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Discussing: Zen and the Art of Nuzgul Grooming

Zen and the Art of Nuzgul Grooming

A recent exchange with a HASA member, plus reading student papers has made me realize that one of the greatest challenges of writing a story (or proposing a story for another to write, heh heh) is identifying the goal of the fic. We often have just a kernel of a story--maybe a vague notion that we'd like to see poetry get written. Somehow, that vague urging has to be transformed into a nuzgul with teeth enough to bite and give direction to an author.

Anyone with thoughts on how you go about "grooming" your nuzgul? How do you go from that initial general idea for a fic to a coherent nuzgul?

A related topic for discussion might be, "How do I write a good summary?" which seems to be a source of frustration for many people. At least, I've seen a number of stories (not here) wherein the author claims s/he sucks at summaries. Any advice from people who are good at this?

 

 

Re: Zen and the Art of Nuzgul Grooming

age: A recent exchange with a HASA member, plus reading student papers has made me realize that one of the greatest challenges of writing a story (or proposing a story for another to write, heh heh) is identifying the goal of the fic. We often have just a kernel of a story--maybe a vague notion that we'd like to see poetry get written. Somehow, that vague urging has to be transformed into a nuzgul with teeth enough to bite and give direction to an author.

Anyone with thoughts on how you go about "grooming" your nuzgul? How do you go from that initial general idea for a fic to a coherent nuzgul?


Was that me? Hmmm.... how did I get you to make that one bite me? Oh, I did ask to pick it up and pet it, didn't I? Well, in a metaphorical sense, that's just what I did. I let it loose in my imagination for a bit. I put on The Guy's armor and tried to step in his shoes and start from there. And I talked about it. Talking about it, for me, is very helpful. Discussion builds a story for me. It helps me nail down my own thoughts and ideas where they do a lot of floating around in the ether otherwise. So thank you, Dwim, for letting me ramble once a week. I'll dedicate the story to you if it ever manages to get finished.

In a nutshell, I had liked the idea of an outside view of Legolas from someone not too familiar with Elves. Then the challenge came up and fed that idea just a bit. Then I talked with you about it. Big part of the equation right there. Then I got ready for bed. A lot of stories happen to me when I get ready for bed. My theory is that that is when my brain says "Okay, the day is done. No more business; we can play now!". So I go to wash my face and brush my teeth and stories happen. In this case, I started hearing parts of the narration of the story. Just little snippets, but it was enough. I knew the Nuzgul had bitten.

A related topic for discussion might be, "How do I write a good summary?" which seems to be a source of frustration for many people. At least, I've seen a number of stories (not here) wherein the author claims s/he sucks at summaries. Any advice from people who are good at this?

I pretty much have to wait until a story is done for a really good summary, though occasionally I'll get one earlier than that (see my TYR fic on ff.net right now). Simply sum up the gist of the story. Have someone ask you what your story is about, but you have to give a short answer. One to three sentences tops. Sometimes only one.

Also, don't give the secret away! If you have a twist in your story, don't give it away or blatantly foreshadow it in your summary. Hint at it subtley. You want all the impact of the twist to hit the reader in the story.

Some of my summaries for examples (with commentary after, signified by *):

Buck must choose between life and death. Not a romance, though it hints at it.
*No hint in this summary, for example, that Ike appears as a ghost!

Section 31 has a mission for Doctor Bashir. Set after What You Leave Behind.
*No hint at what the mission is or how Bashir deals with it. But DS9ers will know that Section 31 is ominous and that Bashir doesn't generally have a good time with them. This might entice them to read.

The Defiant follows a Dom. ship through time to the darkest era of Earth's history. The Holocaust. Features Dr. Bashir.
*Had to give away more of this one. Holocaust. If anyone is really up on this knowledge, they could figure that out from the title. But if not, the title is so confusing (and nearly unpronouncable, unless you happen to know Polish or someone who does) that I had to give away the Holocaust.

Doctor Bashir, marooned for over six months, is discovered by the *Enterprise*. Starfleet counted him dead. Section 31 made sure of that. Can he get his life back?
*Put a shocker right there in that one, but it's also right at the beginning of the story. No mention at just how hard it will be for Bashir to get his life back.

Second part of the trilogy: Dr. Bashir returns to DS9 after being marooned for six months and hopes to regain the life he had.
*Nor here. Reader might think, oh happy happy. But nope....

(w/BTVS)No one in L.A. can see him, hear him, or touch him... but is Doyle a ghost, or something entirely different?
*Puts it as a question that might tempt the reader to read to find the answer.

Angel goes to tell Harry the news about Doyle.
*Very straight to the point on that one. It's a vignette. Not much room for maneuvering there anyway.
After a runabout crash, Doctor Bashir must try to keep the survivors alive.

...it's another. Adventure story with murder, mystery, new spooky aliens, and lots of angst! Features Dr. Bashir
*This story has a lot going on, so the summary just reflects that. Rather straightforward.

Quickening sequel: Trevean is dying and Dr. Bashir is invited to the ceremony.
*Here too. Straightforward, but it lightly tells what the story is about. The story really is deeper than that. Really, the summary just sets the stage and jogs the reader's memory of the episode.

Dr. Bashir suffers from a strange recurring dream and begins to lose his mind.
*Doesn't say he's losing his sanity but that's what new readers may assume. Until they start reading it.

Merry and Pippin, approaching the end of their lives, have a request to make of Legolas. (Rating for dying characters. No actual death portrayed.)
*They have a request but I don't spill what the request is in the summary.

--Ainaechoiriel

 

 

Re: Zen and the Art of Nuzgul Grooming

Dwim wrote:

A recent exchange with a HASA member

Would this have anything to do with the MoS nuzgul? ;)

A related topic for discussion might be, "How do I write a good summary?" which seems to be a source of frustration for many people. At least, I've seen a number of stories (not here) wherein the author claims s/he sucks at summaries. Any advice from people who are good at this?

Since I find it difficult to write a good summary -be it for English comprehensions or stories- I'd like to echo this call.

It's not so much about summarising the story line as it is about drawing readers to your fic. I admit, I have ignored stories with particularly boring summaries, only to come back later, read the story, and find that it is actually pretty good.

What does one look for in a summary? I suppose I would look out for my favourite characters, and perhaps a bit of originality. Or even a bit of 'change'.

For example, in the post-FotR fan fiction rush, reading the (then) summary for Isabeau's Captain My Captain, which was something along the lines of "Captain Faramir's career, in the POV of one of his rangers" was a nice contrast to "A girl from our world joins the Fellowship".

Then again, this might have to do with the actual plot, rather than the summary.

As you can see, I haven't actually speculated on how one writes a good summary, and I'm hoping that someone else could...

 

 

Re: Zen and the Art of Nuzgul Grooming

Klose said:

It's not so much about summarising the story line as it is about drawing readers to your fic. I admit, I have ignored stories with particularly boring summaries, only to come back later, read the story, and find that it is actually pretty good.


Very true. At ff.net, it was always a challenge, because of the space limitation. It's a bit easier on HASA, which is more generous in that regard.

What does one look for in a summary? I suppose I would look out for my favourite characters, and perhaps a bit of originality. Or even a bit of 'change'.

I look for fics whose summaries include characters I'd like to read about, or which seem unusual. I think Ainae nicely demonstrates summary construction in her post, and the considerations that went into writing them up.

That said, I think the title has to catch me first. If the title is witty or pretty or somehow remarkable (without seeming to slide into the ridiculous), then I'll pay more attention to the summary. "Captain My Captain" didn't so much get me for its summary but for the allusion of the title. Ditto "Sand Circle" and "A Different Kind of Sacrifice."

Still thinking about nuzgul grooming....

 

 

Re: Zen and the Art of Nuzgul Grooming

Still thinking about nuzgul grooming....

As someone who has only written a few stories, I've thought a lot about this in the course of learning to go from A to B. I think there must be better ways to do it.

I don't start with a plot, unfortunately. I usually get only a scene to work from. It takes me weeks to extend that, and many rewrites. No matter how complete I think my initial story is, when I send to it a beta I find out that it's really a very scant outline.

Does anyone out there see the whole plot from beginning to end before they start writing?

How do you go about it, Dwim?

Lyllyn

 

 

Re: Zen and the Art of Nuzgul Grooming

Does anyone out there see the whole plot from beginning to end before they start writing?

Yes, but then I'm unusual in that I'm a left-brained writer. Most writers tend toward the more creative right-brainedness. Me, I'm logical and analytical. I start a story and it has a path. I may be able to maneuver in the nuaces but the story, if it's going to work, must follow that path. Example: I was writing Faith II and coming up on a deadline I wanted to meet. I rushed it. It didn't end how the story had originally presented itself to me (actually had notes with all the dialogue of how it was supposed to go from when I first heard the characters speaking it). It didn't feel right. It didn't read right. It didn't fit with where Faith III would start. It would have skewed the whole trilogy right off the tracks. It would have derailed the overall story.

So I rewrote the ending, going back to where the story got off the tracks and put it back where it was supposed to go. It was so much better! It was the right ending, the right place for the next story to start.

I was in a writers group where we had an exercise to write for five minutes on a given topic, then pass it on to someone to rewrite. They read our work, rewrote it, also in five minutes, and then passed it on again. That person read what person 2 had written and rewrote it in five minutes. Then the whole thing was passed back to the originator. It was like the telphone game. My story didn't resemble my story anymore. The second writer hadn't gotten nearly far enough along in the rewrite for the third writer to have any clue where I was going with it.

The leader of the group said, take a chance, take that tangent in your own writing and see where it leads you. I said, 'No, it will lead me away from the story and into chaos." For me the story is laid out already. I know, for the most part, what will happen.

But then, I'm left-brained.

--Ainaechoiriel
left-brained creative writer

 

 

Re: Zen and the Art of Nuzgul Grooming

Does anyone out there see the whole plot from beginning to end before they start writing?

For me it's usually a mixture. I often, but not always, have a plot mapped out in reasonable detail, but it usually develops along the way as chance associations during the actual writing lead to new and fruitful possibilities.

For example, in the story I'm currently writing, I initially intended to focus on Faramir and his family. I needed a way of giving Faramir some token from Boromir, and hit upon the idea that Aragorn would be an obvious person to deliver that. And then Aragorn sort of wormed his way into the story, and became a major character, and I'm still trying to work out the ramifications of this major change to my original conception....

I've realised that fiction writing, for me, is a melding of left- and right-brain processes, which is why I often have so much trouble with it!!

Tavia

 

 

Re: Zen and the Art of Nuzgul Grooming

How do you go about it, Dwim?

Ok, I'll think out loud.

I'm afraid I can't give just one answer, here. Sometimes, I do get a scene that just arrives very vividly and nearly fully developed. Other times, I have a plot notion or scenario that I'd like to see worked out for various reasons. I think Tavia hits it on the head when she notes that it's a combination of the two approaches, really. Nothing is pure, a priori plot line, and although I may have a very vivid scene, even the most vivid undergo some translation from head to paper. Although I am very verbal (and you're all going, "no, really?" ;-)), I don't always get a fully scripted scene, and of course, the setting is sensible.

Once I have a scene, I develop it linearly, usually--beginning, middle, end. If I have a plot, this is more complicated because inevitably, I get the climax, or *a* climax, and have to build around it on both sides. But the writing is almost always done in order. If I can't make it from scene two to scene three, then I don't usually write scene six. (Heh, I usually just go write another vignette.)

Grooming a scene into a vignette nuzgul for me involves expanding things, usually. I have to be able to identify immediately what the point of the fic is in fairly specific terms: "Dunadan marriage customs, and how Rangering's risks affect matters of the heart, both in love and in friendship--celebration and sadness, like responsibility and relief, are never far from each other in the North. Initial scene: Talk at the table between Halbarad and Aragorn." Each component then gets written and details accrue around them, like the references to Eärendil, and the "sneaking off" custom. After the private conversation between Aragorn and Halbarad, the opening scene was the next thing to show up, and it developed from there.

Grooming an idea into a plot nuzgul involves more work, since I don't necessarily have that one defining scene in mind. Instead, I have specific things that I want to address--"Lie Down..." is being written to see what Gollum's effect is on the story, and to see how the characters might have reacted if things had not gone as they did. I get to subject them to far more extreme pressures, and exploit plot points where they could've lost people, where things could've turned out much worse than they did. Is it inevitable that things unfolded as they did?

Most days, transforming vague intuition into a nuzgul requires coming at the thing from both sides: on the one hand, you want to dive in and find critical scenes, flesh them out enough to have a sense of what will be required, plot-wise, to support them; on the other hand, you want to pull back and avoid overdeveloping just one scene (especially in a large story) and putting all your creative eggs in that basket. You want to trim away the excess and find the plot points you'll need, the context you'll need, the characters you'll need, and the limitations imposed by the Tolkien timeline (insofar as this is possible, and acknowledging that there may be a certain flexibility there given that events got revised or weren't dated precisely).

Plot nuzgul are easier to give to other people. If I were to do an AU challenge, for example, I think the point I'd emphasize is the inevitability factor: Must things go as they went? How far can you twist the plot while keeping certain "stable" plot points of reference in the constellation of events that is LoTR or the Silm? Vignette nuzgul are harder, because you have a very specific image already in your head, and you cannot always define it in such a way that you think others might be interested in it except as a finished product. For vignettes, you want to find a specific, if limited, gap in the text and exploit it: Harad had elephants. Someone must've trained them, so what's a day in his/her life like?

I'd say that if you're trying to sell a nuzgul, it's a lot harder to do that if you are fishing for a certain (if somewhat vague) fic: you know, the fic that you'll just "know" when you see it is right, the embodiment of your vague intuition. Instead, you want to put something out there that you're not invested in in the same way. You may have a fic or a fic idea that will fit the nuzgul, but you have to be able to slim that sucker down, make it sleek so that others can feed it up again by writing stories.

Helpful at all? I am thinking aloud, here, and to the tune of Weird Al's "Lasagna" after a rum and coke and six hours of Kant, so you know that this just bodes really well for quality and organization and "stuff."

 

 

Re: Zen and the Art of Nuzgul Grooming

That said, I think the title has to catch me first. If the title is witty or pretty or somehow remarkable (without seeming to slide into the ridiculous), then I'll pay more attention to the summary. "Captain My Captain" didn't so much get me for its summary but for the allusion of the title. Ditto "Sand Circle" and "A Different Kind of Sacrifice."

That's what I hope I'm able to come up with for the WIP which I have in Beta right now. "Woman of Rohan" is only a working title, and I'm not too stressed about it yet since this story isn't anywhere near completion. But it would be nice to find something that really catches the imagination. "Captain My Captain" did that for me too as it immediately brought to mind the poem of the same name.

Still thinking about nuzgul grooming....

I'd actually moved over to this discussion after reading the thread on Thevina's discussion re: the muses and saw your comment re: Nugul grooming. I've wondered, as this is a first for me, if other writers are taken on this crazy ride by the Nuzgul too. That's what it feels like to me at least. Some talk about fangs...well, that's just till they draw a little blood and get you hooked. It's what happens after that really floored me. I thought I could take your suggestion to take someone other than a Rider and write a nice little short story. Wrong!

First thought was a wife. Good. Write something you know about. That's what my creative writing teacher always said back in school. Worked for Jane Austen. So I started writing about a "Woman of Rohan."

Next thing was to consider the husband. That crazy Nuzgul whispered the name 'Garulf' in my ear. Oh, yeah, the only one of Eomer's 15 dead Riders who is named by Tolkien. Starts one wondering why he is the only one mentioned by name. Maybe there's a story there...

Which brings us to Hasufel, the great grey horse of said rider. One of three horses to survive their Riders. The one loaned to Aragorn, the Ranger who would be King...Connections start clicking together in my brain. (Insert tab A into slot B...)

Oh, there's more. Lots more. You see now why I feel like this Nuzgul is taking me for a ride? All I seem to be able to do is hang on for dear life and try to get the fingers typing as fast as this beast is flying. It's there, lurking around corners everywhere I go these days. i can't eat or sleep, work (heck, I was called to sing at a memorial service yesterday, something I take very seriously - music is my life, the air I breathe - and the dratted monster even had the unmittigated gall to show up there!

Speaking of... I have to go. I have to feed the beast so it'll leave me alone while I'm at rehearsal tonight. At least I hope it will...

This isn't Nuzgul grooming. This is Nuzgul feeding!

Nessime

 

 

Re: Zen and the Art of Nuzgul Grooming

In RL I talk - a *lot* - but not about unwritten stories. If I talked them out then there wouldn't be the need which forces me to write. For much the same reason I don't write plot summaries (and, as a teacher, object strenuously to the fact I'm supposed to make my children write plans for everything they write - the writing process can't be dictated, IMO).

Most commonly I have to have my last line and I write towards that. I don't always know how I'll get there, though. Some stories arrive fully blown - just whop appear in my mind, dinna ask me where from! A classic example was a The Bill story. I was peacefully sitting in a traffic jam on the way to work, contemplating fondly a favourite character's eyes when suddenly this 6 or so page story appeared in my head. It was a first person story and it was like that person was telling it to me - all I could do was scramble for the pen and paper I'm never without and try to frantically scribble down all the lines from it I could as the traffic began to move.

Usually a story either works for me or it doesn't - if it stops working I may well abandon it though others have been reclaimed though sheer determination. They're the ones that feel like you are hewing each sentence out of hard unyielding rock ;-) I tend to have several stories going at any one time, in different drafts, so I'll swap if they get too painful. I write in longhand in fountain pen in A4 notebooks which *have* to have margins as my planning gets as far as scribbling words or phrases in the margin if they arrive before I'm ready for them. I used to rewrite a huge amount - anything from 8 to 26 times in longhand and then another dozen or so (usually more minor) redrafts on the computer. In the last year or so I've learnt, in my writing group, to let go a bit sooner. A few years ago I had the chance to do a writing workshop with David Gerrold at a SF con and I do keep his guidelines in mind now when I write. (At the heart of all good stories is a problem, the main character has to be in some way changed in the solving of it, the best solutions come from inside the character etc - simple stuff really) Of course I tend to not write true narratives - too much introspection, not enough plot ;-)

When I'm writing I think I'm slightly odd (well, all right I'm slightly odd all the time!) because I act out much of the action. If someone is going to sit down on a bed and then hold someone in a certain way I will have checked out that it is feasible to do so, for instance. I tend to write a lot of small body language movements and I will usually act them out as I write them... which got really weird when I was writing about a kitten and realised I was acting out its movements too! ;-)

If a story is going well then I know exactly what Nessime means about it taking you over - I can only compare it to what I think an addiction must be like. It *hurts* when you are too long away from it. RL provides only a temporary distraction and underneath this thing pulls at you and drags at you.... unfortunately (at least in writing terms) it's been a while since I felt that true addiction. ;-)

Avon

 

 

Re: Zen and the Art of Nuzgul Grooming

For me it's usually a mixture

Me too, though in my longest story, a multi chapter WIP (not up here but on FF.net), I basically had the premise and a few half ideas of what would go in the middle. No idea where it would end up, and I said as much in my first author note. It's only now, when I'm nearly at the end that I realise it is actually the first of two stories.

Plot nuzgul are strange things

 

 

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