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#12--PREDICTABILITY

These lessons, by one of our most consistent FaithWriters' Challenge Champions, should not be missed. So we're making a permanent home for them here.

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#12--PREDICTABILITY

Postby glorybee » Mon May 17, 2010 6:57 am

Thanks to everyone who contributed to last week’s thread—I hope you’ll all continue to do the ‘homework’ and to add your valuable insights to each lesson.

Quick Take: The words ‘effect’ and ‘affect’ are often misused. While they each have multiple meanings, in their most common usage…

effect is a noun, meaning ‘result, consequence’

affect is a verb, meaning ‘to have an influence on, to produce a change in’

Here they are in sentences:

No matter how much I scold my cat, it has no effect on her behavior. She still flushes the toilet if I leave the bathroom door open.

The high price of caviar may affect the menu for the FaithWriters brunch.

HOMEWORK: Here are four sentences that use either ‘effect’ or ‘affect’ (or forms of those words). Two of them use the definitions I’ve provided above, and two of them use additional definitions for those words (so you may have to look them up). If you don’t have a ‘real’ dictionary, use this one.

1. It always has an __________ on Susan’s mood when she hears “Purple People Eater” on the radio.
2. The psychiatric patient’s symptoms included a flattened __________.
3. Babies are not generally __________ by normal household noises.
4. If you want to __________ change in your community, you should vote in local elections.


***
The third criterion for judging the Writing Challenge is “How well crafted is this entry, including predictability?”. For this week, I’m just going to focus on the last part of that criterion: predictability.

With a few exceptions, if your reader thinks she knows what’s going to happen in the next paragraph, there’s little reason for her to continue reading. True, there are some readers who are so fond of particular genres of fiction that they want the novel or short story to follow a predictable pattern, and they’re disappointed when it doesn’t. That’s okay—but we’re going to push past them, and give some tips for writing entries that will score well in the ‘not predictable’ category.

Oh, I should add that there’s a bit of overlap—this lesson meshes well with both ‘out of the box’ and ‘creative, unique, fresh’, and will also touch on the future lesson for ‘ending well’. If you haven’t read through those two previous threads, it might be a good idea to do so.

1. Know the expectations of your particular genre—and fiddle with them. Here’s an example from the romance genre, which often follows this formula: single girl—meets single young man—there is conflict (he is somehow unsuitable) or misunderstanding—conflict is resolved—they live happily ever after. Of course, in a full length novel, there will be additional plots and subplots, but in ultra-short fiction like the challenge, that’s the romance formula.

One more example, from a different genre—let’s take science fiction. Here’s a typical series of events: scientist introduces promising new technology—there is positive change in people’s lives—something goes wrong—there is a scramble to fix it—crisis is averted and a lesson learned.

Again, I know that I’m being overly simplistic, so bear with me. One of the things you can do (if you tend to write for an identifiable genre) to make your writing less predictable is to take one of the steps of your genre’s formula and do something different there.

Take a look at Catching Flies With Vinegar for an example of how I played with the expectations of the romance genre.

HOMEWORK: Take some other genre of fiction and reduce it to just a few simple events, as I’ve done above. Give an idea of how you could do something unpredictable in one step of that series. (Example from my story above: the main characters were middle-aged, they didn’t live happily ever after).

This is getting longish already, so I’ll spend less time on the remainder of the list. The general idea is the same, though—be aware of expectations or stereotypes, and deliberately do something different. Here are a few of those expectations or stereotypes to keep in mind:

2. Characters—try not to write characters who can be described in a few words. The Wise Grandpa. The Rebellious Teen. The Long-Suffering Wife. The Precocious Child. The Cuter-Than-You Best Friend. The Charming Stranger. Admit it: with each of those descriptors, you formed an immediate mental picture, perhaps even created a whole back story. That’s because you’ve read them all before.

Read Thunk for an example of how I tweaked The Charming Stranger.

HOMEWORK—List a few more recognizable character types, and give an idea of how you might fiddle with one of them.

3. Certain situations show up frequently in challenge stories—often with great similarities. I’ll list a few of them here to give you the general idea, and follow each with a story that goes in the unpredictable direction. (These are all my stories—not because they’re better than anyone else’s, but because they’re available to me, and I’m familiar with them. Please don’t feel as if you have to read them all.)

If there has been a separation, either physical or emotional, there will be a reunion or a reconciliation. A Kind Woman Lives Here

If there is a young woman and a young man, there will be a romance. One Week in Dr. Lipinski’s Laboratory

If there is a medical condition, she will either get better, or will die in grace. Whispers

HOMEWORK: Write out a few similar situations that usually resolve in a predictable way.

4. Christian expectations deserve their own subheading:

If there is a non-Christian character, he will be saved.

Even on a site like FaithWriters, where one of the rules for the Writing Challenge is “entries…should reflect a Christian viewpoint…”, it’s not necessary to have all the non-saved characters at the altar at the end of the story. That’s the predictable route; I’ve written several stories in which this doesn’t happen. Please note that I’m all for people getting saved—of course!—and that in many cases, there’s a glimmer of hope at the end of the story. The big event just doesn’t happen in those 750 words that you read in the Challenge. Take a look at a few of these, to see some different ways of handling non-Christian characters.

Ilapa Dances Behind My Eyes
Brilliant Plan, Mr. Domingo
Almost Missed It
Shouting at the Ceiling
Terrorizing Rachel
Whenever I See That Scar

HOMEWORK: Write one idea of how to combat the predictable in Christian fiction, or read one of the stories above and tell how it was accomplished there.

5. Here’s one for the poets--in traditional, rhymed poetry, there are times when a sing-song-y meter can send your poem into a predictable bah da BUM, bah da BUM, bah da BUM. Find a way to break out of a predictable meter: if you write in quatrains, add a 5th line with only 4 syllables, or with 14. Use the meter of limericks (2 long, 2 short, 1 long), and add two little 3-syllable lines between each stanza. Go really crazy, and write couplets in iambic pentameter followed by quatrains in dactyls (and if you’re a poet who doesn’t know what those are, you have some additional research to do). Just don’t let your poems become predictable, even in meter.

HOMEWORK: Write a stanza in an unusual metric pattern.

Please don’t feel as if you have to do all of the ‘homework’ exercises. Choose one or two that touch on areas where you need work. And as always, whether you do the homework or not, please leave a comment or a question so that I can give you some input.
Jan Ackerson

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Homework

Postby WriterFearNot » Mon May 17, 2010 10:56 pm

1.
1--effect (not totally sure on this one)
2--effect
3--affected
4--effectively

Genre Mix-up
--main character in coming of age story suffers brain injury, due to unfortunate car accident, and reverts to a child-like mentality.
(I'm not exactly sure I nailed this one. Seems like this would more likely than not irritate the reader) :wink:

2.
Character mix-up
--Bully is caught helping a needy neighbor. (is this a cliche?)

4.
I'm going to spend more time thinking about this lesson. I think many of my ideas are very predictable. But for now, the best way I know how to combat predictable Christian fiction is to use FBOTS, or, fiction based on a true story. I think real life testimonies are a lot like snowflakes, since I haven't yet noticed two which were alike.

WFN :?

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Postby Ms. Barbie » Tue May 18, 2010 12:03 am

Character change in Christian Romance Fat girl meets short bald guy who is an enginer

or plain looking(or homely) woman meets plain looking(or homely) man

Christian Suspence via Frank Perritti-style! (Love to read that one!)

PREDICTABLILITY in Christian Romance-someone will get hurt or sick
Someone will have car accident and or house fire
There will be a red-headed character
The MC will "jut out their chin" in defiance
The orphaned or stray child will be adopted
Barb Culler

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Postby DanielK » Tue May 18, 2010 3:00 am

I don't really do romance stories. Science fiction and mystery I'm familiar with, but my strong point is fantasy, and so once again, I'll do my homework on that.

So then, one typical fantasy storyline:

Hero is a young lad who's special but doesn't know it - is thrown into trouble and everyone is trying to kill him - sets out on a quest to right a wrong, often revolving around a big bad guy - along the way discovers some amazing skill - becomes a master at the preferred fighting skill of the age, even though he hasn't ever done it before - fights the big bad guy - almost is beaten, but right at the end makes a comeback and wins.

So, to break out of that, I could make the hero a bumbling incompetant who has no idea which end of a sword to hold. He makes loads of stupid mistakes, and in the end only beats the bad guy because his pet hamster escapes and terrifies the enemy.

All right, maybe that's just a bit too dumb

Now for some typical characters in the afore-mentioned story line:

The Young, Uncertain Hero. The Crochety Mentor (often pretends to dislike the hero but really loves him). The Evil Enemy. The Cruel Minions. The Reliable Companions of the Hero.

Generally, in this story line, if the Hero is about to be slain, the Crochety Mentor will get in the way and almost perish for his trouble. Similarly, unless the Evil Enemy is a raving madman, he will try to turn the Hero over to his cause.

To twiddle one of the characters, I could make The Evil Enemy an almost decent guy with the interests of the people in mind and only ranks as evil because he's too forceful in putting forth his ideas. Or, as I mentioned before, I could make The Hero a bumbling idiot. Or a 'Reliable Companion' who the Hero trusted turns out to be a spy who has been sending information to the Enemy telling him all their plans, destinations, etc.

BTW, Jan, I haven't entered the Challenge for a few weeks, but my last two entries were more reflective - see The Headline and Why me, God?. So it's your turn now to write fantasy. I've given you a few hints here...

Daniel

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Postby danamc » Tue May 18, 2010 6:53 am

Recognizable character types:

The Old Fashioned Grandma- Bakes cookies, knits, but also rides in a motorcycle group every weekend.

The Rough Motorcycle Guy- Long beard, heavily tatooed, but is also an aspiring poet.

For the poetry:
I am guilty of writing the same type of poetry. I am going to do this homework assignment for an upcoming challenge entry and try to do something different.

Thanks for your time.

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Re: Homework

Postby glorybee » Tue May 18, 2010 7:11 am

WriterFearNot wrote:1.
1--effect (not totally sure on this one)
2--effect nope, sorry
3--affected
4--effectively close, but a wrong form of the word

Genre Mix-up
--main character in coming of age story suffers brain injury, due to unfortunate car accident, and reverts to a child-like mentality.
(I'm not exactly sure I nailed this one. Seems like this would more likely than not irritate the reader) :wink: I've learned that readers will accept anything--if it's written well. This is certainly a twist on that genre!
2.
Character mix-up
--Bully is caught helping a needy neighbor. (is this a cliche?) Maybe a little--again, it depends on how well it's written.

4.
I'm going to spend more time thinking about this lesson. I think many of my ideas are very predictable. But for now, the best way I know how to combat predictable Christian fiction is to use FBOTS, or, fiction based on a true story. I think real life testimonies are a lot like snowflakes, since I haven't yet noticed two which were alike. Good point!

WFN :?
Jan Ackerson

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Postby glorybee » Tue May 18, 2010 7:18 am

Okay, Barb, you're now my resident expert on Christian romance--it's not a genre I often read, and I had NO idea of some of those predictable elements.

A red-headed character? Really? Interesting...is the red-head always a character with a fiery disposition?

Not sure what you're saying about the Christian suspense.

Again, since I don't read much romance--do you think readers would read one featuring homely main characters? Not a snarky question at all--I'm really curious. Does the genre require that the heroine have flowing tresses and the hero have chiseled features?

I'd love your thoughts on this. Anyone else want to weigh in?
Jan Ackerson

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Postby glorybee » Tue May 18, 2010 7:35 am

Daniel, thanks so much for pointing out the predictability in your chosen genre! I'm thinking--since it's fantasy, there should be limitless ways to tweak that formula.

As my resident expert--a question for you. How much tweaking will fantasy readers tolerate?

Could the main character be a girl? An old woman?
Could the relationship between the mentor and the protege be prickly?
Could the main character cross over to the dark side at the end, and the enemy turn out to have been good after all?
Could the skill be something effective against enemies, but really unpalatable--it renders them faceless, or kills their kittens?

I see that you've tossed a challenge at me, young pup, and I haven't the time to take you up on it...but I'll send you a link to a story I LOVED that tweaked the legend of the Golem of Prague. Here's this big monster made from clay, who slays the Czar's soldiers by day...I wonder what happens to him at night? Smitten
Jan Ackerson

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Postby glorybee » Tue May 18, 2010 7:37 am

Dana, thanks for your input!

I look forward to your 'unpredictable' poem--once everything's clear, make sure to point it out to us!
Jan Ackerson

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Postby KatieScarlet » Tue May 18, 2010 11:36 pm

Re: Christian Romance

Yvonne Lehman, a multi-published author of Christian Romance novels, has led the Blue Ridge Christian Writers Conference for decades.

Although I have submitted a few boy meets girl stories to FW over the years, it is not something I would pursue for a full length book.

That being said, I did attend one of her classes. She informed us that publishers DEMAND a certain formula for that genre (at least they did in the 80s). Further, she told us if we veered from the established magic formula we would have little chance of getting published. (No bodice- rippers, these). :shock:

The heroine has to be young and pure, between 16-22 (or close). Of course there has to be a conflict, and if you've read any Grace Livingston Hill books, a "bad girl" is required to flounce through and cause all kinds of potential problems to threaten the "good girl". In fact, a "bad boy" must challenge the "good guy" in some respect.

Perhaps that old formula has evolved now and publishers are not so strict.

Just out of curiosity I may google Yvonne and see if she has any tutorials on this.

Just my1-2 cents. :0)

LG~

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Postby glorybee » Wed May 19, 2010 6:30 am

Thanks, Linda. I suspected that might be the case. It totally baffles me why anyone would want to read essentially the same story over and over and over again.

So I guess if someone's determined to write romance, 'predictability' is a must...perhaps that writer needs to fiddle with setting (time and/or place) and life circumstances (career, familly situation, etc.) to try to come up with something memorable.

For the writing challenge, there may be more lattitude, as there's not really time to introduce two antagonists. The romance writer for the challenge may have to concentrate on just the two main parties, and to think of unique conflicts for them.

All that being said--I'm SURE not the expert on Christian romance, and I really appreciate your input!
Jan Ackerson

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Postby BusBoss » Wed May 19, 2010 9:57 am

glorybee wrote:HOMEWORK—List a few more recognizable character types, and give an idea of how you might fiddle with one of them.!


How about the nerd or geek - Usually quite, low self esteem, annoying, gullible or easily manipulated, disliked, picked on by everyone and usually no personality (maybe not all of those at once, but many of those in one character).

The twist - Urkel from Family Matters (late 80s early 90s sitcom) They gave him a personality, although he still fit many of the geek stereotypes he was definitely not a predictable nerd.
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Postby glorybee » Wed May 19, 2010 9:37 pm

Believe it or not, I never saw a single episode of that show--but I'll take your word for it! Thanks for the great example, Tim!
Jan Ackerson

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Postby BusBoss » Wed May 19, 2010 9:56 pm

ok, it's not the best example but you'll get the idea-

The Urkel
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Postby PamDavis » Thu May 20, 2010 6:07 am

Jan,

Hi. It's been a VERY busy week! I have not had time to do the assignments, but wanted to quickly check in. You work so hard and I don't want you to think I don't appreciate it.

I had an idea, just didn't develop it....

In many science fiction deep-sea adventures the diver runs out of oxygen in his tank. He is usually rescued just in time. My MC was to be a guy who was the best on his swimming team in college, could hold his breath for extra long periods of time. When he has tank problems readers assume he'll safely return to the surface. He instead gets a cramp and does not make it.

Have a nice weekend all!

Pam
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