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Thursday Thoughts

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. Winking smile

Write on!


( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 5th, 2014 11:15 pm (UTC)
That book does sound intriguing -- and I like how you've made time to read books on your craft in the midst of the busy-ness :) Hope it's a great summer for you!
Jun. 6th, 2014 05:11 pm (UTC)
Thanks! Hope you have a great summer too! It's been nice to have reading time. I have done a bit of writing here and there, but not much. Several picture books, but I'm looking forward to diving back into the MG and YA realm this summer. Hopefully I can get at least one longer work completed.
Jun. 6th, 2014 09:43 am (UTC)
What an incredibly busy life you and your family lead. I hope your son has an amazing time in Ghana! Wow! What an adventure for him. And I hope the outcome of your daughter's neurologist appointment was positive.

Thanks for such a detailed piece about the book. It does look really interesting. I've added it to my Amazon wishlist.

We've been chatting about process over on my blog too, so I won't repeat myself here. I do want to say though that I read 'How To' books and articles out of interest rather than in a quest to find a specific formula that will work for me. I pick up tips here and there; sometimes I learn new ways of thinking about an aspect of writing; sometimes I discover a technique that's perfect for where I'm at on my writing journey at that particular moment.

It's a mix-and-match approach. Some of the advice I come across works for me, some doesn't. Mostly, I've found my own way down the years I've been writing seriously, and continue to find my way with each new book I attempt.

A 'rule' oe technique that works for one person is great for them (maybe they'll find something different that works 3 years down the line). But we're each individuals, so it's simply not possible to imprint one technique directly from person to person. We'll always need to tweak and fiddle to suit ourself.

I like to read 'how to' books and articles. It's fun, and sometimes you pick up useful things. When it comes to writing, I find myself reaching for differing tools and techniques depending on the story I'm telling and how it wants to be told, as well as being responsive to the wider demands of my life at any given time. e.g. I have a lot going on in my life at the moment, so I simply don't have stretches of time when I can sit down and lose myself in writing the story. I can't not be writing though, so instead, I'm tinkering around the edges and doing lots of thinking about it.

We writers tend to be too hard on ourselves. If there's a story in you that needs to be told, it will find a way onto the page. I hope the inspiration you've found in 'Story Trumps Structure' helps to 'birth' yours. And, as always, if there's anything I can do to help, just drop me a line. I'd be more than happy.
Jun. 6th, 2014 05:18 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I take bits and pieces from different methods and try to adapt them to myself. My issue is that I need the MOTIVATION to write lately. It didn't used to be such an issue, but life has really thrown me for a loop recently. I've found myself making excuses for why I'm not writing (too tired, too many other things to do), but in truth, I think I've lost my confidence. It takes it out of you after a while, I guess. So trying to find how I want to write has been a new quest of mine. It will hopefully keep me motivated enough to write.
Okay, that makes it sound like I'm not writing at all, and that's not true. I've been writing picture book manuscripts. I know that's writing too, but I'm talking about diving into the deep end and working on MG and YA again. They are longer projects, and I've found myself starting and stopping several without finishing. A couple of them I filled out the 3x5 index cards and they are just waiting for me to write them. I get a few chapters in and life seems to interfere.
As I mentioned, once I get the idea all written down on the 3x5 cards or even a brief synopsis, I tend to lose the urgency to finish the novel. I still love the premise and want to finish--someday. But I just don't have that "ooh I can't wait to get to the computer and write all this down" feeling I used to have when I first started on this writing journey almost twelve years ago.
Yeah. That's what I'm hoping to get back.
Jun. 7th, 2014 05:00 am (UTC)
I'll definitely check to see if my library has the two books you've mentioned. I've read the one book by James Scott Bell in the past, Plot & Structure, I believe.

You know I read my first books on writing after I'd already written 3 or 4 novels (that were only in first draft form). I picked up Stephen King's "On Writing", "Bird by Bird" by Anne Lamont, and later James Scott Bell's book. Each time I took a bit from each and with Bell's I really tried to implement, make worksheets and outlines wrapped around what was included but what I'm starting to learn is there's nothing wrong with what I'd been doing. Of course I've picked up things that were very helpful but trying to do a Beat sheet or index cards have not worked for me and have hindered rather than helped.

I've also learned sometimes it's the project itself that determines the route. Some novels I've created 1 page, high level outlines and been able to see it from beginning to end. Others I've noodled on longer but I tend to do better on stories/ideas that I've let simmer for awhile before putting it down on paper.

Right now I'm revising/editing a novel I finished in September while trying to draw a big canvas of an outline for a novel I hope to start writing next month (or August). For Nano this past November I used Scrivener and found it to be helpful, even with the index cards on the bulletin board which I did utilize since it helped me to see what each chapter was about in a high level (so instead of doing index cards ahead of time, after I wrote a chapter in Scrivener I went to the other layout in order to see the chapter as an index card and wrote what it was about from there).

Long explanation but I feel simple high level outlines work for me. Some projects I've chunked out more but I've never gotten down into the weeds because it makes it harder to write and discover the story because sometimes our first drafts are for us to learn what type of story we're writing and in order for that to happen the story needs the freedom to breathe to the left, to the right, up, down, sideways, inside out, etc...

My toughest problem is editing, I still haven't nailed the best approach for handling it :\
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )