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Faithdrawn Studios
Desire. Drive. Devotion.
Desire. Drive. Devotion.


October Homework

For this month, we’re going to take some time to consider how to write an opening in a story. Openings are your chance to catch a reader, so it’s important not to waste it. Readers often won’t make it past the first couple of pages, if not paragraphs before they decide to keep reading or not. Therefore, it’s important to consider how to grab the reader’s interest and maintain it until you can transition them past your opening and into the main story.

The two most prominent types of openings I’ve come across can be neatly categorized into “Action Openings” and “Casual Openings.” Interestingly, after flipping through a number of books I have in my library, Casual Openings almost always can be found in British novels, while Action Openings are often found in American novels. This is by no means a rule, but it is something worth noting. Let’s take a look at these two opening types.

Action Openings: these openings often start off with something fantastical, surprising, or strange either taking place or having just taken place. All of those shows/movies where you see a building explode and everyone dying before the “X hours/days earlier” appears or the, “I suppose you’re wondering how I got here,” all fall into this type of opening. This opening is obviously meant to grab your attention, and like a cliff-hanger, force the reader to read on, or be left to wonder what might have happened.

Let’s take a look at an example from Larry Correia’s Monster Hunters International:

On one otherwise normal Tuesday evening I had the chance to live the American dream. I was able to throw my incompetent <J Mule> of a boss from a fourteenth-story window.
Now, I didn’t just wake up that morning and decide that I was going to kill my boss with my bare hands. It was really much more complicated than that. In my life up to that point I would never had considered something that sounded so crazy. I was just a normal guy, a working stiff. Heck, I was an accountant. It doesn’t get much more mundane than that.
That one screwed-up event changed my life. Little did I realize that turning my boss into sidewalk pizza would have so many bizarre consequences. Well, technically, he did not actually hit the sidewalk. He landed on the roof of a double-parked Lincoln Navigator, but I digress.
My name is Owen Zastava Pitt and this is my story.

Go ahead and consider how you feel having just read that opening. Does it excite or intrigue you? What questions are swimming through you head? Do you want to know more?

Take a couple minutes to collect your thoughts about this opening before moving on to the next one.

Casual Openings: these openings often begin in a calm and peaceful manner. Consider LotR and how it opens to the peaceful shire, or The Legend of Zelda (many of them) that starts off in a quiet village/house. With this kind of opening, the author must work harder to maintain the reader's interest, but it allows for a better stage to be set. The reader becomes intrigued with the world being painted, rather than taken in by a flurry of action. Whether or not the same tone is maintained throughout the rest of the story is of little importance. What matters is getting the reader enjoying the world they are traveling to, or the people they are traveling with.

Let’s take a look at an example from C.S. Lewis’s The Magician’s Nephew:

THIS IS A STORY ABOUT SOMETHING that happened long ago when your grandfather was a child. It is a very important story because it shows how all the comings and goings between our own world and the land of Narnia first began.
In those days Mr. Sherlock Holmes was still living in Baker Street and the Bastables were looking for treasure in the Lewisham Road. In those days, if you were a boy you had to wear a stiff Eton collar every day, and schools were usually nastier than now. But meals were nicer; and as for sweets, I won’t tell you how cheap and good they were, because it would only make your mouth water in vain. And in those days there lived in London a girl called Polly Plummer.
She lived in one of a long row of houses which were all joined together. One morning she was out in the back garden when a boy scrambled up from the garden next door and put his face over the wall. Polly was very surprised because up till now there had never been any children in that house, but only Mr. Ketterley and Miss Ketterley, a brother and sister, old bachelor and old maid, living together. So she looked up, full of curiosity. The face of the strange boy was very grubby. It could hardly have been grubbier if he had first rubbed his hands in the earth, and then had a good cry, and then dried his face with his hands. As a matter of fact, this was very nearly what he had been doing.

Consider what you think of the world presented to you. How do you feel about Polly? What about the place she lives? How about the strange boy who just poked his head up over the fence?

Now, go ahead and compare and contrast how both openings made you feel. Do you prefer one over another? If so, why? If not, why not? What are their big differences? How do those differences affect you as a reader? What are their similarities?

We’ll talk about these two types of openings, so be prepared to discuss. Also, consider how you want your story to open and why. Take some time to try writing a opening (3-4 paragraphs in length) in whichever style you prefer. Is it any good? Do you need to change the style? Your approach? Let the group know how crafting your opening went, what you did, and if you think it is any good. You might just get some good suggestions.

September Homework

Mapping Your Story
Part 1
When writing a book, there are two majors methods of doing so. The first is known as “outlining.” When a person outlines, he spends his time mapping who, what, when, where, why, and how for the major plot points in his story. This way, if he ever gets lost, he’ll always be able to look back at his outline to put him back on course.

The other major way is “discovery writing” (more colloquially known as “writing by the seat of your pants”). This method, while often convenient and flexible, can leave the writer in a pinch if he ever gets lost, since he has no real roadmap to his destination.

Here is a bit from a class author Larry Correia taught:

“There are two generally accepted ways of writing a book. One is to plan out all the major plot points in the novel before starting the book. The other is to just have an idea in your head, start writing, and see what emerges. There are people deeply committed to both methods, yet the fact is that there are very successful writers who use nothing but discovery writing [often referred to as “pantsing,” as in “writing by the seat of your pants” – Ed.], others who are meticulous outliners [I remember hearing about an author who wrote up a 20,000-25,000 word outline for each novel. – Ed.], some who use a combination of the two.

Larry considers himself a light outliner. Before he starts a 100,000 word novel, he will have a five-page outline with the beginning, the middle, and the end of the plot, the main characters and the high points of their character arcs. Without this map of the novel, he has a tendency to wander off, get lost, and write his way into a corner.

If he is working with a collaborator, he will have a more extensive outline, one that has each scene laid out ahead of time, all the character moments, everything that either of them is going to need to write the book.

A discovery writer, on the other hand, is you are really uncorking your brain and you can be super creative and brilliance will flow. Some of the best wordsmiths in the business are discover writers, because they just start spewing poetry out of their brains onto the keyboard. However, a common failing of discovery writers is crappy finales. It is easy to end up with a 200,000 word novel and no ending in sight, so the author says, 'Crap. Aliens did it.'

Pick one and try it. If it doesn’t work, try the other. The only important thing is whatever works for you. Also, don’t slavishly follow the conventions. Just because something is written on the outline doesn’t mean it is graven in stone. You may have a character doing something according to the outline, but when you get to that place in the book, you realize that the character is not who you thought he was when you wrote the outline, so he wouldn’t do that, he would do something else. You can stick with the outline and be mad because it doesn’t fit what you think the character should be, or you can change the outline, fix the character, and write the cool stuff. Always write the cool stuff.

If you are discovery writing, you might write yourself into a corner, where your characters are doing stupid things and acting unnaturally just so that the plot moves forward. Back up, try again. Perhaps try and plot ahead a little bit from your current position, so you have a better idea of what is going to happen. Then, when you are good, go ahead and start again.”

While we might be tempted into simply doing everything by the seat of our pants, we must resist the urge and commit to a clear set of goals. Even if you simply write a few major plot points, when you get lost in the story, you will be happy that you wrote them down.

Part 2
The biggest issue most writers have, beyond issues with writing a good story, is not being able to write one at all. There are many things in our lives that pine for our attention: school, family and friends, chores, work, etc. However, as a writer, it is necessary for you to commit to your writing and push forwards, even when you may not “feel like it.” That is why it’s important to set goals (or targets) for your writing.

Any motivational speaker or business coach will tell you if you don’t have a target you’ll hit it every time. Without a destination, there is no way to steer the rudder. If you don’t know where you are going, you won’t get there.

First, a clarification: people often confuse dreams and goals. So let’s clearly define what we mean by a goal (similar to the SMART goal criteria):
1. It is written down.
2. It is realistic and achievable.
3. It is concrete and objective.
4. It is testable: You and someone else can read it and easily tell if you have succeeded or failed.
5. It has a timeframe associated with it.
Anything without the above 5 features is a wish or a dream or an idea, it is not a real goal.
For example: I would like to live in Florence one day.
That is not a goal, that is a dream or hope. How would it look if it were a real goal?
I want to live in Florence for 3 months from Sep to Dec 2018.
This fulfills criteria #1 & #2 because with enough money, you can live in Florence.
However, sometimes knowing what an “achievable goal” really is can be hard. Say I write, “I want to finish my novel within 1 month of starting it.” While it is technically possible, unless I pour all my time and energy into writing, there is no real conceivable way to do it.

Back to Florence. #3 is met because it is very clear I want to live (not just visit) in Florence. This is in contrast to the dream of “I want to lose weight”. Technically losing 1 ounce qualifies as “weight lost,” but that is usually not what someone really means. #4 is met because it is testable: either the person is living there in Sep 2018 or he is not. And #5 is met because there is a clear departure date. Granted the person needs to the money and to make bookings ahead of time, but he can work backwards from Sep 2018 to make that happen.

Alright, so how can we adapt this to writing and stories? Well, here are some of the categories I would put project goals into:

Personal – what do you personally seek out of the project?

Narrative – how do you want your reader or subject to interact with your story?

Business – what sales (units, revenue) are you committed to achieving?

Discipline – how much progress will you make on your piece within a given timeframe?

Examples of the four goals from my project The Inheritor of Light:

Personal: I want to make something of quality that people will enjoy and wish to buy.

Narrative: I want to draw readers into the world I am building and have them connect with the characters. Also, to have my readers feel their joy and sorrows, as well as their burdens.

Business: I want to sell 5000 copies at around $3.99-$5.99 on Kindle.

Discipline: I want to write at least 5000 words per month until I have completed my rewrite.

Part 3
As the writer of a story, you are responsible for pitching yourself and your project. Whenever you turn over a book or read about it on the store page (not including the unhelpful “about the author” or all the “praise quotes”), you’re reading the books “pitch,” which is known as the “blurb.” For since more about writing a blurb will come up later in the curriculum, try writing a brief synopsis (under 200 words) to share with the group.

Recommended: Write down you “blurb” and save it for later. Near the end of the course you can compare your revised blurb against your initial one and see how much your story has changed. It’s worth it!

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Writers - Introduce Yourselves!

If you're a writer, or interested in writing, storytelling, or narrative design, then introduce yourself. What kinds of things do you like to write? What types of stories or settings do you gravitate towards? What experiences have you had in writing?

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Vital to success
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