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Posts Tagged ‘Frustration’

Rube Goldberging A Story – Please Don’t!

February 28, 2012 Leave a comment

A Rube Goldberg Device is something that is unnecessarily complex in order to accomplish a fairly simple task. Thus, by it’s complex nature it is clumsy, unwieldy, often breaks and fails to perform the task it was designed to do. Stories, it seems to me, often turn into such monstrosities. Yes, even published stories which get the full backing of a publishing house and make money for an author.

In stories turned Rube Goldberg devices, things tend to just happen. The author gets from point A to point D through events B and C, but those events are clunky and often seem constructed to purposefully drive a story through, even if they tend to make little sense as to why they needed to be taken even after they were taken. Such stories heap unpredictability among improbabilities upon out of character reactions until the story reaches the author’s desired ending. Don’t get me wrong, unpredictability is good because predictability breeds boredom. However, too much unpredictability, and not enough logic, leads to frustration on the part of the reader. A reader can only stand so many “out of the blue” realizations that save a character from certain doom, or plot twists that send the story off in new directions. Too many and the reader becomes dizzy.

There is one example that is most prevalent in my mind of this sort of story telling gone awry; the television series “24”. Although I hear the series “Lost” was the same way, but I can honestly say because I never watched it. The first season of “24” was great. I and many of my friends loved it because there were twists and turns and looking at them in hind sight, once revealed, made sense. The writers struck just the right balance.

Then came season 2, and it was good, though not as good as the first. The sense was that the writers knew that the unpredictability was the draw of the show, so they tried to squeeze in more of it. But some of the twists, even in hindsight, seemed little more than an appeasing grasp at the philosophy that unpredictability for the sake of it was a good thing.

After season 2, things went downhill fast. Some of the following seasons were better than others, but they all suffered from the same flaw of being too much like a Rube Goldberg Device. Characters would have a sudden flash of insight to escape a hopeless situation. Others would mysteriously appear for no other reason than to push on to the next cliff hanger ending each week. Still others would change stripes without any inclination that they were going to despite lots of screen time spent delving into their characters and portraying them in a certain light. Essentially, there series was chaos out of which emerged the ending some many weeks later.

Stories that proceed like this actually bore me more than encourage me to read more. Eventually, too much chaos and it becomes impossible to suspend disbelief.

Free Writing Excercise … Sheala Backstory

February 3, 2012 Leave a comment

This free writing exercise follows the rules I set forth in this post. Sheala is a character in a very old story I wrote back in college for a creative writing class. She is also a character that was integral to a lot of the Dungeons and Dragons campaigns that I ran, showing up often throughout them to interact with the player.  She is also a character in my story short story (in progress)  Sacrifice.

[BEGIN]

The room was dark, save for a few candles. A girl not yet in her teens stood at the side of the heavy desk. Her clothes were not much better than that of a beggar. Her reddish hair was brown with grime from lack of washing.

She watched as the middle-aged thief sitting behind the desk was busily writing the final words of a missive. The girl’s mind was anxious. Her foot tapped with frustration, not impatience. The man marked the letter with a seal of wax, imbedding the ring on his finger into it so as to identify its writer. He held it out for her to take. She did not. He shook it with annoyance and stared at her. She looked away. “Sheala!” he barked, “take this.”

She would not. “No,” she snarled back while staring him down.

“If you want your pay, you will do as you are told!”

The tone in his voice annoyed her. She did not particularly like Darvin that much. Nor did he her. “I’ve been doing ‘as I’ve been told’ for three years. And where’s that got me? I signed on to be a thief, not a courier girl.”

Darvin harrumphed, setting the letter down on the side of the desk. Rising out of his seat he started to scold her for her insolence. “Maybe if you had an ounce of talent you could be something else!” Sheala did not shrink from the verbal assault. The words struck her with their full force. “Every time we’ve had to bail you out because you couldn’t do something simple it cost this guild money!” Darvin sat back down with a dismissive wave of his hand. He reminded her, “And our members don’t like losing money. Now, take that letter to Farete.”

Sheala sucked in her next breath through her nose an exhaled it in the same way. She did not want to take the letter. There was no real money in being a simple messenger. On her shoulders she felt a pair hands. They were like a father’s hands, with a firmness meant to steady and soothe. But they were not her father’s hands. “Perhaps,” she heard the man to whom they belonged start to speak, “she just needs more training.”

“Arias,” Darvin talked over her head to the man behind her as he began writing another letter, “she has had the opportunity to learn from six of our finest members. Six. All of them have said the same thing. No matter what you think, she has no real talent.”

Sheala scowled. She had talent. She had been with Ebeth and his gypsies for years. Sure, as thieves they were not very well organized and they had pressed their luck too much which had led to their incarceration in Rickland. Luckily she had been able to get away even though she had got caught more than a few times during her stint with them. But she also had also been very lucrative to Ebeth’s little operation as well. That is exactly why they happily got her out of the trouble she found herself in from time to time. No, she had talent. She knew she had it. She just needed the chance to prove it. Sheala wanted to say something in her defense. But the slightest tightening of the hands on her shoulders told her to hold her tongue. She respected Arias enough to abide. He had been the one who got her into the guild.

“I think our normal methods may not be best for teaching her.”

Visibly frustrated at the discussion, Darvin put down his quill. He folded his hands on the desk before him in a measured patience and addressed Arias directly. “We have too many members and not enough work for them as it is. Do you know the kind of ire I would draw if I trained another thief and brought another hand to be paid onboard?”

[END]

Time: 21 minutes 42 seconds

Ok, Progress Made! But Shockingly Not What I Wanted.

July 23, 2011 Leave a comment

So I have been sitting down the past couple days and have come up with a bunch of information for my fantasy world. I’ve laid down a lot of important things such as how long the year is, what types of magic exist, the size of the world in question, a back story that sets up why there is the conflict that there is, the pantheon of deities and I even came up with a basic story plot based on all this.

But what started happening actually surprised me a little. I sat down to do some free writing and now, 75 pages and 19,000 words later, I actually have the start of a full blown novel! Not the short story I intended to write!

Bear with me while I grunt in frustration. Ugh! Read more…