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Jay Lake
Date: 2012-03-28 04:01
Subject: [writing|process] Talking about doing it, and a return of the "hand of cards" theory
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Tags:omaha, process, writing
Yesterday I guest taught at Travis Heermann's literature of science fiction class at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. That was a lot of fun. I gave a very short lecture about alternate history, then we did a bit over an hour of open q-and-a. Though I do wonder when the college kids got so young?

This was a literature class, not a creative writing class, but there were a fair number of craft questions. About a third of the students are aspiring writers, so that makes sense. This got me thinking once more about the "hand of cards" theory, which I have previously discussed here: [ jlake.com | LiveJournal ] and elsewhere.

Basically, the "hand of cards" is the idea that all writers start out with a more or less random assortment strengths and talents. ([info]matociquala calls this "the box it came in".) Much like a poker deal, this could be a weak hand, a mixed hand, or, rarely, a strong hand. As we work to improve our skills and achieve publication, we upgrade our low cards one at a time, switching focus as we go along.

What I've never quite done is pinned down what those cards might be. The suits, as it were. I'm pretty sure we've had this discussion before, but I can't find it right now, so here I throw out some ideas, and ask you guys to comment or contribute your own.

  • Character

  • Plot

  • Setting

  • Prose style

  • Narrative voice

  • Auctorial authority

  • Dialog

  • Sensory detail

  • Gender/ethnic/orientation authenticity (specifically meaning: not your own default settings)

  • Action sequences

  • Emotional resonance

  • Thematic depth

  • Control of language (or possibly precision)

Some of these obviously overlap. I'm not wedded to any of them, though a number are fairly obvious. What have I missed? What have I got wrong? What would you add to the list?

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User: jakobdrud
Date: 2012-03-28 12:00 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I would tentatively suggest 'Timing'. Perhaps that's inherent in how you set up the plot and how words are exchanged in dialog, but there's still a trick to building up a story by adding the right scenes and emotions at the right time. And since this can be practiced, it may belong on the list
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Chris Coen
User: clarentine
Date: 2012-03-28 12:32 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I don't know if you'd count it part of precision of language, but I'd posit some folks come equipped with a precision of grammar.
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User: threeoutside
Date: 2012-03-28 15:14 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I'm a little confused. I started out thinking you were going to talk about a writer's personality and skill set, and how they might sync in various configurations. I was thinking, an innate strength might be patience, determination, ability to focus on details, etc. Then you listed that list, and that seems more like the characteristics of story that you take that skill set to. So, um, ? Guess I don't have any more to say about it.
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Lawrence M. Schoen
User: klingonguy
Date: 2012-03-28 16:01 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I would likely add facility with Narrative Engine as well as understanding of Motivation.
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User: a_cubed
Date: 2012-03-29 05:27 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I think these categories are too broad. "Characterisation" includes motivation, but also includes character background, consistency of action (or reasons for in~ such as bipolar disorder), internal voice (if one is using a first or third person viewpoint with access to one or more character's headspace). I've read the work of some writers who do great first person internal voice but can't describe any other character well enough to make them more than cardboard cutouts. I've read the work of others who can draw characters well from outside but whose inner monologue utterly sucks.
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User: kellymccullough
Date: 2012-03-28 16:51 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Sense of structure—what ought to go where, when. Also, idea sizing—is this a novel idea? A flash idea? And with that, plot sizing—how to control the length of a piece.

Edited at 2012-03-28 04:52 pm (UTC)
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User: etcet
Date: 2012-03-28 17:40 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Throughput / Output

While not an actual aspect of how the words appear on the page once they're there, there's certainly a wide variance in the speed at which writers convert their thoughts to text (some folks are 5k+ a day, some struggle for a tenth that; I can do a thousand words an hour, but only every so often at this point).
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russ: lyles constant
User: goulo
Date: 2012-03-28 18:12 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:lyles constant
This is perhaps more of a meta thing, but subject knowledge and research ability is important, especially in science fiction. I.e. the ability to avoid howling jarring factual/technical bloopers in the story.
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User: jetse
Date: 2012-03-28 19:32 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Oh man. A jumbled Yin/Yang amalgam of conscious/subconscious traits:


--Emotional/Intellectual depth;





With the hope that with improved craft the very rare jump into brilliance is made.
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User: mmegaera
Date: 2012-03-28 22:39 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
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