Organizing Written Description of Place

English: An alcove in Navajo Sandstone near Mo...

English: An alcove in Navajo Sandstone near Moab, Utah.  Nothing to do with the text, but pretty cool.

This was useful to a few people over on intfiction.org, so I’m quoting it from that thread.

Jamespking wrote:

Quote:
The immense magma river flows below effortlessly, although slow and patiently. The whole cave is lit by its fiery belly. From here you can see the broken pillar rising from the flames like a finger pointing the sky — a sky made of crumbling rocks and metal — and the stony walls surrounding the sight like the steps of a giant arena. Below, the thin cornice cuts a distinct line on the side of it, losing itself in the distance inside a small passage to the west. The piece of quartz you are standing on has resisted the quake’s onslaught and is now holding itself onto the rock like a cat on a tree trunk. Something like steps rise from here to an alcove, up above and near the ceiling. A faint cyanotic light pulsates inside it. You can reach it to the northwest

This is TERRIBLE prose. On behalf of the author, I must say he was writing it trying to think in English not being english himself. That could lead to awkwardness.

First: every other noun has an adjective before it. It gets boring really soon.

James,

What is lacking is organization to the whole passage. Description of a place needs to develop in an organized way, just as an argument needs to, and the structure of that organization must match with the way the human mind processes and understands locale.

Visual description should be organized in a way that matches the way humans organize visual information, description of embodied feeling or emotional feeling should be organized in ways that match those senses, and so forth.

To do this, consider the way that, if you were in the location, you would direct your attention from moment to moment.

If I can be forgiven for making the attempt– Let’s look at the parts.

  • The immense magma river flows below effortlessly, although slow and patiently.
  • The whole cave is lit by its fiery belly.
  • From here you can see the broken pillar rising from the flames like a finger pointing the sky — a sky made of crumbling rocks and metal — and the stony walls surrounding the sight like the steps of a giant arena.
  • Below, the thin cornice cuts a distinct line on the side of it, losing itself in the distance inside a small passage to the west.
  • The piece of quartz you are standing on has resisted the quake’s onslaught and is now holding itself onto the rock like a cat on a tree trunk.
  • Something like steps rise from here to an alcove, up above and near the ceiling.
  • A faint cyanotic light pulsates inside it.
  • You can reach it to the northwest

The point of view this structure reveals is a DM’s point of view. It’s me looking in, considering the walls, the lighting, and working my way in to the player’s current options.

If I were there, I would probably attend to where I am, and my attention would then move outward.

Quote:
Sweltering, you stand on a piece of red-lit quartz that has survived the quake and clings to the rock like a cat to a tree. Northwest, irregular steps rise from here to an alcove near the ceiling. Inside the alcove a faint cyanotic light pulses.From the alcove, a cornice leads along the stony walls enclosing this huge arena. Far to the west, the cornice loses itself in some passage into the rock.

Red heat, so intense it feels solid, radiates from the patient magma river that flows below. A broken pillar rises from the flames like a finger, pointing to the ceiling of crumbling rocks and metal.

–Now, I don’t mean to hold myself out as an expert IF writer. My own productivity is pretty limited. And clearly as a writer you could select from among many organizational principle. The “from where I am out” basic strategy, which I picked here, is just the one I picked. You might instead pick “the environment in,” or “panning left to right,” or so forth.

But do consciously pick an organizational strategy, and stick to it in your writing. Also something I like, and therefore do, is to drop one- or two-word hints early in a passage, which details are explained later. So I dropped “red-lit” well before I described the lava river.

Conrad.

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Published in: on July 10, 2012 at 6:49 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Incredibly Cool Site for Writers…

Here we have fictional characters from various famous novels rendered pictorally by police artists.

http://thecomposites.tumblr.com/

Published in: on February 17, 2012 at 9:24 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Bullshit Review of _Find the Dog_

Sorry for the bullshit of this bullshit review — a real review would be too difficult to write.

This is a fine game — parser works, pictures work — text does its job — the main problem being you can’t download it.  Which is fine if you have a decent internet connection, but my tubes are slow.

The premise is vaguely amusing.  You play a 50 year old neighborhood woman who makes a bundle ($150 a week) to dog-sit a woman’s dog at her apartment.  The interaction with the 50 year old neighborhood bachelors at McDonalds in the morning is frighteningly on.  I suspect the author lurked and took notes, or perhaps is a 50 year old woman himself.

The complication hits immediately:  The dog dies.  This is almost immediate, but after you’ve played a few rounds and imagine this is shaping up to be some kind of Dog Sim, complete with minigames like Clean Up After Rover (did you bring a plastic bag?)

It’s been established that this dog is your bread and butter — “Are you SERIOUS?  $150 a week to WALK A DOG?” the bachelors exclaim — and you basically have no other income except for a woefully inadequate social security check that on inspection causes your player character to mentally review your older friends who have sold off their belongings, or taken in strange boarders, or so forth, to eek by on theirs.

Therefore, when the dog dies — or more accurately, is discovered dead in the apartment — the correct response is adequately indicated by context, but by no means obvious.  You must [spoiler] (more…)

Published in: on January 29, 2012 at 7:47 pm  Comments (5)  
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“There’s a commercial for Frosted Mini-Wheats…”

Culled from somewhere on the internet:

There’s a commercial for Frosted Mini-Wheats depicting a boxing match between a Mini-Wheat and a Honey Nut Cheerio. The Cheerio is half the size of the Mini-Wheat, showing it lacks fiber. As the match begins, the Cheerio faints before a punch is thrown. The problems? One: not just the boxer, but the announcers, the referee, the press and every single member of the audience is also a Mini-Wheat, so the odds of the Cheerio getting a fair treatment come across as nil; if it somehow won, the riotous crowd would probably kill it. Two: this is a boxing match, but the Cheerio has no arms or hands. Three: upon proclaiming his “victory,” the Mini-Wheat tries to act modest but just comes across as smugly falsely modest. It’s not hard to feel that the Cheerio either fainted from terror at being stuck in a match it can’t win surrounded by a huge horde of enemies, or that it threw the fight to get out of there alive.

Make yourself a worse better writer here.

Published in: on September 25, 2010 at 12:49 pm  Leave a Comment  
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I’ve had my fiction published! kinda.

Since I’m looking for a job, or more accurately waiting for people to call me back and tell me they’ll hire me, I’ve had a lot of free time.  Therefore I’ve been making myself as useful as I reasonably can, and that’s included sending out my fiction in an organized way.

This month, one of my older stories (10-15 years!) has been picked up by a little unpaid webzine.  So it’s modestly good news, and something I can put on my cover letters as I continue sending fiction around.

http://www.quantummuse.com/science_fiction.php

Published in: on February 4, 2010 at 2:59 pm  Comments (2)  
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Take the Foster-Harris Survey!

Although I haven’t written anything on Foster-Harris in a while, I see that I’m still getting traffic on his writing system.  If you’re interested in his emotion-based formula for building stories, you can take the survey here.

If you’d like to let others know of this survey, you’ll find the tinyurled link most convenient — it won’t break under cut+paste:

http://tinyurl.com/yev2ha9

Published in: on November 5, 2009 at 8:08 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Review of “Story Structure Architect” as it applies to IF

A certain odd and kind of spooky thing happens sometimes, where you go looking for something in a place where it has no business being, and find it.  Sometimes when I’m reading Shakespeare, I’ll think, “Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if he …”  And then I go looking for it, and not only did he do that, but he did it cooler than I had in mind.

I’m reading through a few books on story design, for the purpose of extracting ideas for Interactive Fiction.  Today I got around to a little library book called Story Structure Architect, by Victoria Lynn Schmidt, Ph.D.  (more…)

Published in: on June 28, 2009 at 10:38 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Free ebook – Emotional Logic, by Aristotle

We’ve been talking about emotions a great deal, but it’s all been about using emotion to write powerful stories.  We haven’t said much about how emotion works.  Let’s remedy that.

I have for you here a classic work on emotion, by Aristotle.  It’s part of a larger work, which you may have heard of, called The Rhetoric.

Aristotle was a greatly practical-minded guy, and human nature hasn’t changed all that much in the past 2,300 years.  Definitely worth a read.

Here’s Aristotle on Emotional Logic.

ps – Also, you’ll notice I’ve conveniently added an item, “resources,” to the sidebar, where you’ll find this and any other ebooks I may add.

Published in: on June 26, 2009 at 7:39 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Emotion + Action Story Formula

This formula combines the Foster-Harris emotional formula with the Lester Dent action formula.  It aims at a story 6,000 words long.  If you’re just tuning in and don’t know about these guys, check out the tags on this blog for the background.

The goal here is to create a story with action and emotional conflict, where the emotional conflict motivates the action, and the action is emotionally significant.

FINDING THE STORY LOGIC

1.) Use the F-H system to design an emotional conflict of interest to you.  We’re using the words “emotion” pretty loosely here; the conflict can be between any two values that get a rise out of people.  For example, the conflict between power and identity.

In general, you want these emotions to be similar to each other, or lay claim to similar domains of activity.  So Love v. Hate is not the way to go.  Love v. Lust is better.  Also popular, according to Foster-Harris, are Pride v. Honor (big with men) and Status v. Love (big with women). (more…)

Published in: on June 26, 2009 at 1:49 pm  Comments (3)  
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Q & A on Foster-Harris

Must emotions be about the future?

On the secret, hidden part of my blog, where I’ve posted my first story written to pulp formula, Wayne commented:

I’ve read Foster-Harris’ books and he’s excellent at explaining subjective POV.

His other notions are intriguing and I wish he had explained them more and gave more examples.

F-H says every fiction sentence should have an emotion looking forward and a fact looking back. Like “Angrily, he swirled.” Anger is an emotion but how is it looking forward? Anger is frustration at being stopped. How is swirling a fact looking back.

Well, there are different kinds of anger.  If the anger were about being stopped, then it would be “about the future” in the sense that the angry person didn’t want to be stuck on whatever had stuck them, but was already mentally trying to put themselves into the future situation, and stupid reality wasn’t keeping pace with them.

But your criticism is a very good one.  Emotions aren’t always about the future.  Foster-Harris is wrong on that point.

Some emotions are always about the future.  Fear, for example, doesn’t make sense if it’s not oriented toward the future.  You could image a situation where someone was fearful of something that technically had already happened — fearful of getting a bad grade on yesterday’s test.  They might know it had already been graded, but until it happens to them, until they get the grade, it’s in their future.

Other emotions are always about the past.  Regret, for example. (more…)

Published in: on June 25, 2009 at 6:51 pm  Leave a Comment  
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