Daily Writing Tip 65 of 100, Subtlety and Misdirection

For one hundred days, I’m going to post a writing tip each day. I have a whole bookshelf full of writing books and I want to do some reading and increased studying of this valuable resource. This will help me keep track of anything I’ve learned, and help motivate me to keep going. If anyone has a favorite tip of their own to add, contact me. I’d love to put it up here.

Today’s tip – Subtlety and Misdirection

Source – Conflict Action & Suspense by William Noble

A car engine breaks the stillness of the night… The smell of seaweed intrudes on an afternoon chess game… And unopened letter slips behind couch cushions….

These are what we might call “plot-hypers”, in that they add an element of uncertainty and tension. They create a rise of anxiety by injecting an unexplained event or circumstance. What makes plot-hypers especially useful is the relative ease with which they can be used and the impact they can have on the story.

Unexpected elements in fiction – we need to remember to sprinkle them, but with discretion. I’ve always said a story can have one extremely unlikely coincidence (they do happen, and without this coincidence you wouldn’t have a story) – but only one. Two extremely unlikely coincidences strain credulity past the breaking point.

You can have a character randomly run into one character from their past (“Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine”) but that’s it… no more. If you don’t believe in the story, there is no uncertainty and tension – it’s just letters on the page.

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Daily Writing Tip 62 of 100, Conflict: Coming Soon To a Scene Near You

For one hundred days, I’m going to post a writing tip each day. I have a whole bookshelf full of writing books and I want to do some reading and increased studying of this valuable resource. This will help me keep track of anything I’ve learned, and help motivate me to keep going. If anyone has a favorite tip of their own to add, contact me. I’d love to put it up here.

Today’s tip – Conflict: Coming Soon To a Scene Near You

Source Beginnings, Middles & Ends, by Nancy Kress

The point to remember about conflict is that it arises because something is not going as expected. Your readers should suspect that as early as your first few paragraphs.

Calling for conflict in the opening few paragraphs of a story doesn’t mean that your first sentence must feature a body hurtling past a sixth-story window (although it might).

Yeah… that’s the ticket. A body hurtling past a window. Better get writing.

Daily Writing Tip 55 of 100, Create Conflict

For one hundred days, I’m going to post a writing tip each day. I have a whole bookshelf full of writing books and I want to do some reading and increased studying of this valuable resource. This will help me keep track of anything I’ve learned, and help motivate me to keep going. If anyone has a favorite tip of their own to add, contact me. I’d love to put it up here.

Today’s tip – Create Conflict

Source – How to Write a Short Story – The Ultimate Guide to Putting It All Together, In Your Head And On the Page, a Sparknotes book by John Vorwald and Ethan Wolff

Once you have a germ of an idea for your story, you’re ready to figure out what the conflict is. Conflict is the opposition of people or forces against one another. That opposition can take many forms in fiction: it can happen between people, over ideas or feelings, or from natural or manmade circumstances.

Conflict is essential to short stories because it will spawn your story’s central problem and provide obstacles for your character to overcome before resolving that problem. Conflict activates your characters and creates the tension that engages the reader. When you write a short story, you select and dramatize a defining moment or event in a character’s life. That event create change – change in the character, his or her circumstances, and/or his or her life. For that change to occur, your character will have to confront a problem or crisis.

Germ – Conflict – Characters…. that’s really all there is to a story. The rest is all gravy.

One Hundred Short Story Basic Ideas

George Polti put the number at 36. He insisted that there are exactly thirty-six dramatic situations.

1. Supplication (in which the Supplicant must beg something from Power in authority)
2. Deliverance
3. Crime Pursued by Vengeance
4. Vengeance taken for kindred upon kindred
5. Pursuit
6. Disaster
7. Falling Prey to Cruelty of Misfortune
8. Revolt
9. Daring Enterprise
10. Abduction
11. The Enigma (temptation or a riddle)
12. Obtaining
13. Enmity of Kinsmen
14. Rivalry of Kinsmen
15. Murderous Adultery
16. Madness
17. Fatal Imprudence
18. Involuntary Crimes of Love (example: discovery that one has married one’s mother, sister, etc.)
19. Slaying of a Kinsman Unrecognized
20. Self-Sacrificing for an Ideal
21. Self-Sacrifice for Kindred
22. All Sacrificed for Passion
23. Necessity of Sacrificing Loved Ones
24. Rivalry of Superior and Inferior
25. Adultery
26. Crimes of Love
27. Discovery of the Dishonor of a Loved One
28. Obstacles to Love
29. An Enemy Loved
30. Ambition
31. Conflict with a God
32. Mistaken Jealousy
33. Erroneous Judgement
34. Remorse
35. Recovery of a Lost One
36. Loss of Loved Ones.

Foster-Harris said there are three – “Happy Ending” – “Unhappy Ending” – and the “Literary Plot”

Jessamyn West listed out seven.

[wo]man vs. nature
[wo]man vs. [wo]man
[wo]man vs. the environment
[wo]man vs. machines/technology
[wo]man vs. the supernatural
[wo]man vs. self
[wo]man vs. god/religion

Ronald Tobias says there are twenty master plots.

Quest
Adventure
Pursuit
Rescue
Escape
Revenge
The Riddle
Rivalry
Underdog
Temptation
Metamorphosis
Transformation
Maturation
Love
Forbidden Love
Sacrifice
Discovery
Wretched Excess
Ascension
Descension.

As for me, these are interesting ideas and a great starting point to come up with inspiration, but not really practical when the deadline is looming and the mind is empty and the panic is rising.

So, in my “Spare Time” I have started to make a list of short story ideas or plots or basic structures or prompts or whatever. I decided to come up with a number first instead of doing the list first and then counting. Makes more sense to me.

I picked a nice round number – one hundred. So, in my notebook(s) that I carry around, every now and then I’ll think of a new one, write it down and give it a number. I’m only up to sixteen so far, so I better get crackin.’

1 Revenge Story – must have downtrodden victim taking revenge on the person/people responsible for keeping him down.

2 Love Triangle – Requires a somewhat passive follower – yet very desirable- character has to choose between 2 pursuers.

3 Someone isn’t what they seem. On the surface a benevolent character turns out to be a monster underneath.

4 Wakes up to the man. Someone, probably a youth, realizes the hopeless, soul-crushing nature of existence – rebels. Successful or not.

5 Unreliable Narrator. – First person narration point of view. As the story progresses the reader realizes the narrator is lying and is not the beneficent person they portray (and believe themselves).

6 Revenge Story 2 – Someone done wrong but NOT downtrodden, takes revenge on a victim that does not expect it.

7 You might be done with the past, but the past isn’t done with you. A long-ago incident – secret- comes back to haunt a person in a secure well-established position.

8 Petty Crime Goes Bad – Someone steals something (notebook? Laptop? Phone? IPOD? Digital storage card or thumb drive?) and it turns out to have something unspeakably evil and dangerous associated with it.

9 (related to #8) Ordinary Object contains evil. Gift? Bought at thrift stop? Item has power but also terrible danger.

10 Fractured Fairy Tales – Take an obscure (or well known) fairy tale and set it in modern day. Kick things up a notch.

11 Rosebud – Filthy Rich self-made man – his fortune can’t cure a hurt left over from his childhood or he can’t rescue a loved one – or both.

12 Memories of Childhood nightmares. – fear of atomic attack, making noise, or other mostly irrational fear – maybe it comes true (just because you are paranoid doesn’t mean they are not out to get you).

13 An ordinary dystopia – A terribly ordinary day is told in all of its horror.

14 Requiem for a Dream – The hero’s constant struggle for a goal, for fulfillment, is turned by a fatal flaw – dreams turn to nightmares. The core sin is that of blindness to one’s true nature – and/or ignorance of one’s love’s true needs.

15 Mediocre athlete – a person aids a naturally gifted person – that is a fraud. The mediocre person ends up relaxing and winning himself.

16 – Expert helps downtrodden – an elite unexpectedly sacrifices a bit of his own success to aid someone not as elevated.

Sixteen down, eighty four to go. Leave a comment if you have any ideas, that would be cool.

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17  Blast From the Past – A person meets someone that was a key influence in their distant past.

18 Mysterious Pest From Beyond – a hellish parasite arrives from an unknown location and attaches to the protagonist

19 Monkey’s Paw – Dream comes true, turns into a nightmare (similar to #14 – but different tone)

20 The Opposite Of Doomed Love – What if Romeo and Juliet said to each other, “I love you but this isn’t going to work out, what with the family and all.” What tragedy would ensue.

21 Military in Need – Opponents on the battlefield are thrown in with each other and must cooperate to survive.

22 What we were and have forgotten – The world from a child’s point of view. We don’t remember the fear.