Monthly Archives: August 2016

August Meetup

The discussion this month was Spec Fic Chic’s upcoming anthology. Things are happening.  We now have a name, a design for the cover and a growing list of stories to showcase our members’ work, including science fiction, fantasy, steampunk and suspense.

This month’s critique featured a delightful time-slipping fantasy short story, for possible inclusion in our upcoming anthology. Discussions centred on description, symbolism and word choices.

August meet-up was not at the library, due to my convalescence and no-drive status for a few more weeks. We should be returning to the library by the end of September.


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Toolbox – Setting and Description

I’m a Dungeon & Dragons player from way back. The best part about Dungeon Mastering was world building. I love world building! I love doing the research, drawing up maps, populating the world and figuring out what makes it tick.  So onto July’s toolbox – setting and description.

What is a setting?

The story’s setting is the surroundings in which a scene or story is set. Setting consists of:

  • environment
  • time
  • place

Setting can be used to show atmosphere or even be a source of conflict for the protagonist.

The trick is avoid info-dumping. You can’t just roll out the gaming map, plop it on the table and slam the reader with everything at once. It needs to be hinted at, an atmosphere created using descriptions, the character’s actions and point of view (which leads into next month’s toolbox). You need to show, not tell. Show the smell of the gum trees, the sound of the leaves rustling in the wind, the feel of the tip of the blade.

Descriptions are shown through a point of view, whether a character, camera or omniscient. If a character is a painter, setting descriptions may revolve around colours, hues, balance, line – things a painter is familiar with. If a scientist, descriptions may be more technical. Make the description active, part of the story. Use all of the senses – smell, touch, hearing, taste and not just sight.

The level of description will vary in different genres. Rule of thumb: the more exotic or foreign the setting, the more description will be required – such in in fantasy or historical genres. Action stories use less description due the the fast pace – the character doesn’t have time to stop and smell the roses! Description can be used to increase tension or build unease in paranormal or horror stories.

I was reminded to be careful of name dropping. Check on trademark, copyright and avoid disparaging known names. (Most writers can’t afford law suits.)

Finally (and this is a hard one for me), try not to let description hold you up on your first draft. Now I’m off to work out the rules of magic for a new story… And draw another map.

-Karen J Carlisle

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Toolbox – Plot and Conflict

July’s Toolbox topic was Plot and Conflict. First we discussed plot vs. character.


We revisited the Aristotle Incline, the universal three act plot structure. The three act structure has stood the test of time and is used in plays, television and film.

  • Act 1: exposition/introduction/set up/beginning – The main characters are introduced. Act 1 culminates with the protagonist facing an incident or problem (first turning point), which will change their life and raises a question (hopefully answered at the end of the story).
  • Act 2: Rising Action/middle – The protagonist attempts to resolve the situation and the questions that arise from the turning point. They need to learn new skills or development emotionally to find a way to overcome the situation or antagonist.
  • Act 3: Resolution/end – the story (and subplots) are resolved (smallest first), ending in a climax in which the protagonist uses their new skills and personal development to overcome, completing the character arc.

Methods of creating the plot were discussed, including the snowflake method and pantsing vs. plotting.

  • Pantsing – you put pen to paper and just let your imagination run riot. You never know where you’ll end up.
  • Plotting – forming a framework, based on beginning, turning point, rising action – with subplots, clues and obstacles – a climax and wrapping up of subplots and character arc. This can be sketchy or detailed.
  • Snowflake method – Start with a sentence to summarise the story. Next describe the story set up, the characters, major conflicts and how the story ends. Expand on each character, their storyline, motivations, goals. With each step, you expand on the story until you have a detailed outline.

We discussed the ‘Hero’s journey’: uncertainty to commitment, tested with consequences, decending into ‘the underworld’ (can be literal or symbolic), confronting their own weakness. Small tests culminate in a big test (climax) and their reward or treasure is achieved. They then return to their ‘real world’, confront the original situation where they need to reassess and deal with the problem, using what they have learned on their travels.

I was reminded of two quotes:

  • The villian’s job is to produced a hero. If he doesn’t create one, then he fails.
  • Everyone is the hero in their own story (even the villian).
Books recommended by members were:
  1. Chapter after Chapter by Hether Sellers
  2. Save the Cat by Blake Snyder (on beats in a storyline).
  3. Story Structure Architect by Victoria Lynn Schmidt
  4. Level up your Life by Steve Kamb. (Heroes Journey)
  5. The Snowflake Method – talk at ACFW, 2011, by Randy Ingermansen

So much to discuss in so little time. After the meeting had ended, we decided we’d need to revisit Plot and Conflict.

-Karen J Carlisle.

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