Philip Brewer's Writing Progress


Thursday, 05 July 2001

Sleep is good.

There is so much to do--so many things that are worth doing--that it is very easy to try to fit too much into the day. But, after a couple days of that, I went to bed at 9:20 last night and then slept until 6:20 this morning.

I don't know if there were any fireworks last night. People could have been setting of firecrackers outside my window or in the hall outside my door. I wouldn't have noticed. (They probably could have set them off inside my room and I wouldn't have noticed.)

I handed in my "Sestina of Alien Invasion" this morning. I'm still not sure how well I like it. I think I'll have to let it sit for a bit.

At my conference Tuesday, Mary asked how many stories I had out to editors, and I had to admit that I only had one out. But Geoff was quick to point out that you can't really keep up with putting stories back out into the mail if they come while you're at Clarion.

I had several stories come back in the last few weeks before I left for Clarion, and I didn't send them out again, just because I was already getting too busy. (One was also serving double-duty as a submission story, so I figured I might as well hold on to it, get it critiqued if I could.)

But, I take the implications of the question to heart: I'll start getting more stories out, and send them out more times if they don't sell right away.

I didn't get my class notes down yesterday. Geoff talked about types of stories. The ones I noted down were:

Event stories
These are your traditional plotted stories where the action is driven by your character taking motivated actions.
World stories
These are travelog stories where the "world" of the story is so interesting that it almost serves as a character in its own right. But even the most interesting worlds are generally not interesting enough, so most world stories also have some sort of plot to build the story around. Geoff mentioned that a lot of modern mystery stories are really world stories rather than revelation stories. The interesting thing is not the revelation of the mystery, but rather the exploration of the world where the detective has to go to find the answers.
Character stories
Geoff mentioned two types:
  1. Stories that elucidate an unusual character, usually through a series of possibly unrelated anecdotes that work together to paint a vivid picture of an interesting character.
  2. Stories that reveal something about the POV character, usually through an epiphany. One example is a coming of age story. Again, usually done with a series of possibly unrelated events that show the character coming to the point of the epiphany.
Revelation stories
Stories where the action is driven by a desire to learn the truth about something. Traditional mystery stories work like this.

Geoff talked very briefly about the Algis Budrys seven point story structure. But he wasn't really advocating that structure as a way to write a story. He mentioned it to point out what he thought was the essential element to making something a story: The story needs to require the character to make a choice, to show that choice by actions, and those actions must have consequences. You can't leave any of those elements out. It isn't good enough for the character to make a choice that isn't required by the story. It isn't good enough to have the character make a choice that is entirely in his head. It isn't good enough for the character to make a choice where the result is that everything is the same as it would have been anyway.

He talked briefly about New Yorker stories, which can be thought of as that kind of story with the last page ripped off. The story brings the character to the point of of making a decision, and then stops.

He also mentioned another way to think about the same thing. In sf stories in particular, something has happened to throw the universe out of whack and the character must therefore chose to:

  1. Adapt to the universe as it is now
  2. Work to change the universe
  3. Die

Today Mary talked about characterization. The talk itself was oddly structured, sort of circling around the point she was making, examining it from several different directions, and then diving in for the kill. I don't think I can reproduce it effectively, so I'll just mention a few things that she mentioned and you'll have to imagine the rest.

She proposed: people read fiction in order to get into the head of a character. If so, then characterization is one of the most important things to do in a story. She pointed out that characterization is not divorced from things like setting. Character grows out of life experience, so setting matters to making the characters what they are.

She provided a short list of tools for characterization:

She pointed out that only their actions can be trusted as "accurate" characterization. All the others bring in some other viewpoint (even if the author doesn't make particular use of this fact) and force the reader to wonder just how much of this is true. She advocated making use of this fact, where appropriate to the story. It's often powerful to have characters whose self-assessment is belied by the character's actions.

She talked about "cardboard" characters, pointing out that they're not a bad thing. They serve a necessary role many places in fiction.

Geoff did a reading today at Barnes and Noble. (The reading at Archives is next Thursday.) It was a good reading.

I wasted some time this afternoon. That was nice. I haven't spent much time wasting time for several weeks now. But I was also somewhat productive. I've got 160 words on a possible new story. I've read the two stories for tomorrow (plus a poem).

I haven't been getting any exercise. I was too tired. But I got enough sleep last night, I think I'll get enough tonight. That should leave me with enough energy to run and lift tomorrow.


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