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Alpha_Serpentwitch

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Helpful articles for writers
« on: September 14, 2008, 10:11:56 am »

Note: Semua ini diambil dr web lain, bukan ditulis oleh saya sendiri. Credit goes to the real writer, not me.


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THE TOP TEN PLOTTING PROBLEMS:

copyright 1998 by Alicia Rasley


 
10. Backstory Blunders: The past is prologue, for sure, but you can tell too much too soon, if everything about the characters' past is explained right upfront in Chapter One.

9. Boring Beginnings: If you have to rely on your readers' patience while you get the story set up, you're likely to lose most of them. Start where the protagonist's problem starts, or just before that, and feed in the backstory later. This is the MTV era-- people don't like to wait. Be especially wary of books that start with the protagonist on a journey, thinking about what awaits her at the destination. Editors frequently mention that as an example of a boring opening. It helps to decide what your major story questions are and make sure those are posed in the first few chapters-- at least one should be posed in Chapter One.

8. Limping to a Conclusion: You don't want the reader to think you ended the book just because you ran out of paper. Make the ending a conclusive one, reinforcing the themes of the book and the progress of the protagonist.

7. Sagging Middle: The middle has to do more than just fill up the space between beginning and end. It should be a time of "rising conflict" where the protagonist is tested up to (and perhaps beyond) the limits of his ability-- a time to develop the internal and external conflicts and show how they influence the protagonist's actions. It should set up the great crisis/climax/resolution that will bring the novel to a close. So when you're starting the middle, think of how the protagonist can be challenged. What external plot events can make his internal conflict impossible to ignore any longer? How can that internal conflict impede his/her progress towards the goal? If there's an antagonist, how does the antagonist's reaction affect the protagonist's progress?

6. Tumors and Parasites-- The cast of thousands: Secondary characters are distinguished from major characters-- the protagonist(s) and the antagonist usually-- by their lack of a story journey. That is, they exist to make things happen in the plot, but their own conflicts and issues shouldn't be part of the story. (If they're that interesting, let them star in the sequel.) Every person with a story journey (described progress towards a significant change in their life) dilutes the impact of the major characters' journey. In some books (family sagas, for example), this can work. But in most protagonist-centered popular fiction, tracking the secondary characters' lives and loves is going to waste time and confuse the reader. Watch out for long passages in a secondary character's viewpoint which dwell on his problems and not on the protagonist. And keep count of how many subplots you've got-- make sure each one supports the main plot in some way.

5. Plodding Pacing: Pacing is primarily a function of how many cause-effect related events happen in the book. But that doesn't mean that effective pacing depends on shoving a lot of events into the story. Selection is key. What events are essential? What supporting events are needed to set up those essential events (aka "turning points")? Are all the events of the plot related causally-- that is, does the discovery of the letter in chapter 2 set up the release of the imprisoned protagonist in Chapter 4, and eventually the capture of the villain in the climax? Make sure every scene has at least one event that affects the main plot-- that way the readers can't skip without missing something important.

4. What a Coincidence!: Coincidence is fun in real life. But it's death to good fiction. Fiction is about cause and effect, and there's no cause and effect when the central elements of your plot happen by coincidence. It's often hard, however, to identify coincidence in your own story, so be ruthless. Look at the chain of events. Which would be unlikely to happen unless you the author made it happen? How likely is it that in a city of 7 million, your judge protagonist would just happen to get the embezzling case of the man she thinks was responsible for the hit-and-run killing of her mother? Not very. To fix coincidence without losing the event, make it happen because of character decision and action, and watch your characters grow into strength and purpose. That judge doesn't just happen to get the case; she seeks it, determined to avenge her mother's death. Now that's a lot more fun than coincidence, because the conflict is now not just an accident, but the result of this character's need for vengeance over justice.

3. Conflicts about Conflict: Conflict is the fuel that powers the plot and forces the characters into action. Without it you might have a nice slice of life portrait, or a great character sketch... but you don't really have a story. Problem is, conflict is volatile, and many of us avoid it in our plotting as we avoid it in our lives. But just as children need discipline to grow, characters need adversity to change. And fiction is, at base, about change. Popular fiction is usually about change in the protagonist. No one changes without a good reason to change-- that's where conflict comes in. Quite simply, you have an authorial duty to provide conflict for your characters so that they will learn to change-- and that means determining how they need to change. Linking conflict to character change will revitalize your story, and avoid the problems of serial conflict (where what looks like the book conflict wraps up in Chapter 3, to be replaced by another conflict) and incoherent conflict (where the conflict has nothing to do with who this character is or what she needs).

2. Structural Weaknesses: Many a good story is sunk by a weak structure: a hidden protagonist (the readers can't tell early whose story this is), meandering setups, mispresented conflict, rushed climaxes, incoherence between the protagonist and the plot (the main character doesn't have much to do with the main plot, or this person would never do what the plot requires him to do). Much of this derives from a misunderstanding of the purpose of structure. It's not a prison, chaining you to a "formula", it's a map to help you and your readers explore the issues you're developing with this story. Learning structure can teach you when to modify it and when to branch out on your own. The key to structure, in my opinion, is understanding the concept of the story questions-- the question or problem your opening poses, and the events which combine to create the answer.

1. Whose Story Is This, Anyway? The Plight of the Protagonist: The biggest single plot problem I see in my judging, editing, and critiquing is actually a character problem: the passive or undermotivated protagonist-- that is, a protagonist who is not truly involved in causing the plot to unfold. Beware of the victim-protagonist (bad things happen to him, and he suffers a lot), the passive protagonist (he witnesses the plot events, but he doesn't participate), the bumbling protagonist (he acts, but stupidly, without learning from his mistakes). The central character doesn't have to be likeable (though it helps) or (god forbid) without faults, but he does have to be motivated enough to act and encounter obstacles and change in response to plot events. Ideally, the protagonist should be involved in nearly every event, and his decisions and actions should drive the plot. You might make a list of all the major plot events, and beside each note the protagonist's contribution. Is each action or decision or choice motivated? (The motivation doesn't have to be laudable, but should derive from who he is and what he wants.) Does each action have some effect on the plot? And finally, does each action-event dynamic contribute to an ultimate change in the protagonist?

Here's a final thought that might help you plot: One primary purpose of the plot is to force the protagonist to change, usually by recognizing and overcoming some internal conflict. Know your character, and you'll figure out your plot. Conversely, know your plot, and you'll find the character who needs that sequence of events for internal growth.

Alpha_Serpentwitch

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Re: Helpful articles for writers
« Reply #1 on: September 14, 2008, 10:19:30 am »

In depth article for point 10. backstory blunders. Credit still goes to Alicia Rasley

BACKSTORY BLUNDERS!

 


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You can tell a new writer by how she handles backstory. (Backstory, by the way, is everything of relevance that happened before the story opens.) A new writer often thinks, "I better tell why this person is the way he is early, or I'll lose my readers' identification." Or "I have to explain everything about how we got to this point, or the readers won't be able to follow the events."

That's the understandable motive behind those long passages of "backstory dump" in so many Chapter Ones.

(I could illustrate this with a couple pages from Chapter One in one of my early books, where the heroine sits and thinks about the central trauma of her childhood, when her parents were taken away by the secret police, thereby making redundant her tearful revelation of same to the hero in Chapter Four... but in the interest of brevity and modesty, let's move on. )

But by laying out the backstory, those preceding events that motivate the characters, the writer might be wasting a powerful tool in creating plot suspense and character conflict.

Check out these examples of backstory blunders:

Emily Wilson opened the door of her childhood home and entered the large marble foyer. She gazed up at the lofty domed ceiling and was overcome with memories... especially the memory of her mother's body, hanging from a homemade noose tied to the chandelier. A note on the dining room table explained her reason-- the desertion of her husband Tom, Emily's ne'er-do-well father. In the fifteen years since, Emily had been fleeing from that memory, but now that she had come into her inheritance, she was coming home again. She would have to sell this house, because she could not bear to live with the memories.


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John Merritt was born thirty years earlier in a small hollow in West Virginia, the son of a poor farmer and his deeply religious wife. In grade school he discovered an affinity for art, and a devoted teacher helped him hone his skill. He wasn't much of a student at Whiskey Hollow High School, but his art talent earned him a scholarship to the state university. There he met and married Joan Feinstein, a pretty blonde finance major from a middle-class Morgantown family. Their marriage was hobbled by class differences, and they divorced after five years and two children.....


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Subconsciously, Teri worried that she might have inherited her sister's promiscuity, and so she avoided attractive men. She fooled herself into believing that her long-term relationship with a boring fellow programmer was all she wanted out of love.

So what's wrong with that, you might ask. Why not let the reader know all that's going on, all that's motivating the protagonist, all that's affecting the plot?

Why is it a blunder to begin with backstory?

Here's why:

For one thing, the backstory dump kills the suspense by telling right away how we got here to this opening situation. It answers the question, "What led to the character being in this situation?" almost before the reader has a chance to ask it. In the Emily example above, a major revelation-- that Emily had discovered her mother's suicide-- is just dropped into a description of the foyer. The reader will go "huh?" reading that, and wonder how important this detail is, because usually revelations of major formative traumas like that get a bit of foreshadowing or setting up (thus increasing the suspense). Here the suicide is just tossed away, and its effect on Emily spelled out in undramatic terms-- we're told of, not shown, her flight from the past.

Consider how much more dramatic this opening scene might be if Emily unlocks the door of her elegant childhood home, steels herself, walks in, glances around the foyer, sees the chandelier, stops short, and then, resolutely, goes into the dining room, past the table, into the kitchen, and pulling a cell phone from her purse, calls a realtor and says, "I want to sell a house. Immediately. I don't care how much I get for it." The readers will be asking, "Wait a minute! It's a beautiful house! It's her childhood home! Why does she want to sell it? And if she sells it, why doesn't she try to get a good price?" On the heels of those questions will come the canny conclusion, "It must have something to do with that chandelier. I wonder what."

Once you have the readers speculating about the situation you've set up, you've hooked them. They have to keep reading to get more clues to see if their suppositions are correct.

But if you tell them everything upfront, you might lose the narrative drive that comes from posing the story question, in this case, "Why does Emily want to unload her beautiful childhood home?"

And it slows down the pacing by having paragraphs and pages right upfront which aren't taking place anywhere but (maybe) the protagonist's mind. The "capsule biography" (such as the John Merritt excerpt above) doesn't even take place in the character's mind-- it just sort of sums up his existence in the driest of omniscient voices.

Not to mention that the readers have no way of knowing how any item on that list related to the action of the opening scene. In some cases, that sort of retrospective actually substitutes for the scene's action. Since they know very little of who John Merritt is and what he's doing, they can't evaluate which in that list of life events matters-- his religious mother? His art skill? This is where readers start to skim-- and you don't want them skimming in Chapter One. If you let those details come out gradually, through the action, when they're needed, readers can begin putting together the puzzle of who this man is, and what matters to him, and how he will live in this plot.

So consider each of those biographical items, and which matter to the story, and when you can sneak that in. For example, if the religious mother is important, maybe John can think, at some crucial moment, that his mother would be praying hard at this point, but that when he left West Virginia, he left the praying to her. What this does is make for a more character-driven read: Readers learn what's important from the characters' thoughts and actions, not from author summation. They learn much more about who this character is from what he remembers of his past (his mother's prayers) and how he currently interprets it (he has abandoned prayer himself) than from a long list of biographical details.

 And most important, the backstory dump doesn't leave enough for the characters-- and the readers-- to do. The story is a journey for the protagonist, from an embarkation to a destination. The protagonist doesn't necessarily choose that destination, especially if it is a point of psychological growth (which can be painful!). But part of the journey is coming to recognize limitations and finally, because of the events of the plot, decide finally to overcome them.

Readers participate in this journey by identifying with the protagonist. That identification will be sharpened if you don't tell readers ahead of time what the protagonist needs to learn or overcome, but rather show it through the events of the plot. That way readers can discover, along with the protagonist, the destination from the journey itself.

For example, if Teri's response to her sister's promiscuity is still subconscious, part of her journey will be towards bringing it to the surface and dealing with it consciously, rather than just reacting irrationally. You don't have to tell the reader what Teri doesn't understand herself, but you can show her reacting to the sister's past. Say she meets an attractive man, and is thinking about deepening the acquaintance when he says casually, "You know, I went out a few times with your sister." Teri might freeze up and immediately, without further consideration, decide to have nothing more to do with the man. Maybe he will have to pursue her, even charm her against her will, force her to confront her fear that if she gives into attraction, she will be like her sister-- out of control.

In the end, it comes back to Show, don't tell. If backstory is important to the story, that importance should be demonstrated within the story, not merely by some authorial comment on top of the opening scene. This will have the effect of creating a little bit of reader suspense, as they put together the puzzle of the story. This increases reader involvement even in books without external mysteries.

So how do you know when to show backstory? Here's the rule of thumb: Wait until the readers need to know it. And then give them only as much as they need to know at that point, and as "transparently" as possible-- if you can, through the thoughts, actions, memories, or dialogue of the characters. Let the readers be part of the "making of meaning" by providing them the context to ask questions ("What's up with that chandelier?") and puzzle out the answers.

Alpha_Serpentwitch

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Re: Helpful articles for writers
« Reply #2 on: September 14, 2008, 10:27:38 am »

More helpful articles coming!  [thumbsup]

Oh dan bagi yang punya artikel sejenis yg dapat membantu memberi 'pencerahan' bagi para penulis yg lg mumet dengan novelnya, silakan ikut berbagi disini. Komentar dan diskusi seputar artikel, atau bahkan curhat tentang kendala dalam menulis buku juga dipersilakan disini. Semua dengan harapan kita menjadi penulis yang lebih baik dari kita saat ini. :)

juunishi master

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Re: Helpful articles for writers
« Reply #3 on: September 14, 2008, 11:50:29 am »

Show don't tell...  :(

Hiks, sebuah cara bercerita yg bikin gw bingung. Gak bisa ngebedainnya.  :-[

Hehe.
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sakurazaki90

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Re: Helpful articles for writers
« Reply #4 on: September 14, 2008, 01:03:10 pm »

@Serpent: Thanks bwt artikelnya [thumbsup]

@Juu: Haah~show don't tell emg susah... :-\

BloodSin

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Re: Helpful articles for writers
« Reply #5 on: September 14, 2008, 08:39:39 pm »

om serpent, artikelnya ditranslate dulu donk... aku kan gak ngerti bahasanya. :P

btw gw ngerasa kena sentil banged tuh yg poin 4, what a coincidence! :-[
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magicplayer

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Re: Helpful articles for writers
« Reply #6 on: September 15, 2008, 12:35:10 am »

Hehe. Kebetulan aku juga suka baca artikel kaya gini. Apa sekalian aku share aja ya?

@Juu: Bener ga tau ngebedain show sama tell? Padahal aku baca signature-mu tu bagus lo.

Artikelnya aku pasang di post baru aja ya. Biar ga bingung bacanya.
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magicplayer

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Re: Helpful articles for writers
« Reply #7 on: September 15, 2008, 12:45:34 am »

I Can't Put It Down - How to Write Compelling Fiction
by Rob Parnell
How many times have you heard people say this about a book? Have you ever analyzed the books that people say this about?

I have.

They all share one ‘secret’ in common.

Questions.

Reading is not a passive exercise. Not to the brain, anyway.

As you read and take in the information on the page, the brain is trying to work out where the story is going, what significance certain actions might have. It’s also trying to work out puzzles and generally try to second-guess the plot.

This is human nature. It’s what makes reading an interactive experience--where you have a kind of relationship with the author for as long as you’re reading

Stories that don’t make the reader ask questions are unsatisfying to read, as are stories where the reader guesses the outcome.

Many writers forget this and write aimlessly in the hope that the reader will like their style and want to read on, no matter what.

This is not a strategy for success! In order to be in control of your story--and your reader, you, the writer should feed them questions.

This is not as difficult as it sounds.

First you need the major question--your book’s reason for being, if you like.

This is in essence the ‘theme’ of your novel summed up in one sentence.

Questions like ‘Does money create happiness?’ or ‘Will good triumph over evil?’ You should subtly place this question in the mind of your reader quite early on in your book, so that the reader is already on a kind of quest for the truth.

Next you have chapter questions that are more specific to your characters. Like ‘Will Alex overcome his problems?’ or ‘Will Sally win the love of her father?’ This gives your reader a reason to read on--just to find out!

Then, you should have smaller questions at every point you can - at least one every 500 words.

Here’s an example:

‘Lucy went to see her father. He was angry that she was seeing Brad but she told him there was nothing he could do about it’

Obviously this is flat and lifeless prose that invites no great speculation. How about this?

‘Lucy stared at her father’s implacable face. When he was like this, she couldn’t gauge his feelings. She swallowed hard. If he was angry, she’d end up with nowhere to live.

‘I won’t stop seeing Brad,’ she said, not quite believing her own words.’

You see the difference?

In the second passage the reader is forced to ask three questions.

1. What’s her father thinking?

2. Will Lucy get kicked out?

3. Will she carry on seeing Brad?

Rather than simply stating what your characters think and do, always try to leave an element of uncertainty in the reader’s mind as to what will happen next.

The trick is to get your reader asking questions constantly. Yes - on every page, so that there’s a compulsive need to turn the page, if only to find out the answers.

Good novelists do this unconsciously--they know it’s the best way to tell a story.

Good crime novelists deliberately get you to ask all the WRONG questions so that their plot twists are far more effective.

People keep turning the page in best selling novels because they are in a constant state of limbo--ignorant of what’s coming next but eager to find out. In effect, it’s almost a state of agitation, even frustration that will keep a reader turning the page.

Has this happened to you?

It’s weird because you almost HATE what you’re reading—there are so many unanswered questions--but you just can’t put it down!

© Copyright 2005 Rob Parnell. All Rights Reserved.
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rd_Villam

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Re: Helpful articles for writers
« Reply #8 on: September 15, 2008, 09:01:45 am »

sedikit cara untuk melaksanakan rumus 'show, don't tell', dapat dilakukan dengan:

- memperjelas lebih dulu POV (sudut pandang) tokoh penceritanya. jika hendak menjelaskan tentang suatu tempat atau peristiwa, gambarkan melalui apa yang bisa dia lihat, dengar, rasakan, dan bukan ceritakan apa yang tidak bisa dia lihat, tidak bisa dia dengar, tidak bisa dia rasakan.

- gambarkan apa yang terjadi saat ini, dan bukannya cerita masa lalu. memang kadang kita juga ingin/harus bercerita tentang masa lalu, tapi untuk itu jangan gunakan narasi berkepanjangan sampai lebih dari dua paragraf. gunakan dialog yang wajar antara tokoh 'bodoh' dan tokoh 'pintar', karena dialog menciptakan ilusi bahwa suatu kejadian berlangsung saat ini.

tapi patut diingat pula, dalam kasus tertentu, bisa saja dipakai cara yang bertolak belakang. ini hanya sedikit panduan.

mari mari terus menulis. :-)

Alpha_Serpentwitch

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Re: Helpful articles for writers
« Reply #9 on: September 15, 2008, 10:52:16 am »

om serpent, artikelnya ditranslate dulu donk... aku kan gak ngerti bahasanya. :P

btw gw ngerasa kena sentil banged tuh yg poin 4, what a coincidence! :-[

Wah gw sih baca inggris ga kesulitan tp mentranslate beginian bisa mabok wekekeke  ;D

Btw, lo cuma merasa tersentil di point 4, kl gw merasa 'terpukul' di semua point  :-[

Quote
@magic player

thx buat tambahan artikelnya ^^. Gw sendiri banyak baca2 tentang psikologi, kadang semuanya berdekatan ama basis dasar menuju ilmu hipnotis. And apparantly, ketika kita membaca, kita sering terhipnotis hehe... Masalahnya, bisa kah kita membuat cerita yg demikian 'membius' hingga sang pembaca mau aja dituntun kemana pun yg kita mau di dalam cerita kita? Mempercayai logika apapun yg kita terapkan di dunia kita?Dalam ilmu hipnotis ada banyak jenis2 kata2 atau struktur kalimat yg efektif untuk 'memancing' perhatian dan membius pembaca. Kata2 macem itu bs diterapkan di dalam cerita, dan bahkan pd kenyataannya mayoritas dr kita udah mulai menggunakan kata2 tersebut tanpa sadar untuk membuat pembaca tertarik membaca. Maka temukan sebanyak mungkin kata2 seperti itu, dan gunakan seoptimal mungkin di dalam cerita dan alhasil pembaca tidak akan bisa 'bangun' dari hipnotis cerita kita.

*tawa iblis*   ;D

Satu temuan lg menyangkut itu, ketika membaca bagian yg membosankan, full deskriptif di buku2 tebal macam harpot dsb, ternyata kita sering tanpa sadar men'skip' bagian itu dan sadar kembali ketika 'tertangkap' oleh kita bagian yg menarik untuk dibaca. Biasanya hal seperti ini terjadi secara refleks tanpa sadar dan di trigger beberapa jenis kata/kalimat. Faktor lainnya adalah krn kita udah terbiasa membaca cerita sejenis dan terlatih untuk membaca what kind of scene this is. 'oh ini bagian deskriptif yg ga penting... skip aj...' 'oh, ini bagian mulai menarik, udah deket klimaks, ga boleh ada yg terlewatkan nih...' Yang kerennya, semua itu terjadi selama kita membaca dengan giat, dan semua keputusan untuk menskip atau membaca diputuskan oleh otak kita tanpa meminta persetujuan lg pada kita (baca: tanpa sadar)  :)

Quote
In the end, it comes back to Show, don't tell. If backstory is important to the story, that importance should be demonstrated within the story, not merely by some authorial comment on top of the opening scene. This will have the effect of creating a little bit of reader suspense, as they put together the puzzle of the story. This increases reader involvement even in books without external mysteries.

So how do you know when to show backstory? Here's the rule of thumb: Wait until the readers need to know it. And then give them only as much as they need to know at that point, and as "transparently" as possible-- if you can, through the thoughts, actions, memories, or dialogue of the characters. Let the readers be part of the "making of meaning" by providing them the context to ask questions ("What's up with that chandelier?") and puzzle out the answers.

Gw paling tersentil disini nih. 'wait until the readers need to know'. Omg, brarti mesti nunggu Varlend dan kawan2 pergi ke luar angkasa br boleh jelasin 3 lunnamorfhel gw. (which would never happen lol) Masalahny setting universe nyaris ga diperlukan untuk terus membaca. Kecuali berkaitan langsung dengan plot main story yg sedang berjalan. So, when exactly should we write our 'fantasy world vacation' ?  ??? Kan sayang udah membentuk universe susah payah, disebutkan pun tidak.  :P
« Last Edit: September 15, 2008, 11:08:56 am by Alpha_Serpentwitch »
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