29 June 2020, Writing - part xx270 Writing a Novel, Make it Sense Setting, Stuff
Announcement: Delay, my new novels can be seen on the internet, but my primary publisher has gone out of business—they couldn’t succeed in the past business and publishing environment. I’ll keep you informed, but I need a new publisher. More information can be found at www.ancientlight.com. Check out my novels—I think you’ll really enjoy them.
Introduction: I wrote the novel Aksinya: Enchantment and the Daemon. This was my 21st novel and through this blog, I gave you the entire novel in installments that included commentary on the writing. In the commentary, in addition to other general information on writing, I explained, how the novel was constructed, the metaphors and symbols in it, the writing techniques and tricks I used, and the way I built the scenes. You can look back through this blog and read the entire novel beginning with http://www.pilotlion.blogspot.com/2010/10/new-novel-part-3-girl-and-demon.html.
I’m using this novel as an example of how I produce, market, and eventually (we hope) get a novel published. I’ll keep you informed along the way.
Today’s Blog: To see the steps in the publication process, visit my writing websites http://www.sisteroflight.com/.
The four plus one basic rules I employ when writing:
1. Don’t confuse your readers.
2. Entertain your readers.
3. Ground your readers in the writing.
4. Don’t show (or tell) everything.
4a. Show what can be seen, heard, felt, smelled, and tasted on the stage of the novel.
5. Immerse yourself in the world of your writing.
These are the steps I use to write a novel including the five discrete parts of a novel:
1. Design the initial scene
2. Develop a theme statement (initial setting, protagonist, protagonist’s helper or antagonist, action statement)
a. Research as required
b. Develop the initial setting
c. Develop the characters
d. Identify the telic flaw (internal and external)
3. Write the initial scene (identify the output: implied setting, implied characters, implied action movement)
4. Write the next scene(s) to the climax (rising action)
5. Write the climax scene
6. Write the falling action scene(s)
7. Write the dénouement scene
I finished writing my 29th novel, working title, Detective, potential title Blue Rose: Enchantment and the Detective. The theme statement is: Lady Azure Rose Wishart, the Chancellor of the Fae, supernatural detective, and all around dangerous girl, finds love, solves cases, breaks heads, and plays golf.
Here is the cover proposal for Blue Rose: Enchantment and the Detective.
The most important scene in any novel is the initial scene, but eventually, you have to move to the rising action. I am continuing to write on my 30th novel, working title Red Sonja. I finished my 29th novel, working title Detective. I’m planning to start on number 31, working title Shifter.
How to begin a novel. Number one thought, we need an entertaining idea. I usually encapsulate such an idea with a theme statement. Since I’m writing a new novel, we need a new theme statement. Here is an initial cut.
For novel 30: Red Sonja, a Soviet spy, infiltrates the X-plane programs at Edwards AFB as a test pilot’s administrative clerk, learns about freedom, and is redeemed.
For novel 31: Deirdre and Sorcha are redirected to French finishing school where they discover difficult mysteries, people, and events.
Here is the scene development outline:
1. Scene input (comes from the previous scene output or is an initial scene)
2. Write the scene setting (place, time, stuff, and characters)
3. Imagine the output, creative elements, plot, telic flaw resolution (climax) and develop the tension and release.
4. Write the scene using the output and creative elements to build the tension.
5. Write the release
6. Write the kicker
Today: Why don’t we go back to the basics and just writing a novel? I can tell you what I do, and show you how I go about putting a novel together. We can start with developing an idea then move into the details of the writing.
To start a novel, I picture an initial scene. I may start from a protagonist or just launch into mental development of an initial scene. I get the idea for an initial scene from all kinds of sources. To help get the creative juices flowing, let’s look at the initial scene.
1. Meeting between the protagonist and the antagonist or the protagonist’s helper
2. Action point in the plot
3. Buildup to an exciting scene
4. Indirect introduction of the protagonist
Ideas. We need ideas. Ideas allow us to figure out the protagonist and the telic flaw. Ideas don’t come fully armed from the mind of Zeus. We need to cultivate ideas.
1. Read novels.
2. Fill your mind with good stuff—basically the stuff you want to write about.
3. Figure out what will build ideas in your mind and what will kill ideas in your mind.
6. Make the catharsis.
The development of ideas is based on study and research, but it is also based on creativity. Creativity is the extrapolation of older ideas to form new ones or to present old ideas in a new form. It is a reflection of something new created with ties to the history, science, and logic (the intellect). Creativity requires consuming, thinking, and producing.
If we have filled our mind with all kinds of information and ideas, we are ready to become creative. Creativity means the extrapolation of older ideas to form new ones or to present old ideas in a new form. Literally, we are seeing the world in a new way, or actually, we are seeing some part of the world in a new way.
I’ve worked through creativity and the protagonist. The ultimate point is that if you properly develop your protagonist, you have created your novel. I should move back to the initial scene, but I’ve been writing about showing and not telling in my short form blog, and I want to expand that out a bit in this blog. Let’s move on to perhaps the most important feature of the novel: showing and not telling.
Novelists are not storytellers. Novelists are story-showers. I hope you have heard the fiction writer’s adage: show and don’t tell. This is the most important aspect of the internal construction of the novel.
I will reveal that in reviewing a recent self-published author’s book, I was compelled by the wholesale telling in the book, I can’t call it a novel, that I had to address each area where the author failed to show. That’s where I came up with the following list:
Show and don’t tell.
Omniscient voice is poop.
Only write what the characters saw, tasted, felt, smelled, heard, said, or any action.
Identity is a problem.
It’s all about dialog.
Perfect tense can be a problem.
It’s all about the senses.
Don’t be boring.
Eating is living and dialog.
Creativity and senses.
Start with scene setting.
Make it sense setting.
So just what does it mean to show and not tell? This seems to be a very difficult question for new writers as well as a source of contention for experienced writers. It seems that many writers can’t agree or even concede on what showing vs. telling really means. Not to worry—I have the answer.
Make it sense setting. When we set scenes, we set: time, place, characters, and stuff. Each of these is a setting element. When a setting element is used by a character, it becomes a creative element. Creative elements are Chekov’s Guns.
What this effectively means is that anything and everything the author describes is effectively a creative element and a Chekov’s Gun. I’m not warning you about restricting your descriptions of time, place, characters, or stuff, but obviously, if any of this doesn’t relate to the resolution of the telic flaw, don’t set it. With that in mind, does that mean we should restrict our setting elements, for example, time, place, characters, or stuff?
I would like to write, never restrict your setting elements in time and place, but if you constantly and in a checklist method list the time, weather, and etc. in each scene setting, you might be going overboard. I write this very judiciously because I’ve rarely seen too much description in a modern novel. You need to always set the time. Weather happens to be a setting element and should be a creative element in the scene. If the weather isn’t worth mentioning, there is no reason to set it. On the other hand, the weather is usually a specific setting element that needs to turn into a creative element. For example, if it is raining, a setting element, the characters must react differently due to the rain. They will not have outdoor garden parties. They will carry umbrellas. They will seek out warm and dry places. They will act appropriately to the conditions of the weather. Now, just sticking in a rainy day is a nice touch, but if you notice, the purpose of the author introducing rain into the novel, should be the actions of the characters. Likewise, the actions of the characters always move the novel toward the telic flaw resolution. If rain has nothing to do with forcing the movements of the characters or the telic flaw resolution, then it might be better to leave it out. On the other hand, you can’t have Britain or London without heavy skies and fog. A novel about Britain or the Pacific Northwest can’t be a novel about either without poor weather. Further, a novel about the Northeast in the USA can’t be a novel about the Northeast without setting the weather. In the Southwest of the USA, you can get away with hot. In the South, you will also have hot, but with thunderstorms. In other words, you can’t set a place without addressing the weather. So I’ve come full circle on this, but I hope you get my point.
Here’s the point. Weather is a setting element. You need to set the weather, just as you must set the time and place. Weather is a feature of each place, and not setting the weather is like not setting the place; however, if the weather isn’t a factor in the actions of the characters, then it just remains a setting element. That’s okay, but I’d much rather you turn the setting elements into creative elements and use them in the context of the novel. Stuff in the setting are similar to weather.
Everywhere and every place is filled with stuff—the question is what stuff should we describe in the setting? What of all the potential stuff we can describe should we then make into creative elements? I’d like to say it’s like the weather. Weather is a required setting element. If you go to the trouble of setting the weather, I expect you to use it—it becomes a creative element. Likewise, I expect you to make any stuff you describe into a creative element. It should also be a Chekov’s Gun.
For example, I might give a general description of a weapon’s rack and mention that it has various long weapons on it. I might describe one or two of these items in detail. The best means to describe these items is to have a character inspect them, pick them up, hold them. In this way, these items have become creative elements. The fact I have described them in detail means I have intentionally or unintentionally made them into Chekov’s Guns. Now, if I simply have the characters discard the weapons, and they never come up again, I have likely wasted my writing and setting. There are; however, more reasons for characters touching and making such items creative elements. They are always potential Chekov’s Guns, but for an entirely different reason than use. For example, the character might be mentioning the weapons or weapon for the purpose of expressing their personal or professional interest. Remember, we are showing and not telling. One of the best ways to show that a character is an expert in ancient weapons or ancient history is to have him or her examine the weapons and express something about them. Another character might ask or say, “Why are you so interested in long swords?” The dialog then allows the author to explain the interest of the character. This is showing. Here’s an example from my writing. This is from Valeska: Enchantment and the Vampire:
Leila laughed, “That’s another question. I get to ask one first.” They arrived at the end of the portrait hallway and a large double door. Leila grasped the handle and opened the door. They entered into an enormous room filled with armor and weapons. It looked like a museum. Leila gestured at the room, “This is the Hastings collection of arms and armor. It goes back to the battle…”
Leila smiled, “Of course. I knew you would like this. All the boys and I were completely entranced. The girls, not so much. Here, little Leila learned how different she was from the other girls. I love this place. I love to study and draw these pieces. My family thought I would be an artist—I didn’t want to draw firearms, I wanted to design and make firearms. If we get the time, I’ll show you where I shot my first pistol, and where I made my first pistol. If they didn’t isolate me because of my mother and father, they did because I wasn’t a little girl like I was supposed to be. I wanted to create things, and they all tried to keep me from it.”
“Why keep you from it?”
“That is another question. I still haven’t asked my first one. Look around all you like. I could spend the entire holiday in this room.” Leila released George’s hand. She pulled herself up on an armor rack and sat on top. She slouched slightly and kicked out her legs, “Here is my question.”
George started to examine the weapons in the room, “Go ahead.”
“How do you know my Grandfather, Aleksandr Diakonov?”
George carefully studied a flintlock, “I really can’t tell you.”
Leila pouted, “You can’t ruin the game so soon.”
“It isn’t a game if it includes my work.”
“Yeah, I guessed that it was the work…the only other questions I have are ones I know you won’t answer. Plus, I get the feeling that you really don’t want to play my game.”
George moved on to another ancient weapon, “I’ll ask you another question while you think of one.”
Leila squinted her eyes and moved her head to one side then the other, “I guess...if it continues the game.”
George didn’t look at her, “What’s with you and Lindy Long.”
George glanced at her.
Leila kicked her feet harder, “Lindy runs the armory—you know that.”
“Didn’t, but I should. Wait, let me guess—she noticed you modified your firearms…”
“Yessss…” Leila strung out the word. She sniffed, “It really wasn’t her fault. I should have known she would report it. The moment Sveta heard, she told Daniel. Daniel dropped the boom.”
“Why do you continue to work for them—it doesn’t sound like you like it.”
“I don’t, but I’m really good at it.”
George made a sound. He didn’t dare turn around.
Leila kicked off her shoes, “I know you’re laughing at me. That’s okay. Everyone laughs at me. I am very good at what I do—I’m perhaps the only person in the world who can do it.”
“What is that?”
“That I can’t tell you.”
“It’s part of work?”
“Of course it is part of the work—it is my work. I don’t work with others—except Scáth, and she isn’t really that helpful.” Leila gave a deep sigh, “I know you don’t like me. I think you like me even less now.”
“Why? Because of what you told me about yourself?”
“Yes—I realize I’m a strange person. You are a normal one and a gentleman. I’ll tell you something else about me—it’s about my name.”
“My namesake was a horrible and evil goddess—a true Goddess of Darkness. She likely started the Second World War. She became the impetus for Stalin’s murder of millions. She influenced Mao in China. She tried to pervert my Grandmother. She tried to kill my Great-Grandmother and my Great-Grandfather. My Grandmother finally defeated her, but she bears many scars, internal and external, from her fight. I think my Grandmother hates me because of my name. I think they all hate me because of my name.”
George turned around.
Leila still sat on the rack. She kicked out her feet, “I know my family hates my name. That’s another reason my sister could stand the taunts, and I could not. They didn’t taunt her because of her name. She was named after my most famous Great-Grandmother, Leora Bolang. My sister was Miss Perfect, the new Goddess of Light. I am the Goddess of Darkness. They don’t just hate my name, they hate me because they know what I can do.”
George turned back to the cases, but he kept Leila in sight, “What can you do?”
Leila took out a pad and pencil. George didn’t realize she carried anything. She began to draw. George made a long investigation of the contents of the room. When George finished looking, Leila jumped down from her perch. Her pad and pencil had disappeared. She held on to George as she pulled back on her shoes. She grasped George’s hand and led him through the other rooms in the lower part of the house. By the time they returned to the front of the building, the sun already dropped below the horizon. Leila let go of his hand, “You should get Heidi. The festivities will start soon. I wouldn’t want her to miss them.”
Here, the setting is a room filled with weapons. If you notice, I don’t make any of them setting elements or creative elements. The point of the room however, is the conversation it allows my characters to have—or not have. You notice they are both talking about great secrets. They share great secrets, and the setting allows them to bring up these subjects but not continue them. This is the point of the setting and the few setting elements. If you notice, a couple of the setting elements are turned into creative elements: the shoes and the drawing pad. A pistol is brought up, but not described, yet.
Here’s the point. Most authors don’t do enough setting. The setting you do, should always support the movement of the novel to the telic flaw resolution. Generic setting produces great opportunities. Specific setting produces creative elements, most of which must or should become Chekov’s Guns—stuff you use in the resolution of the telic flaw. I should also mention that 100 words are usually sufficient for a common item description. Special items might require more, but about 100 words are sufficient for most items that are used as creative elements and Chekov’s guns.
The beginning of creativity is study and effort. We can use this to extrapolate to creativity. In addition, we need to look at recording ideas and working with ideas.
For more information, you can visit my author site http://www.ldalford.com/, and my individual novel websites:
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