Author Archives: specficchic

September Critiques

Things are happening. Three short stories, destined for our upcoming anthology, were critiqued this month. Prepare yourselves for dragons, gadgets and a dalliance with the Fae.

We discussed description, show/not tell, the origins of words and symbolism. Altering one word can change the meaning of a paragraph, or clarify the intent of a scene.

The quote for the day:
Other languages borrow words. English lures people down a dark alley, knocks them on the head and goes through their pockets looking for loose grammar.” (unknown meme).

 

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Toolbox – Point of View and Characters

This week we discussed point of view and characters. We did a little fact finding, then discussed how we could use this to improve the characters in our current works-in-progress.

Characters:

You need to know what makes your character tick if you are going to write from their perspective.  There are things like eye colour, height, foibles and background. But these alone do not a character make. What are their likes, their GOALS, their MOTIVES? How do they react to other characters? How do they handle conflict? How does the character change by the end of the story (character arc)? Goals push a story forward, through the conflicts and must become needs or the character may quit before the end.

There are many worksheets, found on the internet, to help nut out the details for your characters. Just remember the more characters, the more work you are making for yourself. You can write pages on the character or start with what is needed for the story, and fill in the blanks as you go along.

What is POV?

Point of View is the perspective through which a story is told – how a writer lets a reader see, hear and experience a story. The POV chosen can influence the reader, making them more distant or involved in the story and the characters.
So choose wisely.

How to choose a POV.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • How many POVs do I need to tell the story?
  • Do I want the reader to remain distant or becoming more emotionally involved with the characters?
  • Do I want the story in a character’s POV or the author’s POV?

Here’s some information that may help you decide.

Types of POV.

First Person: This is currently popular in YA fiction. The story is told from the main character’s POV, using I/me/my, bringing the reader closer to the main character – in his or her headspace.

Second Person: This is less commonly used. The story speaks directly to the you, the reader, using you/your. It is more personal and places the reader into the story. However if the ‘you’ does something the reader is uncomfortable with, they may stop reading.

Third Person: The story is told from the POV of multiple characters and is the most popular form of POV. There are several types of third person POV:

  • Omniscient – The story is told from an all-knowing point of view. We know what all the characters know, feel or think. This POV was popular in 19th century literature. It creates distance but can be confusing if not done well due to the feeling of  head hopping, and is cautioned against in modern writing. An example of omniscient writing is Pride and Prejudice or War and Peace.
  • Third Person Limited – The story is told from the perspective of one character only. We do not get any insight into what other characters are actually thinking or feeling. This is popular in modern writing and creates distance.
  • Deep POV: This is becoming more popular. The story is told in one character’s POV (usually the hero). We see deep into the character’s thought, feel what they feel and experience the story through their voice. There is no ‘she thought’  but instead we read direct thoughts. This provides more intimacy for the reader.
  • Third Person Multiple –  This provides more options for the writer and the reader. The story is told through more than one charater’s POV. Generally a scene will be from one POV, ie. one POV per scene. However in modern writing a change of POV can be signalled by skipping a few lines (blank) before continuing with a new POV. This is the preferred POV in modern literature.
    Multiple POV can be done via third limited POV, deep POV or first person POV.

But wait, there’s more!

There are also out of character points of view.

  • Camera angle – This is one of my favourites. Imagine being a movie camera, recording the story. You can describe it – what is seen, heard or smelt – but you can’t provide any judgements. No emotions or thoughts. No internalisation. It is best used like an establishing shot, setting the scene or can be used – in short bursts – to create distance. You can see the oranges  of a sunset melting into the sea but you can’t call it beautiful.
  • External narrator – The story is told by a narrator, as if they were retelling the story. The narrator is often a quirky character unto itself. This POV was popular in 17th, 18th and 19th century literature though modern writers, like Terry Pratchett and Douglas Addams, excel at this POV.
  • Shadow or Hand-cuff – Think Agatha Christie. You follow the characters through the story but never really get into their heads. There is no internalisation. Or the game would be given away!

So now ask those questions again:

  • How many POVs do I need to tell the story?
  • Do I want the reader to remain distant or becoming more emotionally involved with the characters?
  • Do I want the story in a character’s POV or the author’s POV?

Did you get the same answers?

Some recommended reading by members:

  1. Rivet Your Readers with Deep Point of View, by Jill Elizabeth Nelson.
  2. Writing 101: Choosing the best POV for your Story.

-Karen J Carlisle

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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.

Plot:

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.
Character:

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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Toolbox – Research tips and Techniques

I don’t know about you but, for me, research (particularly that of the internet variety) can be like falling down a rabbit hole. Don’t get me wrong; sometimes the fall is exhilarating. Sometimes it is just another form of procrastination.

Have you ever spent two hours searching for era-appropriate phrasing or whether a shirt sleeve had a button or cuff link as a closure? My Google-fu fails me regularly. (by the way, it was a button.)

This month, my writing group’s toolbox topic was research tips and techniques.

Something unexpected was unearthed by our discussion. It seems even the meaning of the term research can differ. The online Oxford dictionary defines research as ‘the systematic investigation into and study of materials and sources in order to establish facts and reach new conclusions‘.

To some in our group, ‘reaserch’ meant finding specific proof to back up facts in a pre-written story outline, with research done in response to specific requirements based on the plot points of their story.

To others it was a multi-phase method, sometimes initiated by an idea, a mood, a title or a picture. Most (possibly up to 80%?) research was done before writing – a form of background immersion in a world or timeline (like the writing iceberg.) Once drenched in the ambiance of the chosen topic, we write, letting the story evolve – sometimes plotting, sometimes pantsing – and making notes for further research along the way. Maybe that’s another difference between plotters and pantsers?

I’m a mostly pantser myself. Most stories start with a spark – a photo, a word, an idea. This is usually followed by weeks of research. A first draft follows. I then concentrated on the picky, specific research (see button vs cufflink comment above) as part of my first rewrite (usually when transcribing my handwritten draft to the computer).

Here are some tips for writing research:

  1. What is your writing style/ How much time do you have?
    Are you a pantser – letting your story evolve? Do more pre-research so you know your story’s background well – even if the reader only gets to see the tip of the iceberg. This can work for plotters too but can take more time. If you are more comfortable plotting a story, or have less time to finish your story, then researching specific facts as you go, or after your first draft, may work for you.
  2. Write a list of topics or questions you need answered.
    And stick to these. Don’t go chasing a titbit just because it sounds interesting.
  3. Use ‘TK’ notations in your draft or manuscript.
    As I write, questions arise or facts needed checking. I note them using ‘TK’. This was a method I gleaned from other writers. The letters TK are rarely found together in the English language. A TK computer word-search of the manuscript will pull up all the items needing further research.
  4. Google search: be specific with your questions. 
    eg. ‘Who made jammy dodgers’? / ‘What is the smell produced by the New Model No. 3 Smith and Wesson revolver, using ‘black-powder, centre-fire, metallic revolver cartridge (1882)?’ (is that specific enough?) – this was an actual question I googled for a short story. Maybe it was too specific? It led me to a YouTube video (useful to describe the sound) and book, Chemical Analysis of Firearms, Ammunition, and Gunshot Residue by James Smythe Wallis.
  5. Read and Use Wikipedia footnotes and bibliography
    The problem with Wikipedia is anyone can add to the pages. This means you can’t always believe what you read. Read the footnotes, check out the references. Check facts for yourself.
  6. Don’t forget books!
    Your library is your friend. I can order inter-library loans for research books, if my local doesn’t have it. If I use the book alot, I search online second hand book stores. (I bought a copy of Chemical Anaysis of Firearms, Ammunition, and Gunshot Residue and have used it many times.)
  7. Keep folders (paper or computer) of your research
    I have both. I have boxes for specific story ideas, and computer folders and notebooks on specific research topics.

Some useful websites we use:

  1. Boothe’s Poverty Maps – This is a colour-coded map of 1889 London, showing socio-economic categories of each street.
  2. British History Online – http://www.british-history.ac.uk/catalogue
  3. Centre for History of Medicine (Harvard) – online ‘Curated content from the Center for the History of Medicine’s extraordinary collections’
  4. Google Maps – I often use this in conjunction with Boothe’s Poverty maps.
  5. Gutenberg Project – digitised online books, from many countries, with searchable catalogue.
  6. Trove – historical newspaper clippings held by the National Library of Australia.
  7. UK Census (1881) – others also available online.
  8. Victorian Literary Studies Archive – list of various ‘Victorian era’ webpages

-Karen J Carlisle

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June Critique Meeting

This month’s quest was to ready stories to enter into the upcoming Salisbury Writers’ Festival Short Story Competition. We have til early next month to whip some of our tales into shape.

Today we critiqued five stories – fantasy, horror and steampunk – pondering feline mysteries, revealing interstellar visitors, time travelers and pesky fairies. Much of our discussions were on setting, description and the ever-present show don’t tell.

Spec Fic Chic members were also invited to participate in an exciting endeavour mooted for inclusion in The Fringe, 2016. You will just have to wait for the big reveal next year.

We had the pleasure of the return of one of our founding members today. We are again complete.
Huzzah.

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