Reblog: Want to Build Tension? Encourage the Reader to Ask Questions — Angela Ackerman

Today’s reblog comes from Angela Ackerman, guest-posting on Jane Friedman’s blog. She discusses how to use the push and pull of tension to draw the reader in and keep them wondering what will happen next.

We can make good use of the reader’s need to know by building scenes that cater to it. For example, imagine a jerk character in our story who is dating two women, Alice and Shai. Neither is aware of the other, which is just how Logan wants to keep it. But in an epic goof, he asks them both to meet him for dinner at the same restaurant on the same night.

When the women arrive (at the same time, of course), that’s conflict. When they both cross the room, unaware they’re meeting the same man, that’s tension.

Tension draws readers in by causing them to mentally ask questions:

Will the women find out Logan’s dating them both?

Will he worm his way out of it somehow?

What will the women do?

Will there be a big blowout?

Strong tension follows a pattern of pull-and-release—meaning, you let the tension build until it reaches its peak then resolve it by answering some of those unspoken questions.

Read the rest over at Jane Friedman’s blog…

Reblog: The Mystery Box Is Broken — Justin Kownacki

Today’s reblog is courtesy of Justin Kawnacki, who discusses the “mystery box” style of storytelling, as popularized by J.J. Abrams and the show LOST. This kind of storytelling has driven many of the biggest successes on TV and streaming in the last decade or two.

Still, shows like LOST and Game of Thrones prove that just because you can capture audience attention with this formula, it isn’t necessarily easy to wrap up these shows in a satisfying way, or even in a way that avoids outright enraging your audience.

In the case of Lost, those myseries were compelling questions like: Who are all these people? Where are they? Why are they there? (When are they there?) How did their plane crash? How will they survive? What unseen force is behind all of this? Who can we trust?

In the Abrams formula for storytelling, more mysteries = better stories, because every new answer creates more new questions. This means the audience will keep coming back to scratch their intellectual itch, and spread the word about the mysteries in the process.

To be fair, in the case of Lost and other stories that have used this model — including Game of ThronesWestworld, and nearly every Christopher Nolan film — he’s mostly right. Audiences do love mysteries, and they enjoy trying to piece hidden clues together in order to see if they can figure out the ending before everyone else does.

But: a mystery is not necessarily a story.

In theory, there’s nothing wrong with using the Mystery Box as a storytelling tool.

The problem is the way it’s been used, and the troubling effect it’s had on audiences.

Let’s take a look at the impact of the Mystery Box on pop culture, and then consider one tweak to the formula that could fix nearly everything that’s wrong with it.

Read the rest over at Justin Kownacki‘s blog…

Reblog: Why Plots Fail — Tiffany Yates Martin

Today’s reblog comes from Tiffany Yates Martin over at Jane Friedman’s blog. She discusses some reasons why plots can fail, because the important components aren’t working in harmony.

Many authors embark on a new manuscript with one of two common inspirations: a great idea for a plot, or a fascinating character and situation.

Both can be good springboards for story, yet without more development, each may result in stories that peter out, dead end, or get lost in rabbit holes (especially during the breakneck pace of NaNo).

Plots most commonly fail when:

  • they’re approached as an isolated element of story, a series of interesting events for authors to plug their characters into, or
  • when interesting characters are randomly loosed into an intriguing situation with no specific destination or purpose.

Read the rest on Jane Friedman’s blog…

Reblog — How to Be a Professional Author… — Chuck Wendig

Alright, the full title of today’s reblog is “How to Be a Professional Author and Not Die Screaming and Starving in a Lightless Abyss.” Hyperbole is Wendig’s brand. This is also a two-for-one deal, because Chuck takes as his inspiration Heather Demetrios’ Medium post, “How to Lose a Third of a Million Dollars Without Even Trying.”

Heather was a debut author who had some success early on, and made the mistake of assuming that would equate to the authorial equivalent of a steady paycheck. She found out the hard way that one or two big advances do not necessarily mean that subsequent novels will fetch the same amount of money, especially for new authors.

Most authors write for the joy of the art. Unfortunately, if you also want to make a living with your art, business savvy becomes a significant concern. Most professional authors make a fairly modest income, and it doesn’t come in the form of twice-monthly paychecks or health insurance.

Demetrios advice comes in the form of a list of regrets, in the hopes that other authors won’t make the same mistakes she did. Wendig adds his own rambling advice as a successful professional writer with quite a few years’ experience.

I feel deeply for the writer, because this shit we do comes with no real map. No creative map, no story map, no industry map, no money map. “HERE IS A BUNCH OF MONEY,” a sinister shadowy figure says in an alley. “IN SIX MONTHS, WE WILL EXTRACT FROM YOU A BOOK, AND THEN THE DEAL IS COMPLETE.” And then the shadowy figure is gone, and all you’re left with is the crisp smell of burning paper and a mysterious whisper in the well of your ear that says, “deckle edge.”

But, the good news is, there exist answers to a lot of these conundrums, and so I’m going to do some painting-with-shotguns here and try to broad-stroke some thoughts and answers about the challenges this writer faced in her Authorial Journey.

Read the rest over at Wendig’s blog, TerribleMinds…

Reblog: So You’ve Decided to Unfollow Me — Cory Doctorow

In today’s reblog, the insanely prolific author, blogger, tweeter, speaker, etc. Cory Doctorow gets a little misty-eyed for the days of yore, when the internet was all about finding the little corners where people liked the same things you liked and you all could collectively geek-out over it.

Doctorow is of the opinion that the rise of social media, cross-site user tracking and online advertising empires drew people away from many of those hidden corners of the internet and encouraged websites to cast the widest-possible nets, seeking sheer number of views over engaged communities.

Whether or not you believe that narrative, it does seem like we’ve lost some of that early internet magic. Doctorow is here to remind us that we don’t have to try to please everyone. We don’t have to chase those big, but barely-engaged viewer numbers. It’s better to build that little corner of the internet that’s all about the thing you love. It’s better to get together with a few people who also love that thing.

It’s hard to overstate how liberating the early years of internet publishing were. After a century of publishing driven by the needs of an audience, we could finally switch to a model driven by the interests of writers.

That meant that instead of trying to figure out what some “demographic” wanted to read about, we wrote what we wanted to read, and then waited for people who share our interests to show up and read and comment and write their own blogs and newsletters and whatnot.

[…]

In the golden years of internet publishing, the point was to find the weirdos who liked the same stuff as you. Freed from commercial imperatives, the focus of the blogosphere was primarily on using your work as a beacon to locate Your People, who were so diffuse and disorganized that there was no other way to find them.

That’s the dynamic behind the explosion of fandoms and fanfic, behind esoteric maker communities and weird collector rabbit-holes, behind conspiratorialism and fringe politics and the whole loompanic wonderment of it all.

Read the rest over on Cory Doctorow’s Medium site

Reblog: 7 Writing Tips from Dune — Justin Kownacki

Dune was one of my favorite movies of the past couple years. The book is a sci-fi classic with clear opportunities for a blockbuster Hollywood treatment, but over the decades we’ve only gotten a couple…flawed…attempts to adapt it to the large and small screen.

For me, the Denis Villeneuve movie finally hit that sweet spot where it follows the book, but isn’t afraid to make the story its own. All the pieces fit together. It feels like Dune. I can’t wait for part 2 to release.

I found Justin Kownacki’s blog recently, and I love the way he digs deep into storytelling. In this article, he provides a phenomenal analysis of Villeneuve’s Dune, and points out several elements that make it work so well.

Special effects aren’t the only reason why Frank Herbert‘s 1965 sci-fi novel Dune has been so notoriously hard to adapt for film or TV. The first book in Herbert’s epic saga introduces readers to a complex story world that spans across multiple planets, political conflicts, alien technologies, and secretive religions. Squeezing it all into one film — even at 2.5 hours long — was always going to be a tough job.

The 2021 adaptation of Dune by writer-director Denis Villeneuve and screenwriters Eric Roth and John Spaights solves this problem by cutting the story of the Dune novel in half. Although this choice angered some critics who feel like the movie “just ends in the middle of the story,” it actually ends at a point that satisfies the script’s central question. So while this choice may not be satisfying in the traditional “what happens next” sense, it does work in the “what change is this film trying to document” sense.

But in order for Dune to work at all, its screenwriters had to tell a lot of story at a relatively brisk pace. (In fact, while I thought pacing was one of the places where Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 fell short, I’d say he just about nails it in Dune.)

So, why does Dune work so well as an adaptation?

Let’s look at seven ways Villeneuve, Roth, and Spaights solved some of the biggest problems in any epic adaptation: exposition, story structure and the pace of information.

Check out the rest over at Justin Kownacki’s blog!

Reblog: Why It’s Important To Finish Your S**t — Chuck Wendig

Have you started a writing project, only to feel your enthusiasm wane partway through? Do you find yourself with notebooks or folders full of half-baked ideas? Are you thinking about putting aside the current thing for a much more exciting thing you just thought of, right now?

Well, Chuck Wendig is back with a motivational and deeply bizarre rant/list of eight reasons why you should finish the thing you started.

Point is: whether you’re doing NaNoWriMo or not, I want to remind you:

It is vital that you learn to complete what you begin.

Finish. Your. Shit.

I know. You’re stammering, “Guh, buh, whuh — but I’m not really feeling it, I have a better idea in mind, it’s hard, I think I’d rather just lay on my belly and plunge my face into a plate of pie.”

I’d rather do that, too.

I mean, c’mon. Prone-position face-pie? Delicious. Amazing. Transformative.

[…]

Here’s why I think it’s essential to learn how to finish what you begin when it comes to writing, no matter how much you don’t want to, no matter how much you’re “not feeling it,” no matter how much pie you have placed on the floor in anticipation of laying there and eating it all.

(If you’re not familiar with Wendig and are squeamish about cursing, violent imagery, or deeply weird metaphors, be aware that this post contains quite a lot of all of those things.)

Check out the rest on Wendig’s blog, Terrible Minds…

Reblog: Conflict is Only One Way to Think About Stories —Lincoln Michel

Lincoln Michel always delights me with his thoughtful posts about writing. He occupies an interesting position as one of those rare authors who is deep into both literary and genre fiction. In this post, he continues his grand quest to convince Writing Twitter that there is no one true way to write a story.

In response to the question, “Do all stories have conflicts?” he takes us on a journey through Aristotle and Freytag, kishōtenketsu, Vonnegut’s “character fortunes,” and other ways to think about and model a story.

The point here is these are all different metaphors, different models, to think about stories. None of them are “right” or “wrong.” None of them are universally applicable to all types of text that one might call “a story.” At the same time, these models are frequently overlapping and a single story can be mapped onto a dozen different models.

Read the rest over at Lincoln’s Substack, Counter Craft…

Reblog: Cubing, One Person Brainstorming — Firewater

This week’s reblog is a brainstorming technique explained by the pseudonymous Firewater. The goal is to expand upon an idea by thinking about it in several different ways and making unexpected connections.

The idea of the Cube is just a way to visualize a thing, person, place or emotion that you are writing about. As a cube has six sides, this writing exercise includes six aspects that you keep in mind while you are writing. Since this is one-person brainstorming, you aren’t meant to spend more than 3-to-5 minutes on each aspect.

Read more over at Firewater’s Site…

Martian Magazine — Year 2

As an occasional writer and frequent reader of drabbles (exactly 100-word stories), I don’t think there can be any doubt that Martian magazine hosts the best of the form. They’re a web-zine that has published a science fiction drabble every week for the past year, and they pay authors professional rates. If you prefer your drabbles in themed anthologies, they’re doing that too!

Now, they’re running a Kickstarter to fund their second year, with hopes of expanding. They have all manner of physical and e-book rewards available. I don’t have any skin in the game—I just like what they’re doing, and I’d love to see them get to do more of it.

Check out their post here, and the Kickstarter here.