Character is… (Part 2.2) – Description is…

Bringing Your Character to Life via Description

This is the third in an ongoing series of StoryCrafting/StoryTelling posts I’m publishing for my own benefit; explaining something helps me determine if I’ve truly learned it or am simply parroting what others have offered. I learn my weak spots, what I need to study, et cetera.

Previous offerings include:

  • Atmosphere is…
  • Character is… (Part 1)
  • Character is… (Part 2.1) – Exposition is…

    And note that I’ll update/upgrade/edit these posts as I learn more.


    Description – Second most economical, second least effective. If you must provide a list of details, make the last one explosive, eye-catching, something highly contrasting with the previous, preferably bland, descriptive details.

     
    Imagine you’re going to cook a specific dish for some reason. I’ll choose Fettuccine Alfredo because I made it for Susan last night.

    Start with a list of ingredients:

    • light cream
    • milk
    • butter
    • flour
    • parmesan
    • ground pepper
    • salt
    • red pepper
    • chicken
    • garlic
    • heavy cream
    • ricotta
    • romano
    • asiago

    Good and not enough. If I dumped them all into a pot it wouldn’t be very good Fettuccine Alfredo. You can have all the ingredients but you have to put them together correctly to get the desired outcome.

    Ingredients must be in the correct order to get the desired result.

     
    What I need next is the order of putting it all together: Continue reading “Character is… (Part 2.2) – Description is…”

Character is… (Part 2.1) – Exposition is…

Bringing Your Character to Life via Exposition

This is the second in an ongoing series of StoryCrafting/StoryTelling posts I’m publishing for my own benefit; explaining something helps me determine if I’ve truly learned it or am simply parroting what others have offered. I learn my weak spots, what I need to study, et cetera.

Previous offerings include:

  • Atmosphere is…
  • Character is… (Part 1)

    And note that I’ll update/upgrade/edit these posts as I learn more.


    I ended Character is… (Part 1) with “The next in this series starts the exploration of the third character aspect, the techniques used to make the character real/alive to the reader.”
    So far as I know, these techniques are:

    • Exposition – the author explains (tells) the character to the reader. Most economical and least effective storytelling form. Improve it by sharing some sharp details, by having a character do the explaining (thereby revealing character as well as providing exposition).
    • Description – Second most economical, second least effective. If you must provide a list of details, make the last one explosive, eye-catching, something highly contrasting with the previous, preferably bland, descriptive details.
    • Action – most effective way to both show and demonstrate character.
    • Shading – building a character by revealing contradictions about them.
    • Gestures and Mannerisms – establish character by the little things they do, the non-conscious things they do, their habits.
    • Settings, Tastes, Interests – what someone has in their environment, how someone interacts with their environment
    • Opinions of Others – reveals both speaker and character.
    • Dialogue – Character reveals themselves through their own words or through dialogue with another character.
    • Thoughts – the author reveals character by sharing the character’s inner thinking about something.
    • Narrative Voice – 1st person POV, the narrator talks to us and is revealed via their words and thoughts.

     
    Exposition is…
    …a disaster waiting to happen. As stated above, exposition is the least effective storytelling form. It does have its uses. Quick transitions in time, space, or character are an example: “Jenny drove home from her office.” “Karl glanced out the window and waited for his stop.” “The Carsons walked out as the Davidsons entered.”

    In all three cases, the events aren’t as important as the fact that something’s changing; Jenny’s environment is changing from office to home, Karl’s waiting for the next thing to happen. The players are changing from one group to another (Carsons to Davidsons). All are single lines that provide little information other than letting the reader catch their breath before the next big thing occurs.
    Continue reading “Character is… (Part 2.1) – Exposition is…”

Cosmic Critiques – How&Why ten science fiction stories work

(except this book doesn’t)

Cosmic Critiques is the first “how to write” book I had real, recognizable problems with. Go no further, I do not repeat do not recommend this book to people wanting to learn the craft of writing.

However, this book is a gem if you’re a literary historian; the included stories were all written when science fiction was undergoing a major transition from authors schooled in literature to authors schooled in technology.

My first problem was that none of the stories worked (my opinion). They were all droll, trite, rather meaningless, uneventful, unengaging, and blow-offs. Some, if I remember correctly, were praised in their day.

That brings us to problem 2; these stories are very much of their time (1950s-1980s). Wells, Verne, Burroughs, and Baum’s stories endure because the stories are about people doing things and the human condition endures. Stories written in the 1950s-1980s tended to be about people dealing with technology doing things and any story with technology as its focus can’t t endure (except, as noted, with historians, anthropologists, any and all folk interested in time periods, not literature).

Specific to Cosmic Critiques, the earlier included stories signaled the move from interesting character driven stories to temporally interesting gadget stories. The United States had become the technology giant of the world and popular culture – which science fiction is a part of – followed suit.

 
The most interesting part of the book (to me) Is contained in a paragraph of Isaac Asimov’s introduction:


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Can I be honest about your writing? (Part 7 – Avoid Open Onions)

No one gets to change your work but you

Part 1 – Oh, the Vanity of it all! of this multi-post arc dealt with some folks I knew who vanity published their books back when we called vanity publishers “vanity publishers”.
Part 2 – Vanity/Self-Publishing provided an overview of Vanity and Self publishing.
Part 3 – What Camp Are You In? identified four reasons people consider self-publishing.
Part 4 – Pray thee, Joseph, 4 Y do these books suck? delved into editing that doesn’t help a book.
Part 5 – Could you provide examples of suckness? shared some examples of improving sucky writing (my own).
Part 6 – Opinions are not Facts dealt with extracting actionable information from test audiences.

An important part of improving one’s writing is knowing whose suggestions to pay attention to. Notice, not what suggestions, but whose suggestions. Some people don’t have opinions – they’re not making suggestions – they’re opening onions – their goal is to make you cry, to make you suffer.
Continue reading “Can I be honest about your writing? (Part 7 – Avoid Open Onions)”

Can I be honest about your writing? (Part 5 – Could you provide examples of suckness?)

Tell the same story better

Part 1 – Oh, the Vanity of it all! of this multi-post arc dealt with some folks I knew who vanity published their books back when we called vanity publishers “vanity publishers”.
Part 2 – Vanity/Self-Publishing provided an overview of Vanity and Self publishing.
Part 3 – What Camp Are You In? identified four reasons people consider self-publishing.
Part 4 – Pray thee, Joseph, 4 Y do these books suck? delved into editing that doesn’t help a book.

Can I provide specific examples from other authors, no. I may think a given author’s writing sucks or an individual piece of writing sucks and I still respect the fact that they’re putting something out, that they got off the couch.

General examples, sure:
Continue reading “Can I be honest about your writing? (Part 5 – Could you provide examples of suckness?)”