Tag Archives: setting

Writing is a river

We’re paddling downstream, to our right are boulders, sand bars and thickets full of snags. To our left, a mud bank that stretches on for miles. Sometimes the water is deep and dark, others times shallow. Sometimes it’s clear like glass or muddy and polluted. There are rapids and smooth stretches; occasionally a waterfall rumbles in the distance.

As writers we must traverse this river ever trying to maintain a steady, center-stream course.

Setting is the thickets, woods and reaching branches. Too much description of the place or environment—that is, info dumping—and our readers will get snared, get trapped by the empty details.

Characterization is the sand bars, slips of river sand that will capture our boat and bog our readers down. Too much depiction of a character’s appearance, demeanor, or behavior—telling us about them, not showing—will disturb us and invite our readers to leave our foundered boat.

Events are the boulders, the cliffs and caves, that must come in cycles. Pacing of happenings is crucial: too much and you wear out your reader, too frequent and you fail to give proper due to the build-up and crescendos that events engender.

Along the left bank, the muddy slick that offers few rocks, little sand and only a bush or two, our readers will become bored, leave us, skipping forward in search of an entertaining feature in the landscape.

As writers we must navigate between these banks.

The plot is the river features, the rapids, and quite runs, the boulders, sand bars and submerged snags. The story is the bends and turns, the camping spots, the portages, the beginning and the end.

And the water? The water is dialog. It carries us along the story. It runs fast and slow, dirty and clear. It gives us cause to learn about the characters, care about them as they encounter the obstacles along their route. And remember them when our journey is complete.

Too much setting, characterization or cascading events will capsize our reader. Too little will induce sleep and abandonment. Too little water will ground us in the gravel. Too much and we’ll drown.

Writing is a river, steer well young captains.

 


Writer’s Log: 1782 Cyclical story structure

Last night I watched Brandon Mull’s #9 video on youtube (he subbed for Sanderson). Mull is eccentric and idiosyncratic (to say the least). But his thoughts (once they come out) were spot on. From them I designed my own writing organization philosophy. (To be honest, Sanderson also poses similar story topologies.)

It goes like this:

StoryCircle1

Characters and subjects
experience events and perform actions, which result in consequences which then pose implications
back on the characters and subjects.

This cycle exists at the story level, the chapter level, the scene level and even the paragraph or sentence level.

An old man battles nature and himself, but in the end loses. He catches the biggest marlin of his life. In doing so he sails far from his home port. But the sharks attack and devour the marlin leaving him with nothing to show for his magnificent struggle.

StoryCircle2

A story is a set of these cycles both concentrically, and independently organized. Like this:

I’ve never considered such a structure, however, as Mr. Mull continued, what he alluded to was that these self contained scenes (the little cycles within the bigger chapter cycles within the story cycle itself) can be isolated and written as standalone pieces. Much like the way Anthony Doerr explains how he wrote All the Light We Cannot See.

These scenes can then be stitched together with narrative which would include both time and space references: [detailed scene #1] — “Two weeks later the train pulled into San Francisco.” — [detailed scene #2].

I recommend watching at least Mull’s singular video. He’s hard to watch. He makes reference to his Mormon ideologies – cough. But in the end I found his advice useful.