Simple Schema For Fiction Note-Keeping

§.00 I’m very partial to note-keeping and have consequently developed a note-keeping method specifically tailored for fiction.

§.01 Consideration in my schema is first given to character(s), since once one has assembled their principal character or characters, the setting and plot can be developed more naturally. Next, principal setting(s), then theme(s) (since once one has the setting and character the theme will be able to be developed, but not before, unless one is writing story expressed primarily as a internal monologue), plot(s) (as one needs the characters, setting and theme before the plot, of necessity) and finally dialogue(s). The aforementioned entries can be ordered in the way the author finds most desirable but this was the order which works best with my own process.

§.02 Outline of written schema:

  1. CHARACTER(S)—a. character 1. b. character 2. c. character 3. d. etc…
  2. SETTING(S)—a. primary setting. b. secondary setting. c. tertiary setting…
  3. THEME(S)—a. primary theme. b. secondary theme. c. tertiary theme…
  4. PLOT(S)—a. primary plot line. b. side-plots…
  5. DIALOGUE(S)—a. narration and/or character 1: “[dialogue].” b. n/character 2: “[dialogue II].” c. n/character…

§.03 Regardless of the original manner in which the schema is created (word processor, paperback journal, etc) it is important to secure a back up (as one would with a manuscript) via cloud storage services, jump-drives and print-copies/scans.

A Consideration of Wenclas’ Vodka Friday Night (2019)

Kirk Fannin was the dangerous one– yet for a moment Stacey Shemke was the aggressor. (Wenclas, Vodka Friday Night)

§.00 Karl Wenclas’ short fiction Vodka Friday Night was the first incarnation of what the author has described as the ‘3D Story,’ a self-conscious attempt to generate a new, vitalistic literary model.

§.01 The plot—sharp as a razor—revolves around a rogues gallery operating in the seedy underworld of Detroit after the murder of ruthless gang leader named Lenny Z.

§.02 At the first, the style is breathless, almost entirely (and presumably intentionally) devoid of punctuation save the period mark and the occassional comma and features a interesting utilization of bullet points (1. 2. 3.) to delineate character perspective (which I induce to be the genesis of the 3D label). The brisk yet vivid characterization and punchy, clipped descriptions like “He looked mean, and was.” or “Kirk drove hard. Night fast.” harken back to the pulp neo-noir of the 60s and 70s from magazines like ADAM. However, certain lines stick out like weeds on a manicured lawn, such as, “Kirk knew Lenny Z’s reputation and knew the man was serious. He looked serious. Deadly and serious.” If a man looks serious the reader will internalize it the first time. Other lines appear to have been missed in the editing process, such as, “The opera had been a modern updating-.”

The gunman in the car behind Boyd’s took more deliberate aim, his gloved hand– an expensive yellow soft leather glove– squeezing the trigger red jets of flame glimpsed within the barrel gun kicking a row of shots sent off like hopeful children toward their destination. (Wenclas)

§.03 Despite these minor problems, the overall effect is one of tension, speed and intensity. Its a thoroughly rousing tale of egoism, crime, passion, loyalty and betrayal with a colorful cast of characters, told in sparse, machine-gun’d prose and one which I would highly recommend.

Plot Forcing: Two Variations

A plot point within a story may be said to be forced if a given development occurred because of a sudden change which had no precedent within the tale.

One common form of plot forcing is sporadic, selective stupidity, the condition whereby a normally competent (or brilliant) character suddenly losses all wit so that said character may be bested (this is especially common with villains as can be ascertained from a cursory review of the rogues gallery of the James Bond series) either for character or plot development (or both). For a specific example, consider the absurdist climax of the Marvel film, Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), whereat the film’s primary antagonist, a ruthless galactic warlord named Ronan, is bested because he is distracted for a unbelievably protracted period of time by the protagonist’s ridiculous dancing (this, I assume, was supposed to be funny). The scene made no sense as there was no precedent for such a intelligent and unhesitating character as Ronan to be utterly stunned by nothing more than exaggerated gesticulations, especially for such a long period of time, as such, the plot advancement (Ronan’s defeat) is ‘forced’ (for attempted comedic effect). This is a case where the intended effect of a given scene (comedy) stands in contrast to both the preceding plot development (impending genocide; high drama) and the propensity of the central character (Ronan; a heedless fanatic ill-inclined to distraction).

Another form of plot forcing (and to my knowledge the most common) is precedentless character enhancement, wherein a character encounters a situation where they are hopelessly outmatched but prevail due to no other reason than their own uniqueness, a uniqueness not previously demonstrated or even known to the character in question, which only manifests when a plotline needs to be advanced. This particular kind of plot forcing is characteristic of ‘chosen one’ narratives (such as: Harry Potter, Star Wars, The Matrix, The Wheel of Time, Supernatural and many others) wherein the ‘fate of the world’ (or some variant on the theme) rests solely upon the shoulders of the protagonist whose uniqueness and pivitol role in world events is generally explained via prophecy. Chosen one characters are typically young (I cannot recall any chosen one stories wherein the prophecized hero was elderly) and seemingly inadequate for the task, yet, despite the chosen one’s complete lack of skills they invariably triumph over the chaotic force or forces which threaten their world due to providential selection (selected by a diety or fate, etc). There are so many critiques of this particular trope that little needs to be said about why it should be avoided, so I shall name only one particular and perhaps seemingly counterintuitive problem it engenders: character limitation. In placing the providential/fated selection of a character as the primary driver of the plot (and most, if not all, the arcs within it) there is something of a hardcap which is placed upon character development; firstly, in that there is no reason at the outset for a chosen one protagonist to develop at all because they are already pre-equipped to deal with every challenge that besets them; a example of this can be observed in the film Star Wars: The Force Awakens wherein the protagonist, Rey, defeats the antagonist, Ren, in a duel, despite the fact she had never fought in such a fashion before and he had trained since his youth for martial conflict. She wins not because she is more talented, but because she’s ‘chosen,’ thus, she has to win, otherwise she’d have died and the story would be over and so again, the plot is ‘forced.’

A perceptive writer can see the problem immediately, there is no character building required, which will oft incline the author to ‘quick fixes’ in the advancement of their plot and thus also inclines towards the monotone, the predictable, the grey and unthoughtful; to boring characterization and lazy scene development.

Tomb of the Father: Chapter Two (Excerpt)

Author’s note: The following text is a short chapter excerpt from my forthcoming novel, Tomb Of The Father. More chapter excerpts will be released in the coming weeks.


Gunvald woke in the dark and buried the brigand upon the northern hill opposite the shepherd’s encampment and departed from the old vaquero wordlessly, before his waking, as the halcyon sphere drifted up across the high, jagged peaks of the far mountain. He made his way over the thin, reedy grass from the northern hill and from there to the stony outcropping where he’d slept as the sheep bawled and yapped like insane children and then passed down between the precarious tors into the lowlands which were spotted here and there with small tufts of shrubbery and strange boulders incised with markings from some people that had since passed from the world’s collective remembrance. The man stopped as if the stones had rooted him to shade and slowly reached out to touch the curious monolith before him, gingerly running his dry and cloth-wrapped hands across the smooth-hewn crevices of the mighty artifact. He closed his eyes and inhaled and exhaled deeply until his breathing became as rhythmic as a drumbeat and he felt as if his hands and those that had wrought the arcane inscriptions were one and the same. Past called to future. Dead to living. As if the stone were whispering to him, tales of forgotten times and well-lived lives and those less well lived and what their folly entailed for the ignorant persisting. It was a peculiar feeling, one that the weary traveler struggled to rationalize but felt powerfully all the same. At length, he opened his eyes and slowly withdrew his hand from the stone and retreated a pace and looked over the monolith entire, from tip to base and judged the breadth and width; some eight feet high, some seven feet wide. The weight of the thing the gods only knew.
When he’d taken in the stone in all its facets he turned full from it and made his way out through the bracken and quitch and past other stones, both larger and smaller than the first, and all similarly marked by ancient hands, the symbols there incised beyond the travelers reckoning. Here and there a recognizable representation, half-masked in abstraction: a man, a woman, a wolf, a bear, a fish, a snail, a tree. The symbol most oft represented was the wolf, over and over again it was inscribed, with near mechanical precision and a primal beauty that he’d scarcely witnessed in even the most technically proficient of paintings. He could almost hear its call.
Beyond the rune-stones the ground flattened out with astounding brevity, the bracken and quitch giving way to queer lichen and strange vines with small purple shoots and thick, raw swatches of muddy-clay, filled all with fetid water that buzzed with insects of every shape and size. The further out the man cast his gaze the larger the water-filled depressions grew until they merged unto a singularity, one vast marshen heap of rain-catch and sod and sand and silt. Bogland.
He recalled the old man’s words, “The first false step means death, to man or beast.”
Suddenly, there came a raucous calling, an intonation, nearby and strangely human. The traveler whirled, spotting, some forty yards out into the mire, a huge male ram, only his forelegs, chest, neck and horn-crowned head clear above the bog-hold. The creature struggled a moment, flailing its powerful legs against the silt and sand-water and then, quite suddenly, it vanished, sucked down at last; even the tips of its horns sinking below the grim surface of that plane of death.
Gunvald watched the unhappy affair with a mixture equal parts despair and fascination. It seemed too sudden to be real, the way the earth could so swiftly devour such a beast. Such a thing to the traveler’s mind was as fantastical as copper turning to gold or water to diamond. The bog had not been there when last he’d traversed the moor seven years ago. It seemed a whole panoply of lifetimes compressed into the scattered crystalline fragments of his memories and dreams.
He recalled the long march beside his kinsmen. How high their banners flew, the colors of all the clan houses of Tor; after decades of internecine violence, united at last against a common foe, the gray-men of the Hinterlands, those they called, Rimners. How young and wild and full of lofty opinions they had been…
As Gunvald looked out across the moor his opinions flew at considerably lower altitude.

*

Finding no passage through the peat, Gunvald opted to travel round it by the southernmost way. The trek lasted two days and brought him past all manner of rummy shrubs and bone piles and dying trees that looked more akin to the macabre props of a phantasmal play. Beyond the surmounted wetlands lay a quiet vale through which ran a babbling brook, girded on all sides by dry forest and vine, the ground verdant-lush and teeming with all manner of skittering things, both foul and fair. He sat by the snaking divet and withdrew a wood cup from his travel satchel and dipped it in the water and drank deeply, the liquid sweet and cool to his parched and desirous throat. Then he watched the solar plumes play across the waves as a small school of fish nudged up to the surface, their huge, lidless eyes gazing upon the sun-scorned figure as if appetent of conversation. Gunvald withdrew the last of his stock, a dry half-loaf of bread and broke it into small pieces, eating some and then throwing the rest to the fishes who gobbled at the flotsam and then nervously retreated, wary of Man’s latent, yet ever present, perfidy.
Moments later, the sound of creaking wood could be heard all throughout the vale, followed swiftly by a muted cascade of footfalls. The sound followed the wake of an old cart, rope-dragged by four men, filthy, disheveled and dressed all in furs. Their faces covered by cloth half-masks, securing the nose and mouth from nature’s multitudinous ravishments. Gunvald rose to observe the strange and solemn congregation, eyes widening with horror as he beheld their vessel’s grisly cargo.
Bodies.
Some fifteen in number, human and decaying under the harsh auspice of the sun, male and female alike, from babe to crone, covered in all manner of hideous rashes and boils, their skin ashen-red and peeling like the hide of some overripe fruit. Whatever disease it was that had snatched from them the breath of life seemed, for the moment, to have no hold upon the cart-pullers who paused momentarily, all turning to the man by the river.
One of their number addressed Gunvald sharply, as if in reprimand for some past transgression.
“What easy fool is this?”
“No fool, sir, but a soldier.”
“Those that here make passage well warrant the epithet. Canst thou not see our sorry wares?”
“Tis a pitiable sight. Whereby didst the sorry lot meet Dactyl’s scythe?”
Upon the utterance of that most singular name the men collectively gasped, the former speaker, a short man, bow-backed, balding and scar-faced, muttered a muted prayer and then gestured towards Gunvald as if casting some devious vermin from his presence.
“Sound not that unutterable traducement!”
“I meant no offense. Superstition has surely deranged thy temperament.”
“Enough, heretic, we darest not tarry, lest thee, with thy calumnious tongue, conjure some new evil to surpass the one that now burdens our aching backs!”
The other workers nodded as if there was great wisdom in the bald man’s words and then they adjusted their masks and ropes and muttered another prayer and bent once more to their toil and moved out across the rutted and grassy way, vanishing at last beneath the cavernous canopy of the wood, swallowed whole by the shadows therein.
Gunvald watched them go and decided to follow the cart-men at a distance, for their path and his were, for the time being, one and the same.
Gunvald rose and gave chase, passing through the thick and tangled forest of oak and ash and fir and gave silent thanks for the thick moss-bed beneath that masked the clattering of his bulky, armored frame. Over moss and stone and leaves, dead and alive, he walked, keeping himself well hidden and well apart from the odd foursome and their rickety old cart. After a couple hundred feet the forest opened up, the trees and shrubbery now growing more sparsely, the grass fading from green to yellow-green to a dull orange-yellow. Dying. The cart-pullers took a sharp right and passed fully beyond the forest unto a thin, dirt road that stretched out to the gray northwestern hill-lands like the great and ossified tendril of some mighty leviathan. The road ran down a slight decline in the hummock-ridden surface of the world and then diverged, one track splitting off to a small city to the south and the other branching to a butte over which rose the pass to the low, south-eastern mountains. Gunvald waited until the men had disappeared beyond the curvature of the earth and then took the lonely path towards the town stopping by a small, wooden sign, hastily constructed, which read:

Ħaberale

The sign was adorned with a large off-white arrow, comprised of some woodland dye, which pointed towards the clearly present outline of the town in the short-off distance, half obscured by small tussles of old trees which poked above a field of withering wheat and the ruins of some primeval fort that lay beyond, its towers brimming with black wings and hissing beaks. Before the man had fully risen from his observation of the sign, the sound of thundering hooves rose up from somewhere nearby, plumes of dust whirling from the immediate northern road. Shortly, a fearsome cavalcade stood before the weary and cautious wayfarer, five in number and all armed and armored in strict uniformity. Knights or sell-swords or something worse. Gunvald knew instantly they were not of the town, by both their expensive attire and peculiar breed of destrier, he fancied them denizens of Caer Tor, a kingdom someways off and rarely concerned with its outlying provinces. The leader of the group and the eldest, a man of middling height and some fifty years, at length addressed the armored wayfarer.
“Hail, traveler. A moment to query?”
Gunvald nodded in wordless acquiescence, though he knew that it was not a question proper.
“I am Cyneweard, second-commander of Tor. Word of brigand-raids have reached our gracious Lord, Cenhelm, and by his leave we make way to Haberale to rope the misbegotten scoundrels.”
“If that is thy venture then ye’ev headed the way awrong. Thy foe lies beyond the northern forest, past the bogland in the high moors.”
“Thou hast seen them?”
“Three nights past I was assailed upon the moor by three fiends, peasants, it seemed.”
“Three thou sayst?”
“Now two.”
The knight took the measure of the soldier before him, discerning flecks of crusted blood about his boots and nodded solemnly.
“I thank thee kindly. Might I inquire as to thy business, traveler?”
“My business is my own.”
“Suit thyself. One word of parting, kinsman, take heed in Haberale, the town is much changed. For the worse I am afeared. With thanks, we take our leave.”
Without another word the knights straightened in their leather saddles and flicked the reigns of their war-beasts and clattered off down the road toward the moor. When they had gone all was silent save for the heavy breath of the western wind that sent the traveler’s long, wavy locks aflutter. He brushed his mane from out his eyes and adjusted his scabbard-belt and wondered at the knight’s words. Haberale had always been a sleepy, little idyll, the only heed one had need to take was of how uneventful it was likely to be so as to better remedy the doldrums. He thought of the bandits and the dead men in the cart and the living ones pulling it and the strange masks on their faces, all deep, emerald green.
Times had changed indeed.
Gunvald left off down the way and crossed through the fading wheat and the hard clay ground and made camp in the ruins of some old fort as darkness closed about him in minacious plume.

*

Fiction Circular 3/8/19

§00. Editor’s note: links affixed to author/publisher’s name will redirect to author/publisher social media, links affixed to story/article titles will redirect to the site whereupon the named piece is archived. The ‘authors’ section focuses on lone individuals who publish their own literary work, ‘organizations’ section focuses upon independent presses, lit-mags, e-zines and other literary organizations who publish fictive work of multiple authors and ‘literary ephemera’ focuses on non-prose non-fiction literature, such as certain poems, news and art theory articles, reviews, interviews and critiques. All author/publication names arranged by alphabetical order (including ‘the’).


§01. Editor’s note on criteria for inclusion: a publication is considered ‘independent’ if it is self-contained and sustaining, that is to say, if it does not rely upon the staff, organizational prowess or financial backing of large corporations, academies, governments or other large entrenched organizations. For example, Sink Hollow Litmag will not be included on the list, not due to the quality or lack thereof of their work, but rather, because they are supported by Utah State University (and thus, are not independent).


§. AUTHORS


¶From Glahn, Goats. The less that is said about Glahn’s absolutely fantastic tale of chanting stick-pointers, the better. Highly recommended (if, that is, it is still up, the author’s posts are removed at regular intervals).

*Best of the week.

“Merrily we walked out of the town in the opposite direction of the bridge. Out of the town. Grand, huh? to expel yourself, to follow the inclinations of self-exile! I had forgotten I was a single thing back there but now I felt my rugged old heart swell and spill-”

 

— Goats


¶From Julian Gallo (via Medium), An Ashcan Burns At The Feet Of Christ. An allegory, equal parts poetic and grim.

“In the back alleys of Jerusalem a prophet lies naked, drunk and covered in sick-”

— An Ashcan Burns At The Feet Of Christ


§. ORGANIZATIONS


¶From Cheap Pop, Hell, by Jennifer Wortman. A story of dogma and youthful social fracture.

“She’s a part of your world, like the buckeye tree at the edge of your yard and the cardinals and robins that land there, and the dandelions everywhere, and the fat worms shining on the sidewalk after it rains.”

 

— Hell


¶From Literally Stories, The Shroud of Tulsa, by John B. Mahaffie, a story of the ways in which the most mundane and miniscule details can be transmogrified into myth.

“So before too long, starting with Tina retelling the stories all that day, and forgetting details and substituting some of her own, we ended up with water turned into wine, a man walking on water, and what came to be called the Shroud of Tulsa, now Plexiglass-encased at the Free and Independent Church of the Almighty on Leedy Turnpike, out past the landfill. “Tulsa,” since “Shroud of Springdale” doesn’t sound like anything.”

 

— The Shroud of Tulsa


¶From STORGY, I Did Not Push My Wife Off A Cliff, by Steve Gergley.

“I was there. And let me just say that that game was a heck of a lot closer than fifty-eight to nothing would suggest to the layman—er, excuse me—laywoman—God forbid I offend anyone…”

 

— I Did Not Push My Wife Off A Cliff

From Terror House Magazine, Anfisa, by Serge Clause. A tale of longing set in Russia.

“As time went on, spring came and the frost stopped. My friends took out their iron horses, and we from Stars Town began to ride our motorcycles in Ulan-Ude.”

 

— Anfisa

¶From The Arcanist, Leave No Trace, by Gabrielle Bleu.

“The damage from the wildfire five months ago was extensive. The park still needed all hands to aid in its recovery. And there was that increase in poaching on protected lands, an abnormal thinning of elk and deer herds started shortly after the wildfire had subsided. Beth eyed her rifle case. Funny that, the way the two coincided.”

 

— Leave No Trace


¶From The Dark Netizen, Clouds. Ms. Jadeli (a commentator on Netizen’s site) had noted that, to her, it sounded like a “excellent beginning to a book.” I’d agree. Hopefully it will be expanded upon at a future-date.

“The villagers speculated that the boy was not right in his mind. They asked the other children to stay away from this child who seemingly suffered from poor mental health. However, the little boy did not mind being alone. He would hunt for food, bathe under the waterfall, and sleep on trees. He did not need anybody.”

 

— Clouds


¶From Surfaces, Terminal Lux, by Nick Greer, a peculiar, esoteric digression on simulation and class.

“:: dwell not on the epsilon beyond your binds.”

 

— Terminal Lux


¶From X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine, The Whole Flow, by Angie McCullah, the story of motherhood, illness and the fluidity of emotion.

“It is now just the boy and me and boxes of a chemical his own body can’t supply and also the beta fish in a bowl I bought to cheer him up. We sit in a small rowboat, bobbing. If you were to pull back from the tiny craft, a sunset pink behind us and a whole gray ocean slippery with fish and other sealife below, we would look like two brightly colored scraps barely tethered by my outrage, which is better, at least, than liquefying and drowning.”

 

— The Whole Flow


§. LITERARY EPHEMERA

¶Nothing to report.


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On Dialogic Consistency In Fiction

If, in your fiction writing, you can describe something in but a single word, sentence or paragraph, but choose instead to write in excess of the requisite amount for the task-to-hand, pause to consider precisely why. There are, sometimes, good reasons for writing in excess of the amount for the task-to-hand, but if due consideration of the reason(s) for the length of one’s writing is not paid, one places oneself in danger of waxing unduly wordy and this, in turn, can entail a whole host of additional problems (such as the inducement of bordem to the reader through repition, given that the more you describe a single, discrete thing, the more likely you are to repeat yourself and at a certain point this becomes superfluous; for instance, there are only so many ways to describe the roundness of a ball and, generally speaking, a limited need to do so).

One example of such a exception would be what I term dialogic consistency, by which I mean: writing in keeping with the verbal style of a particular character (such as a loquacious individual). The principal of dialogic consistency can best be described by an illustration; let us turn our attention to the cover image, which contains two figures, from left to right: a chic woman and a suave man, respectively. Let us call them Stacy and Sven and let us further flesh out the characters by attributing to Stacy a extremely loquacious, easily-distracted and gossipy turn and to Sven, let us attribute the faculties of precision and focus in combination with an extreme stoicism. In this example, when writing both of these characters in conversation, from the above descriptions alone, one would write Stacy in a far more wordy and talkative way (because Sven is by nature, reserved).

The best test of a writer’s dialogic consistency can be found in whether or not the reader can differentiate characters in conversation by their dialogue alone (without the writer telling the reader who is speaking, either directly or indirectly). Let us use Stacy and Sven to illustrate.

“Oh, hey, hey, come here – I almost forgot to tell you. Kelly is pregnant. I know right. Totally out of the blue. But Joey doesn’t know so… don’t tell him or anything. Ok?”

“My lips are sealed.”

“Ok, good, so anyways… Why do you look so glum?”

“I don’t like keeping secrets.”

Now from this brisk exchange alone, after some comparative study, we must determine whether or not the most average of readers would be able to pick out which speaker is Stacy and which is Sven. As you likely were able to tell, the first speaker is Stacy and the second is Sven; this process will, of course, be made easier on less discerning readers in a lengthier text where the speakers are referred to (at least once) before speaking, in some variation of the form: Stacy, whirled around around the corner, squealing with glee, “Oh, hey, hey… etc”.