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Working the Grid

I'm tearing up the world with this Story Grid method! It's amazing.

Fully 43 scenes lacked Conflict, Arc, Turning Point, Stakes, and/or Plot Purpose. Some can be fixed, but a whole bunch are deadwood. No matter how much I've loved each of their conflict-free little faces, they're on the chopping block.

Now that the deadwood is off my mental radar, the real heart and bones of the novel have started to emerge. It went something like this:

ME: I've written a gay Regency romance with one major flaw: it doesn't have a happy ending.

STORYGRID: No you haven't. You've written a historical social drama that doesn't require a happy ending. Its major flaws arise from your misconception about its genre.

ME: But...but...it's all about love!

STORYGRID: No it's not. It's about self-expression, honor, and keeping your place in society.

ME: Well, but my Antagonist, the ex-boyfriend, is motivated by jealousy and greed, just like a romance antagonist.

STORYGRID: No, your Antagonist, Society, is motivated by its desperate need to maintain the status quo, just like a Social Drama Antagonist. It gives the weapon of blackmail to its unwitting accomplice, the ex-BF, who is nothing more than Society's bitch. Society needs to be rid of him just as surely as it needs to destroy the Protagonists.

ME: But my Protagonist wants love, just like in any romance!

STORYGRID: No. Your Protagonist wants to surrender to his sexuality but he needs to, ahem, Restrain himself. He wants to flout Society's rules, but he needs the goods that social conformity provides. He wants Tristan because he needs guidance and structure and cover to be his true self.

ME: Oh! I get it! And Tristan needs to prove he's a real legitimate grown-up nobleman, so he takes on the role of John's protector.

STORYGRID: And it just happens that true love arises from that, but look at the tragedy that comes with it.

ME: Wow.

STORYGRID: Do you still think you were ever writing a Regency Romance?

Me: *tiny voice* Nope.

STORYGRID: *dusts hands together*. Okay. Get back to work.

Crossposted from Dreamwidth, where there are comment count unavailable comments.

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( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
roxymissrose
Aug. 30th, 2015 02:36 am (UTC)
Aaaaahhh, my story!! It has such a huge spot in my heart!!

I've missed you! This is an interesting concept. You have to explain this further, in tiny, roxy-sized words! I use my writing icon in your honor. ;)
emeraldsedai
Aug. 30th, 2015 04:02 am (UTC)
My understanding is still incomplete, but Step 1 is Decide On Your Genre.

Shawn Coyne's definitions of genre go beyond what you and I think of as genre (like sci-fi, fantasy, romance, thriller, literary, etc.), but in a nutshell, genre defines the expectations your story is going to raise in the reader, and to some extent prescribes how to meet them.

All genres have certain obligatory conventions, and if your story doesn't have them, it's not in the genre and will disappoint expectations. So, a thriller must have a climactic scene where the protagonist is at the mercy of the antagonist. A murder mystery must introduce a body in Scene 1, and have some red herrings along the way. You get the picture.

Well, a Romance must have a First Kiss scene (which I've got), some Obstacles to Love (which I've certainly got), a Will-They-Won't-They dynamic right up to the climax (mine ends way sooner than that), and a happily-ever-after ending (which is stunningly absent).

So I said, "Hm. Can it be that Restraint isn't a romance?"

Well, despite the epic love story at its heart, it's not. It's a Historical Social/Family Drama. This genre is always a longer read (or an endless series, like Downton Abbey and Upstairs, Downstairs). Its conventions include the Black Sheep Of The Family, The Family Honour, and the Parent/Child Conflict (sometimes Husband/Wife), all of which I've got in spades. It doesn't require a happy ending. It can take on social issues that romances don't involve themselves in.

Suddenly my perspective on the story shifted. I could see that my Antagonist isn't Charles the Ex-Boyfriend, but Society--the specific society of the time that prohibited queerness. The conflict is between What John Really Is and What Society Will Let Him Be. John risks his whole place in the world by going up against that Antagonist, who has the power to literally execute him, imprison him, or cast him out to starve if his nonconformity is serious enough.

None of these insights change the story significantly: it was all in there. I just didn't know it. Restraint started as a frivolous Regency romance-with-fanservice, and though it turned serious on me, I've been trying to re-edit it for literally years as a romance. Now that I know what I'm editing, I can see what I need to do.

Thank you for letting me go on and on in this comment. It has helped me form my thoughts.
karen_jk
Aug. 31st, 2015 11:15 pm (UTC)
I am learning so much from this discussion of your book! Call it whatever you want, just so long as you write it. :) It seems to me that the story ends as happily as is realistic under the circumstances. I do think love and desire are very important factors, as they are as tantalizing and suspenseful as any quest for a holy grail.

I can see why the shift in focus from romance to society drama is helpful, though. Many novels, after all, are fundamentally about class and society.

emeraldsedai
Aug. 31st, 2015 11:51 pm (UTC)
Class and society are at the heart of the conflict in many dramas--even total fantasy-world dramas like the ones A Game of Thrones is based on. I hadn't thought a lot about it, but class even plays a huge role in the Harry Potter books.

Wow. It's really more prominent than I was conscious of!
roxymissrose
Aug. 30th, 2015 04:22 am (UTC)
oh my god, girl!! I never thought that story was a romance--I always thought of it as historical drama. I always saw it as a love that could never fully bloom because of that time, and what a miracle it was that they had what they did. It was a terribly sad story because we wanted so much for a happily ever after that had no chance of being. It's probably the best ending I've ever read because it was so honest. I remember rereading it in my doctor's waiting room and sniffling all over again. There's a reason it's a classic! But yeah, romance, not so much! In fact, I doubt anyone in fandom saw it as a frivolous historical romance that just happened to have an unhappy ending!

I'll tell you what, though, that was a god damn beautiful, *beautiful* story. you know how it just flooded my head with all these beautiful visuals...*happysigh* I'd have to stop and reread a bit over and over because it was so pretty.

And apologies for unleashing the full Ramblin' Rose to your reply! :D

emeraldsedai
Aug. 30th, 2015 04:48 am (UTC)
Hey, no, unleash away! I love the full Ramblin' Rose. :D

You know, when you say it right out like that, obviously, Restraint wasn't a romance. I just never knew the right questions to ask to get to where I am today with it. I should have gone to you! You're a great story-weaver, and the elements of story seem to come to you so naturally.

Last summer I paid a large chunk of money to have a professional editor read my novel, and honestly, I think she was as stymied by its problems as I was. That was a real inspiration-killer for me for a whole year. I think she couldn't get beyond its fandom origins, and (in the absence of another large payment) couldn't give me anything more than "it's too long" and "they gaze at each other a lot." (She was right in both cases, but that was hardly an editing plan, you know?)

Anyway, thank you for reading it and feeling it. It's my goal in life to keep its heart and soul intact, and still perhaps be able to get it published.
emeraldsedai
Aug. 30th, 2015 04:52 am (UTC)
PS: As I posted it serially on AO3 and finally got to the epilogue, let me tell you, plenty of people let me know they'd been expecting a romance. I was told to add trigger warnings, and one or two people seemed to have been genuinely damaged by the ending. That kerfuffle resulted in my adding all the tags and notes to the posting on AO3 that remain there to this day.

roxymissrose
Aug. 30th, 2015 05:08 am (UTC)
That's because people are idiots. If they couldn't tell what was coming, that's because they weren't reading it right. And if they were upset, they have no right to complain to the author--you didn't *make* them read it!!!

Everyone wants their little hands held these days. I been unpleasantly surprised by a story, but I've never blamed the author for that. It's on me, for not paying attention.
emeraldsedai
Aug. 30th, 2015 05:18 am (UTC)
*looks around*

Okay, don't tell anyone, but I agree with you.

On the other hand, I really did hammer a lot of frivolous Regency conventions into the first part of the story. Agreed, the signs of doom were there, but, yeah, denial is a powerful thing.
frozen_delight
Aug. 30th, 2015 05:11 am (UTC)
This is really insightful (and hilarious!), thanks so much for sharing.
emeraldsedai
Aug. 30th, 2015 05:15 am (UTC)
Hee! Glad you enjoyed. It did me a lot of good mentally to get it out there. One writer friends said I should use this general format as my outside-the-box query letter.
( 11 comments — Leave a comment )

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