I can see it, but I can’t touch it.

I wasn’t simply trying to wallow in self-pity and defeat. (Though that’s fun, too.)

I’m genuinely frustrated. Because I can write.

Or to be more precise, I can articulate. Whether speaking or writing, even arbitrating between two opposed parties, I can clarify what is meant, distinguish the particulars of intricate concepts, et cetera.

How does that skill translate into becoming, through and through, a storyteller? How does one go from brickmason to architect?

Also, I’m a critic foremost. When my family went to see a movie, the first thing we’d do afterwards is pick it apart on the car ride home; love it or hate it. I was telling my buddy at work all the flaws in a particular arc of Battlestar Galactica, and he said, “Wow, I’m sorry you didn’t like it.”

Didn’t like it? Are you crazy? I loved it. But it still has gaping plot holes, continuity errors, and worse. So does Star Wars, and LOTR, and the Matrix.

But I cannot permit those imperfections to exist in my work. They must be purged with divine fire from on high.

I can identify even more subtle problems in my own work, like those mentioned in the last post. I really think Perfect Justice doesn’t work that well as a story because it’s very cold and dark without any warmth. How do I get the warmth and keep the story? I don’t know.

Woman’s Best Friend is a nice little campfire ghost story. But it has no depth. You’ll never describe it as a story that really made you think about the larger universe, examine your own life and goals. It doesn’t have that.

Fragile Gods is the worst for me right now. I can see the whole story unfolding in my head; epic battles, broken hearts, unexpected victories, the whole deal.

I can see it, but I can’t touch it. It’s ethereal, or maybe it’s just behind glass.

How do I shatter the glass?

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  • Brandon

    I think I first learned this from game/software development as a way to prevent feature creep but it applies to any project:

    Things are defined by what they are (or intend to be, such as Goals of a Project) equally to what they are NOT.

    I’ve heard this loosely translated to “constraint brings about creativity”; I remember the advice of one game studio developer that said this. His advice was to try it with anything. Think of a random constraint and write all ideas for a minute. Now do it with a freedom. Compare lists.

    Want to make a great RTS interface? Good, now we have our example project, lets set an official goal….How about “better than any other” or “uses mouse for gesturing rather than unit micromanaging”. One of these is general and the other slightly more specific. The value of either is irrelevant but what is important is that BOTH have the opportunity to drift into the same grey areas. What areas? The ones you didn’t know you didn’t want.
    The new RTS UI is getting close to done and playtesters reveal that….*gasp* your UI is surprisingly close to StarCraft’s! this was unintended! Why set out to make the best UI if everyone sees it as one mod away from a mouse-control method that is 10 years old? Now we need to change it, but how? Does this mean the goal of “better than any” is true and StarCraft’s UI is the best/close? Or did you and the project just fail?

    No, it simply means you didn’t fully state the intended outcome of your project. Naming a single intended true value as part of an outcome leaves, literally, every other possibility open to come true. A single intended false property will cut off huge swaths of possibility.

    Woman’s Best Friend is: aiming for comfy warmth.

    Groovy, except when the drama necessary for interest breaks the warmth. This observation leads, for the fun of it, to:

    Woman’s Best Friend is NOT: deep.
    No deeper message, no conflict. Maybe no question marks in the text, heh. This much of a contradiction may keep you from writing anything at all for this story. It does force you to aim past a constraint, to focus. So why would ALL lack of story depth ever appeal to a reader? Maybe they just like the topic (for example: young girls like horses). It may not be interesting to YOU or adults in general but now on your project description page you have:
    “hmm well I guess if it were about a horse, young girls might like it”).

    Now you as an author may have no interest whatsoever in the topic but remember that was never the point which is that this was an EXERCISE from its very conception. You are simply practicing a skill. Maybe as a “give it a shot” try you end up with five pages of a 12-year old girl’s first equine experience – not only “meeting” it but brushing it down. There’s two whole bits of dialog as ‘old relative’ X gives her a direction or two. Most of the pages are spent between 1) her awe,comfort, and silent and ongoing communication with an unfamiliar creature and 2) her daydreams about riding a horse to school and flying it to the moon before…a random snort/tail switch yanks her back to the present.

    At this point there are only a few specific umm…themes? Aspects, of the scene. The scene still sucks and likely always will but you’re practicing (or rather, you found something to like about it that you want to refine):
    A) flow and timing of the daydreampresent
    B) what preteen girls daydream about (besides Jona_s Br_os, heh)
    C) whatevs

    Wouldn’t you feel goofy if you’re opus had to contain a 12yr old girl and you had no experience being in one’s head? Or worse, think you handled it and it loses part of the audience/sales as a result?

    Now you are so totally free with this story; no glass in your way. You know the intended audiences: you will never second guess a recent edit because you briefly imagined Megan reading it SOMEtime in the future. Or Me or Dad or anyone. When you do imagine that, you have your reminder right there. There’s only two or three things you know for sure about this Project (b/c they’re written down) and one of them says “uh-huh, not for [him/her/them].” making you get back to work: “what was I thinking about? oh yeah, unicorns.”

    The second and final intended audience here would be anyone interested in technical details like…you and me and megan. But now you aren’t asking us to read and judge a light little heart-warmer with a unicorn; dreading what we’ll say because the whole things is so OBviously weak.

    No, instead you’re asking us about specific aspects of the scene timing. That’ll increase the value of your feedback like crazy. I’ll never even notice you’ve gone off the fruity deep-end; I’ll just know option 2 had more punch than option 1 b/c you narrowed my focus.

    Cold story could have a constraint that it simply ends before that becomes a problem. 20 pages in Mr. Freeze’s head is too much. It feels right when you keep it under 10. Maybe forcing an overly bright character into the story (but not directly on the cold character). You’ll work for some contrast and now the cold isn’t warmed but appears more cold than before (maintain duality as needed for story length). When the cold finally vanquishes the heat, you’ll wrap up before the same problem appears (too cold for too long) and everyone goes away saying DAMN….that was COLD.

    • Jason R. Peters

      Horses? Unicorns? Mr. Freeze? Do what?

      At first I thought this was a brilliant analysis, but then you lost me a bit. I agree that limitations fuel creativity; all the proof we need of that is original Star Wars (whole companies had to be created for special effects) vs. the prequels (where pretty much anything desired could be put on screen).

  • Brandon

    Of course it was brilliant analysis and it is also something you NEED to do. Seriously, you may not go to the same extent as my weirdo examples but the point remains. If you don’t put “is not a good story” as a restraint on most this stuff, you allow it to be too much.

    Now that I have a little breathing room in my sched, I’ll catch up my reading and give you something to salvage out of your starts. Then we’ll both decide on the specific restrictions for the next draft.

    This is the only way you’ll be able to pick up an old ‘so-so’ draft or story start and know which direction(s) move it toward better.

    And just because it does make a difference in how you accept my previous post, I was in hour 38 of awakeness at the time. I had an hour between classes and couldn’t afford to fall asleep so I put too much work into that post and extrapolated a lot.

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