Tag Archives: Writing Exercises

Don’t Bother Me, I’m Writing

I’m sure we all remember those ridiculous Carl’s Jr. ads—the ones with the beautiful woman biting into a burger and spilling ketchup all over herself to the voice over of “Don’t bother me, I’m eating.” Well, for some reason, every time I saw these ads, I warped the images and started making a joke of it. I’m sure I’m not the only one, but for me it seems to have stuck in one clear way…

That is, lately—and of course internally—I’m often catching myself saying, “Don’t bother me, I’m writing.” And in my image, instead of an inappropriately dressed woman, it’s little ole me, and instead of ketchup, it’s an ink pen blowing up everywhere because I’m scribbling away like a possessed, writing maniac.

You see, that’s what I’ve been doing: writing. Writing a lot. Writing like a focused machine. Writing so much I’m finishing my writing sessions like I’ve been in a coma-like trance, because I’ve ignored the house phone, used the nifty “do not disturb” feature of my iphone, and barely remembered to eat. In fact, I’ve even had to set alarms to stop so that I didn’t just write on through my meals, or my workouts, or my personal favorite, my cues to leave for work. (Yikes!)

This writing mania was fueled by a special schedule last week to accommodate our state standardized tests, because, thanks to the level of students I was testing, I got to go in late to work on two different days (yeah!). And then of course, there was the weekend I left fairly open to focus on writing. But really, it didn’t matter what else was going on. I just kept writing. And writing.

And writing some more.

It’s felt amazing. I’ve been creating like mad, and I’ve also been extremely happy. Rejuvenated. Content. Alive. And it wasn’t until last night that I pulled my head out of the sand and said, “Oh my goodness. I nearly forgot my blog again. Sheesh. But don’t bother me, I’m…”

You get the picture. 🙂

Anyway, I just wanted to make sure to post, and to share that I had an exhilarating last week jam-packed full of writing. Which made me realize, all over again, how very much I love this thing we do.

So to all my fellow authors—keep writing.

And to all my fellow readers—keep reading.

And to everyone—never stop being inspired.

See you in a couple weeks, folks! And for now…

Don’t bother me, I’m writing. 😉

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Excuses, Excuses…and a Different Approach

Hello again, readers!

The last two weeks have been a bit of a whirlwind, and I admit, a lot different than expected.

As you may recall, I had big plans to start my next book in February, the goal being a first draft by mid-April and in turn, a daily devotion to my protagonist’s cause. This plan started off beautifully—on February 1st, I began drafting!

And then stuff happened.

I had a cat come down with pneumonia, which was better than the original diagnosis, mind you—immediate heart failure—which then led to adverse reactions to antibiotics and twice-weekly vet visits. Meanwhile, work grew unusually stressful, my sleep patterns got seriously whacked (read: 5 hours was a good night), and somewhere in there, I irritated a nerve in my elbow. Yes, she-of-random-and-bizarre-ailments had actually leaned on her elbow enough numb out her hand for two to four hours at a time…so I write this post to you accompanied by my beautiful and temporary new friend, a splint. Yay!

But you know how it goes—one must write to be a writer! So I kept trying to write. I really did. I put in 3,000 words in two days as the mess started. I wrote a blog post aligned with Valentine’s Day. I sat in front of this computer almost every morning at the ridiculous 4:45 time I wake up to do this mad thing we do, but I was coma writing—and not the good kind of coma writing, where one is just writing in a creative trance. Nope, this was pure and simple coma writing, lacking quality, form, and inspiration of any kind.

But I sat there. I typed. I stared at the wall. I typed. I stared again. I sighed a lot (more than one really should). Somewhere in there I thought about a couple anthologies I’d planned all along to write for and submit to “on the side” while I wrote my book—and I realized at that moment, I was really excited to write these short stories that kept popping into my head. Maybe with my rollercoaster real life already clogging up my brain, and my Glamour horoscope validating my concerns by telling me to do a great job on one thing instead of a shoddy job on several, I had to attack this a little differently.

So, I closed up the file for my charming protagonist, Simone, and opened a couple new ones for the short stories. In just a few days, I wrote them. Fast. Thoughtfully. Fairly darn cleanly, I might add. And I smiled the whole time!

Then I got on a plane—leaving my almost-out-of-the-woods cat with a capable and caring cat sitter friend—and went to visit my parents in southern Nevada. It turned out to be an incredibly relaxing trip. We walked, talked, and played cards while yelling at the Jodi Arias trial on tv. It was perfect! There was also a lot of good food, coffee, and rum and cokes, courtesy of my master chef and perfect latte-making dad. 🙂

These extremely therapeutic days dropped me at home four days later, ready to edit the shorts (which I did) and prepare them to submit (which I am). So what does this mean?

Well, March 1st is Friday, so it seems like a good time to go back and focus on that novel I intended to write. It might be a month later than planned, but now that my table’s really clear, I think it will play out much smoother in the long run. Phew!

As my Cascade Conference mentor, Ken Scholes, once said, you have to “prioritize your anxieties.” I’m pretty sure he got that from his mentor, Patrick Swenson.

No matter who said them—they seem like smart words to keep passing along, if you ask me!

🙂

Happpy writing, everyone!


Third Thursday Flash Edition Six: “Tribe”

It’s time for the sixth edition of Third Thursday Flash!

Every three weeks, I craft a 500 to 1,000 word flash piece with a theme suggested by my fantastic blog readers. This week’s theme is based on a few sentences a reader sent in to me. Something about them hooked me, and they were: “I’d run into the forest to collect my thoughts. What he’d told me was shocking, unimaginable. Finally still, in the midst of the forest, streaming filters of light scintillating through the dense canopy above me, I began to break it all down. Except, I realized, I was not alone.” So, using those sentences from anonymous reader (thank you!), here’s…

Tribe

I ran into the forest to collect my thoughts.

What he’d told me was shocking, unimaginable—and in the midst of the forest, streaming filters of light scintillating through the dense canopy above me, I began to break it all down.

Permanent.

Survival.

Contagious.

He’s sorry?

My knees buckled beneath me. I collapsed to the earthen floor, digging my fingertips into the soil and burying them like the weight that crushed my lungs and pushed the air from my chest in slow, shallow breaths.

I stared up into the trees, the tears escaping from behind my eyelids and streaming down my cheeks. The green above blocked the sky. It rustled with the wind and blew away all I’d known as I tried to understand the truth he’d whispered into my ear.

Except, I realized, I was not alone.

From the wall of trees around me, their faces emerged. One after another, all of them covered in the same pattern he’d shown me in secret, the swirling designs that spread over their skin as they arrived into this world and before they left for the next.

“Alison.”

His voice came from behind me and I shuffled to face him, the last of those who watched from the trees.

Run.

I couldn’t.

He reached out his hands, turning his palms up in a show of apology. “You know I didn’t mean to.”

“You did,” I whispered. I pressed my forehead against the ground, sobbing as he stepped behind me. The others buried me in their stares while he rested his hands on my back. His touch came hotter than I’d ever felt from him, in all those months together…

“Maybe I did.”

“Why?” I snapped my head up. His eyes, like those from the trees behind him, were the only ones that would ever understand what had happened to me.

What he did to me.

“Because I love you, and I don’t want to be alone anymore,” he said. He grabbed my elbows and stood me up, propping me against the warmth of his chest. “Neither do you.”

“You aren’t alone,” I said. I pointed at the trees. “You have all of them.”

He shook his head. “They’re not real, Alison. Ancestors. They’re only a whisper now.”

“Which we’ll be too!” I tried to tug myself away but he held firm. “You could have offered me the choice.” I squeezed my eyes shut.

“It will be a lifetime until we’re like them—and I did offer you the choice.”

His words echoed, filling the space around us and ringing in my ears. Had I said yes? Every hint, every conversation, every time I told him I couldn’t stand the world around me and I marveled at his life, and what he was. Every time I told him this world had nothing for me.

“I did,” he repeated. “Many times. And you said you wanted it to be different. You wanted to feel something different.”

I froze. A tingle spread across my skin, starting cold and turning hot, like a gentle lapping of bath water against my arms and legs. He saw it in my face and nodded before I looked down.

“You’ll be happier, Alison. I promise. We’ll be together, not living in two separate worlds anymore…”

My skin changed then, lines of brown and red etching themselves starting at my elbow. The trails ran like veins up and down my arms, swirling into patterns like the ones on his ancestors. He took my hands and stretched out my arms, smiling as the colors spread against my tanned skin. A similar etch traced his own arms.

“We can be together if you really want this, Alison.” He ran his finger along my cheek. “And if you don’t want it, there’s only one way to stop it. But you have to do it now.”

He drew a knife from his pocket, aiming the tip at his chest and nodding at me. His eyes shined as bright as the day we met, and his cheeks flushed the rose tint they always did just before he said the words.

“I love you,” he said, “and I did it for you. Choose to be with me, like this, or…”

The pattern spread to my hands. Beneath my clothes, I felt it spilling further across my flesh, changing me into a mirror image of what he was. I stared at the intricate lines along his arms and face as he began to pull away, to dissolve. Behind him, the ancestors disappeared into the trees, camouflaged, airy beings that no one of this world would ever see.

Except me?

My body began floating, leaving with him—two creatures who would never fit here.

“Alison?” He held the knife out.

I grabbed the handle. The smile in his eyes changed to fear.

Then it washed away.

“Go ahead,” he said. “Whatever you wish. I love you, and I respect your choice.”

The warmth stretched across my stomach and down my legs, and as I peered at my arms they began to match my surroundings, camouflaging me as I became one with the air. The sunlight breaking through the trees shimmered over us, lightening that which became so much harder to see.

I tossed the knife to the forest floor.

“I love you,” I said.

And then we vanished.

***

Thanks for reading the sixth edition of Third Thursday Flash!

 


Third Thursday Flash Edition Five: “Spider”

Happy belated Halloween! I hope yours was filled with spookiness and fun!

Before we dive in, I’d like to send out a quick thank you to Katherine Checkley and Michelle Ziegler for nominating me for two blog awards—thanks so much, ladies! I’m honored. 🙂 I’ll post more information about these awards next week…but for now it’s time for the fifth edition of Third Thursday Flash!

Every three weeks, I craft a 500 to 1,000 word flash piece with a theme suggested by my fantastic blog readers. In honor of yesterday’s holiday, I requested Halloween-esque type themes. The charming and talented Jessica Vealitzek over at True STORIES suggested today’s idea. Jessica apparently had a creepy spider dream [shiver] about one giant spider crawling off a branch and onto the web of another giant spider before eating it. Ew!

Despite my intense arachnophobia and various screams emitted from one little ole me as I looked up a couple spider details, I went for it. So, thanks to Jessica for helping me creep everyone out this week! 😉

Here’s…

Spider

Spider crawled along the branch, his limbs aching and tired. It had been so long since he’d fed.

Yesterday? The day before?

Too long in a spider’s world, and his felt too soon to end, too far traveled to go much further.

The wind kicked across the marshy field, threatening to pry his legs from the bark on which he balanced. Only under the jagged wood edges could he hook his legs to this tree, the one he’d climbed since the cursed wind blew his web apart two falls of night before.

So hungry. The wind smacked at him again, a tremble humans would only faintly notice but which he could feel all too well. Not as much as the lesser spiders—the Wolves, the Widows, or the Tarantulas. He was far bigger than all of them combined, a distant cousin to the Daddy with his long legs.

Spider’s legs were long, of course, but it was his size that left him traveling alone as the biggest predator. Always fed.

Not this time.

Spider weaved down the branch, the wind threatening him like Death itself. If he fell the marsh would swallow him up, and he knew this because the mud below wrapped its clutches around items even smaller than him, things that humans called fruit and squirrels, and boxes and dolls; each of these things stared up at him now, their size half-buried beneath the muck and sinking slowly under the shriek of the wind until no being would know they existed.

“Mama, mama look!”

Spider directed his eyes at the child, the tiny blonde thing that tugged the female’s hand and pointed up into the tree. His quiet cry would be lost to any others, but Spider could hear it.

He heard it all.

“Mama, is that a raccoon?”

“No baby, it’s a—oh my god! Stay away from that!” She scooped the child up and ran. “Arnold! Honey, in the tree! We need a rake or…I don’t know! Eek!” She barreled through the marsh, its moist tentacles hardly catching her feet as she ran.

But it would catch me if I’m weak enough to fall.

The wind hit Spider again and he struggled to crawl forward. Then, he saw her at the end of his branch. She huddled on her web as if she thought herself impervious to the wind. Her thin layer of fur rustled against the blows, shaking her on the web until she bounced with the orchestra of sound that howled across the marsh. She was the reason he hungered. She was the one who stole his prey, catching the rat in her web and wrapping it with the same care he would—a feat considering it was one-third her size.

And she let the wind carry him away.

Spider snuck to the end of the branch. Somewhere within him he knew it was wrong, that what he would do next would break every code of their kind. They were the last two, but he was hungry. So hungry.

And she’d stolen his food.

Spider waited on the edge of the branch and watched her. She’d looped her silk to the web in an attempt to hold on during her slumber, and while she’d prepared for the wind’s attack, she hadn’t prepared for his. When the gusts subsided he scurried forward, creeping off the branch and onto her web. He lifted his fangs before she woke and sank them into her.

She cried out as his venom coursed through her, traveling around her large belly and down her legs. She was almost as big as him, but not quite. He remained the largest spider of all.

The last of his kind.

She shivered while his toxin softened her body, but he couldn’t wait.

He swallowed her whole.

***

Thanks for reading the fifth edition of Third Thursday Flash!


The Art of Narrative, Part Five (Finale): Resolution

All tales must end…and of course, so must our study of the Art of Narrative! Today’s final post of the series focuses on—you guessed it—resolution.

For the last several posts I’ve explored the narrative, starting with point of view, then leading into the stages of the narrative arc, from exposition to conflict and rising action, then to climax and falling action—and just like the end of any narrative, this final piece is designed to tie everything together in a cohesive fashion.

So what exactly forms the resolution stage of a story? Often referred to as the dénouement (from the french word desnouer which means “to untie”), the resolution typically starts during the falling action stage to carry the reader through the narrative’s end. All conflicts are resolved, and the action slows while the characters’ lives return to normal (or close to it). Here the plot tension boils down, the protagonist having faced the conflict and changed the course of his/her life or situation, and thus leaving the reader with a sense of peace or catharsis.

Two alternate situations can occur in the resolution stage. In the case of a quick resolution or a more catastrophic ending, the reader may not feel a sense of closure at all, the narrative’s finale meant to draw a more shocked reaction from him or her. In other narratives such as serial fiction, the author may have used more of a cliffhanger technique to end the story in a moment of suspense or ambiguity designed to draw the reader forward. However, even cliffhangers usually have a resolution of the current plot, leaving the reader satisfied yet questioning of what’s to come.

In this post, I brought back the image of the narrative arc that I originally showed my Freshmen English classes—where I drew the resolution stage higher than the exposition stage. This change in height represents a character’s growth because, good or bad, the protagonist tends to undergo some sort of change throughout the course of the narrative. This is the very reason we keep reading—we want to see what’s going to happen, how the protagonist will face and address the issue, and what will result from the choices he or she makes. Every once in a while, we come across a book in which the character didn’t change at all; this experience can at times be disappointing, for what did we learn if the character ends up exactly where he or she started?

While readers look forward to the change of the protagonist in the narrative, we as writers naturally tend to write toward some sort of conclusion (even if it’s ugly or our characters barely change). But what about those times we want to convey a character hasn’t changed? Is it possible to provide a resolution without actually showing any character growth?

Can you think of a book you’ve read where nothing changes, and yet you still felt closure on the story? In those that I’ve read, I’ve usually chucked the book across the room—yes, literally. What about you? Please share below.

Thank you for following my journey through the Art of Narrative! It’s a concept we all use in crafting stories…and now that I’ve exposed everything behind the curtain, I think it’s time to close it to work the [not so secret] magic behind it again. [She says, rubbing her hands together. *Buah-ah-ah!*]

🙂

Happy reading and writing to everyone, and have a great weekend!


The Art of Narrative, Part Four: Climax and Falling Action

It’s been a long intermission, but…welcome back to the Art of Narrative! Today we’ll continue our series of posts dedicated to the exploration of narrative craft.

Before discussing the next stages—climax and falling action—I’d like to briefly revisit the parts covered so far. First was the narrative arc itself, as well as the four main types of point of view—first person, second person, third person limited, and third person omniscient. (Click here to read about point of view types.) Next we discussed exposition, which included setting, character details, and mood. (Read about exposition here.) After that followed a segment on the three types of conflict—man against man, man against nature, and man against self—and the secondary conflicts that occur in the rising action stage (read more on conflict and rising action here).

So now that we’ve met the scene and the characters, in addition to the issues our protagonist must face as the stakes are raised—where does all this action inevitably lead?

To the climax, of course! It is the moment the reader anticipated for the entire narrative, the actual peak of the reading adventure where our protagonist’s conflict culminates and he or she is forced to face the issue head on. Good or bad, the climax serves as a true turning point for the story—and for this reason it becomes the most dramatic piece of the journey. Here the story brims with all the tension, intensity, and action necessary for the protagonist to find a solution.

In some cases, an author may choose the route of an anti-climax, providing a seemingly trivial solution to a significant conflict. This choice is sometimes employed to add humor to the narrative, but in other situations might be the result of poor planning (or the discovery that the original solution no longer works for the story). Readers often have mixed feelings on the employment of the anti-climax, which may or may not lead into the next stage of the narrative arc: falling action.

The falling action stage represents the series of events that will help the protagonist address the climax aftermath. In short, it is a slow unraveling of the conflict. In the case of an anti-climax, this stage might be missing entirely or may not wrap the story up as coherently as the reader might hope.

Either way, the falling action stage ultimately leads the narrative to its resolution. Stay tuned for the final installment of the Art of Narrative series, when we’ll explore this more fully.

In the meantime, what are your thoughts on pieces that intentionally use an anti-climax? In stories that follow the traditional narrative path, do you prefer a quick tie-up in the falling action, or a more extended run before the resolution of the tale? Please share your thoughts below!

And of course, happy reading! 🙂


Third Thursday Flash Edition Four: “Bathe Me Away”

Welcome back! It’s time for the fourth edition of Third Thursday Flash!

Every three weeks, I craft a 500 to 1,000 word flash piece with a theme suggested by my fantastic blog readers. A theme submission call will come around again in about two weeks if you’d like to participate.

Today’s theme is dedicated to and inspired by…my mom! 🙂 She sent along the following: I was looking forward to a bath in my spa tub, long day, boring conversation. As I leaned over to turn on the fountainhead, I noticed there was a vine growing out of the drain… A bit of a writer herself and an illustrator and designer, my mom definitely struck an idea with this one. So, without further ado, thanks to my mom for inspiring…
 

Bathe Me Away

Arianna fell back in the tub, the water splashing around her body as she dipped herself low.

“Dear gawwwdddd….” She closed her eyes and pressed the wet cloth over them, the scent of cinnamon candle filling her nose in the tiny apartment bathroom. She’d been looking forward to a bath in the spa tub after a long day at work with her troll of a boss, and as if that hadn’t been enough, her soon-to-be ex-boyfriend called her the moment she got in the car—commencing forty-seven minutes of boring conversation.

I really have to dump that guy. Stat.

“Tomorrow,” she muttered aloud. She frowned and sank deeper under the foaming bubbles. It had been a while since she’d cracked open the lid to the bottle, but she remembered loving the scent when she was a kid. Her mom ran her a bath almost every night of her elementary school years, the gesture accompanied by a dramatic reenactment of the 80s soap commercial.

“Take me away!” Arianna said, giggling. The sound echoed off the tiles. “Seriously, anytime. It’s all a little intense right now.”

Pressing her palm against the washcloth, Arianna shoved her foot on the fountainhead. Her five foot nine inch frame surpassed the length of the tub, so as usual she slipped her calves out of the water to make the most of it.

Maybe a new apartment, too?

Something scratched her calf and Arianna jerked her leg back. She tugged the washcloth off her eyes and examined her skin—no mark. A quick glance across the edge of the tub revealed her childhood paranoia of floating spiders was still not anything she should take seriously.

“Phew,” she breathed. But as soon as she did, something green snaked its way beneath the surface. Arianna swept the bubbles aside. “What the—”

A small vine traced a path from the drain and up the edge of the tub, coiling itself around the fountainhead. Flowers broke from its stem as it spread across the metal and along the rim, and as the vine grew out and down the support legs of the tub, the drain snapped with a loud pop. The plant sucked the water straight out from under Arianna, leaving her shivering.

“You’ll like it here, Arianna.”

The voice bounced off the tiles of the bathroom, belonging to no one she could see and yet continuing in the most melodic of tunes. “Away from it all,” more voices said. Arianna yelped, the vines growing behind her back. She tried to lift herself but they slipped around her ankles, circling them like soft hands. They reached her hips and covered her body, soothing her skin as warmly as the bath water had done moments before, and enough to make her want to melt deeper into it.

“What is going on?” she whispered. She fought for a moment, but the texture felt so warm, so gentle…

The vines grew higher. They traveled up the tile of the bathroom walls and back down the corners of the room. They spread over each other, the flowers covering stems, the stems covering flowers, and the voices chiming in together as Arianna sank into the tub.

“Away, away, away…”

The vines laced themselves into her hair, then caressed her shoulders. They embraced her in foliage as she slipped lower, nothing but green comforting her skin, filling the tub, and overtaking the room before Arianna gasped aloud.

“But I—”

The vines circled her neck and crossed her face, smothering her in the green burst of plant life before it took her away.

***

Thanks for reading the fourth edition of Third Thursday Flash. We’ll return to The Art of Narrative series on Monday, and in the meantime, have a great weekend! 🙂


The Art of Narrative, Intermission (The Tease)

Happy Monday, everyone!

As you may know, I’ve been focusing a series of blog posts on the Art of Narrative. So far, we’ve covered point of view, exposition, and the conflict and rising action. Next up: climax. Except for one small catch…

The next episode of Third Thursday Flash is this Thursday, creating an awkward break in our examination of the narrative path. Because of this, I thought it best to call a brief intermission in our series.

While you take advantage of this time to stretch out your legs, grab some popcorn, and prepare for the next stage of the narrative arc, don’t forget that you still have until 8 p.m. PST tonight to submit any idea (a theme, words, intro sentence, or general topic) that you’d like me to use to craft a 500 to 1,000 word piece for Third Thursday Flash. Please send your idea to evariederauthor@gmail.com, and thanks for participating!

As for the narrative arc—what better place to pause than right before the peak? We’ll resume with The Art of Narrative, Part Four: Climax on Monday, and until then, I leave you with… ***Click here!***

🙂


The Art of Narrative, Part Three: Conflict and Rising Action

Just a reminder—the idea submission call for next week’s Third Thursday Flash is open until 8 p.m. PST on Monday the 8th. Please send a theme, words, intro sentence, or topic idea that you’d like me to work into a 500 to 1,000 word piece to evariederauthor@gmail.com.

And now…welcome back to the Art of Narrative, Part Three. For the last week I’ve been posting about narrative form, starting with point of view and the first stage of the narrative arc: exposition. Next up is conflict and rising action.

Life is full of complications, and in narrative, these struggles are what shift our protagonist into action. While an assortment of setting elements, character details, and a general mood launch a story, all of a sudden a conflict will break us from the exposition and carry us into the rising action stage.

Conflicts of all sorts occur in narrative writing, but they tend to fall in one of the following categories:

Man Against Man—Here the protagonist must overcome an obstacle with another being. In a crime or suspense novel, this antagonist could take the form of an evil-doer or serial killer (such as Hannibal Lector in Silence of the Lambs). In a romance, the antagonist might be a dismissive love interest or someone competing for that special someone’s heart. In a fictional biography, drama, or action, the conflict can arise with a friend gone astray, an overbearing boss, or some other opposing person (like King Claudius in Hamlet, for example).

Krishna kills Aghasura
(Aghasura acts as the antagonist, the conflict that Krishna must overcome)

Variations on this theme exist as well; man against society requires the protagonist to address issues with societal views or culture as a whole (Orwell’s 1984 is a great example). Meanwhile, man against supernatural or man against machine is more prevalent in horror, sci-fi, and fantasy novels, such as is the case in Brave New World.

Man Against Nature—In this conflict type, the protagonist must overcome an obstacle posed by a natural force. This may come in the form of a sinking ship, a stroke of lightning, or even an attack by bears. A recent example of this conflict type is in Aron Ralston’s 127 Hours: Between a Rock and a Hard Place.

Man against fate is sometimes considered another version of this category; an example is Sophocles’s Oedipus the King.

Man Against Self—This conflict style is an internal one, forcing the protagonist to face an obstacle of his or her own making. These center around faith, ethics, or beliefs, and can also contain themes of addiction, self-destruction, or pain. An example of this style is in one of my favorite books of all time—Crank, by Ellen Hopkins, a young adult tale written in free verse about a teen who must overcome her drug addiction.

Once a narrative introduces conflict, the arc continues into the rising action stageHere, secondary conflicts begin to appear. They may take the form of lesser adversaries, or alternate antagonists. They may work with or against the story’s main conflict, but the issue is the same: they create more obstacles for the protagonist to overcome in order to reach his or her goal.

I’ve heard over the years that a traditional novel contains three main conflicts, often a merging of internal (man versus self) and external (man versus man or man versus nature). Looking back at some of my favorite tales, I can actually see three clear conflicts emerging for the protagonists in the rising action stage. This is certainly not true for all of them, and definitely not for short stories, but it is an interesting theory.

Do you notice three main conflicts in your favorite books? What about in your own writing?

Also, I’d love to know what conflict style captures your attention most. I’ve always been a fan of man against man, since I enjoy the complexities of varied personalities clashing and working together (or overcoming one another). What about you?

Thanks for continuing with me on the art of narrative journey, and please share your thoughts on conflict types in the comment section below!


The Art of Narrative, Part Two: Exposition

Welcome back!

***A quick note before we begin—the call for flash topics opens today! Please send your idea (a theme, a sentence, a prompt, or a couple of words) to evariederauthor@gmail.com. I will be choosing a topic and incorporating it into a 500 to 1,000 word piece for next week’s Third Thursday Flash. Submissions will remain open until Monday the 8th at 8 p.m. Pacific Standard Time! In your email, please let me know if you would prefer I keep your name anonymous should I pick your idea, and thanks for participating!***

Last Thursday, I started an exploration of the art of narrative. My post focused on point of view (otherwise known as POV), and now that we’ve established who the narrator/speaker is, we move into the first stage of the narrative arc: exposition.

According to Merriam Webster Dictionary Online, exposition is “1. a setting forth of the meaning or purpose (as of a writing) [and] 2. discourse or an example of it designed to convey information or explain what is difficult to understand.” Thus the point of the exposition is to provide the reader with background information and details that will set the tone for the rest of the work. This happens in three key parts: setting, character details, and mood.

Let’s focus on each individually.

Setting

The setting tells us where and when a story takes place, but also introduces themes and background viewpoints essential to the story. While the where is portrayed with ample sensory detail and gives the reader an idea of where he or she is about to set foot in the story, other information is provided at this stage to signal pending plot lines and narrative themes (for example, homelessness and hunger in a post-apocalyptic world, or political upheaval in an ancient time). These features help readers identify potential goals of characters they will meet, which will further their understanding of why characters make their choices. Writer and former agent Nathan Bransford wrote an excellent post about these deeper aspects of setting, which you can read here.

Depending on the plot of the story, setting may reappear throughout the work or change dramatically with each chapter (for example, a space opera might center around a ship that docks at various planets, each conveyed with new setting details, whereas a story that takes place entirely in a house will not need to add much in the showcasing of different rooms). Whether local or more broad, setting at every stage of the story helps orient the reader and provides context for the plot.

Character Details:

Along with the background detail of the setting, the exposition introduces a protagonist. A skilled writer unveils the protagonist slowly yet thoroughly, making him, her, or it accessible to the reader without creating an “info dump” of all their personal details. This gradual familiarity allows the reader to identify the character’s goals and struggles, so that they in turn will understand the intensity of the impending conflict and the character’s reaction. Though the antagonist and/or conflict is not always introduced in this stage, some motivations or issues may start to surface in preparation for the obstacle to come.

Characters must become real to their readers. This is accomplished through a portrayal of their interests, thoughts, speech patterns, behavior, appearance, and other mannerisms, as well as how they interact with others. Dialogue, inner thoughts, and actions are all compelling ways to take the reader on a journey through the characters’ personal details instead of listing them in a bland and telling way. “Joe had red hair. Joe had a big nose. Immediately, Joe lost his wallet and screamed. This was because Joe had a rager of temper, so when he started yelling everyone ran in fear.” Not so interesting, right? As writers, we must be mindful of how we introduce character details, making sure to feed traits through action so as to pull the narrative along in a smooth manner. UDL Editions by Cast provides some helpful quotes and thoughts on characterization here.

Mood:

Setting and characterization are huge aspects of a narrative—but the mood is also important. Mood is what the reader feels, a sensation that will carry him or her through the work. This mood is a foreshadowing of sorts, alerting the reader to the story’s possibilities. Word choice, tone, voice, theme, imagery, dialogue, character behavior, and setting details are all features that convey mood. A shadowed forest with heavy winds and a mumbling vagabond might alert the reader to a sinister, dark tale, while a giggling, blushing child running across a pier might indicate a lighthearted and fun tale to come.

Through each part of the exposition—setting, character details, and mood—writers prepare the reader for the narrative journey ahead. Some writers spend a great deal of time on the exposition stage, and in turn, some readers love a lengthy and detailed exposition before diving forward in the narrative. Other writers craft a shorter exposition with the hopes of letting more details reveal themselves throughout the piece.

What about you—what’s your style when it comes to exposition length and detail? What is your favorite to read?

Please share below! I’d love to hear. 🙂


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