22 July 2017, Writing Ideas – New Novel, part x112, Creative Elements in Scenes, Plot Devices, Unreliable Character
Announcement: Ancient Light is delayed due to the economy. You can read more about it at http://www.ancientlight.com. Ancient Light includes the second edition of Aegypt plus Sister of Light and Sister of Darkness. I’ll keep you updated.
Introduction: I wrote the novel Aksinya: Enchantment and the Daemon. This was my 21st novel and through this blog, I gave you the entire novel in installments that included commentary on the writing. In the commentary, in addition to other general information on writing, I explained, how the novel was constructed, the metaphors and symbols in it, the writing techniques and tricks I used, and the way I built the scenes. You can look back through this blog and read the entire novel beginning with http://www.pilotlion.blogspot.com/2010/10/new-novel-part-3-girl-and-demon.html.
I’m using this novel as an example of how I produce, market, and eventually (we hope) get a novel published. I’ll keep you informed along the way.
The four plus one basic rules I employ when writing:
- Don’t confuse your readers.
- Entertain your readers.
- Ground your readers in the writing.
- Don’t show (or tell) everything.
- Immerse yourself in the world of your writing.
All novels have five discrete parts:
1. The initial scene (the beginning)
2. The rising action
3. The climax
4. The falling action
5. The dénouement
I finished writing my 27th novel, working title, Claire, potential title Sorcha: Enchantment and the Curse. This might need some tweaking. The theme statement is: Claire (Sorcha) Davis accepts Shiggy, a dangerous screw-up, into her Stela branch of the organization and rehabilitates her.
Here is the cover proposal for Sorcha: Enchantment and the Curse.
The most important scene in any novel is the initial scene, but eventually, you have to move to the rising action. I started writing my 28th novel, working title Red Sonja. I’m also working on my 29th novel, working title School.
I’m an advocate of using the/a scene input/output method to drive the rising action–in fact, to write any novel.
- Scene input (easy)
- Scene output (a little harder)
- Scene setting (basic stuff)
- Creativity (creative elements of the scene: transition from input to output focused on the telic flaw resolution)
- Tension (development of creative elements to build excitement)
- Release (climax of creative elements)
How to begin a novel. Number one thought, we need an entertaining idea. I usually encapsulate such an idea with a theme statement. Since I’m writing a new novel, we need a new theme statement. Here is an initial cut.
For novel 28: Red Sonja, a Soviet spy, infiltrates the X-plane programs at Edwards AFB as a test pilot’s administrative clerk, learns about freedom, and is redeemed.
For novel 29: Sorcha, the abandoned child of an Unseelie and a human, secretly attends Wycombe Abbey girls’ school where she meets the problem child Deirdre and is redeemed.
These are the steps I use to write a novel:
- Design the initial scene
- Develop a theme statement (initial setting, protagonist, protagonist’s helper or antagonist, action statement)
- Research as required
- Develop the initial setting
- Develop the characters
- Identify the telic flaw (internal and external)
- Write the initial scene (identify the output: implied setting, implied characters, implied action movement)
- Write the next scene(s) to the climax (rising action)
- Write the climax scene
- Write the falling action scene(s)
- Write the dénouement scene
Here is the beginning of the scene development method from the outline:
- Scene input (comes from the previous scene output or is an initial scene)
- Write the scene setting (place, time, stuff, and characters)
- Imagine the output, creative elements, plot, telic flaw resolution (climax) and develop the tension and release.
- Write the scene using the output and creative elements to build the tension.
- Write the release
- Write the kicker
Below is a list of plot devices. I’m less interested in a plot device than I am in a creative element that drives a plot device. In fact, some of these plot devices are not good for anyone’s writing. If we remember, the purpose of fiction writing is entertainment, we will perhaps begin to see how we can use these plot devices to entertain. If we focus on creative elements that drive plot devices, we can begin to see how to make our writing truly entertaining. I’ll leave up the list and we’ll contemplate creative elements to produce these plot devices.
Deus ex machina (a machination, or act of god; lit. “god out of the machine”)
Flashback (or analeptic reference)
Story within a story (Hypodiegesis)
Two way love
Three way love (love rival)
Celebrity (Rise to fame)
Rise to riches
Military (Device or Organization manipulation)
School (Training) (Skill Development)
Fantasy Land (Time Travel, Space Travel)
End of the — (World, Culture, Society)
Augmented Human (Robot) (Society)
Mind Switching (Soul Switching)
Unreliable character – Current discussion.
Brotherhood (sisterhood) (camaraderie)
One way love
Unreliable character: here is my definition – Unreliable character is the use of a character who intentionally doesn’t tell or explain the whole of an idea, incident, past event, or about themselves to further a plot.
I’m not certain that unreliable character is really a plot device as much as it is a characteristic of good literature. Just like secrets (everyone has them), I think unreliable character is a reliable indication of most good literature. Characters are only completely reliable in children’s, teen, and young adult novels.
Most characters in adult novels are not completely reliable. Not every word is a lie, but they never tell all. Telling all is a trait of children and not of adults. What about examples. I’m not sure I have any directly to hand. The problem with unreliable is the words appear reliable, but later become obviously untrue or partially true. I’ll try to dig an obvious one from my own writing.
Here is an example from my writing from Athelstan Cying.
Johan led Den to an area of the city close to the spaceport. The buildings there showed a level of ancient decay that was carefully covered with new pastel paint and burnished brasswork. The houses of Neukoln all in various degrees displayed similar levels of layered enhancements that covered their antiquity. Neuterra was one of the first successful colonies of Terra—the origin of humankind. Johan took Den to a quiet corner pub well back from the busy thoroughfares. He ordered them both a thick and pleasant ale from a sloe-eyed barmaid, and they settled back to watch the other spacers and passersby.
The people of most spaceports patently ignored the citizens of the trader Families. The trader Families, for many reasons, were not known for their gregarious habits or for overly friendly consort. This was due to their native distrust of anyone outside the Families and because of constant conditioning to prevent easy acceptance or fraternization. As Nata had told Den, it wouldn’t do for the Families to lose their members at every planetfall.
Johan settled back and took a long draw from his ale. He glanced out of the side of his eye at Den, “So, Den, have you given up on Natana?”
“Yes, is she a free woman now?”
“Free woman? I don’t know what you are talking about.”
Johan leaned across the table, “Not a month ago, you two seemed inseparable. Now, nothing.”
“Is it that obvious?”
“Everything is obvious on a Family Trader ship. Just between you and me, I think the association was good for her and for you. I don’t need to tell you how much you’ve changed. Most of us thought your change was due, in part, to Natana.”
“What if she is a free woman,” Den gave a laugh, “Do you intend to court her?”
Johan smiled back, “Me and half the ship’s eligible bachelors—that is, if she would woo. Until you won your suit, we thought it was a hopeless case.”
“Who said I won anything?”
“You got further into her good graces than any of us. She wouldn’t look at a guy if he wasn’t a brain and a half. Not too long ago, you were the last man I would have said she’d look up to.”
Den studied his drink, “As far as I know she’s a free woman, but I wish I could say otherwise.”
“How’s that? Did she dump you?”
Den laughed, “Her mother did.”
“After the incident with the ship, Dr. Kern read me the riot act and told me to stay away from Natana.”
“And, you did?” Johan stared.
“Of course I did. Natana had it in for me too.”
“Did she tell you that?”
“She asked for ‘time.’”
“Man, what happened between you two on that shuttle—must have been a dozy?”
Den shrugged, “It was that evident?”
“Yeah obvious. That’s likely what set off Dr. Kern,” Johan glanced around, “Also, I know some of the tapes were erased.”
It was Den’s turn to look incredulous, “Is that a big deal?”
“Den, who are you trying to kid—you know it is. The ship records all public activities for good reason: accidents and history. Your escapades deserved recording for both reasons.”
“On the shuttle too?”
“On the shuttles, even the head is bugged. Who knows, you might get sucked out while doing your duty.” He brought his slate gray eyes back to Den, “What was so important to hide from an accident investigation or history?”
“Are you asking in your official capacity or as a friend?”
“Both. You covered your tracks well, but we know either you or Natana erased the tape. I figured you got to the tapes first. By the way, I know she checked them right after you.”
Den hung his head, “I know.” He suddenly stared at Johan with renewed appreciation, “That was an incredibly shrewd interrogation. What if I don’t come clean?” Den searched through his memories—the punishment for altering the Ship’s official records could be severe
Johan took another pull on his ale, “Nothing. But if you did, I think I could take some of the heat off you.”
“What do you mean?”
“Dr. Kern thinks you raped her daughter. She takes the erased tape as a proof of that. She is surprised Natana didn’t report you, but she thinks you illicitly influenced her…”
“Because I was Natana’s responsibility,” Den broke in, “Because I was her patient. Wait, I can guess the rest. She didn’t lodge a complaint because there was no evidence, and Natana didn’t protest, because we basically saved the ship.”
“Dr. Kern couldn’t protest your bravery or your actions, but she loves her daughter.”
“What has Natana said?”
“She won’t say anything.”
“Is this a conspiracy?”
Johan threw back his head and laughed out loud, “Of sorts. This is an official investigation. Elizabeth Shear is Natana’s shadow—interrogator, if you like.”
“You’re not kidding, right?”
“Serious as a heart attack.”
“I’m sorry Johan. If Natana hasn’t said anything, then I can’t either. This is her secret and not mine.”
Johan’s brows raised, “Her secret?”
“That’s all I’ll say.”
Johan let out a long breath, “Den, I would really like to get to the bottom of this thing. Dr. Kern is causing the council a real issue about this. She won’t let it go.”
Den stared at him, “If it meant I would lose all standing on the ship, I still will not betray Natana’s confidence.”
Johan ran his fingers through his short hair, “I don’t think it will come to that. Natana would have to make an official complaint before Dr. Kern could go forward, but I will tell you she can poison your position with the council.”
“Other than innuendo, no. When the issue first came up, few on the council were willing to believe anything against you. You are living on your good conduct and your latest success, but if we could clear this up, you wouldn’t have to worry.”
“Look at it this way.” Den leaned forward, “If I raped Natana, the council would have no choice but to set me down at the next penal colony. You obviously don’t believe this is what happened, or we wouldn’t be discussing the incident in this pleasant setting. On the other hand, I understand that you want to know what happened, but anything else that could have happened is relatively innocent by comparison. Certainly I couldn’t face much censure for another crime—say I spoke harshly to her or struck her.”
“I think you believe Natana and I shared a sexual encounter and you want to know if this was consensual or if I forced myself on her.”
“I couldn’t have stated it better. The girl loved you. That was obvious to everyone. We assumed you shared her affection.”
“Was it that obvious?”
“I told you…”
“Right, on a Trader Family ship…”
“Alright, I think I can clear this up right now.”
“I’m all ears.”
“I don’t believe I can settle all your questions, but I might as well try anyway. First, I did not have a sexual liaison with Natana—of any kind. Second, I think I love her. That’s something I’m trying to determine for myself, but due to her mother’s censure, I have not spoken with Natana for a while.”
Johan whistled, “That doesn’t clear up the problem, but it is interesting information. The whole ship assumes you did.”
“The whole ship assumes what?”
“That you made love. That is what makes this whole thing so curious. Under the circumstances, it makes sense that you would make love to the girl.”
Den tensed his jaw, “Look because of my debt, I couldn’t marry her. I was already under the gun from every quadrant. I couldn’t let that happen too. I already…”
“You already what?”
“Natana already was taking so much heat for me. Do you think I could betray her like that?”
“I think she wanted you to.” Johan whistled, “I think, you’re in a heap of trouble with Natana and her mother because you acted the gentleman.”
“Damn. Am I that transparent?”
“No. I just have a lot of experience in these Family matters. And to tell you the truth, Den, I’m rooting for you and Natana.”
“Okay, what now? You can’t let any of this get out.”
“I’ll hold everything you told me in confidence.”
“And not use it against Natana.”
“My lips are sealed.”
“Does this help me?”
“I don’t know. Of course, I was on your side from the beginning. I will report to the council that you and Natana did not have a sexual encounter. I don’t know how much that will change things with Dr. Kern, but my word means a lot in the council—and in this investigation.” He took a pull on his beer, “But no one can blame you for desiring the girl—she is brilliant and beautiful.”
“I wish I could do something to patch things up with Natana.”
Johan leaned back and cradled his beer in his hand, “I don’t know if I can help you there, but I’ll try to take the pressure off from Dr. Kern. There is still the issue of the manipulated tape, but I don’t think that is the real concern of the council. And I think I understand why you changed it.”
After that, they both lapsed into an uncomfortable silence while they nursed their beers and observed the passersby. Neuterra’s sun set, but Asa-Thor remained high in the sky and left a dusky, near permanent twilight. They ate a simple dinner of meat pies accompanied by more ale to wash them down. Afterward, Johan and Den checked in at the hotel not many blocks away where the Twilight Lamb reserved a number of rooms for the duration of their stay on Neuterra. The hotel was over a thousand years old and held together with enough paint that it would likely stand another thousand. The room Den and Johan shared was large and comfortable. It didn’t have the dormitory feel of many portside accommodations. The beds were clean and much larger than the bunks they were used to on the Twilight Lamb.
This is a wrap up of assorted unreliable character incidents from the previous parts of the novel. You can see how each part is not quite right, but fits into the whole. I didn’t give you the whole here either. None of the conjecture is true. Natana tried to throw herself at Den—that’s what he is hiding. That’s what she is hiding. Everyone has their own idea and information based on many things. Mrs. Kern wants to find Den guilty. Johan wants everything to be right between Den and Natana. This conversation doesn’t solve the problems, but it brings them to light in the novel. My point is that in any novel, the unreliable characters are most of the characters. The author never lets out the whole of the information, and there is always some part that is never fully shared.
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