I wrote book three first because that felt like the beginning of the story. But the next step of their process was to defeat capitalism itself and for that to work, he needed to start in a historic context.
So, earlier generational stories were needing building to this generational battle. But I’d started writing book five, unknowingly and working backwards from that point took hours and hours and hours of staring into the void, fitting each little piece together.
It was like following a magical string. I know what each generation of people have to accomplish in order to set out what they need to achieve to make the plot work. I’ll figure out how the big picture gets done in the day-to-day decision of writing out how ??? becomes the goal of the next 5000 words becomes the actual thing the characters have to do to accomplish the tasks to accomplish the goal.
But it takes a lot of wrong choices or absolute silence to come up to the actions the ??? needs to accomplish X which needs to ultimately leads to the events of the big picture. I never see more than a few thousand words ahead but I’ll always trust the ??? will become plot when it needs to.
I think it lets me jump off a lot more cliffs. I don’t need to know how the character solves this new complication. That’s future!Barb’s problem. And figuring out how that solution can be made even more meaningful is a future2Barb’s concern. Most of the time when I’m out of plot and set up the next plot snooker, I wish them luck. Who knows how this me would solve it.
And then, I stop writing. Sometimes all it takes is closing Word down. Sometimes I have to brush my teeth. And sometimes I play endless rounds of tower defence until even I get bored of the skinner box, and in those moments of boredom are a stand-off between me and my ADHD attention. Find me a plot that’s interesting enough to engage me or it’s monkeys exploding balloons forever.
And sure enough, once I really think on it hard enough in the moments my dopamine seeking attention is blasting balloons at a rate that is just a screen full of explosions, the solution comes to me. This character needs to do that to have that whole plotline ignite.
And then I close down the exploding balloon screen and write until I need to snooker myself again and the next path from X to Y goes from ??? to characters do XYZ.
The market that fills up the readership that truly captures something amazing in nothing really happening at all isn’t interested in stories in which nothing really happens at all. Tension held together with almost nothing happening is the finest example of craft. Not providing conflict to interfere with the character’s goals if they have goals at all in any kind of commercially aimed work is not the same thing.
And yet, it was taught as the same. It didn’t matter if the story didn’t have tension. It didn’t matter if it didn’t have conflict or character development while tackling a question that matters. When absolutely, it needs all those things to work together. Because to not do that is to tell a story that doesn’t need all that and still tells a great story in the actions of the character.
Not using the story-building skills of fiction doesn’t break any rules, it excludes vital aspects of fiction readers need to invest in the story. Stories that work without them stand alone as exemplars in the literary canon. They have never proven until the last ten years or so that foundational structures of fiction aren’t needed.
That a writer if the instructor’s calibre could take the premise on the table and rewrite it in a way in which nothing needs to happen and it still tell that meaningful tale is irrelevant to the lesson at hand unless they can break down, exactly, how the learner could do the same.
Baby birds are thrown out of the nest because their parents can fly and not all the babies make it. It is a terrible teaching method.
But the student doesn’t know they’re not doing that to begin with. I clued in early in this program that the unintentional outcome of this methodology was that it reinforced the idea that nice prose was all that mattered when it “teaches” that every story in which everything is told to the reader in dialogue is just as good as showing the reader what mattered.
There was no exception, not once. Sure, everyone knows, in the theoretical that “things need to happen in fiction” but not once in class did any student find an example of a story in which nothing happened to the character and it impacted the quality of the story. Not if it was young adult, not if it was genre fiction. Certainly not if it was speculative fiction.
Everyone was writing to the market in which the reader didn’t care if nothing actually happened. And any opinion that that market has its choice of brilliant work in which nothing happens and it still matters greatly was not permitted to be shared.
I played ball because I thought I just disagreed with the program’s pedagogy, not that it didn’t have any. That it didn’t have any that the chair could explain should have been treated as an educational scandal. No one can use this method and attribute their success to the methodology because the methodology has no way to work.
Because the only way it works is to write at a level where the only thing the story requires is the average level of polish an MFA instructor needs to put into their work. If a learner needs more work on a structural level than ‘just polish the prose and you’re good’ level, they’re hooped. Because they also learn all their work needs is a polish and they, too, will be good.
The UBC’s methodology only works if the only acceptable message shared is ‘only nice prose matters’ because that’s what most of the students believe is the only skill that matters. If an opinion was held otherwise, the lessons couldn’t be “gentle” which would break the provost’s “pedagogy” that he put in writing.
The most important thing the university needs from the student is their glowing evaluation. As long as it’s given in the glow of having spent tens of thousands of dollars and years of their labour they have a degree that says they’ve been right all along — none of that craft stuff matters — the system works perfectly.
If they ever face the reality that their university deliberately lied to them because the easiest methodology to teach is “just be able to produce what draws readers to fiction on your own. We can help you with the rest” they would be broken-hearted.
But their evaluation eternally glows.
That the only part the ombudspeople can care about after all that damage to learners is whether or not “Going Big Brother on the message” violates a student’s academic freedom or their right to a respectful environment is disgusting.
There’s no help at all for students being taught the lie that the only thing that matters in achieving their goals is just doing that thing that they are already good at. That’s not teaching. That’s cheerleading. The critique of the individual plays of the game comes later. The cheerleading is just for morale’s sake.