Being an author is like being in charge of your own personal insane asylum.

- Graycie Harmon

Friday, September 4, 2009

Some Damned Tough Questions Part II

FICTION

1. What thought have you given to the time the story takes place? Is it in the past, present, future or all three? Have you credibly established a familiarity with the time period?

The story takes place in the distant past. It is, actually, the story behind a myth. As for the credibility factor, I kinda just made everything up, but it is roughly based on late Iron Age Europe.

2. What thought have you given to the location in which your story takes place? Does your narrative convey an intimate familiarity with the location?

Location is interesting. I know the Kwon Continent like the back of my own hand. However, I don't describe the way that Tolkein described locations. That was mostly due to length considerations. I had to take out a great deal of description to cut the manuscript down to a more palatable length..

3. Does the premise provide enough direction to keep all your events and character developments on track?

Apparently so.

4. Is the premise strong enough and clear enough to carry the story to its logical conclusion?

Apparently so.

5. Have you developed the personalities of all your characters to the extent that their participation in the story is absolutely believable, and in keeping with the main premise of the story?

I think so, but it is very difficult for me to be objective about that!

6. Have you developed a sense of conflict, to carry the premise and bring the characters and events a resolution?

Oh have I ever. My poor Julian. How he has suffered.

7. If you have changed the outcome, or resolution, of your premise: have you also changed the first part of the premise? (Have you created a different relationship "from pole to pole"?)

This doesn't really apply, since none of the premise has been changed at all.

8. What, if any, sub premises (smaller contrasts, sub conflicts, movements, transitions) need to be changed along with the major premise?

None... yet. If I get the attention of a publisher, I am so certain that there will be a number of rewrites!

9. With the thoughts you have generated about your premise, do you more fully understand your characters?

I did things backwards. I started with the characters, and the premise just magically appeared.

10. Have you communicated that understanding to the reader?

Again, this is one of those things that is difficult to be objective about. I like to think I have, and the feedback I've received seems to suggest that.

11. Have you treated any character too lightly?

Not to the best of my knowledge. I know that there are some characters that come in and out of my main character's life, just as they do in real life. There are there and then they are gone and sometimes you never hear from them again.

12. Does your premise fit your characters?

Yes, since it developed from my characters!

13. Have your characters carried their situations through to a believable conclusion?

I think so! Again, it's ridiculously hard to be objective.

14. Are all characters' actions and decisions necessary and logical, based upon clearly developed character traits?

I think so. They are definitely necessary. Poor "Dan."

15. Have the main characters been allowed to grow and develop naturally?

Yes. It was the only way they could have developed. I couldn't have forced my hand if I tried. These characters seemed to have a life of their own and all the decisions they made in the story were truly their own decisions. If ever I got stuck at a certain point in the writing of this book, all I'd have to do was walk away from it for a day or two and by the time I sat back down to write, they had figured it out for themselves.

16. Is the pivotal character's defining characteristic apparent either immediately or very soon after the story opens?

Hang on, let me check... Yep. The very first paragraph.

17. Are ALL the characters three-dimensional (with physical, social, and psychological dimensions)?

I believe so. Everyone in this story has issues and problems they must deal with. Some deal with it very well. Others do not.

18. Are ALL the characters likable? (That is, does every character have a quality the audience can empathize or sympathize with?)

There are some characters I personally really don't like very much. There is one character I certainly hope that people don't empathize with, though there are sure to be some people who do. That is a scary thought.

If I may digress from the question, everyone has a motive. Everyone has a reason for doing whatever it is they are doing. Whether or not one agrees with those motives is entirely up to the individual reader. I mean, what would you do if you believed a little boy would one day be responsible for the destruction of the entire world? It gets ambiguous.

19. Are all the characters believable?

To people who read Fantasy, I'm sure they are! I was worried about "Dan" being too good to be true, but the fact of the matter is, he made a deliberate decision to be that way. He was faced with a very tough reality check, but he never really waivered. That's just the incredible guy that "Dan" is.

20. Does each character speak, dress, and behave in a manner consistent with that type of person?

Yeppers. Well, now they do, after some inconsistencies were pointed out by my friends. Thanks guys.

21. Is every situation believable because it springs from the nature of the characters?

Some situations made me very uncomfortable, but I believe it was the characters that pulled me through it. So, to answer the question, yes.

22. Is every contrast, or conflict, true (inherent in the characters), rather than false (contrived)?

I think I've already covered this in a round about way, but I'll say it again. Every time I tried to force the story in the direction I thought it should go, I ended up with a severe bout of writer's block. I couldn't move the story. When I finally relinquished control and just let the characters dictate the story, things started to move again. So, the answer would be, I think so!

Interesting side-note, it can be very dangerous to let the characters decide for themselves. Sometimes the story would go nowhere. It would never end. I was extremely fortunate because there was a definite ending to this one before I even started writing it down. A little tip: you must know how the story ends before the story can begin!

23. Do the changes in each additional character follow from what the audience knows of the person's physical, social, and psychological makeup?

In a word, yes. Some of the changes are extreme. Some don't really change. Like "Dan." He was a good soul from the beginning, and that never changes. He was luckier than everyone else, though!

24. Are the protagonist and the antagonist both extremely strong (uncompromising) characters?

I'm unsure what is meant by this question. Are they in possession of strong personalities? Yes.
Are they strong people? Well, yes, to a degree. I mean Julian was incredibly strong to withstand all that he did, though it changed him. With every experience someone has, it changes them. I get so sick of the "perfect good-guy" who doesn't change at all, who isn't affected by what goes on around him, who can slay the "bad guys" all day and not understand that lives are being lost, who can't smell the blood and who doesn't feel the fear. That is so unrealistic as to be boring.

As for the antagonist, well, it hasn't changed in millions of years.

25. How sharply drawn are the characters? (How definite, definitive, and different from each other?)

Oh, they are all different! Though, Julian is the most different, since that is a major thrust of the narrative.

26. Is your pivotal character really a protagonist, and is your opposing character really an antagonist? (Are you sure you've not confused the two?)

Yes.

27. How satisfied are you with your cast of characters?

Very satisfied. Though "Dan" is by far my favourite.

28. If you're not satisfied: what should you do?

This doesn't apply to me... yet, so I'll throw it open to the audience.

29. Does your opening grab attention?

I have been told it does... though now I am wondering if people weren't just trying to be nice to me.

30. Does it present a character with something vital at stake?

It presents a character, yes. With something vital at stake? I'm not so sure about that. You will certainly know that there is something if you've read the Prologue.

31. If your audience may be bored from the beginning: what can you do about the lack of conflict and tension? You may need to change your point of attack; start by showing there is something vital at stake, and increase the emotional involvement of the characters.

I may...

32. Have you allowed the characters to form the plot and work out their own destinies, or have you forced them to fit a contrived plot?

Already said, but I shall reiterate. They definitely worked out their own destinies!

33. In creating contrasts and situations, have you asked your characters what THEY would do?

I didn't ask, they just went and did it anyway.

34. Does the audience perceive a LOGICAL, STEP-BY-STEP DEVELOPMENT OF THE STORY through a series of sub conflicts and resolutions, each one stemming from the one before it?

Since that's the way the book was written (as in characters would find themselves in situations which, once resolved would lead onto the next), I assume so.

35. Does every movement (sub conflict/transition) lead the relevant characters FROM ONE STATE OF MIND TO ANOTHER, on the way to proving the premise?

Most definitely!

36. Is one belief forced to give in to another?

No. In every action taken, there is an ambiguity about it, and enormous grey area which invites the reader to make their own minds up about any one character's actions. The good guy isn't necessarily that good, and the antagonists might just be right to do what they can to stop him. In the end, I leave that up to the reader to decide.

37. Even if you have a specific message to convey through your story — a message in which you passionately believe — have you avoided "preachiness?"

I certainly hope so. "Dan" gives a little speech on the subject, but that is truly just "Dan's" opinion. The readers are invited to decide for themselves.

38. Somewhat related to the above question: Do you try in every way possible to show rather than tell in order to get your point across and move the story along?

I think so.

39. Have you avoided letting "the writing" get in the way of the story?

I hope so.

40. What POSITIVE things might a discerning audience or critic say about your story, your characters and proof of the premise?

Good grief! This question is too hard! Can I skip it? No? Hmmm... let me think then...

Nope. I have no idea. I shall leave that to the discerning audience or critic.

41. What NEGATIVE things might a discerning audience or critic say?

I'm trying really hard to think about it, I promise. But I think it is a bit too soon after completion to look at my work objectively. I will revisit this question a a couple of months, perhaps.

6 comments:

whqttt said...

A long time ago, a budding writer asked me to be truthfully, brutally honest with what he considered his best piece.

This is a dangerous thing; booker prize winners will still have someone out there who isn't a fan of their work or style, and will rip it to shreds without any mercy.

So, I was honest. Not brutally, but there is only a certain number of ways one can diplomatically say "Look, writing isn't your thing". I tried to be constructive. I explained how he had kept changing tenses, and had a fondness for referring to any character as "he", so in the somewhat painful speech sections, it was virtually impossible to figure out which of the 4 male characters was actually speaking about something.

It was a thorough, unmitigated mess.

It was the equivalent of watching someone kerb their car repeatedly before leaving it lodged on the pavement, and them then asking what you thought of their parking.

I would, in all honestly, not worry about mad questionnaires like this.

It's not an interview; you aren't famous yet.

It cannot possibly be constructive, as it asks broad questions which appear to be trying to show a knowledge of the technical side of writing, and any answers in response are likely to end up looking self-serving.

If you want an opinion of your work, post a few paragraphs of one chapter, either here, or in some cosy writers forum. But be warned, jealousy, intolerance and ignorance abounds. You might, of course, get feedback which is useful. Who knows? The web is full of nutters and know-it-alls.

41. A discerning critic? Surely that's an oxymoron?

S. M. Carrière said...

Self-serving... well, yes, in a way I suppose it would be. Of course, right now I would be self-serving, the whole marketing oneself bit.

No, I'm not yet famous... and the chances of me becoming famous are, I admit, quite limited. Still, I think it was a good set of questions to be confronted with as I pondered my manuscript. Of course you are welcome to disagree. Not everyone is the same, thinks the same, likes the same or knows the same. How boring would the world be if it were actually like that?

An short snippet of my story is up on goodreads.com, and I was planning to post the same here. It will go up sometime after the long weekend (Labour Day weekend here in Canada). You are most welcome to comment, if you like. It is entirely up to me as to whether I take those comments to heart or not.

Of course, harsh comments will make me cringe, and probably cry (because I am, in all truth, a great big sook), but I promise I will not rebuke anyone for their opinion. Let's face it, I dislike things that legions of fans adore and defend vigorously. How can I justify disallowing another opinion?

whqttt said...

To be honest, the questions are very similar to those found on writing courses.

I'm not sure if they are intended to encourage thought about our "art", or just as some sort of ego rub. We can show off how clever we are, because we know the technical side of writing, and can prove it.

The simple truth is that we, as writers, for whatever reason we choose to write, do so because we can.

It goes beyond a technical ability. As a fiction writer, you can quite probably read any random entry on TVtropes and nod knowing that if you used that trope, it's because it fitted the story, and wasn't chosen out of ignorance or naivity.

With criticism, I think, in general as long as it's not 100% poor, then it's okay. It can be ignored.

There have been plenty of successful authors who've had a truckload of rejection letters who have cheerfully ignored the mounting editorial evidence that they are, in fact, talentless hacks, and persevered.

This is the bigger issue; criticism is one thing, having the strength of belief that it's not entirely justified and carry-on, that's the challenge.

Unless you get accepted first time around, then you'll obsess over sales figures.

So yes, you can disallow another opinion, with entire justification.

Look at this another way. Like him or not, Stephen King is a very, very successful writer. Not only sales wise, but often from reviews. Enough of his work has been optioned for film for it to be more than a fluke.

He's as successful as you, I, or most other writers could dream to be.

A few years ago he was run over. He recovered, and his method of coping with it, of bringing closure to an undoubtedly traumatic moment in his life was to buy the van that did it, and beat it with a club.

Now, that's either a really healthy thing, or really not, but shows that he, as an individual is diferent. Doesn't matter if he's a writer or not, he's not the same as you and me.

As an individual, that's all I want. Isn't it the same for you?

S. M. Carrière said...

Do I sense a rebuke?

Are you less than impressed with this post?

I'll deal with your question first. Do I not want to be an individual?
The short answer is yes, of course. The long answer would be: I should think that any author would want to have a unique voice.
But what has this to do with the questionnaire?

"I'm not sure if they are intended to encourage thought about our "art", or just as some sort of ego rub. We can show off how clever we are, because we know the technical side of writing, and can prove it.
"The simple truth is that we, as writers, for whatever reason we choose to write, do so because we can."

First and foremost, the technical side of writing is only one small part of the process. I know many technically capable writers who haven't one straw of imagination and whose perfectly written stories fall hopelessly flat. I know other writers who leave me in absolute awe of their imaginative capabilities, but the technical stuff requires a LOT of work.

For my part, I appreciate more the imaginative, poorly worked tales. In their cases, it's nothing that a good editor cannot fix. It's the technically perfect writers with little imagination that I have no hope for.

Since this is the case, the above questionnaire would be extremely useful in the first stages of considering and reworking a manuscript, and I do not consider it simply "an ego rub."

Of course, you are welcome to disagree.

"It goes beyond a technical ability. As a fiction writer, you can quite probably read any random entry on TVtropes and nod knowing that if you used that trope, it's because it fitted the story, and wasn't chosen out of ignorance or naivity."

I might disagree with that last one. With the exception of the direction from which the threat came, there was no deliberate choice that I personally made in the writing of this story. At least, it feels like it wasn't my decision. I'm not sure if I can explain it adequately to someone who isn't familiar with the sensation.

I've had this argument with a friend of mine who plans everything out in detail before he sits down to write. He finds my style of writing reckless and foolhardy. He might be right, but the fact remains that my characters dictated this story from the beginning and it felt as if I had very little control over it. Of course, these characters live in my imagination, but the important fact remains that these characters live, at least for me.

As for the criticism, it is entirely up to the author to decide which pieces to accept and which to ignore. That said, it might be a wise idea to at least consider the criticisms that are given to you, and not let your "artistic" ego get in the way. This is particularly true if the criticisms are similar across a swath of different critics. Any author that becomes personally crushed by major criticisms, however constructive, will have a very hard time in the publishing industry, so I imagine.

But again, it is entirely up to the individual author. I know there are many edits and criticisms I have outright rejected when my unofficial editors returned my manuscript to me.

As regards to Steven King, good on him for beating up that van! I'm sure it was very therapeutic! But what has that to do with the questionnaire?

whqttt said...

The point is this:

This sort of exercise (and it's almost always labelled as such) tends to not return much to anyone who participates; certainly if you are at the point where you are confident enough to submit work for publication, whether you can justify to yourself that your story meets some of the criteria the questionnaire writer raises, is entirely irrelevant.

Hence the example of Stephen King. He may be a very successful, talented writer, but he clearly functions in a way which you or I probably choose not to. He's comfortable in his own skin.

He doesn't need validation, nor do you.

S. M. Carrière said...

Thank-you for the clarification.

Point well made, and taken. Nevertheless, it was fun and interesting to quiz myself, and it might be a useful tool for others, hence the post.