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Thread: Never Can it be Said

  1. #11
    I do hate to do this, but I thought you would want to know:

    From here: Never can it be said that I haven’t done my duty to my kingdom. though here: He would always ignore my caution of needing an heir, saying he was happy enough with his daughter. is a history lesson—backstory, not story. Story happens, it's not talked about. And story happens in real time. The minute you present an overview we cannot be experiencing the story, only learning about the progression of the plot. And so, for all practical purposes, you're presenting a report on the history of a place that does not exist. And who reads history books for entertainment, especially history books about fictional places? The answer is no one.

    The problem is that you, the author, are telling the reader the story in the same way you would were you at the campfire, storytelling. Yes, you're pretending that it happened to you, but is that really any different from talking about someone else's adventure? In both cases, on the page, and being read by someone with none of your story knowledge and without a clue of how you would read the words, it's a voice devoid of all emotion talking about people we know nothing about, in general terms. Have your computer read it aloud and you'll hear the problem.

    Never forget that your reader is expecting to be entertained, first, not informed. They want to be made to feel what the character living the story feels, and in this piece there is no character living it, only an unseen, unheard, dispassionate narrator providing a synopsis, without going into detail. We're told that the narrator murders the king in order to protect the country, but we have no idea if this person is right, mistaken, or deluded. We know only that this person told the king there was a problem and the king said he/she was wrong. Where did either of them get their information? Who is right. No way to tell.

    It's not a matter of talent or potential, it's that you're trying to use the techniques of verbal storytelling—a performance art—in a medium that does not support them. You're writing exactly as you've been taught to write in school, and are informing the reader of the plot details in a fact-based and author-centric way. So we know what happened. As a reader I've been informed. But what, about this synopsis is entertaining to a reader who came to you to be made to live the story with the protagonist as their avatar?

    As Sol Stein observed, “A novel is like a car—it won’t go anywhere until you turn on the engine. The “engine” of both fiction and nonfiction is the point at which the reader makes the decision not to put the book down. The engine should start in the first three pages, the closer to the top of page one the better.”

    You're working hard, and putting a lot of yourself into the writing, which is a deep emotional commitment. So by saying this I'm in the position of telling you that a favorite child is ugly, which is certainly not my intention. My point is that if you're going to work that hard, it makes sense to pick up some of the tricks of the trade to make the best use of that effort. Our schooldays writing is meant to make us useful to employers, who need nonfiction writing skills. Their goal is to have writing that informs. And since the goal of fiction is so different, it uses a different methodology, one that's emotion -based and character-centric. And your teachers probably never even mentioned that such writing tricks existed. After all, in all the time you spent during your public education years did any teacher make reference to the fact that scenes nearly always end in disaster? Did they talk about when to place leading tags, how to manage the scene-goal, or even mention how the structure of a scene on the page differs from one on stage and screen?
    Probably not. Yet these are things you must not only know, you need to make use of them as you write. How can we write a scene of we don't know that the structure of a scene on the page is very different from other mediums because of the constraints the medium enforces?

    The short version: Doesn't it make sense that to write like a pro we need to know what the pro knows? How can we write something that an acquiring editor will smile on if we don't know what that acquiring editor is looking for? In short, some time spent digging out the tricks of the trade would be time well spent. Not only will those tricks give your readers a more entertaining experience, you'll find that writing with them is even more fun, because to make the reader know the protagonist you have to become that character and live their story in real-time. And that can be so damn much fun that I once write for thirty-two hours straight with no breaks other then for food and bathroom breaks.

    So put some time aside to acquire the necessary craft. It will be like going backstage at the theater, and you'll find yourself saying, "Damn, why didn't I see that for myself?" It's great to be talented, but never forget that someone with untrained talent has no advantage over those with no talent. My personal suggestion, as it so often is, is to pick up a copy of Dwight Swain's, Techniques of the Selling writer. It's not the easiest of books, but it is the best I've found, and most of my articles on writing are based on things found in that book.

    Hang in there, and keep on writing.
    Jay Greenstein
    My articles on writing.
    The goal isn't to tell the reader that the protagonist is terrified, it's to terrorize our reader.

  2. #12
    Try reading James Herriot for examples of popular first person narratives.

  3. #13
    WHoops, sorry, look below.

    (If this can be deleted, then I would appreciate if it was, I can't figure out how to delete it myself)
    Last edited by Birb; December 6th, 2017 at 03:46 PM.
    You know, if you think about it, there are 7-8 billion people in the world. Think of the odds. The fact that we're all here with each other kinda makes you believe in that whole destiny thing.

  4. #14
    Hey Jay Greenstein!

    Well, I tried to post something to reply to your comment, but my internet spasmed and it just posted a quote of what you had said (look above) I know that I responded to each of Horse's points through quote (and I would prefer that, as I think it's a bit more organized) I will just respond here with my general idea.

    I understand that this might seem a bit history lesson-y, but that was sort of the goal. As I said, the story was meant to be from the perspective of Rilen. If we were in real time, Rilen would be on the balcony telling us what had happened.

    As for this comment:

    Quote Originally Posted by Jay Greenstein View Post
    I do hate to do this, but I thought you would want to know

    Never forget that your reader is expecting to be entertained, first, not informed. They want to be made to feel what the character living the story feels, and in this piece there is no character living it, only an unseen, unheard, dispassionate narrator providing a synopsis, without going into detail. We're told that the narrator murders the king in order to protect the country, but we have no idea if this person is right, mistaken, or deluded. We know only that this person told the king there was a problem and the king said he/she was wrong. Where did either of them get their information? Who is right. No way to tell.
    I'm not quite sure. From this quote:

    "As I cast the dagger from the balcony, I could already hear the shriek of the queen, and a bellow from my friend, my king. No doubt he would see the bed of his daughter, which always lay only feet from his own, and the crude trident marked on the wall near her."

    I thought I had been clear that the daughter was killed, this being done so that the king would be motivated to commit to war with the Poseiderians. If you missed that, it might be a problem with my writing though.

    As for the schooling comment, yes you are correct. I never did learn how to structure stories in school. I never learned even grammar really. In my district grammar was taught in grade school, then passed over from then on. Often, students forgot how to use grammar effectively completely, and this frustrated even the advanced classes greatly. My point in telling you that is to emphasize that I am newer to writing. A lot of this stuff is completely new to me, and that I am doing my best to learn.

    So, I'll preface this next comment with the fact that I agree with you. I know that I need to research pros and practice my work, I am doing that. However, one does not become a pro overnight. I don't even want to become one overnight, that'd be really boring (and a little unfair). I feel that it'd be much more helpful if you pointed out specific problems and told me what was wrong with them. You did a very good job of point out that my work had problems, but I knew that it had problems. Thanks for the suggestion on the book though, I will definitely look into it. (Hopefully it is on clevenet, I'll look later today).

    Brief update: I want to emphasize that I don't mean this to be rude, or to make excuses. This is just a quick response, as conversation is something I like to use to learn.

    Anyways, thank you for taking the time out of your day to comment on my piece, I grealty appreciate it! If you have any specific comments or tips on what I have done that you would like to point out I would greatly appreciate it. I'm glad that I found this place so I can learn from very talented writers, thanks again.
    You know, if you think about it, there are 7-8 billion people in the world. Think of the odds. The fact that we're all here with each other kinda makes you believe in that whole destiny thing.

  5. #15
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    Liked it!

  6. #16
    I understand that this might seem a bit history lesson-y, but that was sort of the goal.
    In general, your reader arrives with mild curiosity. They come to you hoping to be entertained. That curiosity, unless stimulated, will quickly fade. Confuse a reader for a line; bore the reader for a line; lecture the reader for a line, and they will stop reading right then. And if they do, who cares if the rest is brilliant? No one will see it.

    Look at some examples of what the overview approach does:
    It all began with the wretched Poseiderians. They are a savage, beastlike people who spend all of their time wallowing in caves.
    Based on the wording of the line the people in question spend their entire lives "wallowing in caves." Pigs wallow in mud. But how does one wallow "in caves?" And you say "all of their time," so obviously they don't cook, hunt, weave, or do anything threatening or interesting.

    Was that what you meant? Probably not, but it was what you said. We can't say, "You know what I mean," because unless I know the story as you do, and am aware of your intent, I won't, and can't. All I have is what the words suggest to mer, based on my understanding. But of more importance, as a reader, why do I care what they do all day? Unless you geve the reader a reason to want to know it's just meaningless data to be memoriesd in case it becomes necessary. And who will pay to do that?
    That they often mauled and ate weak and dying members of their own when their fishers brought in poor hauls, even women and children.
    Given that they do nothing but "wallow in caves," this would not seem to make sense. And as a minor point, the editing needs work because I can't tell if even women and children refers to them eating them, fishers bringing them in, or that the women and children ate the weak.

    But that aside it's such a broad and limited overview that we learn nothing useful other then that the one speaking about them dislikes and gossips about them. Why do I , who don't know where and when we are, care what scaary stories someone unknown's granny told them when they were a kid?. It's information a reader hasn't asked for, and which they see no purpose in learning. So a voice they cannot hear, one that belongs to someone unknown, is telling the reader things for which they have no context—and doing it for unknown reasons. Agreed, you want the reader to know the data you provide. But does-the-reader-want-to-know-it? Given that they are the customer, and at this point making a decision as to wanting to read more or seeking something else, they had better want to. Look at that Sol Stein quote again and ask yourself where, in your narrative, the reader will settle in and say, "Tell me more."

    My point is that your reader is not with you to learn the details of the events making up the plot. Plot can only be appreciated in retrospect. Your reader is seeking an emotional experience, not an informational one. Readers don't want to learn about James Bond's adventure, they want to become him and live it.

    It's an oddity of our profession that a husband and wife can be setting and reading in the same room, the man falling desperately in love with the beautiful heroine of his book (who in life would ignore him) while the woman is lusting after the hero in hers. In effect, they are being unfaithful. But it's okay because they're only reading. And, in fact, they both may finish reading feeling amorous. No way in hell will that happen if they were reading a history book. That tag line at the bottom of my posts says it all. We're trying to entertain our readers by making them feel, not be well informed.
    As I said, the story was meant to be from the perspective of Rilen
    But it isn't. It's being reported by him, which is a very different thing. I'm not allowed to link to my own articles, but I suggest you look at my article titled, What in the Hell is POV, which demonstrates what viewpoint is, and why it matters so much.
    I thought I had been clear that the daughter was killed, this being done so that the king would be motivated to commit to war with the Poseiderians.
    Why would a reader believe that the one killing the king is anything but a madman? We don't know who he is, what his background education is, his/her relation to the king, or anything useful other than that s/he kills the entire royal family because of a political disagreement. In fact, we don't know that character's gender, age, experience, or... So why would I, as a reader, assume that the character was right in the disagreements with the king? One assumes that the king has people who research things, and people who investigate. What does the protagonist have? You don't say.

    You know what you intend, but intent doesn't make it to the page. And we know not a blessed thing about him that would make us identify with the character. So based on the story, and the fact that no one else in it seemed to feel that way, your character committed regicide because he didn't like the king's policies.
    I feel that it'd be much more helpful if you pointed out specific problems and told me what was wrong with them.
    I have. Your specific problem is that you are telling, 100% of the time, when you could be inviting the reader into the character's viewpoint. It's a problem you share with most newer writers, so it's no big deal. And I did tell you what to do about the problem. To repeat: My personal suggestion, as it so often is, is to pick up a copy of Dwight Swain's, Techniques of the Selling writer. It's not the easiest of books, but it is the best I've found, and most of my articles on writing are based on things found in that book.

    I mean no insult, and I'm not saying this to belittle or find fault. The problem is that at present, like everyone who comes to recording their stories you're trying to use a set of tools that works well for nonfiction, but which when used for fiction yield a report because they were designed to write reports. We don't know this because our teachers learned those same skills in the same classrooms, and their mission is to train you in a set of general skills that industry and commerce find useful. In fact, public education began in England at the opening of the Industrial revolution because employers needed a pool of workers who had a predictable set of skills—what we call the Three R's. So if you want specific advice, try the following. I think you'll find it's well worth the time to read, chew, and make sense of it:

    First, this article, which is a condensation of the best way of placing the reader into the protagonist's viewpoint (viewpoint as against POV). It may seem a bit rigid, but like learning the basic steps of the waltz, once you "get it" and become comfortable, it opens infinite possibilities for how you make your use of the trick unique.

    This article gives some background on what a scene on the page is, and why.

    You might want to dig around in my articles on writing, which were written for one of my publisher's newsletter, and are aimed at the newer writer, for an overview of the issues.

    And if the Swain book I suggested is more advanced than you're ready for, try Debra Dixon's, GMC: Goal Motivation & Conflict (available for download anywhere, and in hard copy on Deb's site). It doesn't go into as much detail, but in many ways, it reads like sitting with Deb and discussing the craft of writing.

    Hope this clarifies.



    Jay Greenstein
    My articles on writing.
    The goal isn't to tell the reader that the protagonist is terrified, it's to terrorize our reader.

  7. #17
    Just to try to help clear things up, the king is very much alive at the end of the story. It's the king's daughter who is dead.

    I think there's room for a piece that is the introspection of a killer. Obviously he is unreliable. It's kind of a "fooled you" piece, because the reader doesn't realize Rilen is an unreliable narrator until the end.

    There's a whole thread about how to make villians appealing to readers. I think the OP nailed that part on this piece.

  8. #18
    Hey Birb...I enjoyed this story and took it in for what it was. As you said its a beginners piece and so I'm going to point out a few things that might be useful for a beginner. I don't normally do fiction...I'm more a poetry buff but I have written some fictional pieces so I know what its like to be in the novice stage of the game. Some things that tick me while reading and re reading personal works of mine is if I am making necessary use of language.

    What I mean by necessary use of language for one example is if I am over using certain words or if my sentences are flowing grammatically and fluently.

    Looking into your story I can point out a few things that might make me stumble if I were to be the one writing this myself.

    Quote Originally Posted by Birb View Post
    It can never be said that I haven't done my duty for my kingdom.

    Since I was a child I was taught one thing: It is for the good of the kingdom to help your king in any way possible. I have lived by that, reciting it like a mantra, over and over. Sometimes, the worst possible outcome can be the best possible outcome for your country. (This sentence seems muddled and doesn't get the point across, its almost paradoxical. Also using the word "outcome" twice is distracting. Maybe something like "Sometimes. the most wicked measures can create the best possible outcome for your country.")
    It all began with the wretched Poseiderians. They are a savage, beastlike people who spend all of their time wallowing in caves. Even their king -if you can call such a creature that- has no castle, but a cave at the edge of the sea. Unlike us, with our large walls, peaceful villages, fair law, and caring monarch, the Poseiderians have a crude brutality. I grew up hearing stories about them. That they often mauled and ate weak, dying members of their own when their fishers brought in poor hauls, even women and children. They sold their souls to some water witch, and ha scales and fish eyes. That the salty water they washed their clothes in made the cloth so rigid and crusted, arrows could be deflected by everyday garb. The list of atrocities is horrifyingly long, but the worst of these stories are the ones about their assassins. Wretched, practically foaming at the mouth in their madness, they are the most fearsome warriors -If you can call such a creature that- this land has ever seen. They often tore their victims to bloody shreds, while painting a jagged trident on the wall nearest to their victim. (Another word for victim Examples prey, dead, target, abused)

    (I really liked this part of the story I felt the distance between the two peoples and the savagery told through the folklore during the protagonists childhood)

    Since my king, whom I had been raised with, came to power, we saw a growth unlike any predecessor. My king, King Drenon, was a good king. He was benevolent, throwing his gold to the arts and to scholars, though neglecting his armies.
    “We have no quarrel with any neighboring country!” He always exclaimed when I told him that our armies needed the same, no more attention than pale scholars and ink-stained artists!
    “But, as your adviser, I suggest that we-”
    “Oh Rilen, you have been suggesting since we were merely children, stop worrying for once and live a little!” (Love the dialogue here really shows the Alpha/Beta personalities of the two characters)
    As always, he ignored me, even after presenting evidence of Poseiderians assassinating nobles close to their borders. He ignored his duties to protect his people, to increase the power of his kingdom and therefore the safety of his people.
    He was by no means a bad king. (Bring this sentence down the the next paragraph instead of using it as a seg way)

    He was a king that liked to, as he called it, "live". Often he could be seen in villages. No, not even the city surrounding his palace but fringe villages that would-should- have never even glimpsed royalty. He would enjoy their cheap beer and even feast with the peasants. Peasants. Even in his palace, he had only a single daughter. A daughter he loved more than anything else. He would always ignore my caution of needing an heir, saying he was happy enough with his daughter.

    (This paragraph needs some re designing. There are two ideas here and a paragraph should emphasize one idea. The first clause is the villagers and the village and your Kings compassion for his kingdoms peasant folk. The second clause is then his daughter. So you have two conflicting ideas going on at once and their all jam packed together jumping from one point to the next. By reading it, it seems as though you are trying to say that the daughter is a peasant herself. Not sure if you meant that but if that is the case then you need to expand on that a little more in depth so that the reader has a better understanding rather than the rational belief that the daughter is a Royal Princess)


    “My lord, there have been three more assassinations on the border of the sea. Tensions with the border-houses and the Poseiderians are escalating. We might have to-”

    “Dear Rilen, fear not, I have already seen to this issue. The Poseiderians found those nobles hiring people to mine ore in their lands. I have taken measures to prevent that from happening further.”

    To think that my king would associate with savages! Not only savages but savages that murdered his people. Not even his people but his nobles. The ones whom he entrusted with power over his land. At that moment I realized two things: That this was a time of war, and that we did not need a good king.

    I found myself creeping up the towers, dagger in hand, to the room where my king and his family all slept. Over and over in my head, the mantra repeating. "For the good of the kingdom, For the good of the kingdom." Despite it, my hand shook. I have known my king my entire life, since I was a child. As I crept up to the bed, I realized it held the key to the best outcome for my kingdom in the face of the impending danger, the threat of those savages, and did what had to be done.

    I stood on a balcony overlooking the entire city, staring at the bloodied dagger. Strangely, the blood mixed wonderfully with the reds of the sun rising over the horizon. Despite my actions, I felt at peace. I had feared that what I had done would haunt me, but I knew deep down that this was what was necessary. My...no, his people needed this. As I cast the dagger from the balcony, I could already hear the shriek of the queen, and a bellow from my friend, my king. No doubt he would see the bed of his daughter, which always lay only feet from his own, and the crude trident marked on the wall near her.

    We didn’t need a good king.

    We needed a great one.


    Very twisted and unexpected ending. I enjoyed Horse Dragons input on the ideology of the story and the psychology of a corrupt politician. It can mirror a lot of relativity in deciphering a very real world political calendar. Very interesting piece Birb thanks for sharing!
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