Seven Assignments for Algonkian Writers

A place where Algonkian writers can respond to assignments designed to provide fundamental and nuanced hands-on experience with crucial novel writing elements.
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Seven Assignments for Algonkian Writers

#1 Post by WritersBlock » 09 Oct 2020, 21:56

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:!: UPDATED 10/O1/2020

Algonkian Writer Conferences - Pre-Event Writer Assignments

Below are seven assignments which include readings and links. All of these are vital to reaching an understanding of what elements go into the writing of a commercially viable literary project, whether novel or narrative non-fiction. There is more to it, as you will learn at the conference, but this is for starters and a good primer.

You may return here as many times as you need to edit your topic post (login and click "edit" at the bottom of your post), even following the pitch conference. Pay special attention to antagonistic force, breakout title, conflict issues, core wound, and setting.

Quiet novels do not sell. Keep that in mind.

Michael Neff
NYC Pitch Conference Director
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Instructions for Posting Responses

After you've registered and logged in, read the assignments below, click on "Post Reply" on the upper left of the page and enter your responses in the box provided, then click "submit." Once done, your reply will appear in this topic. Please make one reply for all of your responses so the forum topic will not become cluttered.

Strongly suggest typing up your reply in a separate file then copying it over to your post before submitting. Not a good idea to lose what you've done!


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THE ACT OF STORY STATEMENT

Before you begin to consider or rewrite your story premise, you must develop a simple "story statement." In other words, what's the mission of your protagonist? Their goal? What must be done? What must she or he create? Destroy? Save? Accomplish? Defeat?

:!: Defy the dictator of the city and bury brother’s body (ANTIGONE)?
:!: Place a bet that will shake up the asylum (ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST)?
:!: Do whatever it takes to recover lost love (THE GREAT GATSBY)?
:!: Save the farm and live to tell the story (COLD MOUNTAIN)?
:!: Find the wizard and a way home to Kansas (WIZARD OF OZ)?

Note that all of these are books with strong antagonists who drive or catalyze the plot line going forward. More on that later.

If you cannot conceive or write a simple story statement like those above (which will help define your story premise) then you don’t have a work of commercial fiction. Keep in mind that the PLOT LINE is an elaboration of the statement.

:idea: FIRST ASSIGNMENT: write your story statement.

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THE ANTAGONIST PLOTS THE POINT

Since the antagonist in most successful commercial fiction is the driver of the plot line(s), what chances do you as a writer have of getting your manuscript, regardless of genre, commercially published if the story and narrative therein fail to meet reader demands for sufficient suspense, character concern, and conflict?

Answer: none. But what major factor makes for a quiet or dull manuscript brimming with insipid characters and a story that cascades from chapter to chapter with tens of thousands of words, all of them combining irresistibly to produce an audible thudding sound in the mind, rather like a fist hitting a side of cold beef?

Such a dearth of vitality in narrative and story frequently results from the unwillingness of the writer to create a suitable antagonist who stirs and spices the plot hash. And let's make it clear what we're talking about. By "antagonist" we specifically refer to an actual fictional character, an embodiment of certain traits and motivations who plays a significant role in catalyzing and energizing plot line(s), or at bare minimum, in assisting to evolve the protagonist's character arc (and by default the story itself) by igniting complication(s) the protagonist, and possibly other characters, must face and solve (or fail to solve).

CONTINUE READING ENTIRE ARTICLE HERE: http://www.authorsalon.com/page/general ... iterature/

:idea: SECOND ASSIGNMENT: in 200 words or less, sketch the antagonist or antagonistic force in your story. Keep in mind their goals, their background, and the ways they react to the world about them.

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CONJURING YOUR BREAKOUT TITLE

What is your breakout title? How important is a great title before you even become published? Very important! Quite often, agents and editors will get a feel for a work and even sense the marketing potential just from a title. A title has the ability to attract and condition the reader's attention. It can be magical or thud like a bag of wet chalk, so choose carefully. A poor title sends the clear message that what comes after will also be of poor quality.

Go to Amazon.Com and research a good share of titles in your genre, come up with options, write them down and let them simmer for at least 24 hours.Consider character or place names, settings, or a "label" that describes a major character, like THE ENGLISH PATIENT or THE ACCIDENTAL TOURIST. Consider also images, objects, or metaphors in the novel that might help create a title, or perhaps a quotation from another source (poetry, the Bible, etc.) that thematically represents your story. Or how about a title that summarizes the whole story: THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES, HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS, THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP, etc.

Keep in mind that the difference between a mediocre title and a great title is the difference between THE DEAD GIRL'S SKELETON and THE LOVELY BONES, between TIME TO LOVE THAT CHOLERA and LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA between STRANGERS FROM WITHIN (Golding's original title) and LORD OF THE FLIES, between BEING LIGHT AND UNBEARABLE and THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING.

:idea: THIRD ASSIGNMENT: create a breakout title (list several options, not more than three, and revisit to edit as needed).

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DECIDING YOUR GENRE AND APPROACHING COMPARABLES

Did you know that a high percentage of new novel writers don't fully understand their genre, much less comprehend comparables?

When informing professionals about the nuances of your novel, whether by query letter or oral pitch, you must know your genre first, and provide smart comparables second. In other words, you need to transcend just a simple statement of genre (literary, mystery, thriller, romance, science fiction, etc.) by identifying and relating your novel more specifically to each publisher's or agent's area of expertise, and you accomplish this by wisely comparing your novel to contemporary published novels they will most likely recognize and appreciate--and it usually doesn't take more than two good comps to make your point.Agents and publishing house editors always want to know the comps.

There is more than one reason for this. First, it helps them understand your readership, and thus how to position your work for the market. Secondly, it demonstrates up front that you are a professional who understands your contemporary market, not just the classics. Very important! And finally, it serves as a tool to enable them to pitch your novel to the decision-makers in the business.Most likely you will need to research your comps. We've included some great starter websites for this purpose below. If you're not sure how to begin, go to Amazon.Com, type in the title of a novel you believe very similar to yours, choose it, then scroll down the page to see Amazon's list of "Readers Also Bought This" and begin your search that way.

Keep in mind that before you begin, you should know enough about your own novel to make the comparison in the first place!By the way, beware of using comparables by overly popular and classic authors. If you compare your work to classic authors like H.G. Wells and Gabriel Marquez in the same breath you will risk being declared insane. If you compare your work to huge contemporary authors like Nick Hornby or Jodi Picoult or Nora Ephron or Dan Brown or J.K. Rowling, and so forth, you will not be laughed at, but you will also not be taken seriously since thousands of others compare their work to the same writers. Best to use two rising stars in your genre. If you can't do this, use only one classic or popular author and combine with a rising star. Choose carefully!

:idea: FOURTH ASSIGNMENT:

- Read this comprehensive article regarding comparables on Author Salon: http://www.authorsalon.com/craft/view/62/
- Develop two smart comps for your novel. This is a good opportunity to immerse yourself in your chosen genre. Who compares to you? And why?


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HOOK LINES, CORE WOUNDS, AND CONFLICT

Conflict, tension, complication, drama--pretty much basically related and going a long way to keeping the reader's eyes and thoughts fixated on your story. These days, serving up a big manuscript of quiet is a sure path to post-slush damnation. You need tension on the page, and the best way to accomplish this is to create conflict and complication in the plot, and narrative as well.

Conflict was first described in ancient Greek literature as the agon, or central contest in tragedy. According to Aristotle, in order to ensure interest, the hero must have a single conflict. The agon, or act of PRIMARY CONFLICT, involves the protagonist and the antagonist, corresponding to hero and villain. The outcome of their contest cannot be known in advance, and according to later critics such as Plutarch, the hero's struggle should be ennobling. Is that always true these days? Not always, but let's move on. Classic drama creates conflict with real stakes. It cannot help but do so. You see it everywhere, to one degree or another, from classic contemporary westerns like THE SAVAGE BREED to a time-tested novel as literary as THE GREAT GATSBY (that would fall apart if Tom Buchanan were not a cretin). And the core of conflict can be expressed in a hook line. For example, let us consider hook lines from the following novels.

Note the following hook lines are divided into two basic parts--the CORE WOUND and the resulting dramatic complication that denotes and drives conflict towards climax and resolution.

The Hand of Fatima by Ildefonso Falcones
A young Moor torn between Islam and Christianity, scorned and tormented by both, struggles to bridge the two faiths by seeking common ground in the very nature of God.

* The protagonist is scorned and tormented, thus the core wound, and as a result he seeks to fulfill an almost impossible task.
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Summer's Sisters by Judy Blume
After sharing a magical summer with a friend, a young woman must confront her friend's betrayal of her with the man she loved.

* The protagonist is betrayed by her friend and thus her core wound, and as a result she must take steps to reach a closure wherein conflict will surely result.
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The Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud
As an apprentice mage seeks revenge on an elder magician who humiliated him, he unleashes a powerful Djinni who joins the mage to confront a danger that threatens their entire world.

* Humiliated into a core wound by an elder magician, the story line erupts into a conflict with the entire world at stake.

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*** Note that it is fairly easy to ascertain the stakes in each case above: a young woman's love and friendship, the entire world, and harmony between opposed religions. If you cannot make the stakes clear, the odds are you don't have any.

:idea: FIFTH ASSIGNMENT: write your own hook line following the format above that includes core wound and resulting conflict. Consider also, what makes your novel distinctive? Might elements of the setting be displayed to add color? Is the antagonist noted or inferred? What do you see in the three examples above?

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OTHER MATTERS OF CONFLICT: TWO MORE LEVELS

Consider "conflict" divided into three parts, all of which you should ideally have present in the novel. First, the primary conflict (noted above) that drives through the core of the work from beginning to end and zeniths with an important climax (falling action or denouement to follow). Next, secondary conflicts or complications which can take various social forms (anything from a vigorous love subplot to family issues to turmoil with fellow characters). Finally, those inner conflicts the major characters must endure and resolve--which may or may not be directly related to the main plot line (but at least an important one should be).

:idea: SIXTH ASSIGNMENT: sketch out the conditions for the inner conflict your protagonist will have. Why will they feel in turmoil? Conflicted? Anxious? Sketch out one hypothetical scenario in the story wherein this would be the case--consider the trigger and the reaction. And relate it to the main plot line or primary conflict.

:idea: Next, likewise sketch a hypothetical scenario for the "secondary conflict" involving the social environment. Will this involve family? Friends? Associates? What is the nature of it?


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THE INCREDIBLE IMPORTANCE OF SETTING

When considering your novel, whether taking place in a contemporary urban world or on a distant magical planet in Andromeda, you must first sketch the best overall setting and sub-settings for your story. Consider: the more unique and intriguing (or quirky) your setting, the more easily you're able to create energetic scenes, narrative, and overall story.

A great setting maximizes opportunities for interesting characters, circumstances, and complications, and therefore makes your writing life so much easier.

Imagination is truly your best friend when it comes to writing competitive fiction, and nothing provides a stronger foundation than a great setting. One of the best selling contemporary novels, THE HUNGER GAMES, is driven by the circumstances of the setting, and the characters are a product of that unique environment, the plot also.

But even if you're not writing SF/F, the choice of setting is just as important, perhaps even more so. If you must place your upmarket story in a sleepy little town in Maine winter, then choose a setting within that town that maximizes opportunities for verve and conflict, for example, a bed and breakfast stocked to the ceiling with odd characters who combine to create comical, suspenseful, dangerous or difficult complications or subplot reversals that the bewildered and sympathetic protagonist must endure and resolve while he or she is perhaps engaged in a bigger plot line: restarting an old love affair, reuniting with a family member, starting a new business, etc. And don't forget that non-gratuitous sex goes a long way, especially for American readers.

CONTINUE TO READ THIS ARTICLE THEN RETURN: http://www.authorsalon.com/craft/view/97/

:idea: FINAL ASSIGNMENT: sketch out your setting in detail. What makes it interesting enough, scene by scene, to allow for uniqueness and cinema in your narrative and story? Please don't simply repeat what you already have which may well be too quiet. You can change it. That's why you're here! Start now. Imagination is your best friend, and be aggressive with it.

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MarthaMichaelsA5
Posts: 1
Joined: 11 Oct 2020, 22:42

Re: Seven Assignments for Algonkian Writers

#2 Post by MarthaMichaelsA5 » 14 Oct 2020, 03:41

FIRST ASSIGNMENT: write your story statement.

Laid-back, luddite, and all around curmudgeon, Captain MITCH JORDAN can’t wait to get back to sea. His plans are blocked when he’s pulled into a dangerous case involving an old high school friend’s disappearance, stolen money, a ruthless preacher, and a dog named Satan.
He must find his missing/dead friend and get him properly buried. He’s too jaded to believe in justice or revenge.

SECOND ASSIGNMENT: in 200 words or less, sketch the antagonist or antagonistic force in your story. Keep in mind their goals, their background, and the ways they react to the world about them.

Protagonist, Mitch, plans a short stay in his home town while waiting to captain a Russian super yacht under construction in Thailand. Chick Howard, a shady realtor, but beloved high school friend goes missing.

The Antagonist is a highly respected Pastor, Phil Cuthburt, and founder of God’s World. Pastor Phil plans to purchase a group of floating casinos anchored just off shore, it’s a money laundering operation from which he can funnel money to the GOP (essentially the Abramoff/Suncruz scandal).

Because Pastor Phil must hide his involvement he uses Chick as a cover. Chick steals the money for the purchase wiring it to his personal bank account. Phil’s boys catch up with Chick and they accidentally kill him, now Phil must search for his stolen money. He thinks Mitch has it, then turns to Chick’s wife Doris. He fabricates a will naming God’s World executor of Chick’s estate in an effort to open the banks and look for the money. Doris fights back drawing on Mitch for support. Mitch doesn’t care about money or corruption, he simply wants to find and bury Chick properly, but soon discovers that he must also protect hard headed Doris.


THIRD ASSIGNMENT: create a breakout title (list several options, not more than three, and revisit to edit as needed).

Mud Shoals
Satan Ain’t My Dog
For God’s Sake, Bury Chick

FOURTH ASSIGNMENT: Develop two smart comps for your novel. This is a good opportunity to immerse yourself in your chosen genre. Who compares to you? And why?

“Mud Shoals” falls in the crime genre, the tone is Elmore Leonard and the Coen Brothers, Big Lewbowski meets Raylan Givens.

FIFTH ASSIGNMENT: write your own hook line following the format above that includes core wound and resulting conflict. Consider also, what makes your novel distinctive? Might elements of the setting be displayed to add color? Is the antagonist noted or inferred? What do you see in the three examples above?

Mitch ran away from his small southern town at 18 never to return, he created a life at sea. He’s an island, the Captain, people either take orders or leave. Pretty nifty coping mechanism, only he makes the mistake of coming back, ever so briefly, but long enough to be pulled into the messy lives of the people he left behind, to save them and repent and fall in love, there’s even a dog. It doesn’t get any worse than that.

SIXTH ASSIGNMENT: sketch out the conditions for the inner conflict your protagonist will have. Why will they feel in turmoil? Conflicted? Anxious? Sketch out one hypothetical scenario in the story wherein this would be the case--consider the trigger and the reaction. And relate it to the main plot line or primary conflict.

Mitch left home as a kid because he hated the place, the poverty, the stupidity, mostly because he knew he could only make matters worse. He lacked social and emotional intelligence, he wasn’t good at anything. He was no account and shiftless, but at sea he had worked his way up to captain and saved himself. He found something he was really good at, he sailed through storms, he fought off pirates, he was courageous and confident, nomadic, yes, no entanglements, better still. But back in that little town was a seed of unfinished business, something gnawed at him. He had run, he abandoned his family and everyone he knew, they confused him, was he a coward? No, he simply hated the place, but still…

Next, likewise sketch a hypothetical scenario for the "secondary conflict" involving the social environment. Will this involve family? Friends? Associates? What is the nature of it?

Chick wants a favor from Mitch, first, keep a mysterious envelope for him, and second, tell Doris, his wife, that he was never interested in her, snuff out the torch Chick believes she’s been carrying for Mitch all these years. Of course, Mitch says no, he’s leaving town and doesn’t give a shit. Then Chick pulls the guilt card, he was the one who took care of and ultimately buried Mitch’s father, six hundred people showed up for the funeral, did he not get the letter? Mitch did but ignored it, now face to face with Chick, he can not escape his guilt.


FINAL ASSIGNMENT: sketch out your setting in detail. What makes it interesting enough, scene by scene, to allow for uniqueness and cinema in your narrative and story? Please don't simply repeat what you already have which may well be too quiet. You can change it. That's why you're here! Start now. Imagination is your best friend, and be aggressive with it.

The town is a character in the story. An old coot runs the coffee shop, there’s a megachurch with Diamond Vision, which everyone’s in awe of. There are swamps, coves, a marina, and boats. Most interestingly is Mitch’s shack on an isolated cove down a long dirt road, and the way he lives there. He steals electricity from the coffee shops men’s room, charges the chain of batteries in the bed of his truck then runs an extension cord from the truck to the shack. He pretty much camps there, sitting on ice chests and sleeping on a found mattress someone threw away. He abhors stuff because he doesn’t want to be there in the first place. He’s a passive aggressor to himself.

karendevaney
Posts: 1
Joined: 16 Oct 2020, 22:05

Re: Seven Assignments for Algonkian Writers

#3 Post by karendevaney » 19 Oct 2020, 04:22

Between the Vines Answers to Assignment
1. Break the rules, be the first female winemaker in Sonoma Valley.
2. Paolo, Tomasina’s father represents everything patriarchal and stilting during the end of WWII. Women are to return to their kitchens, making room for the men who are returning war laden wanting their old jobs back. The men in Tomi’s life, even Tiago her lover, are narrow minded in their mindset on gender. Women are to remain in the wings, they tend, harvest and stomp grapes, but they don’t make the wine, that’s a man’s job. Paolo and his cronies hold tight to ruling the roost, they, and they alone are landholders and business men. Women are needed to cook meals, raise children, and take care of the household, all the banal expectations Tomi refuses to succumb to. The macho force, the underbelly of the wine industry dominated during the late 1940s and fifties. Paolo is both stern and soft in his love for his daughter. Conflicted and confused by her fierce determination, he digs his heels in deeper, trying to hone his son Gianni for the role of Vinter. Gianni, unlike Tomi, has no interest in the wine business, which further infuriates Paolo.
3. Titles, Between the Vines, Within the Soil, Beyond the Vines, Golden Hills
4. Comparisons- City of Girls, by Elizabeth Gilbert, and Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton
5. Hook Lines- At the end of WWII, Tomasina is filled with dreams of being the first womanVvinter, but is almost destroyed as she battles the underbelly of winemaking. Or, After working together for months in the vineyards, a young woman succumbs to love and almost destroys her dreams of becoming the first female winemaker amid a sea of patriarchal men.
6. Other conflicts include Tiago’s Mexican mother who hates anyone who is not Hispanic, when Tiago falls for Tomi, he keeps it from his mother, until Tomi becomes pregnant and Tiago can no longer keep the secret. A devastating fire that rages through Golden Hills that not only singes and burns the vines, but claims Tiago life as well. Gianni, who was fighting in Italy during the war, falls in love with Luciana, when she suddenly disappears before the end of the war, he searches for her, returning to America with a heavy heart. Nona Esmeralda has cancer and is sent to San Francisco for treatment, Tomi must go with her, leaving her two lovers behind, Tiago and the vines.
7. Settings, Sonoma California in 1945 summer, Golden Hills winery, the square and the surrounding bucolic areas at the end of the war, San Francisco in 1946, and Rome, Italy towards the end of WWI.

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