Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Plotting resources

Janet Fox talks about plotting on her blog this week.

As I read her post (where she talks about using a plot chart, the 3 act structure, and turning points--which are placed in specific points in her books), I glanced at my bookshelf. Although I have a few books which discuss plot, I don't own many books that focus on plot. I have three: Story, a screenwriting book by Robert McKee, Aristotle's Poetics (of course), and The Hero with A Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell. In addition I have notes from some great lectures given by M. T. Anderson on structure (and plot) while I was attending Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Janet includes an excerpt from an article she wrote in her blog post, and it's worth heading over to her blog to read that.
The complete article is included in a book titled Advanced Plotting. Several authors contributed to this book, so I assume a wide range of approaches to plot are discussed in the book.
Until September 3rd this book is free!! (After the promo it is 99 cents.)

So if you want to read several writers' thoughts on plot head over to Janet's blog where there are links and the code you can enter for the free e-book.

Do you have any favorite writing craft books that focus on plot?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Fictional Reality without Manipulation

Until I became a writer, I did not notice the puppet strings that make a story work. Now the strings are obvious to me when I read, as obvious as thick ropes.

Kathy Cowley, a documentary filmmaker, discusses filming decisions in a blog post, "In Which I Attempt Not to Manipulate You or Take Advantage of My Subjects" (Her current project is a year long documentary called Days of Film.)

Since I read her post, I've been contemplating manipulation in stories.

She writes, "emotion is powerful, and can also be manipulative." Later in her blog post, she adds, talking about some films: "I'm upset, because I feel like I've been manipulated as a viewer."

When a story works well, the reader enters the setting, walks in the shoes of the character, and experiences strong emotions.  The writer crafts a story to make a fictional reality, so it is critical to understand writing craft as well as how to create characters who experience real emotions, but where and how does the writer cross the line into manipulating of the reader?

Kathy Cowley also wrote,
"What is the key to being an ethical documentarian? Thinking about it. Reevaluating. Asking myself tough questions. I think this is something every documentary filmmaker should consider, because film is too powerful a medium to be used carelessly."
The same is true for writers. Story (and books) are a powerful medium.

Because I respect both the reader and the story I am telling, I don't want to fall into the trap of manipulation. By understanding writing craft and knowing how I use the puppet strings, I can make sure I am not manipulating readers. Ideally, my stories use the film equivalent of a well done blue or green screen and my sleight of hand will be unnoticed.

In the end, it is most important for me to focus on telling a story well, but it is also important for me to pay attention to craft and understand how I create the illusions, the effects, the smokes and shadows, a fictional reality.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Culture and Stories: Thoughts on the TED talk by Elif Shafak: The politics of fiction

I’m intrigued by culture and fiction and especially the place where they intersect. My fascination with cultures began when I was a child reader. I loved reading books that took me into other times and to other places, places I never dreamed I might have a chance to visit.  I grew up and through a series of events and choices, I became a global nomad who moves every couple years to a different country. Crossing into other cultures is part of my reality, and it comes with a unique mix of challenges and joy and discovery. Now, as a writer, my questions about cultures (and how one moves between them) enter my work. So anytime a writer talks about story and culture, I'm interested.

Elif Shafak, an international author, gave a TED talk where she discusses identity and stories and boundaries and cultural ghettos. She crosses, or as she puts it, she commutes between cultures. (After listening to her talk, I want to read her novels.)

Her talk is also available on the TED site (with transcript and translations) here, plus the TED site also has a nice bio.

How do we write our stories?
How do we read?
Do we cross boundaries and explore the world, or do we stay in our safe, small community?

Each place has its own stories and fiction, yet the stories of each place exert influence on other places. We can learn all sorts of information and “facts” from nonfiction and history books and the news, but it is through fiction that we can, for a short period of time, truly enter and experience another person’s life and other cultures.

Story is a way to experience the world. As Shafak says, stories “connect all humanity.”

Here are some other links to people and blogs that talk about culture and fiction: Adichie Chimamanda, and the author, Uma Krishnaswami.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Write At Your Own Risk--a new blog

Faculty of the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults launched a wonderful group blog,
Write at Your Own Risk.

This is a blog I will be following.
Contributors include authors Louise Hawes, Uma Krishnaswami, Coe Booth, Susan Fletcher, Leda Schubert, Sarah Ellis, and Mark Karlins.

Check out my photo on their masthead.
(The center one with the words. They mention it in their first post here.