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How to "Keep It Simple, Stu... Superwomen?"

17 Apr 2019 09:36 #63737 by Silhouette
As a writer once stated, the problem with writing isn't that only a few people can write a good third and final act, it's that everyone can hammer out a good first act.

"Feature creep" isn't just a plague in software development, where developers keep adding new features into a piece of software until the program becomes an unwieldy and often broken mess, it happens in stories as well. Yet too simple of a story doesn't satisfy anyone but the kids (Richard Scarry's a great guy but let's admit that we've moved past that phase) & too complex turns off all but the dedicated few (because everyone here is also a member of a James Michener Fan Club, amirite?). So how do others handle it when they're writing a story and they feel compelled to add in just one more character, one more scene, one more plot twist?

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17 Apr 2019 11:24 #63738 by Woodclaw
Replied by Woodclaw on topic How to "Keep It Simple, Stu... Superwomen?"
Last week I watched a video on the DCEU movies, which highlighted a pretty good point about why Wonder Woman fell apart in the third act: consistency of motivation.
The point was that a story, especially if character-driven, often relies on the inevitability of conflict. The motivations - the goals - of the main characters should be designed to create a potential tension that makes their confrontation an inescapable necessity. I think that as long as this premise is respected you can add a reasonable number of plot twists without muddling the story too much.

(formerly Anon, still Librarian)

"What is the point of having free will if one cannot occasionally spit in the eye of destiny?" ("Gentleman" John Marcone)

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17 Apr 2019 16:46 #63740 by shadar
Replied by shadar on topic How to "Keep It Simple, Stu... Superwomen?"
Great question, Silloutte, and great answer Woodclaw.

I agree that all well-crafted stories build to an exciting third act and then resolve and end. But if the building tension is missing or the story goes flat and buries itself in genre kinkiness, then it gets repetitive and boring. 

One of the big challenges many of us  have is releasing serial episodes that aren't part of a well-arcitected overall story. Every episode should make discernable progress toward the climax of the overall story, but most of us write good first acts that fade or get repetitive. Or lose interest and never finish.  I know I'm guilty of all that. 

It is possible to have each episode follow a three act structure, but that's hard to do unless each episode is fairly lengthy 

Season 1 of Supergirl tried to do a three act story each week, but it was very rushed and didn't hang together. Other seasons have tried harder to build a longer-term story line that build to a climax by season end, but didn't do it well. With changing writers and directors each week, that's almost impossible. 

But the trick to success is always the same -- lock the reader/viewer into the bigger story that runs throughout the season (or overall story), with each episode bringing the climax closer and building the suspense. 

The shows and stories that do a three act story in each episode are generally more digestible, as long as there is a clear element of a long term arc at work. Firefly did OK at that, and Expanse did it extremely well, as two examples that come to mind.

I'm trying to fix my own problem the only way I now how... by not releasing anything going forward unless the story is complete. Then breaking it into episodes and releasing it one per week .That's what I'm doing with a completely reworked and greatly expanded Chip off the Old Block. I'm on Episode 5 (and have 40,000 words written), but I'm not ready to release Episode 1 yet for just this reason. I want to make sure that the entire novel-length story is ready to go (other than maybe some proofreading on later episodes) before Episode 1 goes out. 

There are other ways to do this, but I can't make them work for me. 

Shadar



 

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17 Apr 2019 16:50 #63741 by AuGoose
Replied by AuGoose on topic How to "Keep It Simple, Stu... Superwomen?"

Silhouette wrote: As a writer once stated, the problem with writing isn't that only a few people can write a good third and final act, it's that everyone can hammer out a good first act.


Personally, it's not act 3 that's the problem. Most of the stories I've started on my notebook, not only do they have a finale worked out, it's often already written (though unreleased). I have a satisfying finish in my head pretty early on in my process. My problem is act 2. I frequently stumble hard late in act 2. Working towards the goal, paying off foreshadowing and laying the groundwork for the final set piece usually reveals all kinds of things that are fun, interesting, or intricate. Now that can lead to some feature creep that drags out the production time (and energy), but right about the point I'm ready to tie the whole package up in a bow and launch the big finish... the story is complete. In my head. Then the necessary drive to actually put it on paper seriously nosedives. I've "seen" the whole story. The rest is just drudgework (not really but it feels that way enough to disrupt my momentum).

One of the reasons I use a notebook-style approach is because it feels more interactive and that little bit of chit-chat with readers or chortling over my precious collection of likes keeps me going. In the absence of being paid, being 'petted' matters. Strengthening our tools for encouragement and feedback is something very much on my mind these days.

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18 Apr 2019 13:48 #63755 by conceptfan
Replied by conceptfan on topic How to "Keep It Simple, Stu... Superwomen?"

shadar wrote: But if the building tension is missing or the story goes flat and buries itself in genre kinkiness, then it gets repetitive and boring.


The original question, and Shadar's point above are thought-provoking.

This isn't to start a fight.  I'm just going to put an alternative viewpoint/approach out there.

My feeling is there is no shortage, in 2019 more than ever, of thrilling story-telling in the world.  There is a glut of tension-building, plot-twisting narratives in literature and on TV.  I doubt I could even start to compete with those writers...

For me, the job of a genre writer is to provide entertainment to genre-lovers.  Entertainment that they won't get elsewhere.  I'm not expecting to be judged on my plotting-skills or on the dramatic tension of my stories.  Like I said, that's other people's day job.  Personally, I'm just trying to give people who share my proclivities a small thrill.  I try to do it in entertaining way so it's fun to write and fun (for the target audience) to read.  I'll throw in anything and everything, extra characters, scenes and whatever else that I think my readers will like.  I'm not worried about people who don't share my tastes finding it boring, repetitive, too complicated or too simplistic.

Silhouette has started two really interesting threads about elements of writing.  I'm really enjoying reading the responses.  They are certainly areas of genre-writing I'd personally not really thought about in such depth.  I'd be intrigued to know if the discussions have helped him create a story, and what he might have changed as a result of the feedback in these 2 threads.

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18 Apr 2019 14:53 #63756 by Woody
To be honest I've never considered writing in Act's at all. I mean I get the theory but I've found because i'm writing my stories pretty much on the fly i'm not thinking to much about them. I start out with an idea and just see where it goes. 

Also i'm a chronic over thinker as well so personally if I actually planned anything I would probably never get anything written.

But the thing is when I'm reading I do the exact same thing - I can't tell you in any of the last 5 books I've read where act 1 finished and act 2 started. I read in paragraphs and chapters so I use them as the bookmarks not the acts themselves.

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18 Apr 2019 15:04 #63757 by conceptfan
Replied by conceptfan on topic How to "Keep It Simple, Stu... Superwomen?"
Act II: Gesundheit!

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18 Apr 2019 17:36 #63759 by AuGoose
Replied by AuGoose on topic How to "Keep It Simple, Stu... Superwomen?"

Woody wrote: To be honest I've never considered writing in Act's at all. I mean I get the theory but I've found because i'm writing my stories pretty much on the fly i'm not thinking to much about them. I start out with an idea and just see where it goes.

 

Eh, I'm not sure I really follow or even understand formal act structure. To me it's largely synonymous with three phases the writing serves: Establishing, Doing, and Climax.

Also i'm a chronic over thinker as well so personally if I actually planned anything I would probably never get anything written.


Heh. That's pretty much why I see writing and editing as very different but equally necessary steps. Overthinking writing is bad. "Overthinking" editing is pretty much the nature of the work!

Thanks to the ease of rewriting in a digital medium (clickity-click-click), I encourage people who ask me about writing to put something - ANYTHING - on the page. Then change it. If you have to, kill that vast white expanse of a blank page with "Panda panda panda panda panda panda." Then at least you can say ok, that's not what I meant. It's more like "There was a panda sitting in the woods." No, wait, "There was a wise panda sitting in an bamboo grove." and now you're moving towards a story. Through edits rather than thinking perfection is going to fall from your fingertips like a gentle spring rain on the first draft.

But the thing is when I'm reading I do the exact same thing - I can't tell you in any of the last 5 books I've read where act 1 finished and act 2 started. I read in paragraphs and chapters so I use them as the bookmarks not the acts themselves.


Eh, Some tales are more obvious than others about Establishing, Doing, and Climax. Part of the art of writing is that it's not about form, it's about reader engagement. Distorting form for it's own sake isn't skill, but distorting it to better engage the reader is.

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18 Apr 2019 17:46 #63760 by shadar
Replied by shadar on topic How to "Keep It Simple, Stu... Superwomen?"

Woody wrote: To be honest I've never considered writing in Act's at all. I mean I get the theory but I've found because i'm writing my stories pretty much on the fly i'm not thinking to much about them. I start out with an idea and just see where it goes. 

Also i'm a chronic over thinker as well so personally if I actually planned anything I would probably never get anything written.

But the thing is when I'm reading I do the exact same thing - I can't tell you in any of the last 5 books I've read where act 1 finished and act 2 started. I read in paragraphs and chapters so I use them as the bookmarks not the acts themselves.


The Acts aren't supposed to be obvious to the reader, but they form a structure that a writer uses to encourage the reader to develop an interest and follow a story to the end. But its primarily aimed at novel-length works. It's a rare novel that doesn't follow this basic scheme. Action and adventure movies absolutely follow the three act scheme. Like 100% of them. The world of readers and viewers are pretty much locked into this mindset, which goes way back to the ancient Greeks, and the idea of a great tale  essentially being an epic journey. Some would argue its just the way our brains work. 

But short stories don't have to follow this, and most certainly not vignettes. There can even be single scene stories. 

The problem comes (IMHO) when very long stories don't follow it. They can get boring and flat. You can start and stop reading just about anywhere in them. Characters get developed (first act) and then are animated over and over, without really changing, getting more complicated or reaching a conclusion. 

But Conceptfan brought up a very valid and interesting point... that there definitely is a place for genre stories that don't need the elements of classic storytelling as they are focused on a speciality set of interactions between several characters, and are essentially First Act stories. Or perhaps extended vignettes. At least that's how I interpret it.

Those definitely have their place as short stories, and I've written plenty of them over the years. Many folks continue to love this style. I  happen to love vignettes based on a single image or concept, as long as they are short. I've read and written such things since the pre-Internet BBS era back in the 80's. A lot of mine start with a vivid dream.

I think we've got room here for both classic storytelling (that's strongly set in this genre), and genre-specific short stories of a few thousand words and much shorter vignettes (sometimes called flash fiction, which are essentially a sketch). We don't all enjoy writing or reading the same things.

It's only when we get to novelette, novella and novel length works that it's hard to keep the reader excited without some classic structure. 

Here's a link to one definition of the differences:

owlcation.com/humanities/Difference-Betw...-Novella-And-A-Novel

Shadar. 

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18 Apr 2019 18:35 #63762 by conceptfan
Replied by conceptfan on topic How to "Keep It Simple, Stu... Superwomen?"

shadar wrote: I think we've got room here for both classic storytelling (that's strongly set in this genre), and genre-specific short stories of a few thousand words and much shorter vignettes (sometimes called flash fiction, which are essentially a sketch). We don't all enjoy writing or reading the same things.

True.   I'd go further: Under the cover of the SWM umbrella,  there's room for whatever people who think of themselves as "superwomen fans" want to read or write.  "All the myriad ways" as someone much more eloquent than me once put it...

shadar wrote: It's only when we get to novelette, novella and novel length works that it's hard to keep the reader excited without some classic structure.

So much depends on what you mean by "excited".  And on what the reader wants....

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18 Apr 2019 22:07 #63765 by Silhouette
Replied by Silhouette on topic How to "Keep It Simple, Stu... Superwomen?"

conceptfan wrote: I'd be intrigued to know if the discussions have helped him create a story, and what he might have changed as a result of the feedback in these 2 threads.


They have helped me a great deal so far. I was going to provide an update on the writings but I may as well write about that here:

* "Silhouette" storyline: This has been placed off to the side. I don't feel as though I am "ready" to really tackle this particular story just yet. I have a lot of great ideas & a very general outline but I don't know which genre (Modern Marvel Movie (say that three times fast!), the "ages," such as golden, silver, bronze, etc.) to really place it in. I have a number of directions that this may go.

* Untitled satyress storyline: I have the outline and have "storyboarded" this one quite a bit already. I don't think that I've gotten the second act down quite yet and I'm really fearful of committing the sin of "overshadowing" the main character with at least one of the supporting characters. This one is stuck firmly in the Golden Age of superheroes (think mid 1930s).

* "Geminii" storyline: I have the outline for this one but no storyboarding. Silver Age era. The goal of this one is to make as simple a story as humanly possible: Very two-dimensional characters, very straight-forward story telling. Maybe some very subtle parodying of the Silver Age but that's almost unavoidable with today's sensibilities. Still not quite settled on the superheroine's (or should I write "superheroines"?) superpowers but fairly close.

And that's as far as I've gotten thus far. As I've written before, reading this board and reading these responses have directly affected the formation of these stories.

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18 Apr 2019 23:44 #63766 by Furlough
Replied by Furlough on topic How to "Keep It Simple, Stu... Superwomen?"
I can see the merit behind the 3-act structure, but it's certainly true enough that there are plenty of lengthy works that can be immensely enjoyable even without it. Les Misérables and 1984 are two of my favourite books of all time, something a lot of people apparently agree with me on, yet despite their considerable length they're structured in a way that focuses considerably on introspection over action. Les Mis is structured more like a series of short stories linked by a common setting and the way its characters interact, with each of its volumes having a different character focus, though its protagonist remains a central figure throughout. Meanwhile, 1984 has a more traditional single conflict/goal focus but most of its appeal comes from its ideological discourse.

But on a more personal note, my philosophy on the matter is simple: What I tend to look for in literature and fiction is stuff that I absolutely cannot find anywhere else, especially when approaching genre fiction. My biggest concerns when approaching a work are whether it presents an interesting, exciting idea and whether the narrative is executed well enough to convey it in a sufficiently concise and effective way. Related is the fact that I generally prefer a shorter format for storytelling; a good number of times potentially good stories have lost me simply by taking way too long to get to anything I'd be interested in and packing in too much fluff. If I'm to be perfectly honest, the amount of times I've actually bothered to read really long-form stories (50k words and up range) in 'our' genre that are presented in a single chunk is pretty scarce; they have to be really tightly packed with enticing stuff for that to happen.

But independently of the form/length, my take is basically that the key to writing a good story that our sort would enjoy is to maintain focus on exciting genre-specific elements and do some interesting stuff with them without straying from said focus for too long. As some of you may know, some of my favourite stories that helped bring me into this genre were penned by Gribble, an author back on Diana the Valkyrie, and while the redaction on them could arguably use some degree of improvement, the uniqueness, scope and execution they exhibit is some of the most appealing (I hesitate to say 'best' as that would imply objectivity) I've ever seen. Or, to simplify it further, my tenet for good fiction writing is that the writer should produce something that'd be fun and not tedious for them to read.

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