No Argument Here


I didn’t run off to explore the structure of an argumentative essay yesterday as you may have suspected. I’d already reached out to the Internet to help me refine—or embelish—my understanding of a sequel’s elements, so I finished that up. What I uncovered amused me more than elevated my understanding. The author I pedastle for illuminating scene and sequel structure for me appears to have been building from the prior work of his teacher. The similarities between their language was so strong that at first I thought maybe one had plagarized the other. Then, when I saw they had the same university press publisher, I thought maybe one was just the pseudonym of the other. Finally, the acknowledgement in the latter’s book made the relationship between the two clear.

This morning I explored an argument’s structure. That structure isn’t quite as bulletable as Bickham’s (via Swain) outline for sequels, but it is describable. I wasn’t surprised to find a modification of the core introduction-body-conclusion structure of any essay. I was pleased to find something I hadn’t expected following the conclusion however: next steps.

I’ve not yet taken action to meld the parts of a sequel to the relating parts of an argument—I don’t know that I will—but I’m sensing strong parallels between the two. As I see it, the point of a sequel is to demonstrate to the reader that the character has become believably convinced to do something based on the events of the preceding scenes. The character effectively argues points of evidence until they arrive at a decision then they take action.

The first element of a sequel, emotion, isn’t resolving as easily as the last three elements. I don’t think it must, but it would be elegant if it did. Maybe the character’s emotions are like the introduction of the arguement. Why the character is even considering these various points of argument. That seems like a stretch and requires that I slip in the relating element for the thesis statement. An element a character might not have ahead of their thinking.

Maybe that’s the trick. Emotionally driven characters will jump to a thesis statement type conclusion ahead of any substantial arguments whereas a more practically driven character will take the time to support or undermine their own initial reaction to the the prior scene. Spend more time ahead of the thesis on emotion and very little on the argument for one character. Spend more time weighing the facts for another.

Photo courtesy of Andrew Malone.

413 words on day 992

The Four Categories of Writing Advice

I’m often on the lookout for new good writing advice. There are four kinds to choose from: aphorisms, mechanics, grammar, and gimmicks.

Aphorisms get you things like “Write everyday” and “Read everything.” They each speak some level of truth and at times they motivate me, but none of them inspire or help.

Mechanics, for me, are about the structure stuff. When to climax and after how many acts. I’ve been gobbling this stuff up because it feels like a big hole for me.

Grammar—and spelling—is another hole for me, and I do explore here. I try not to get bogged down in the details though. I think the details are important, but I also think that I can do an end run on some of the details when such word-dodgery is required. I apply my learning here in chunks.

Gimmicks are almost always petty grammar foibles: “Know the difference between there, their, and they’re.” Really? Who the fuck is you’re target audience when your crafting that blog post?

My most recent bit of one of these four was an aphorism. It arrived amusingly enough moments ago. At 10:45 or so: “Don’t wait till the last minute to write.”

What I’ve been craving, and what I’ve been finding un…findable is a fifth category. The category which tells me when I’ve written a paragraph one sentence too long. The category which convinces me that I really do need one more point to make my argument solid. The category which screams “Now is not the best time for that much parallel structure. Tone it down.” The one that tells me to reorder this paragraph to the last rather than the penultimate. I guess—I hope—I get that from writing everyday.

270 words on day 846

Overthinking Practical Magic

I chose not to write yesterday morning. My loose plan was to write in the evening after a day at work which would not be satisfying but at least over. Once that day was over, the prospect of writing anything more substantial than a waste of both our times increased from very likely to basically inevitable. For two hours I thought I might find inspiration in watching Practical Magic. I was inspired to choose not to write after all—that was more the late hour than the material.

Going in I recalled that I liked Practical Magic, but hadn’t seen it more than twice. I guess when I’ve got nothing better to do on a Saturday afternoon it’s always “While You Were Sleeping” day and not “Practical Magic” day on Lifetime. Having now seen it three times, I’d say the movie is just OK. It tries hard to be better than it is. Those stunted attempts don’t get it marked down, but they don’t get it marked up either. You can see the filmmakers’ solid efforts to remain true to a book that must have been packed with stuff while also trying to fit that all into a two hour package.

My meager schooling in older movies, black and white ones, reminds me there used to be explicit scenes showing a person in NY packing a bag, driving to the airport, waiting at the airport, on a plane, and so forth until they were finally rooted in LA. As movies have matured those travel scenes have been truncated to a telegraphing line in Central Park about moving to LA followed by a shot of the character unpacking a bag with a In and Out Burger visible through the motel window. No packing, no driving, no airport, no plane. Unless its a road movie, we never see travel much these days. Practical Magic did much of the same thing but with emotional travel. Two young girls casting a spell cuts to one of them as a young adult sneaking out and the other staying behind. That fast forwards to the stay-behind lonely and unloved which turns into a magic induced first kiss, marriage, two kids, and then a widow making. Back in the days before pausing, if you’d gotten up to pee prior to this you’d have missed the whole thing and been wondering where the hell those daughters came from.

Sometimes strategic gaps are fine. Sometimes when they aren’t fine they are still necessary. Sometimes they aren’t fine at all. As often as they were fine or needed in Practical Magic they were also jarring. I doubt anyone was satisfied with the exorcism at the end—the stay-behind had no trouble marshaling her sneering neighbors to form a coven and save her returned sister. I have little doubt the book spent time showing how those women overcame their petty disgust of the sisters’ witchery to identify with the returned ones man-trouble or how a few of them had secretly coveted their powers and saw this as an in. Or maybe there were cut scenes which showed the two-faced women of the town sneaking help from the witches in private only to denounce them in public and stay-behind blackmailed them. Whatever the motivation in pulp, it was lacking from the celluloid. And I noticed.

And I don’t know what that means.

Does it mean that I know movies aren’t books and books aren’t movies? Does it mean that I’m developing a more critical eye toward the pieces of a story? The first I knew; the second I need but don’t know how to wield.

601 words on day 837

Scene and Structure Redux

I haven’t posted in a while because I haven’t written in a while. I’ve blown my December 2011 date; my 1000 days of writing will conclude somewhere in 2012. The majority of my thinking makes this a good thing more than a bad thing. The quality and volume of what I’d been writing prior to my semi-purposeful hiatus was both low and low. I put the blame for that and the hiatus on my day job.

Instead of diving in, I’ll be sitting on the edge with my feet getting used to the temperature of the water first.

I’m re-reading that Scene and Structure book by Jack M. Bickham. Once again the specificity of his writing instruction resonates with my desires for knowledge. The most concrete analogy I can make involves lumber. If I think about my skills as a writer, I feel comfortable sanding the plank of a story to a glossy sheen. So comfortable, I’m sure I wear the thing to a sliver in places. Bickham’s instructions provide me with guidelines for placing the cut marks to break the plank into appealing lengths, suggestions for when to use a dovetail and when to do a mitre, and some third woody thing I can’t think of right now since I’ve not completed the re-read.

Some would find the thrust of his book too prescriptive, possibly to formulaic. The programmer in me finds it tangible and usable. And I know enough about writing code to know that there are several ways to accomplish the same outcome. I know that guides and rules and restrictions can be a harness which helps the horse pull the cart not a hobble which leaves her prey to wolves.

The last book and a half I read got me to thinking about scenes and how many one needs to include in a novel length book. Yesterday evening Bickham made an aside about the number of scenes needed in a book and how this high number often confounded new writers. He said that in his experience students had far too few scenes necessary for a novel and as a result those students padded their scenes to reach novel word counts. By doing so, they killed the pace of an otherwise engaging plot. I know I’ve not given enough thought to how much stuff goes into a novel. I wouldn’t have guessed the real risk of having too few scenes was bloat over brevity.

407 words on day 781

Comma On My Mind

  • I think today I’ll do some exercises, and I may seek new ones.
  • Hovering over the keyboard, his fingers contemplated their next move.
  • Clouds drenched us overnight and gray hangs overhead this morning, so I feel like writing about water.
  • Last night I told my wife I think writing well would mean writing full time, but I don’t think I will take on that challenge soon.
  • As it turns out, knowing where to put the commas isn’t all that hard.
  • My grammar for fiction writers book is in my desk drawer, yet I resist opening either util I can nail all the conjunctions.
  • I don’t think I will get them all from memory, plus I haven’t figured out how to use ‘nor’ at all.
  • I’m still shaky on the introductory phrase, for I often find I write longer ones than I think are allowed to be called introductory.
  • I’m not sure if questions constitute a full sentence, nor am I sure why I would think that were true.
  • Eesh, that nor one kills me.
  • I shouldn’t forget the comma before names. Right, Scott?

What other exercise can I dream up?

I read about SVO order, and I thought I might work on that more. I also read one author who recommended back loading sentences with your core thought. Either of those might make good exercises.

I’ll explore those later.

xxx words on day 586

Death Hugging an Idea

As a programmer I work with what my Mom would call parameters but what I call requirements—parameters are different to us. Requirements define for me what task I need to accomplish but not necessarily how to accomplish that task. Sometimes these requirements handcuff me to a bench and order me to “Stay there.” Other times the just encourage me to stay put, but they don’t mean I can’t get up to get a drink of water and sit back down.

If you’ve stuck with me through that strained cop metaphor then I applaud you.

I read a post this morning concerning First Ideas. This post asserted that newbie writers latch on to their initial inspiration, but they forget that the inspiration belongs to them and that they are allowed to manipulate, change or discard that idea. Death hugging this idea almost always leads to bad stories. When I read this, at first I felt a little bit baptized—hey, it all seems so clear now…wait, wait, maybe not—but then I brushed the holy water from my brow and went back to my sinning ways.


I like an absolute. I like gravity pulling me down. I like hearing I can do anything I want, but I can’t ignore this one parameter. This one requirement.

Maybe my first idea and their first idea are different things. Or maybe I’m a naive new writer and can’t tell the difference. I think of it this way: some ideas—maybe not the first ones, maybe not the inspired ones—anchor a story. These anchors provide the writer and the reader an immutable structure they adhere to during the course of the story. Down is down.

I’m doing this right now with the Benhá story. I’ve slipped Brother Gane in from the Shanty thread, and I’ve locked him down. This means I bring along some worldbuilt baggage destined to effect Charming’s story in ways I may not have expected at first. However, that baggage—mostly industrial magic and maybe spaceships—works as a backboard to Benhá story development. It helps me, not hurts me.

Requirements like these keep me from speculating crap up.

362 words on day 544

Commas Again


The clock strikes 10 in 5, and I just realized I wrote nothing today. Morning writing makes so much sense that not writing then is foolish, so I forget. Also, some days challenge me to get my butt in my seat.

Speaking of my butt let’s see what we can pull out of it.

I tell you what. Discovering if the above sentence needs a comma between butt and let’s will satisfy me for the day…

Based on my neo-nacent understanding of comma use with regards to introductory phrases and asides, I say the sentence needs a comma in that spot.

101 words on day 539