it's probably because they're using clever alliteration, structuring their sentences fluidly (ordering the adverbs and the adjectives in relation to verbs and nouns in the correct, consistent order throughout multiple clauses of a sentence - forget the name for this), and so on. I'm just looking for the same knowledge when it comes to structuring and more complex questions like internal monologue vs actual dialogue and how much their lengths and subjects can conflict without losing the reader. I never even learned the basics of dialogue structuring, nevermind mixing internal monologues, although without the internal monologues it would sure be a lot easier. But I don't even know the basics in terms of, can you maybe stretch the internal monologue as long as you repeat the premise of the previous spoken dialogue before giving the response? Or is this considered amateur? I just have no idea. These aren't feel issues, they're not flow issues, they're specific problems I have that I haven't been able to answer myself. I've tried this in practice, while reading, and when you read it over, I mean there are ways to make everything work (restating something from before in different words if it's gotten lost after a long paragraph about something else), but at the same time it does seem kind of amateur to me, like it's repetitive and you're being forced to summarize in order to connect disparate paragraphs that should be together, but can't be because you need internal monologue there. And so if that really is as amateur as it seems, then you can't really do that and I'm back to square one with zero solution other than to make the internal monologues way shorter, in which case I'd just like to know that's a guideline that's taught to people and that all writers have dealt with this, and what the guideline says specifically about the general length of internal monologue in between dialogue. Once again I could re-read some classics and keep tabs of the internal monologue on every page, and track the maximum length, and make a mental note of how dialogue with long internal monologue is made to flow and connect despite the internal monologue, and I plan on doing those things, but if someone already knew that information it would help save me time. But I understand it's not as widespread a writing issue or lesson as comma splices, so I understand why most others wouldn't know the answer either.

    This is where you're onto something with me because I do analyze a lot of things when writing. And most of you are probably going to say not to do that, but I feel like I do it for a good reason. For example the story I'm writing is not really one well served by doing a Fight Club (telling it from the end in the first scene, then going back to the beginning... or would it? Haha), or doing a Wuthering Heights. I feel like a lot of authors go to great lengths to have a storyteller so they can write it "like an author," and it does read better that way, but I feel like you could be sacrificing immersion. It's like with video games, when they show all the buttons on the screen, it feels less real, it's a reminder that the experience isn't real and it's just you playing games developed for 12 year olds. And when a character is telling the story like he's the writer even though he's the character, it reminds you that there's an author that wrote this and that it's not real, it's a book.

    So, I had the idea to try to analyze the language to eliminate certain phrases that suggest knowledge of the future, even the immediate future, or phrases that suggest a story is being told rather than experienced through the protagonist's eyes. But because I'm trying to do that, I do limit myself in how I write. I can't make certain easy transitions with certain phrases sometimes to pass time or move forward, so instead I have to dress it up and it ends up in a few extra sentences of "transition" that slows the pace (very slightly) in a given paragraph. It's a trade off I've been debating, but it's not like there's no reason for it and it's just lengthy ole me over-analyzing things for no reason because I just love to do that. I'm only doing it because I thought of a (seemingly) logical reason that could benefit the novel.

    More great advice, and that's what I plan on doing, I just don't think I'm ready yet. I want to do a reading binge before I jump back into trying to write, I do think it will help, and I'm also still hoping for more specific answers here in terms of guidelines to follow when interspersing internal dialogue with spoken dialogue and all the other questions I asked, if answers to any of them exist besides just feeling your way through it :D Thanks again everyone for the help.
     
    Last edited: Aug 4, 2015
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  16. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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        1. I do loose outlines for novels – no outlines for short stories. I have no idea about great authors – but you can check out the Paris Review online.

        2. On first person introduction - Find an author who not only uses this technique but does it well and find out why it works and how you can learn from it. And possibly use the same techniques. I've done this many times. It's not really mimicking – it's just learning. All authors are influenced by other authors.

        3. On structuring like Hemmingway or Nabokov – as much as I like both I also keep current authors in mind. I have a book – rough guides to cult fiction – which I like for a good list of authors that not only show who the authors have been influenced by but which writers they have influenced. Nabokov is more a word genius than anything. He has an extreme knack for describing things beautifully. I think if you want to write more like Nabokov – think less about structure of the sentence and think more about what goes into the sentence. He's all about word choice and rhythm.

        4. Repetition is good in small doses – it drives a point home and it has a sense of poetry and beauty.

        5. Remember things that worked for Hemmingway, Nabokov, Mark Twain – might not work nowadays. Look at what some current authors are doing.

        6. But – in reality, in actuality – I wouldn't start making option lists – you don't want to reach for lists when you write, you want it to flow. And if it doesn't you go back and fix it. Word choice is also something that can be changed later on – for tone, style, rhythm, or meaning.

        7. I think you're over-thinking the ballpark present past thing. In fiction time is kinda subjective. When you're reading – Thomas walked down the street – it's past but creating a present image. So don't over think the weirdness of it. If it works to combine tenses, it works. If it doesn't it will bug your reader and it needs to be reworked.

        8. Don't get too deep in your characters head that your story is actually stalling. You want forward momentum – A lot of things that go on in a person's head can be expressed through action, incorporated into setting, or reaction.

        9. Never start with twenty different themes – you only need one good one and the rest will come when you write. When you start with too many then you start writing scenes to consciously fulfill a theme rather than progress the story. Or if you haven't mentioned that theme in a while you'll find yourself derailing the plot to mention it.

        10. Depending on your genre – that will dictate how big your chapters will be. Check out a book you feel most represents what your going for and write down some numbers. I do a kinda literary genre straddle so I like semi short chapters.

        11. Writers are so varied there won't be any formulas – but there are books where authors have broken down the works of – Nabokov, Asimonov, Thomas Wolfe etc. and showed you their themes and stuff. And you can learn from them but there are no formulas. It's more about instinct and editing.

        12. Your best bet is to stop thinking mechanics and fall in love with your characters and their journey – that is where the magic is going to happen. Bring them out and you'll find interesting themes that you never thought of. The subconscious does wonderful things with themes and symbolism.
     
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  17. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    A reading binge is a fine idea. In fact, it's an excellent one. Read the stuff YOU like to read. Just sink in and enjoy yourself. It's that calm sense of enjoyment you'll want to create in your readers, so you'll need to be sure what it feels like.

    And don't be afraid to just start writing. All this "I'm not ready yet" is holding you back. You can string sentences together in a coherent fashion. That's all you really need. That, and some ideas. You don't have to map out a whole story at all. In fact, I suspect in your case, you might get so hung up on every tiny detail that you never get it off the ground.

    If you truly want a breakthrough in your writing technique, you're going to need to take the plunge. Accept that change requires change. Let go of your preoccupation with doing everything right from the get-go and gathering rules and blueprints together. That's the Old Writer You. The New Writer You will just strike out and see what happens. Just ...jump. There is NO RISK. Just jump.

    Think about your story itself, not the mechanics of telling it. Develop a scene in your head that feels alive, with good characters you feel you understand, then just write it. Don't worry about where it's going to fit into the whole story, or even what's going to happen next (or what came before.) Just get that one scene down as completely as you can. Let the dialogue flow, if there is dialogue. If there is internal dialogue, write it the way YOU want to write it. There are no rules. Trust me on this. A single scene will lead to other scenes, backstory ...all the things that go into making a novel. Sure you'll eventually ditch some of that scene, maybe even all of it, but you'll have started, and that's the main thing. Start. Don't worry about starting, just start. Nobody is going to see what you're doing. In fact, you can keep the whole writing thing secret from people you know, so nobody's judging you.

    I sat down one day, and wrote one scene that I had envisioned over a couple of days. I had two characters and a setting. I wrote it, and was astonished at what I'd created. I didn't know I could. In fact, the scene does appear in my finished novel, but it's not a hugely important one, and it's stuck in the middle bit of the tale. But I always smile when I get to it, because I KNOW. I'm the only one who knows! But that's how I started. I then began to wonder how those characters got there and what would become of them...and the story grew.

    I'd say strive to be honest in what you write. Don't pinch and scrimp because you think it's not quite right, or whatever. If you want to write about a taboo subject, do it. Just be honest. Forget what your parents or your friends or your spouse or your boss will think. This is your story and you can do whatever you want! That is the most liberating feeling you can have. You have total control over what happens. I can't think of any other event in life where that holds true. Trust me, you get into this and it will be the most fun you'll ever have sitting down.
     
    Last edited: Aug 4, 2015
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  18. Cave Troll
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    Cave Troll Bite the bullet, do your own thing. Contributor

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    Take a step back. Essays and stories are two different things. Just dig deep inside your creative part of your brain. Find something there that tickles your fancy. Then you can either out line it, or just go with the flow as another said. You could also do what they call "Fleshing out" your characters, by writing a page or so of all the details about them (kind of like inventing a fictional persons) like physical features, mindset, likes, dislikes, favorite food/beverage, and so forth. There really is no one right answer when it comes to writing stories. Everyone has there own style, but they all use that long lost thing from child hood: Imagination.
    If you can imagine it no matter how tame or wild it is, it can become a story. Research is also a good thing if you are working with things you are unsure of, so you can at least make it work. So have fun, and for the love of Zeus use your imagination (the little guy misses you). Best of luck to you. :p
     

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