Do you need three try/fail cycles if you're also making your character make a big sacrifice?

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RusticBohemian
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Do you need three try/fail cycles if you're also making your character make a big sacrifice?

Postby RusticBohemian » Mon Feb 24, 2020 7:54 pm

How necessary is having three try/fail cycles?

I've got 17k to execute my story, and I'm hitting up against that. I really only had one big disaster, and several road bumps that probably fall short of disaster, but my character then pivoted and sacrificed something she cared about very much to bypass the resistance and solve the problem.

I get that three try/fail cycles make the problem seem lot harder, but how important is it in the grand scheme of things?

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disgruntledpeony
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Re: Do you need three try/fail cycles if you're also making your character make a big sacrifice?

Postby disgruntledpeony » Mon Feb 24, 2020 8:06 pm

Honestly, I think the easiest answer I have to this question is to repost my notes on the class I just took with David Farland, the coordinating judge:

#

When I was at Superstars, I attended David Farland’s Craft Day class, “How to Write the Perfect Short Story”. Dave announced, right out of the gate, that the title of the course was deceptive. There is no perfect short story, because perfection is subjective. In the end, it’s all a matter of taste--so you want to make your story as tasty as possible.

Simply describing an event isn’t enough to hold a story on its own. It’s important for the story to build and change as it goes along--you need try/fail cycles (three at minimum). The plot of a story is essentially a plot of hormones being released into the body. Humans are performing emotional exercise as they read, so you need that up and down cycle in order to shake things up. If you only exercise by doing arm curls, you’re going to have really strong arms--and not much else.

If you’re aiming for a profound effect on the reader, you’ll need a character, in a setting, with a conflict. The character can be anything (man, woman, sentient humanoid, animal, etcetera)--it’s essentially a surrogate for the reader.

Setting is very important if you want to create a story with a lasting impression. There’s no story that can be told any time, anywhere. Stories change over time, and so do the audiences for them. You don’t have to have just one setting--a typical novel will have between seventy and one hundred of them. The world expands with every scene. (It’s important to think visually about your setting. Think about sound, too.)

Characters grow out of setting, so watch out for anachronisms. Political systems and economies also grow out of settings. (Dave noted that in a lot of stories people with magical powers get looked down on, but in real life they might be considered valuable. It’s all about context.) Your world creates your characters and different characters will hold different values; it’s important to ensure their reactions make sense. It’s also important to consider that characters from different worlds will face very different problems than we do in this day and age.

Lots of things go into the conflict of the story, including character and setting. Feel free to explore new/interesting conflicts that don’t show up in a modern society. Dave specifically looks for a combination of engaging characters, interesting worlds, and unique conflicts. Also, an important point of note: Dave does NOT appreciate unlikeable protagonists such as racists or sexists.

A strong hook is important. You can often tell an award-winning story from the first line. When looking to hook your reader, you want something that will intrigue them and encourage them to read along. You can use hooks of place, hooks of character, or hooks of conflict; an emotional moment can also catch the reader’s interest.

After the hook, you need to transport the reader. You want to make sure your character, setting, and conflict are all clear within the first two pages. Dave rejects a story if these aren’t clear by the end of page four. The reader should know the main problem of the story by the time they get 10% of the way in. (Also, keep in mind that for a short story, prologues and chapter numbers are iffy. While they aren’t an automatic R, Dave definitely considers them a strike against the story.)

The first try/fail cycle is often negotiation. In fiction, that never seems to work. In reality, people are talkers; in fiction, they’re actors.

The second try/fail cycle involves a bigger effort, which doesn’t work as well as expected--and in fact often makes things worse. This is where you can broaden the problem (for example, when introducing the second body in a murder mystery) or deepen the problem (every character has problems that affect them more deeply--inner conflict is important).

The third try/fail cycle is where the character realizes they need to change in order to resolve the problem. This is where the B-line conflict (emotional growth) becomes the solution to the A-line conflict. If the character doesn’t change, they die or descend lower in the arc.

Then you have your resolution. This is where the character succeeds or fails and experiences the repercussions of their actions.

Hooks can be hard to define until after you finish the story, so it’s good to go back through and strengthen those after you finish your initial draft. K/A/V cycles can help with this (emotional grounding, followed by description). A dialogue opening is okay, but visual hooks will usually have a more powerful and varied impact.The hook is usually intellectual--it grabs the attention of the reader and holds their attention for about two pages. At this point, you want your description to engage the reader at a deeper level, instituting an alpha state of consciousness as opposed to the more common beta state. If you’ve done it right, you’ll engage the reader within the first paragraph and get them to psychically invest in the characters, thereby hypnotizing the reader.

Conflict needs to hold consequences. You need to either care about the character or the problem. 85% of stories have life and death conflicts; but Dave likes good stories that DON’T have life or death conflicts, but they’re rare. Dave also likes good comedies, but comedy is particularly hard to write well (again, it comes down to a matter of taste, and taste is subjective).

When you’re looking to raise the stakes with conflict, consider: What is the worst thing that could happen if the character doesn’t resolve this conflict? (Death should NEVER be the worst option.) You don’t have to get to the worst point, but that should be the specter that haunts the character and the reader.

During the first try/fail cycle, the protagonist usually tries to solve the problem on their own. During the second and third cycles, the protagonist’s resources are strapped--they need help to accomplish their goal, which can lead to bigger conflicts. They should try creative solutions--and creative solutions can ALWAYS go wrong. Think of the worst possible complications to their attempted solutions. Make things get worse. Try to outdo yourself--make it surprising. (A lot of stories have a reversal during the third try/fail cycle; it looks like the protagonist will fail, and then you flip it.)

The story will feel shallow if a character has only one problem. Potential extra problems include, but are certainly not limited to: money problems, health problems, and relationship problems. You typically need five to seven conflicts for every viewpoint character you have in order to keep the pace riveting. But be careful--if you pile on TOO MANY problems, it feels artificial.

In most stories, you can’t solve every problem (although you can do it in a comedy). You want to really think about your ending and make sure you show the reader how it ends and why it ends that way. Having a voice of authority state something can drive the point home, although it’s important for this to seem sincere. It’s the authority figure that changes their mind about your character. Not all stories have to have a validation; horror stories, for example, often INVALIDATE.

Your story needs to be whatever length it needs to be; a story structured in this format is often at least sixteen to thirty pages. You can’t write a story that’s just like another story and get published--you need to do something different and surprising. Dave wants us to impress and surprise him (in his words, “I only take geniuses”).

The person who comes up with the most emotionally charged ending wins. K.D. Wentworth liked the tragic and beautiful ending. The problem is, if you tried that with every story, it wouldn’t work. Dave prefers complex endings. You may have multiple endings to deal with; if you try to make each of them complex, it creates a cascading waterfall effect that brings out more and more tears. Look at the story as an emotional symphony--it’s bigger than the words you put into it. The right emotional impact will haunt the reader.

It’s important to write the best short story you can. You don’t make a lot of money off short stories, so you can’t do it for a living. The real value of writing a short story is that it gives you exposure and the chance for awards, which expands your readership. (It should also be noted that each novel you write will probably be either a short story in form or a series of interlocking short stories. This means it’s important as a career tool to learn how to write a great short story.)
Last edited by disgruntledpeony on Mon Feb 24, 2020 8:14 pm, edited 1 time in total.
If you are in difficulties with a book, try the element of surprise: attack it at an hour when it isn't expecting it. ~ H.G. Wells

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RusticBohemian
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Re: Do you need three try/fail cycles if you're also making your character make a big sacrifice?

Postby RusticBohemian » Mon Feb 24, 2020 8:14 pm

Wow! Those notes were super helpful. Thanks so much.

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disgruntledpeony
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Re: Do you need three try/fail cycles if you're also making your character make a big sacrifice?

Postby disgruntledpeony » Mon Feb 24, 2020 8:15 pm

RusticBohemian wrote:Wow! Those notes were super helpful. Thanks so much.

No problem! wotf007 (Also, in case you haven't seen, I sent you a PM.)
If you are in difficulties with a book, try the element of surprise: attack it at an hour when it isn't expecting it. ~ H.G. Wells

R, SF, SHM, SHM, SHM, F, R, HM, SHM, R, HM, R, F, SHM, SHM, SHM, ?, ?

https://ticknortales.com/

Andy Dibble
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Re: Do you need three try/fail cycles if you're also making your character make a big sacrifice?

Postby Andy Dibble » Tue Feb 25, 2020 3:21 am

Not entirely sure what I can add beyond all the very helpful info that disgruntledpeony gave. But I'd recommend focusing less on three try/fail cycles and more on carefully reading and understanding stories with character arcs that you think worked well. Given that you're trying to win WotF, read WotF stories with good arcs. Figure out what makes them tick. You might find that can can't ascertain three try/fails. I think this exercise will help you (and all of us) more than trying to adhere to a heuristic. 3 try/fails is a heuristic meant to help us write stories with solid character arcs, or at least stories in which enough happens. But writing good character arcs is an art, and a hard one, so it's important to marinate oneself by reading stories that have done it right and get a feel for it.

If the Dave and the other judges get to the point where they even know you have X try/fail cycles, they've already read the whole story. That's a good sign. I think the first question they will ask themselves is whether they liked it / liked it enough. There's some chance they will then go back and look at the mechanics of the plot, such as how many try/fail cycles, but I think that first impression, "Did I like it?" will dominate.


If you want more concrete advice. This worried me a little:
RusticBohemian wrote:I really only had one big disaster, and several road bumps that probably fall short of disaster


Dave had said in his recent email tips about how important it is to escalate. The disasters should get bigger (either wider, concerning more people and communities, or more deeper, more personal for the character). If there's a big disaster, some road bumps, and then a big sacrifice, the order is probably off (assuming that's your ordering), you stand a risk of the reader quitting during the road bumps. Sometimes road bumps can even be cut. (A story with only two try/fails that escalate is probably better than one with 3 that don't). Road bumps early in a story can be effective, for instance if they foreshadow something worse to come or they just build suspense.
35.2 R
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