It’s June. Yeah. So much for being better at blogging. *sigh* So, since my last post in February, I’ve read MANY more books. I also got my kids through school. In addition to that, I sent my oldest child off to Africa (Ghana) in April (he’s serving a mission for our church). It’s been a crazy, busy time. But now it’s summer! This is my time, right?
I really hope so, but since school ended (May 30th) things have still been crazy. My youngest daughter had an appointment with her neurologist in Phoenix yesterday. The car started acting up on the way home so it’s in the shop today (still don’t know what’s wrong with it or how long it will have to be there). The kids have dentist appointments on Monday, and then my two girls go to camp on Tuesday (they’ll be home on Friday), so there’s trying to get everything bought and packed for that. Yeah.
However, I’m optimistic that I’ll be able to have some good writing time over the summer (I mean, here I am blogging today, after all). But once the summer break is over (July 23—yeah short break, darn it), things will be back to crazy town again. My youngest is doing the online school thing again next year. My second daughter might be as well, so it’s likely I won’t have much time for blogging/writing once school starts.
Even though I haven’t had much time for blogging/writing, I have had LOTS of time for reading (at night—I know, I COULD have been doing my writing at night, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it after a day of school with my son and then the household things and the crafting I’ve been doing to sell in the local shop—yeah excuses, excuses). In addition to my reading novels, I also read MANY books on writing. One that really stands out to me (maybe because it’s the most recent read) is Story Trumps Structure: How to Write Unforgettable Fiction by Breaking the Rules by Steven James.
This book was a HUGE comfort to me. I’ve been struggling for years to find MY way to write. I’ve tried many different methods over the years, and thought I’d landed on MY way to do things, only to find out I was wrong. The 3x5 index card method seemed to be “the way” to go, but I’ve discovered that once I get the story all plotted out on the cards, I have it out of my system (for the most part) and don’t feel the urgency to get it written anymore. I tried the Three Act Structure, the Four Act Structure, the Plot Clock, Save the Cat, writing the Synopsis first, and pretty much anything else I came across. I even purchased software that I thought would help (and I do still like the NewNovelist software). But nothing has.
Then I read Story Trumps Structure and felt SOOO much better. I’m thrilled for those writers who are able to use the three act structure, four act structure, 3x5 index cards, etc. for writing, but it doesn’t work for me. And that’s what this whole writing thing is all about. Every writer is different, so it makes sense that writers write differently too. I think I’m a combination of writing a logline or at least having a beginning and knowing where I want to end, and then letting the book unfold organically. Steven James tells us to focus on what lies at the heart of the story—that is tension, desire, crisis, escalation, struggle, and discovery—in order to write a story that will resonate with readers.
There are WAY too many helpful things (at least for me) in the book to go into here, but let me say I highly recommend you all read it. Even if you are a lover of the three act structure method, or plotting or whatever other method you may use, you will find new and amazingly helpful ideas in the pages of this book! One of the most amazing things for me was the concept of The Ceiling Fan Principle. It’s the fist chapter in the book and an amazing place to start. In essence it all boils down to not asking what happens next in the story, but asking what goes wrong.
So “this happened” and then “this went wrong” which led to “this happening.” What goes wrong is what the story is all about. It’s what builds tension and keeps readers turning pages. We don’t want to read about what goes right for a character (at least, not usually), we want to know what went wrong and how they worked through it until the next thing goes wrong and they have to work through that and all of it leads to the moment when the character finally has something go right and is able to overcome the adversity/antagonist in the story.
Yeah. That first chapter was a light bulb moment for me. And it just kept getting better from there. Here’s a breakdown of the chapter titles so you can get a better idea of what this book is about.
Part one: The Essence of Story
Ch 1: Desire: The Ceiling Fan Principle and What it Means for Storytellers
Ch 2: Orientation: The Eight Aspects Every Story Opening Will Include
Ch 3: Crisis/Calling: Story Origins, Resolutions, and the Three Levels of Struggles
Ch 4: Escalation: Adding Complications and Weeding Out Repetition
Ch 5: Discovery: Crafting a Satisfying Climax
Ch 6: Change: How Situations and Characters Are Transformed by Conflict
Part Two: Secrets to Organic Writing
Ch 7: Responsiveness: Eight Secrets to Discarding Your Outline to Write Better Stories
Ch 8: Emergence: The Three Questions That Will Solve Every “Plot Problem” You’ll Ever Have
Ch 9: Awareness: How Context Determines Content
Part Three: Story Progression
Ch 10: Twists: Practical Steps to Pulling the Rug Out
Ch 11: Promises: The Keys to Building Suspense and Satisfying Your Readers
Ch 12: Scenes: Mastering Setbacks, Interludes, and Subtext
Part Four: The Narrative Forces That Shape Our Stories
Ch 13: Causality: How the Contingent Nature of Stories Affects Every Sentence You Write
Ch 14: Believability: Removing Coincidences and Sustaining Belief
Ch 15: Expectations: Working with Overlapping Genres
Ch 16: Continuity: how Narrative Momentum Carries Stories Forward
Ch 17: Fluidity: The Interplay of Pace, Flow, Narrative Time, and Flashbacks
Ch 18: Polish: Touching Up Your Story
Ch 19: Dilemmas: Creating Moral Quandaries for Your Characters
Ch 20: Meaning: Telling the Truth About the World
Part Five: Subtleties of Characterization
Ch 21: Status: What No One Is Teaching You About Characterization
Ch 22: Attitude: Quirks, Idiosyncrasies, and the Difference Between Intention and Motivation
Ch 23: Depth: Revelation Vs. Transformation
Part Six: Plot Flaws and How to Fix Them
Ch 24: Incongruities: How to Tackle Problem Spots in Your Fiction
Ch 25: Gimmicks: Common Traps Authors Fall into and What to Do About Them
WHEW!! Yeah, so many AMAZING things in these pages. Seriously. A-M-A-Z-I-N-G! These were the things that really stood out to me: the Foreword by Donald Maass, all chapters in part one and part two, chapter thirteen, chapter sixteen, chapter seventeen, chapter nineteen, chapter twenty, and chapter twenty-one. All of the chapters were helpful in some way, but some of the stuff in other chapters I’d already learned.
And with the help of this book, I think I’m starting to discover MY way to write. It’s a combination of planning (basically just knowing what I want to happen—even though it may not be what actually happens as I write it) and letting the writing happen organically.
Another helpful book on writing is Write Your Novel From The Middle by James Scott Bell. I won’t go into that one here, but it did open my eyes to a few possibilities as well.
While I may not sit down to do any actual writing today, I plan to solidify MY way of writing. Figure out the best of all the things I’ve been reading and discovering a way to make it all work together in a way that helps me succeed as a writer.
How have things been going for all of you? Have you found YOUR way of writing? What works for you? What doesn’t? Share with the class so we can all learn from each other.