Generating Story 10: Creative Q&A with Orson Card

Back when Orson Card first started his online magazine Intergalactic Medicine Show, he wrote an essay in which he detailed how he developed the idea for one of the short stories he told in his Ender universe. Card’s essay is a valuable resource because he exposes his mental thought process, modeling how he approaches story development.  It’s not often that an expert takes the time to expose his mental thought process while working through something, and there’s always a lot to learn when they do.  Interestingly enough, it illustrates a number of the principles in the Story Development Framework.

Please read How One Story Can Give Birth to Another by Orson Scott Card.

While you are reading it, watch for:

  1. How often he uses questions as he develops the story.
  2. How story objectives influenced what he wrote.  For example, why didn’t he write from Peter’s point of view, and how did he want to portray the mother?
  3. How story principles guided his development.  For example, what were the three ways to get an audience’s interest and how did that affect the story development?
  4. What he did when his zing suggested he go another way.  Did he end up writing the story he set out to at first? (Card listens to his Spidey-sense, what he cares about and believes in, quite a bit.)
  5. What his first draft provided him.  What does this say about using drafts to help you develop the story? 
  6. How he used the four-scene “plan” he sketched of the story.  How did that outline help him?  When he had that, was he finished developing the story?
  7. How he uses improvising to continue the development as he drafts.  What did he need in order to improvise? And what was he actually doing?

Did you notice the elements of the story–problem, character, plot, and setting?  Did you notice how his development continued while working on the text (drafting)?

One thing I don’t think you should take away from this is that you must write exactly like Orson Card.  That you must not include much setting.  Or that your sketches of the plot, the “plan” of the story, needs to be just like his.  You may enjoy more setting than Card.  You may want more or less in your sketch.  That’s fine.  The goal here isn’t to suggest you follow his exact procedure and have his exact same objectives.  It’s to see how authors use creative Q&A to develop a story, to make it come to life.

As a final side note, I would like to quibble with one thing Card says.  A lot of folks talk about showing and telling in writing.  The eleventh commandment is to “Show, don’t tell.”  But I would like to suggest that writers actually never show anything.  They can’t.  It’s all tell, tell, tell. 

Showing requires the original sensory input.  So a movie can show.  A stage play can show.  Both can also provide raw auditory input.  But all an author can show are marks on a page.  Those marks guide a reader into imagining events, people, and things, but it’s telling–“imagine this, imagine that, now imagine this.”  The author can tell in scene or summary.  Both have their place.  But it’s important to realize that we’re helping the reader imagine.  I don’t have time to go into the implications of this right now, but try the idea on for a while and ask yourself what type of writing helps you imagine things more vividly.

For more in this series, see How to Get and Develop Story Ideas

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