Writing Diagrams

Today I have decided to write about writing diagrams. Now, usually, I write these posts at least a few days in advance but, as this week has been a bit hectic, please forgive my spur-of-the-moment idiosyncrasies. There will be, however, pictures interesting to look at (if you like looking at picture examples is, in fact, interesting, of course) so I hope they make up for my (probably) crazy ramblings.

At a very young age I discovered the plot diagrams. I was searching the web for some interesting games to play and found this website – http://www.fictionpress.net. It was a marvelous discovery which allowed me to write and “publish” anything I wanted, create stories and spread my wings as a young writer. The users of the said website spoke very highly of a shape called the Plot Diagram (which I aptly named “The Hat Diagram” after I saw its basic shape) so I looked it up. Lo and behold this popped up:

It was pretty exciting for me because I’d never seen anything like it. So I used it, obsessively. Every story had to have an exposition, rising action, climax, falling action and resolution in exactly that order, regardless of what type of story it was. And, quite frankly, my writing became a tad bit boring because
of it. I had neglected to factor in the unique qualities of individual stories. Not every story has an exposition, sometimes the reader must be thrown into the action and the exposition comes later on, sometimes the reader sees the resolution first and then gets to piece together how it happened, and sometimes there is no climax at all, leaving the reader excited but forced to come up with their own twist. All in all, every story is different, heck, each genre is different. So the Hat Diagram, while useful, doesn’t help in every situation.

Back in my college years (only last year, mind you), I encountered another diagram. This one, or so the professor assured me, would be an important facet in writing short stories. I drew the diagram out and attempted to put it to good use. It was named the Inverted Check-Mark:

This diagram, said the professor, would help those rambling writers rein in their resolution which would, in turn, tighten up their short story. Yet, note how skewed this diagram is – the rising action takes up almost entirely the whole plot, hit the turning point, and poof as a writer and reader you’re pretty much done. It seemed odd to me at the time, but I gave my professor the benefit of the doubt and tried it. And again it helped for a while. But only a while. I, again, got stuck, a helpless turtle on its back unable to do anything except the same rocking motions back and forth, back and forth. I soon realized that short stories, like longer works, can start wherever the writer deems necessary, at the turning point, resolution, or even mid-rising action.

There are a dozen different devices aimed at helping writers develop their plots and, for the most part, I applaud them. They do help. If you ever get stuck, try one out and see what happens.

However, a caution to this tale of mine: In order to be unique one must break away from the usual and try something, well, unusual. Remember that. Don’t depend on diagrams. Don’t depend on anything except your ability to write and your creative muse.

(Except, of course, when your muse disappears, then write questionable stuff for a while until it returns… but that’ll be a different post.)

To sum it up: Diagrams are good. Don’t use them every time or you’ll end up like a turtle. Create something new.

I hope this helps someone out out there…

Warm regards,

New Developments

Some new developments and extra responsibilities in my writing life have taken root over the past two weeks. I’ve been offered two new volunteer positions at Flashquake!

In case you don’t know, Flashquake is literary magazine that is both online and in print, specializing in flash fiction, poetry, plays and non-fiction, as well as visual art and articles about the craft of writing. (Here’s the website – http://www.flashquake.org/ – go check it out!)

I’m all ready the resident interviewer for the magazine, a position I’ve held for the past year or so which allows me to peek into the minds of many talented artists and which I thoroughly enjoy. (Shameless plug – I even have my picture in the Editor’s section!) However, when two new segments opened up Cindy Bell, the chief editor, thought of me and asked if I’d like to head them. I, of course, said yes.

The new segments are thusly:
Critique-A-Flash – this is where writers of every sort are encouraged to submit their flash pieces (1,000 words or less) to Flashquake, I would then read their work and critique it then upload the flash submission and the accompanying critique on the website for all to see. There will be a new flash and critique up every Thursday evening. Yesterday (3/8/2012) the first one uploaded successfully – http://www.flashquake.org/critique-a-flash-overdue-by-jerry-guarino/ – go see! Now I know some writers may be a bit hesitant to submit since their work and the comments will be online (scary!) but we feel it will better their craft overall, better other writer’s skills, and give the readers something to peruse over until the next issue comes out. Plus I give fair critiques with both praise and flaws analyzed and discussed. Are you brave enough to submit?

Flash Book Review – this explanation should come as no surprise; each month I will read an anthology of flashes then put a review online. Hopefully it will encourage others to read more flash fiction (or steer clear of certain ones, depending on the content, haha). A new review will be uploaded each month but we have yet to decide on the day. Currently I’m leaning towards the end of the month, maybe on the 30th? I don’t know quite yet about the date but I’ll definitely keep you posted. I do have a book picked out for this month’s review … and now that I think about it I need to get cracking on reading it!

I’m excited to have these opportunities, it’s a chance to help fellow writers and better my own skill at the same time, a chance to read new works and review them! Plus I get to see the inside world of a literary magazine and a sneak peek at the competition too. Yes, they’re volunteer positions but I’m still getting out there, getting experience, getting to do what I love. It’s a good thing.

As a writer, I’m always surprised at what we put ourselves through for our craft. I mean, think about it, a flash is a piece that’s 1,000 words or less (we’re on the high end here, I’ve seen places where it’s less than 800 words) and within that confinement you have to somehow develop a plotline and a narrator, form relatable characters, include a twist, and end it gracefully. In 1,000 words – most likely less. Daunting is the word that comes to mind, like bungee jumping off a bridge with only water to catch you, you want to because of the rush, the excitement, but you desperately don’t want to as well.

I’ve only written two flash pieces in my life, both 800 words, both took me about a week and a million re-writes to condense down. I have yet to submit them to places but it was certainly an experience. One that I will most likely dive into again one of these days.

What’s your strategy, though, have you written flashes before?

Warm regards,

Updates and Crosscurrents

This week I’ve decided to give an utterly random project update…

1) The first half of my novel is done!
2) I’m officially onto the second half of my novel!
(yes, I realize this reiterates my first point but I’m excited so I’m throwing the usual writing guidelines into the wind)
3) My novella has a first sentence!
My novella has, thus far, only been a seedling in my mind. It hasn’t had the chance to develop and push it’s tendrils onto the page… until now!  (Cue scary, unintended, music here.)

And tell you all about the Crosscurrents event that I happened to attend…

It was awesome. Yes, awesome. Held at one of our museums in town, Crosscurrents is an event that only happens a few times a year. 49 Writers, the local creative writing organization, invites authors to come up to Alaska and speak about their books, how they made it big, and what inspired them to write. I have only attended this one time but quite a few people showed up considering it was a random Wednesday night.

Two authors stopped their hectic lives to chat with each other (and all of us) for an hour. They covered aspects like why they decided to write, how they got into writing, what degree they each received, how often they write, why they wrote their novels, and how to really get into the setting and world (among other things).

The back and forth was enlightening but the one aspect that really stuck with me is this… in response to a ‘how did you make it big?’ question the author of The Snow Child said roughly the following: “The stars aligned. Really though, nothing could have prepared me for it, I did nothing special to get it. I wanted to write this story and so I did.”

Do you know what that all boils down to, fellow readers and writers? You can write about vampires, you can write about werewolves, you can write about magicians with a lightning scar. You may cater to the current wave of fierce magical and fantastical elements in the literature trend today. You may get published. You may make it big. And you may not. When it all boils down to it? Write the story in your mind, get it down on paper, solidify the characters, know the plot, describe the setting, do your best to tell the story the best way you possibly can – write what you want to write. In the end, as long as the story is told, you did good. The piece of advice spoke to me, it’s what I’ve been writing about (and thinking about) these past few blogposts and I’m glad that others feel the same way.

I was wondering, though, have you been involved with a discussion such as this? If so (or if not, for that matter,) what is the best piece of advice you’ve gleaned about writing?

Warm regards,

Postscript – By the way, I encourage everyone to attend the writing discussions in your own area, don’t say there isn’t any around – there’s always something somewhere. You just have to look for it. It’s a lovely experience, really.