An Author’s Inspiration Development Journal Entry 2

Continuing  background:  An Author’s Inspiration is planned to be distributed with writer configurable files.  These files describe characters, plot, setting, and (most importantly), stress.  As distributed, these files currently describe the adventures of Harry Potter in the film version of The Order of the Phoenix.  The outline generated by An Author’s Inspiration combines these elements, expanded into 28 beats.

In The Order of the Phoenix, there are a lot of characters each with their strengths and weaknesses. In An Author’s Inspiration, each character has a file of trait descriptions and character sketch provided by the writer.  The emphasis on these traits are largely psychological.

The beat format of the generated outline allows for 80-90% of the scenes from the film to fit into beats’ settings.  The plot is a matter of interpretation, but with Harry Potter, the elements in the file describing plot can be arrived at through what is largely formula for the Harry Potter series.

What of the stress I describe as (most) important?  Research has borne out Kurt Vonnegut’s observation of the emotional shape of at least six types of story.  Each shape is a simple curve expressed in a flow of shifting levels of both good (eustress) stress and bad (distress) stress.  The writer can not only establish a plot point, but can attach a level of stress to it.

An Author’s Inspiration Development Journal Entry 3

With the background established, I move on to my own experience using An Author’s Inspiration.  As I am also the designer, it allows me to adjust the design of the software to suit short-falls, add flexibility, and to create new features that were unanticipated during early stages.

The first thing that hit me was about the design at a fundamental level.  I had planned on the writer having the ability to write free form notes into unlimited text fields.  Unfortunately, that design has constraints.  The writer cannot use punctuation in this text (that made it easy to write the code).  However, I as the writer need the ability to separate ideas into sentences, and this put demands upon me as the designer to step up to the plate to make that happen at a very fundamental level.

So, the first lesson of using my own software is to add a robust method to allow me to enter complete paragraphs with punctuated sentences into the text field.  This will be mildly complex, and demand deep testing as changes at the fundamental level can cast dramatic problems into what should be high level subtleties.

An Author’s Inspiration Development Journal Entry 1

I have decided to start a journal to express the Aha! moments that are arriving now.  However, some background is needed to say how I got to such moments.

I have put in roughly six months (or 1,000 hours) of design and development of the idea I call An Author’s Inspiration.  In fair market prices for a senior software developer, that would bill out at $80,000.  There is more design and coding to go, but I am at a beta release version of 0.7 that suits many functions I set out to achieve.  Going the distance from beta release version 0.7 to product release version 1.0 places new appeals to my designer’s inspiration.

I am currently re-purposing my beta for use in my own fiction writing, and I am discovering short-falls of design.  In the culture of software design, using my own product is know as “eating your own dog food.”  That is, in my release package, I have files designed specifically for Harry Potter in The Order of the Phoenix.  I am not writing a Harry Potter story.  As needs must, I have to replace those configurable files with files that describe my own story with its own characters.

Currently, beta version 0.7 does that very well.  That is, An Author’s Inspiration has exceptional flexibility, allowing for many levels of character and plot invention and tailoring by the writer.  It presents the writer’s effort with a fully fleshed out psychological tone map of their story in a linear outline format.

And on this point of tone map my design effort turns (and eating my own dog food emerges).  As I modify the distribution files I am beginning to see the shape of how I might proceed outside of the forced linearity of the process.  Fortunately, An Author’s Inspiration‘s flexibility allows the writer to leave out many details, and develop them later.  I designed that feature deliberately, and as a writer using An Author’s Inspiration, I find it brings me considerable relief not to have to decide every character trait from the outset.

More to follow.

An Author’s Inspiration, Characters

An Author’s Inspiration, announced earlier, proceeds.

My expectations for this software design is to produce character profiles, and describe character interactions within an A.I. generated outline.

To achieve this my design will take in files written by the author for integration into a structured format.  My design will then produce a text file that presents a full novel or screenplay in a schematic three act style with smaller substructures much like scenes (but called beats).

At the lowest level of utility to an author, this will give a perspective of the complete work within one unified file that offers instruction as to where plot points are located.  To achieve a more distinct outline, An Author’s Inspiration requires that the author create character files.  Within those files are going to be specific characteristics of each character.

Characters are described in their own file.  In that file, a text file, the author enters the following characteristics:

  • called name,
  • age,
  • hardiness,
  • role,
  • shadow,
  • and so on.

These terms deserve attention because the author’s entries for these characteristics are limited to specific terms, or numbers to within certain limitations.  So, my prospective design will look for something with this criteria:

  • called name: a single word such as “Jack” or “Jill.”
  • age: a number as simple as 10 (as in 10 years old).
  • hardiness: a number (integer) between -3 and +3, where negative numbers inform of a low hardiness for this character.
  • role: one of 18 specific archetypes choices (e.g. innocent, warrior, lover, demi-god, demon, ghost, ruler…).  The sense of this entry for the author is for the author to think of their character’s positive persona.
  • shadow: again, one of 18 specific archetypes choices (e.g. innocent, warrior, lover, demi-god, demon, ghost, ruler…).  The sense of this entry for the author is for the author to think of their character’s negative persona.
  • and so on.

As a user of An Author’s Inspiration, the author will probably stumble (or simply experiment) with the concept of archetypes that are invested in their character’s role and shadow.  Experimentation with character files will reveal how changing these entries impacts their character’s responses to plot challenges.

An Author’s Inspiration

I am about to embark on a five novel series I call X-Division Assignments.  I have another series I have been writing, but the time it took to write each novel seemed to take too long.  While reading Charles Willeford’s The Woman Chaser, I was inspired by his protagonist’s commitment to direct a movie.  But first his protagonist, to be professional, had to write a treatment.

It was then that I took this as a sign that I needed to write a treatment of my series.

For fiction (not movies), this meant more about me writing an outline…but treatments I understand too.  I have degrees in both English and Cinema.  However, with a career in engineering, I considered automating the process.  With some experience in design in A.I. (which, in this specific case, relates to artificial intelligence), I have set my sights on using the computer language of prolog.

An Author’s Inspiration will be my software design of an outline generator.  My design will read character descriptions, settings, plot points, and produce an outline based on the three act play format, also known as beats in the film industry.

In future posts I will describe this software tool, and relate the progress of my design work.

“A String of Beads,” by Somerset Maugham

Plunge Opening:

“What a bit of luck I’m placed next to you,” said Laura as we sat down to dinner.
“For me,” I replied politely.

“That remains to be seen.  I particularly wanted to have the chance of talking to you.  I’ve got a story to tell you.”

At this my heart sank a little.  “I’d sooner you talked about yourself,” I answered.  “Or even about me.”

(My mentor Howard Pease continues) We learn from this that we are probably beginning a first-person, observer’s story about someone we have not yet met.  And we also get the impression that if Laura is to tell the story, her interpretation will be different from the observer’s, the “I” person, Mr. Maugham himself.  Except for setting—a dinner party—we get nothing else.
Maugham’s first goal in writing was clarity, and indeed this plunge opening is instantly understood by a reader.

“A Cold Potato,” by Peter De Vries

Dialog:

Sitting in a lawn chair tinkering with a broken bed lamp, Tom Bristol listened with half an ear to an account his wife, Alice, was giving of some neighbors with whom they’d recently become acquainted.  “Guess what the Twinings do,” she said.  She was sitting across a parasol table from him.  “When Bob is in the house, say, and Julia’s back in that studio barn where she does her clay modeling, they write each other notes.  And guess how they get them to one another.”  She paused, waiting for his response, but he was engrossed in his puttering.  He chewed his tongue and pulled faces as he worked.  “Do you know what they do?” Alice asked.  Tom grunted enquiringly, poking an electric cord through the back of the lamp base.  “They give them to Clementine—that cocker they have, you know—and Clementine delivers them.  And waits for answers!”  Alice laughed aloud.  “Isn’t that darling?”

(My mentor Howard Pease continues) Now, there is nothing wrong with this paragraphing—or, rather, lack of paragraphing—if you are quick at getting the idea that it is Alice who is doing all the talking.  However, let’s see what happens when we use the Henry James method.

Sitting in a lawn chair tinkering with a broken bed lamp, Tom Bristol listened with half an ear to an account his wife, Alice, was giving of some neighbors with whom they’d recently become acquainted.

“Guess what the Twinings do,” she said.  She was sitting across a parasol table from him.  “When Bob is in the house, say, and Julia’s back in that studio barn where she does her clay modeling, they write each other notes.  And guess how they get them to one another.”  She paused, waiting for his response.

But he was engrossed in his puttering.  He chewed his tongue and pulled faces as he worked.

“Do you know what they do?” Alice asked.

Tom grunted enquiringly, poking an electric cord through the back of the lamp base.

“They give them to Clementine—that cocker they have, you know—and Clementine delivers them.  And waits for answers!” Alice laughed aloud.  “Isn’t that darling?”

In using this method of paragraphing dialogue and using it consistently, the reader soon learns to know when one character stops talking and/or acting, and when another character begins.  From the reader’s viewpoint, this is a distinct gain.

“The Labors of Hercules” by Agatha Christie

Dialog:

(My mentor Howard Pease introduces an exercise) For Example No. 1 we’ll examine dialogue paragraphs that do not contain any hurdles, yet show no consistency in method.  Here are ten consecutive paragraphs from Agatha Christie’s The Labors of Hercules:

Hercule’s voice interrupted him.

“Why will they be all right I when you are gone?”

Hugh Chandler smiled.  It was a gentle, lovable smile.

He said, “There’s my mother’s money.  She was an heiress, you know.  It came to me.  I’ve left it all to Diana.”

Hercule Poirot sat back in his chair.  He said, “Ah!”

Then he said, “But you may live to be quite an old man, Mr. Chandler.”

Hugh Chandler shook his head.

He said sharply, “No, M.  Poirot.  I am not going to live to be an old man.”

Then he drew back with a shudder.

“My God! Look!”  He stared over Poirot’s shoulder.  “There—standing by you. … ”

(Howard Pease continues) This paragraphing wastes space—and paper—by giving a separate paragraph to the speech of a character and a separate paragraph to the action of that same character.  I’ve often wondered if Agatha Christie wants to make her stories appear longer than they really are.  Let’s use the Henry James technique.

Hercule’s voice interrupted him.  “Why will they be ‘all right’ when you are gone?”

Hugh Chandler smiled.  It was a gentle, lovable smile.  He said, “There’s my mother’s money.  She was an heiress, you know.  It came to me.  I’ve left it all to Diana.”

Hercule Poirot sat back in his chair.  He said, “Ah!”  Then he said, “But you may live to be quite an old man, Mr. Chandler.”

Hugh Chandler shook his head.  He said sharply, “No, M. Poirot.  I am not going to live to be an old man.”  Then he drew back with a shudder.  “My God!  Look!”  He stared over Poirot’s shoulder.  “There—standing by you. …”

By using this method, what have we gained?  We’ve gained several lines of print.  We could revise, also, and delete he said several times and the prose would still be clear as well as less wordy.

Prose, like everything else, changes through the years.  Until the middle of the nineteen-twenties, writers used synonyms galore in an effort to get away from the monotony of using said too frequently.  The protagonists declared, asserted, offered, observed, responded, rejoined—the list is almost endless.  Then a rebellion set in.  Dashiell Hammett and Ernest Hemingway dropped all these synonyms.  Their characters simply said something, usually in short declarative sentences.

(from a collection of opening paragraphs at www.secondroot.com)

“My Family and Other Animals,” by Gerald Durrell

Descriptive Paragraph:

July had been blown out like a candle by a biting wind that ushered in a leaden August sky.  A sharp, stinging drizzle fell, billowing into opaque grey sheets when the wind caught it.  Along the Bournemouth sea-front the beach huts turned blank wooden faces towards a greeny-grey, froth-chained sea that leaped eagerly at the cement bulwark of the shore.  The gulls had been tumbled inland over the town, and they now drifted above house-tops on taut wings, whining peevishly.  It was the sort of weather calculated to try anyone’s endurance.

(My mentor Howard Pease continues) Thus begins one of my favorite nonfiction books.  It is a first-person story of several years in the life of the Durrell family, a widowed mother and her four children.  Caught in a Channel town in weather continually bad, they voted in desperation to escape for one year to the inexpensive Greek island of Corfu.  Mrs. Durrell, slightly vague in her suggestions, always charming and never shocked, allowed that year to stretch by vote to five years.