DIY MFA: Try a new technique

Today’s prompt for the DIY MFA Book Club is to a try a new-to-you technique from the DIY MFA book.

I always appreciate this sort of external push towards trying something that I might not do otherwise. It was also encouragement to spend some more time with the book (which, while I had been intending on doing so, had not really happened).

So, I ended up doing the story sketch for the novel that I almost ready to send out to publishers. This novel has been at this state for the last four or six months. My daughter read it in the summer and we talked about the adjustments that ought to be made to it.

Since then, I have been half-heartedly working on it. While I want to finish it, other (life) things have intervened. I have written a half-dozen short stories and submitted most of them to various places. And I wrote the first draft of my next novel in November for Nanowrimo.

I have, with a certain amount of enthusiasm and some reticence, returned to the absolutely-positively final edit of this novel in the last few weeks. The story sketch exercise jumped out at me as a nice focusing exercise. I have put this aside again and again and I need to to be clear, to myself, about what is the core story that I am trying to tell.

I have not completely finished the story sketch, but it is already helping me to  focus on the central aspects of my story. Generally, I find that, the deeper that I get into editing, the easier it is for me to start panicking and wanting to change absolutely everything. Having a basic understanding of the story and what it is intended to express is enormously helpful.


DIY MFA Book Club: Favourite story type

I’m particularly enjoying these prompts that push me to think about some of my unconsidered preferences around stories and characters. Today’s DIY MFA Book Club prompt is “what is your favourite story type?” referring to, for example, underdog stories or rom-coms or epic quest-type stories.

My first reaction is always something in the order of “I like what I like,” but that isn’t very helpful to myself, let alone in answering this kind of question. Really thinking about the stories that we like tells us a lot about the stories that we are trying to write.

So, I think that what I really like are stories about people (women mostly) finding a higher purpose and, most often, it is something that is of benefit to others. I also like an aspect of mystery or discovery, where the characters need to figure out something that is hidden or previously undiscovered.

All that to say I prefer science fiction and mysteries in general. More often than in fiction in general or in other genres, they fill my need for those combined concepts.

One of my absolutely favourite tv shows as a kid was Wonder Woman, which is, of course, about someone finding a cause to fight for and, along the way, having to figure out who the real enemies are (which is very well developed in the recent movie).

I also read the standard children’s mystery series — Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, Trixie Belden, The Bobbsey Twins (which I wouldn’t recommend now, because a lot of those stories were pretty racist) — which either developed or filled the need for the idea of higher purpose for others while figuring things out.

As I got older, I started reading the classic Golden Age writers — Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, Dorothy Sayers. My favourite character is Sayers’ Harriet Vane, who is far more than Lord Peter’s (eventual) wife.

I also read a lot of science fiction. (Actually, I just read a lot as a kid!) But starting with things like Heinlein’s juvenile books, which although mostly about boys, had a sense of unbridled adventure and discovery. They could build a rocket ship in their backyard and fly to the Moon. Or train to go into outer space.

I still seek out these same sorts of stories. I still love mysteries, particularly those with an amateur sleuth who feels called to help others and ensure justice is had. And I love SF and most super hero movies for the same reason. The average person (with perhaps hints of their capacity) who transcends that and helps others while figuring out what is really going on.

These days, I write mostly science fiction and my main characters tend to be women who tick these boxes. They explore and discover and struggle with their relationships with those around them, trying to help or not harm.

DIY MFA Book Club: Supporting Character Archetypes

The prompt today from DIY MFA Book Club is: what is your favourite supporting character archetype (and why)?

The role of supporting characters, of course, is to do just that, be supportive of the main character. Their purpose, their only purpose, is to illuminate aspects of the protagonist. Which is, of course, why we need to have supporting characters who play different roles. Gabriela listed the main types as Villain, Love Interest, BFF, Mentor, and Fool.

I’ve been thinking about this on and off all day and I haven’t really come to a conclusion (which is probably interesting in itself!). I think that my favourite supporting character archetype is a combination of the love interest and BFF. As I reflect on it, I rarely separate the two (probably because that’s my own personal situation (awww)). I’m not so keen on writing stories in which people meet a love interest, unless it’s the very initial, pre- or very early courtship timeframe. I am more interested in established relationships that are not going through a great deal of conflict (expect, perhaps, external conflict). The conflict in my stories happens elsewhere and I often write protagonists who have rather settled personal lives. (Or their lives are settled and then ‘something happens’ but it is not relationship-type somethings.)

I do know the archetype that is my least favourite and that is the villain. I like my antagonists to either be non-human/sentient or to be very human. And by the latter I mean that they are multifaceted, conflicted people doing the wrong thing for complicated reasons — to the point where ‘villain’ is hardly the right word.

Connecting secondary characters to the protagonist in ways that are clearly supportive (or at least, clear to me as I write) is something I need to work on. I have a tendency to throw in characters for no really good reason and then they just take up space on the page and they barely relate to the protagonist. (I should say I do this in novel-length works more than in short stories. Usually in a shorter piece, there just aren’t the words to include gratuitous characters.)