NaNo '12 ParticipantAs a run up to National Novel Writing Month for 2012,  we’ve been talking to writer, Samuel Snoek-Brown, my guest for the past three weeks. He wrote a short story that really caught me, and we’ve been deconstructing it and discussing it’s structure.

I seriously recommend novice writers try doing this with work they like. It’s a great way to teach yourself about what it is that goes into a story.

So first, take a look at his short story, Lightning My Pilot.

Then, if you haven’t yet, see our talk over the past two weeks:

Writers Discussing Writing – pt I

Writers Discussing Writing – pt II

I really didn’t expect us to have that much to discuss, but you know writers… especially deadly serious ones. Here it is…

Blog three of three

EJR: As we left off last time: talking about short stories and breaking them down to their beginning, middle, and end. And then into their various scenes. So I can identify what’s been going on craft wise­– What’s the beginning, middle, and end here in this piece?

Samuel Snoek-Brown: A beginning, a middle, and an end, right. Well, if I was breaking by scene, here in this story– there happen to be five scenes here, and if we take that down to less scenes? Humm. We might skip any overt exposition and jump right into the rising action, or we might eschew resolution altogether.

EJR:  So skip exposition, and we’d jump in at rising action. And skip the resolution. Two down to three. Cool. I never saw it from that view before. How simple can you get?

Samuel Snoek-Brown: My story feels a lot more traditional, though. However compressed it is, that first section is explicitly expositional: the mother is introducing the subject matter and the main problem of the story: the clouds, and how to explain them to her son, which, of course, is part of a larger question of how to explain the world to her son.

EJR:  Yes, I can see how you went for 5 but I like that you did it in such a short manner. Exposition didn’t seem like exposition. It felt like I was seeing a story, not a writer telling us a story. No wasted energy in this piece.  Short but complicated I might point out.

Samuel Snoek-Brown:  Right. because then the second section is all about the “fighting” that clouds do during a storm, and it complicates the story she was telling her son about the clouds. This is also where I introduced the absent soldier father (is he still at war? did he die in the war?), so it’s complicating the story she’s trying to tell her son about the world, too.

EJR: Keep going. I like talking writing and using the better terms for it all.

Samuel Snoek-Brown:  Well… I’m not so sure that the climax comes in the third section. In a way, I realize, looking at it now, that the third section — which is about the darker implications of the “war” in the sky as well as the real wars in our world — is really a further complication of the story. It’s more rising action.

Even the fourth section, where the mother/son mythology about the clouds slips out into the real world, in the kid’s classroom, isn’t really the climax, although it does re-reference the father and the sacrifices he’s made, the world the kid and his mother are living in.

EJR:  So you set out for a structure then allowed yourself to mix it up as it came to you. Great. Sometimes the structure is only found after the piece is written. Right?

Samuel Snoek-Brown:  Right. In fact, it’s hard to pinpoint a traditional climax, because there isn’t really any external antagonist or external conflict that will come to a head. The only real conflict is between the mythology this mother is building with her son and the real world that her son has to plug this story into. If there’s an antagonist, it’s the mother, but she’s also the one driving the story, both the one we’re reading and the one she’s telling her son.

EJR:  Good to bring up traditional antagonists. They’re not always so cut and dried in the better-written pieces. That can be all for the good.

Samuel Snoek-Brown: That fourth section, though, is where the story begins to get away from her, where her son begins to take over, and in that way it could serve as a kind of climax that leads to the confrontation with the homeless god-admiral in the end.

But if I had to point to the climax, I’d say it’s that confrontation with the homeless man. It’s that moment where mother and son, side by side, have to find a way to reconcile the story she’s been telling her son with the real world. It’s the moment when the mother comes ->this<- close to having to tell her son the truth. The REAL truth.

EJR:  So let me repeat from your ideas so far: “The falling action that results from that happens extremely fast: it’s the time it takes to walk her son back to their car. It covers one sentence. Maybe two or three, if you include the final question her son asks and the mother’s consideration of a response.”

Samuel Snoek-Brown:  Yes, This is a very shallow triangle, if you look at it graphically. That’s three whole sections — in my Word document, that’s five out of seven pages — devoted to rising action, and then BAM, in the course of a few very short paragraphs, the action falls and the story wraps up.

EJR:  What a ride! Visually I think I can see what you’re getting to. My readers are going to love this.

Samuel Snoek-Brown:  The way I see the story, that first scene, in the car where the mother first explains the god-ships, is clearly the setup.

I’ve always preferred to view the beginning/middle/end model as an overlay of the three-act  narrative, so that the beginning of a story is its setup, the middle consists of confrontation, and the end presents a resolution. But of the five scenes in the story, that last one is by far the longest. Each of the first four scenes is roughly a page long, but the last one is three pages all by itself.

EJR:   And anyone can take a story and rip it apart like this to find how it was done. And them doing so can create a frame to practice on. A very low-risk activity for beginners who need those training-wheels.

Samuel Snoek-Brown: Wait! There’s more!

EJR:   Laughs. Go for it!

Samuel Snoek-Brown:  The next two scenes are about warfare in the clouds — storms and rain. That’s the first part of the complication, and it’s abrupt and violent. The fourth scene is more extended, dealing in a longer time span, and it’s returning to exposition in a way. But with the illustration of warfare in the boy’s drawings, and the reference to the father’s military photo and insignia on the living room, it’s clearly a part of the middle section. It’s heading toward resolution (the mother is siding with her son against a world that fails to understand or accept their mythology), but it isn’t quite there yet.

The resolution — the mother and son successfully bringing their worldview to an outsider — occurs in that long final scene at the park.

All of this together, rising action, complication, resolution, means that we have a one-page beginning, a three-page middle, and the three-page ending.

EJR:   Brilliant. I can’t thank you enough. This made my day. I hope the readers who are just beginning to be deadly serious about stories are feeling the same. Thank you so much.

Samuel Snoek-Brown: Thanks, EJ — I enjoyed our conversation tremendously, and I’m looking forward to sharing your blog with loads of people!  Keep being awesome.

AS I INTRODUCED last week, I read an online story by my guest, Samuel Snoek-Brown recently.  And it touched me so much, I re-blogged it on my site here.

Here’s a link to it: Lightning My Pilot.   I really thought so highly of it that, as a ramp up to National Novel Writing Month,  I’ve invited the author to engage in a three-part talk about the how’s and why’s that went into creating this small gem. Here’s the second blog, the next one will show up in the 28th of October.

Read the rest of this entry »

I read an online story by my guest, Samuel Snoek-Brown recently.  And it touched me so much, I re-blogged it on my site here.

Here’s a link to it: Lightning My Pilot.   I really thought so highly of it that, as a ramp up to National Novel Writing Month,  I’ve invited the author to engage in a three-part talk about the how’s and why’s that went into creating this small gem. Here’s the first blog, the next ones will show up in the 21th & 28th of October.

So first, take a look at his short story.Then see our talk here, I really didn’t expect us to have that much to discuss, but you know writers… especially deadly serious ones. Here we go.

Blog one of three

EJR:  I think there’s something cool in looking at what the first thing your characters say on the page. Either because you planned on writing it, or during the edits, you came back and added it.

Samuel Snoek-Brown: Yeah, that’s totally right — I wasn’t thinking about dialogue at first! But you’re totally right about that.

EJR: I love the line the mother says first in the story

“Oh Honey…”

It really shows so much in the simple two opener words. They’re so­– motherly.

Samuel Snoek-Brown: So, yeah– I used “Oh honey” as a kind of affectionate aside.  I wanted her first spoken words to be both casual and distracted (the “oh”) but also casually loving (the “honey”).

EJR: It’s so important to not say too much in the narration, but instead show the same thing, in a subtle way via dialogue or smaller actions. It works so much better, no? What advice would you give novices for getting to that point where doing that comes easier?

Samuel Snoek-Brown: I suppose it would depend on how they wrote the character of the mother. I feel like this woman lives in my head, as a kind of “ideal mother” figure — especially since she’s alone, without the boy’s father.

EJR: So it comes from tapping into what’s remembered or created in your head, those sense memories, rather than trying to be writer-ish on the page?

Samuel Snoek-Brown: Yeah, someone else’s “ideal mother” might come out differently. So I think, whatever that novice writer needed to convey character, I’d be looking for something like that. Maybe not “oh honey,” but whatever THEIR ides of what mothers would have said.

EJR: I love your title. How did it come about? Did you work hard at coming up with it?

Samuel Snoek-Brown: Oh, I hate titles! Laughs. I suck at them.

EJR: Laughs, So this was a great title caused by blood and tears? What’s your secret here?

Samuel Snoek-Brown: Lately, I’ve been turning to other sources that might somehow resonate with my work. Kind of the way Hemingway would turn to the bible, or Faulkner would turn to classical literature.

EJR: Smart.  I bet a lot of novices never think along those lines when they start out. How one bit of art can feed your own.

Samuel Snoek-Brown: So I did some looking — I knew I wanted to go with poetry, something poetic — and I remembered Shelley. I couldn’t remember the poem in particular, but I remembered he’d done something with clouds, so I looked him up.

EJR: Research – a writer’s god. Plus, you expose yourself to so much more you might not have thought to read in the searching.

Samuel Snoek-Brown: Sure enough, that poem is “The Cloud.” So the title is from a line in that Shelley poem.

EJR: Next question, 1,829 words.  Did you write big and cut down, or make an effort to write short and small?

Samuel Snoek-Brown: Okay, let me look at it for a moment…. Humm. Tough one.

EJR: Let’s move to the tone you opened with, and how it evolved through the story. It began with a Creative Non-Fiction tone, Sounding a bit reflective and memoir in tone. But slipped into the story telling tone at the line

“Mom,” he said. “Why are the god-ships fighting?”

Talk to us about that process.

Samuel Snoek-Brown: Tone. Hummm. Okay, here’s the part where I sound like a jerk.

EJR: Don’t be so sure.

Samuel Snoek-Brown: I wrote this story, almost the whole of it, in my head while soaking in the tub nursing a terrible headache. When I got out of the tub, I pounded out a draft still wearing my towel, and then I went to bed.

EJR: So you did write small to bigger. I have to say, I felt like I was hearing the tale, and no longer reading the reminiscences.

Samuel Snoek-Brown: I work it over a few times the next day, but beginning to end, I wrote it in under 24 hours.

EJR: That’s a rarity, but when it comes you are so lucky to grab it.

Samuel Snoek-Brown: If anything, it got a, maybe, hundred words longer.

EJR: You slip in the back-story in small increments throughout the piece. Nothing is the overt narrator’s voice talking right to the reader, Like with the simple line:

It’s what he’d said when his father deployed.

Samuel Snoek-Brown: In the first draft, I didn’t have a father figure at all. So that whole missing father/war background came in the second day.

EJR: I can see that info, but it’s given to us as a reaction to what her some has said to her. A lot of novices would not realize the action of characters revealing bits of back story can be so swift, and yet so telling of a great deal. Did you work on salting these back-story moments into the story after the fact? Or were they written as you went along?

Samuel Snoek-Brown: Yes. But, that’s just a few dozen words.

EJR: Oh yeah, it’s very subtle. Which is what I like so much about the way you wrote this.

Let’s give you a break, and next time we’ll move into discussing Scene.

Samuel Snoek-Brown:  Great. Until Next week.

Here’s to Beautiful Writing

September 15, 2012

Here’s to beautiful writing because we’ve worked so dammed hard to make it beautiful.

~ e.j. runyon

Bridge in fog



This summer, having finished

a)   my Graduate Certification in Online Teaching & Learning, and

 b)   my manuscript for my upcoming how to write fiction book, and

c)   my Camp NaNo June & August effort: first draft of ‘All Soul’s Day’, a new WIP

I decided to treat myself to a software program called Scrivener for the upcoming November 2012 NaNo effort – Read the rest of this entry »