Philip Brewer's Writing Progress


Tuesday, 26 June 2001

Today was a more productive day. I got the word count on my story up to 2530, so that's 1250 new words. I also got four stories critiqued for tomorrow and re-read Pat's "Rachel in Love" (which Pat is going to use for an optional worked-example tomorrow afternoon). And I got it all done by 10:00 PM, so I'll be able to go to sleep at a reasonable hour tonight.

Still, this pretty much means that I won't be able to get a story in on Thursday, which would probably be my last chance to get something more critiqued this week. I'm going to shoot for Friday, though. Since I'm thinking this piece will be a bit long, it would be good to give people the weekend to read it.

If I'm going to spend a large chunk of time Wednesday working on it, I needed to get a bit ahead on the reading. I was working on it, but got inspired to do more on my story, which is why the word count is as high as it is.

It's a mistake to depend on inspiration, but it's foolish not to take it for all it's worth when you get it.

Today we only had three stories to critique, which was good, because I hadn't gotten them all done last night.

Besides critiques, Pat Murphy talked a bit about story. With the usual caveat, that all this is what I think about these subjects in light of what she said, rather than an accurate record of what she said, here's what I came away with.

Stories are not about being clever. Stories are about emotional resolution. In particular, stories should not be puzzles for the reader to solve.

Pat talked about choosing the number of strong characters to have in a story. Having three strong characters often works well. If you have only one or two strong characters, the story can end up being too stable and balanced. If you get four (or more) the story tends to end up too complicated.

She gave us a quick summary of points of view and talked a bit about how to chose the right POV. First person lets you be close to the character. It also lets you work with the unreliable narrator thing. Tight third has some of the same advantages, but you can stay away from the unreliable narrator thing if you don't want the reader to be wondering about that. Distant third works well for things where the character's internal dialog isn't an important part of the story. She talked very briefly about cinematic POV and about omniscient. She also talked about second person POV. She read from several stories using different POVs, including an example of second person.

She suggested some things to take into account when selecting your POV. One was what information you need to convey. If you want to show a scene, your POV character has to be there. If you want to talk about what the character is thinking, you need to use first or tight third. (She talked a bit about changing POV, both from one character to another and smaller shifts, such as between tight third and more distant third.) She also suggested that questions of emotional distance and questions of doubt should feed into your POV choice. She emphasized that POV should be a choice, and not just something that you stumble into thoughtlessly.

Finally, she talked about style and tone, using a couple sample paragraphs by William Gibson and Ray Bradbury. Choice of words and images is part of what makes up style, as is things like sentence length. She said she has sometimes assigned classes the exercise of writing a few paragraphs in a deliberate imitation of someone else's style.


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