1. ladybean
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    ladybean New Member

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    Writing a story that takes place over a long period of time...

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by ladybean, Feb 13, 2010.

    This is my weakness number 1: How do I take a story where I know the long term unraveling of the plot, like events taking place over the course of several years and even decades? I can't write what happened at every moment in between the pivotal ones, but I can't seem to write anything but filler when it isn't a pivotal moment I am writing. Should I just skip all the in-between and write only the important scenes? IF so, my story goes from like 1974 to 1976 and so on. The nature of the plot involves alot of long term unraveling of events or spiralling downwards. HELP PLEASE! :confused:

    Also, I have really been hard up for ideas anymore. I can see the scenes in my head like a movie but I can't seem to describe them in words in a way that isn't dry and pure description and no action. Every where I go the absolute commandments of writing urge writers NOT to tell but to show. How much showing are we talking about? Any book I've picked up and flipped through in the last year or so was nothing but telling in between showing. How many ways are there to describe a character getting up to walk to the door and turning back to look with a smug grin without it being just telling? < Thus the problem is that the advice should more often be accompanied by examples.
     
  2. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Write the pivotal scenes, and leave out the filler. The filler is just empty carbs that will make your book fat and sluggish.

    As for the scene problem, remember your scene is from some point of view. In your example, you tossed in the adjective smug. Why is he smug? Why does the observer conclude he is smug? Show the grin, and show the smugness in the scene and the characterization.

    Allen stood and walked rapidly to the door. He turned and smiled.

    "What are you grinning about?" Jean asked.

    "Oh, nothing much. But don't start spending that prize money."
     
  3. Anders Backlund
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    Anders Backlund Contributing Member

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    First of all, don't write more then you need simply to fill up space. No one likes to have to plow throug unnecessary text just to get to the parts that matter.

    That said, have you considered using subplots? Not filler, but actual secondary plotlines that supplement and eventually tie into the main one? Maybe you just have more story to tell.

    Honestly, I think your first mistake is to treat "show, don't tell" as an absolute commandment in the first place.

    Wanting to show and not tell is all fine and well, but don't you think you should focus on showing because you honestly think it makes for better writing, rather then just doing it because everyone tells you to do it? My opinion in this matter may be in a vast minority, but I'd say the worst thing you can do is assume there are things you are not "allowed" to do in your writing.

    Yes, showing is better then telling. But there's no rule that forbids you to tell.

    Anyway, don't hesitate too much on this matter. Even if you're not satisfied with what you have written, you can go back and change it later. There's nothing wrong with writing a bad first draft - writing something is better then writing nothing.
     
  4. ladybean
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    ladybean New Member

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    Thank you for reminding me about the writing rules, that one needn't always follow them to tell a story. Having spent some time over the course of this story hitting up resources for writing advice, I admit some of my writing really flourished in a way it wouldn't have if I was just telling like I used to always do, it's just brought me to a point where I stop and criticize every word I am writing until I just delete it- deciding it isn't good.
    However, writing something IS better than writing nothing at all, which usually ends up happening in my case.

    In regards to my initial problem, about filler vs. pivotal scenes and plot development, I guess I am afraid that the story will be too short and jump around too much by eliminating other things. Many things within the story I know exist but as of now, by what is written, most readers would never know because those things haven't been put into the story. They are important but most are mere details rather than happenings, like the fact that one of the characters moves alot. I'd have to add many scenes to be able to show this.

    What is a good way to outline a plot and subplot? Perhaps I need to sit down and do this. I've done exercises where I sat and wrote anywhere from a brief to a detailed chronology of the story, explaining to myself what happens when and why. Does this count? Thanks for your help and take care. :rolleyes: Here is a small paragraph from a scene I have been working on or working from I should say because it was initially just one of those quickly written things that needed to be edited later:

    "He walked straight through to the bedroom, pulling his thick drapes closed to seal the bright sunless dawn out from his room and slid down onto the bed over the covers, curling up in a fetal position with the thoughts he tried to shut off with sleep. Behind his eyelids he saw their dark faces over him laughing and heard their voices. He heard the cops laughing after he walked away. He didn’t want to be alone with his thoughts, or in general. He thought about his grandmother and wondered how she would have reacted to what happened. It was beyond time to come down and nearly time to get back anyway, so he reached over for the phone to call Ben who he knew would be awake as always."
    How am I doing so far?
     
  5. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    This isn't the Review Room, so I will keep my comments general.

    For one thing, you went overboard on adjectives. Your first sentence is a marathon ramble.

    You're spending a lot of time in his thoughts. That isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it still is telling rather than showing.

    Anders is correct, A story should not be all show and no tell, and neither should it be all tell and no show. See Show and Tell in my blogs for more on this.

    So out of context, I won't say your approach is right or wrong. Most of my objections to your paragraph have nothing to do with the thread topic, but just with low level writing problems.

    Here's an exercise in showing for you to try: Write a short piece to show a character's mood and thoughts, but without actually saying what he is thinking or feeling. Show it through what you could actually observe if you were an invisible observer in the room.

    Don't expect it to be a masterpiece, but do the best you can with it. It can be very enlightening.
     
  6. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    my best advice to you is to stop writing and start reading!... the answers to your questions and solutions to your writing style problems will be found in works by the best authors of the kind of book you're trying to write...
     
  7. ladybean
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    ladybean New Member

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    What if I don't know what authors and books I should read? My library isn't very knowledgeable in terms of helping me track down specific genre. I really have never been much of a reader because I am a slow reader and there are often many things that need to get done each day.

    I am thinking my story could be defined more as a chronicle than anything else because of the fact it is documenting the lives of the two main characters. The way I've been writing since starting it, is with focus on the storyline and character development and not first with a plot. Real life doesn't always have a plot. When it does, do we realize it at the time? Neither should my readers because they should be just as clueless as my characters in order to be surprised.

    It's also hard to describe how a character appears to feel on the outside if whatever they are feeling is entirely internal and it's my job as the writer to let the reader know whats going on when it can't be visual. Neither of the main characters know what they want. It's a story about life, about struggles, about having fun, and mostly about not knowing what is going to happen later.

    It feels so mechanical and false to just make up some plot and say, "Yes! This is what is going to happen because the story needs a perfectly balanced structure." Why? Well again, is life perfectly structured? Do things always happen in expected ways? In the long term, I of course already know what is going to happen to the characters throughout the story. Does it end with them finding something they wanted or failing at it? Not really, because nothing that happens by the end is anything they ever thought they'd want. A strong theme that exists is the way that both have no idea what they want in life and are just more or less trying to survive. Can this possibly be my plot? There must be one somewhere, taking into account everything about the story. It's a matter of what, however.

    Just to emphasize a point I maybe made once before, most if not all the books I have read are books I've picked up and read just to get a sense of how they are written. Most seem to be first person which isn't helpful to me since I am writing in third. The other thing is, even though a few have (I thought) been really bad stories that never did lead anywhere- these are still published novels, so someone must have liked them. Regardless of how dry and empty the storylines were, and that they did use mostly tell and no show, I guess it's only because they had a start and finish and all the structural requirements of a story that they had been considered worthy. Any historical novel I've read was mostly tell. Despite that, most are still read today for fun because the stories were so damned good that readers likely didn't care as much about structure.

    In my defense for any comment replies here that are more or less evaluating any submitted work on how sucessful it'd be in a market... I write for fun, this story is my fantasy, my creative work; so I am really not obsessed with following the current modes of story structure to impress a publisher. To me it seems, by spending more time picking apart the writing style and format of every little line written more than focusing on the nature of the story, it defeats the purpose of writing a story as a creative work.

    Sure it is helpful to improve ones skill in order to get ones thoughts out in the best way, but writing a perfect story shouldn't take precedence unless you intend to publish. It almost appears that the actual writing/format of a story has become an art unto itself and the story secondary to some writers.

    I'd like advice from other writers mainly on how to summon ideas when the well is dry or say things better though am likely to withdraw from seeking tips when the work is just smacked for not being perfect. If I felt it was, I wouldn't be here. If I felt it wasn't worth pursuing also, I certainly wouldn't be wasting my time. I just get the sense, though I have had some helpful advice here in the past since becomming a member, that advice os distributed to myself, and others as well, (who aren't professional writers) in a somewhat condescending tone. And by the way, a writer reserves the right to use adjectives freely for descriptive purposes and write in a way that shows we expect our readers don't have a modern attention span of -10. Every writer should have and flaunt their own particular style, even if that means some care little for it because others will.
     
  8. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Life may be, or appear to be, random, but an author filters what he or she writes. There may be some random events, but stories are comprised of characters, decisions, and motivations. Plot is defined by an actor, a goal or objective, a motivation, and an opposition. A story consists of a chronology of events, but the plots that connect characters and events are what drive a story.

    Let's say you are writing about something that occurred in real life. There will be important events that take place, and the writer will include those in the story. But he or she will leave out events that are irrelevant to the story. If it doesn't advance the story or the characters, it should be left out. It is useless filler.

    The same is true for a made-up story. In this case, you are constructing the reality. If the story follows too straight and easy a course, you add oppositions to increase the plot tension (an oppositions is itself often a subplot).

    These are the mechanics of story structure that a writer needs to be aware of.
     
  9. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    if you're not a good and constant reader, it's next to impossible to become a good, publishable writer...
     
  10. Manav
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    Manav Contributing Member

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    Believe me it is lot more fun when a publisher is impressed by your creative work.
     
  11. VegasGeorge
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    VegasGeorge Member

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    At the risk of sounding flip, which isn't my intent, why not just write the date at the top of each chapter and let the reader make the temporal jump?
     
  12. Mantha Hendrix
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    Mantha Hendrix Contributing Member

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    That might make it seem a bit too jittery. It's much better if the narrative flows.
     
  13. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    dates are often used and i don't see how it could be 'jittery' or hamper the flow any...
     
  14. Mantha Hendrix
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    Mantha Hendrix Contributing Member

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    It's Ok to write the date, but don't put it at the top of every page. It just makes thing too obvious... that's my opinion anyway.
     
  15. Cardboard Tube Knight
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    Cardboard Tube Knight Member

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    I struggle with this and I have been wanting to write a series that occurs over the better part of thirty years. But it seems weird for me to do this even though I have read books that do it. Just know that you're not the only one with the problem.
     

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