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  #1  
Old 12-16-2006, 02:32 PM
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DO NOT LOOK AT THIS THREAD!!--that is, UNLESS you want to receive, or offer, advice on methods of writing prose or poetry. That is what this thread is for; and here is my suggested way of operating it.

I, for my part, will NOT use any part of any item written on this forum as an example either of the good OR of the bad. I will either point to well-established literary examples, or make up imaginary pieces of writing to illustrate what's good or bad. I urge any others contributing to this thread to do likewise, so that no one within our forum will feel he or she is being adversely compared to anyone else.

Now for the first lesson, or session, or whatever--let us consider the question of whether "bigger" is always better in fantasy.

When I was a boy, there was a second-string fantasy and sci-fi author named Lin Carter, who founded his career on copycatting better-known authors, notably "Tarzan" creator Edgar Rice Burroughs and "Conan" creator Robert Howard. It seemed that the one way Carter could think of to outdo his predecessors was to be more sensational. So, if a Tarzan story featured a twenty-foot-long monster, Carter would write a story with a thirty-foot-long monster. If a Conan story featured a forty-foot-long monster, Carter would write a story with a fifty-foot-long monster. But no matter how big he made his monsters, Carter could not seem to make his heroes and heroines as interesting as those of the older stories; and so I didn't care as much about whether they survived their encounters with the inflated monsters.

A real-world monster, the Soviet dictator Iosif Stalin, said once that "One death is a tragedy, a million deaths are just a statistic." The old-time sci-fi and horror critic Robert Bloch (who was also the screenwriter for the classic suspense film "Psycho") referred to this saying in one of his essays, when dealing with the overdoing of sensationalism. A reliance on flashy or shocking elements in a story can be like a drug that requires ever-increasing doses; this is often remarked on with regard to recent movies, but it also applies to the written word. Rather than being in an "arms race" over who has the wildest flights of imagination, I feel that authors should focus on creating protagonists and situations that will engage the reader no matter HOW many or few spaceships and enchanted castles are involved. One well-conceived, sympathetic character being in distress or danger in a book should be just as capable of holding the reader's anxious interest as if the author took a Doctor Who approach and insisted on having the entire universe in peril.

There, that was our starter.


Joseph Richard Ravitts, author of "Southward the Tigers"
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Old 12-16-2006, 02:43 PM
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An interesting concept Copper. I've never thought of it that way. Personally i agree with you. One thing i never liked about some stories is how the heroes will be utterly outnumbered, they are doomed statistically, and yet they rise to a top in a flourish of glory. I see how your saying its much better to have firm charecters; but even with that, it makes it so much more real if you don't try to exaggerate everything. And if its not real, your readers loose respect for the story.
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Old 12-16-2006, 02:50 PM
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SITUATIONS AS A LENS

I've gotten to the age where I need to wear progressive bifocals to read or work with tiny parts easily. It's amazing what these lenses do for me to correct for my inability to focus close up.

Writers also uses lenses to bring mental images into sharp focus for their readers. Techniques are the lenses of writers. I hope to share a few of my techniques with you as I have time.

ES
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Old 12-16-2006, 02:55 PM
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I'm sorry ES...i'm not sure what you mean exactly. I hope you can explain it.
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Old 12-16-2006, 03:31 PM
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I also look forward to ES explaining his lenses. Meanwhile, I'll just get one more thought posted about the "bigness" theme.

The Velociraptors in "Jurassic Park" were an up-close-and-personal menace. They were not 300-foot-tall Japanese movie monsters knocking over model skyscrapers; they were terrifying threats to particular individual characters we cared about. The question of whether this or that person would escape from getting munched by the Velociraptors was enough suspense, with no need of a black hole munching the entire galaxy. And while Sam Neill's character was no Superman to dispose of the creatures with ease, it was a moment for cheers when he managed to kick one in the head and keep it from climbing up into the attic.

There, now the deck is clear for the next subject. EveningStar, don't let my suggested guidelines inhibit you from citing your _own_ forum stories for examples of your lenses. I'm sure that your feelings won't be hurt by you commenting about yourself.
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Old 12-16-2006, 04:23 PM
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Yes - I have read a number of books in which the hero or heroine is so unrealistically succesfull as to make the story unexciting. When the hero was attacked by pirates, I didn't have to read on in anxious suspense, I knew that he would somehow cleverly defeat the insurgent without any loss whatsoever. That's another one of the things that makes stories so great, loss. Loss can be a great factor in a story. In the Lord of the Rings, for instance, I cried the first time I read the part about Boromir dying. Other stories have similar losses.
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Old 12-16-2006, 04:39 PM
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TECHNIQUE 1: CLASSICAL RESTRAINT

It's a fact...drop a frog into boiling water and it will hop right out! If you put the frog in cool water over a slow fire, it will stay in the water until it is cooked.

This harkens back to something Copperfox said about making the baddie twice as big or the grief twice as horrible. You do this and you interrupt a delicate process practiced by your reader, called "Suspension of disbelief." They know it's not a true story but while they are reading it they pretend it's true. Do something that interrupts their ability to believe what you say and BOOM, the reader loses interest. When you want a great tragedy in a story you have to gradually warm up the water or your froggy reader will jump out!

The reason for this process is that people have a visceral reaction to what they read. It involves them physically. They may cry, shake, feel warm and fuzzy, get tense with anger. You have to write at a pace that allows the reader to experience the emotions, and emotions do not zip by as quickly as logical assumptions.

I'll give you an example:

BAD WRITING

Shirley came home. She was met at the door by her mother who took her by the arm and said, "I'm sorry. Your Ronald's been killed in action." Shirley screamed and sobbed.

GOOD WRITING

Shirley walked through the door. "Hi, Mom!" She expected her mother to answer right away and was puzzled. "Did I say something wrong?" Her mother looked her in the eyes and held out a trembling hand clutching a telegram. "It's from the War Department...." Shirley dropped her packages in the floor and her hands went to her face. For a while she couldn't utter a sound, then she gasped in a deep breath and let it out in a shriek. Her mother grabbed her and held her tight. "I'm so sorry! Oh baby, I'm so sorry!"

ES
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Old 12-16-2006, 04:43 PM
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Splendido, ES! You seem to be expounding the difference between showing and telling.
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Old 12-16-2006, 05:15 PM
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Maybe its just my dumb-blond moment for the day; but while i understand, i don't see what it has to do with lenses.

While we're on the subject of pacing the readers, how fast is too fast and how slow is too slow? How do you tell when its too wordy, and when its not wordy enough?
A friend of mine is a slower reader than i am. We will edit the same thing and she will think it has too much description. She wants her action, and she wants it then.
Me, i'm a fast reader, and i appreciate a couple descriptive sentances for something important, because otherwise i just skip right over it. I'm afraid that effects my own writing. And, personally, i dislike those books where you gobble them up in five seconds.
So; i repeat my question: How do you know? is there some sort of base standard, or is it just for each writer individually?
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Old 12-16-2006, 05:42 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Copperfox
I also look forward to ES explaining his lenses. Meanwhile, I'll just get one more thought posted about the "bigness" theme.

The Velociraptors in "Jurassic Park" were an up-close-and-personal menace. They were not 300-foot-tall Japanese movie monsters knocking over model skyscrapers; they were terrifying threats to particular individual characters we cared about. The question of whether this or that person would escape from getting munched by the Velociraptors was enough suspense, with no need of a black hole munching the entire galaxy. And while Sam Neill's character was no Superman to dispose of the creatures with ease, it was a moment for cheers when he managed to kick one in the head and keep it from climbing up into the attic.

There, now the deck is clear for the next subject. EveningStar, don't let my suggested guidelines inhibit you from citing your _own_ forum stories for examples of your lenses. I'm sure that your feelings won't be hurt by you commenting about yourself.

Yes but how does a story have to be 'real?' Define 'reality' in a story that is fanfic or fantasy. Take a look at my fanfic. Clearly it's not 'real' in any sense. I think being too 'real' takes away from the creative aspect of a story. We're not here on this thread so that we can worry about every aspect of technique and grammar in our stories, of course, albeit those two things are helpful.
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