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Monday, April 12, 2010

The One, Two Punch

I've been writing fiction stories and novels for a little over four years now. Sure, a newbie in the grand scheme of things. But one can learn a few things even in four years that are worth sharing. And I was thinking about this particular writing issue, character vs. plot.

Or to put it another way, which do you focus on? Some people say that a character story is where it's at. You need compelling characters. Forget the plot twist, the surprise ending, just write good characters. And there is some truth to that. One does need compelling and interesting characters.

Others might focus on plot and story. Characters are fine, but if your story is boring, forget it. Who wants to read about great characters doing nothing? (I guess some people do, or you wouldn't have literary stories--*ducks and runs.*) But you'll see people who will say what Dean Westley Smith says:
*3) Should I tell stories while practicing or just write paragraphs or scenes?*

Oh, heavens, you are practicing being a storyteller, so every session is focused
on telling a story. Nothing else matters. Everything you practice goes to
telling a story, so every practice session should be on a story of some sort.

Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing: Writers Don’t Need to Practice

This is not to say that he doesn't care about characterization. And that really is where I'm going with this. For a quality fiction story, you need both. A great story to tell, and compelling/interesting characters to tell it with.

The classic books have both. Some were stronger in one department or the other, but they usually had strong elements of both plot and characterization. Yet, it seems beginning writers (myself included, I've done this), have one or the other, sometimes neither. But consider their story to be great, and woe to the poor reviewer who happens to say otherwise!

And basic storytelling is harder to pull off than many think. Many of us have heard stories all our lives, and think it should be as easy as sitting down and cranking out a masterpiece. The first novel I wrote, quite by accident, my wife and kids figured I'd be a famous writer within a year. I was a little more cautious. I figured it might take a couple of months to edit it into shape, then another two to six months to sell it to a pub house, and then it usually takes a while from acceptance to actually holding a copy in your hands, so I figured I'd give it a couple of years. Then I'd be famous. After all, who couldn't love this story!

Well, come to find out, the crit group couldn't love it. I'm in the middle of totally rewriting it from scratch to solve some of the issues I had with it, when I wrote it not knowing what I was doing. I've grown since then. I know it may take years, or even might not ever happen. But the joy is in the writing and that I must do. Famous or not.

But plot and a great story that draws a reader into it, keeps them there until the climax, leaves them gasping for breath, coupled with characters that add dimension to the story and make it a fun ride, is what will be a great story years from now. There's no reason to decide to only fire with half the engine on purpose. Why not use all the pistons and make that story hum?

Digital Dragon Takes a Story

May is turning out to be a big month for me. As if I didn't have enough excitement going on, I've had a story accepted into a new magazine for me, called Digital Dragon. It's yet another space opera story, a flash fiction I've titled "Spacy Date."

Though I didn't plan it that way, I now have one anthology and two short stories that will be coming out in May (not to mention my 28th wedding anniversary, woot!)  And interestingly enough, all of them are space opera stories. I think my space opera published story listing is beginning to overtake my fantasy line.

Which is a good thing. Not that I don't want to do fantasy, but it seemed my space opera was struggling for a while. And now old stories are coming alive and finding homes. Gives me hope there's still more in there where that came from.

Now, what to do next. Hum....