You may notice that each of the Scriblerians is developing a distinct and focused column on this site, complete with a lovely meme expressing the theme of the column.
We decided it was time that each of us took a more focused approach to our posts, so we searched our past work for patterns that could point us in specific directions.
For those of you who don’t know me as well as the Scriblerians do, I thought I’d explain the meaning of my meme (and thus my column) before I start writing its theme-driven posts. Just so you’ll know what to expect.
“Better Late Than Never Written” refers to the fact that I got a very late start writing fiction. My age was, well, let’s just say middle-aged.
My first novel was published (the first time) in 2014, over a decade after it was begun. To my thinking at the time, that book took so long to write and get published that I might not have enough decades left to write a second one and get it published before … you know.
It seemed like every fiction writer I knew had started writing at a much younger age than I, and if not yet published, had at least two or three manuscripts completed. The published authors my age had several novels to their credit. How would I ever catch up?
The writing, and then finding the right publisher, made up only half the problem. There was so much to learn regarding the marketing of books. A lot of tools for book marketing are free or of little cost, but finding them and choosing the right ones are not easy.
So that’s what my column will be about. I plan to share with you some of the things I had to rush to discover, to learn, and to accumulate. About writing. About publishing. About marketing. Stuff I’ve compiled that I hope will save you time, especially if you got a late start in life like I did.
So please stay tuned. And remember, it’s better to have written late than never to have written at all. Wait—should that have been the title of my meme?
Tim, Lisa, Kathrese, & I just returned from Realm Makers. Next month a couple of others will be attending the ACFW conference. ‘Tis the (conference) season. So what do you do when you get home to come down from the conference high?
If you’re lucky, your firstborn will start football and junior high while your second born starts the “big kids'” elementary school. Bonus if it’s the junction of first of the month (status reports) and critical project milestones. Nothing like the outside world to pierce your enthusiasm like an arrow through a hot air balloon.
Even if your week is a bit nuts and especially if you have time to ease back in, do a few things to keep the spirit alive.
1. Post pictures on social media
You get to see the conference all over again. Also it allows you to tag people while your memory is fresh. This helps keep you in the loop.
2. Post highlights on social media
Same reason and purpose as above. If time is limited, set specific times or do this when you have down time.
3. Blog about it
Yes, everyone and their mascots will be writing them too. You may not get many views but then again you might. If nothing else, you have a record of your time there.
4. Make a to do list
Did you have appointments? If so, follow up with the materials each person requested. If the person you met with wasn’t interested, send a thank you anyway. They took their time to meet with you. It never hurts to be gracious.
Gather the business cards you received and enter them into your contacts list. Correspond with anyone who might not have your information. Organize your class notes.
You’re all rejuvenated and ready to write. Set goals and get to work. That’s why you spent the money to go.
Now I’m off to fill out permission slips and emergency contact forms.
My last post was a precursor to introducing one of the most important elements in storytelling, “narrative”. There were some good responses by the contributors, but no one mentioned the five hundred pound gorilla in the room: the excellent narration of events in this video. Let’s refresh our memories:
The fact that responders didn’t think to mention narration means the editors did a bang-up job on assembling this story for us. Good storytelling gives us the feel that a story is telling itself.
One of the things that I like about this video is that whether or not the story is true, and I’m sure it’s close enough to what really happened, the details are so specifically human and universal, they fascinate us. But if the details of what happened aren’t given to us in specific ways, the human aspects become lost or uninteresting. How storytellers assemble the details of a story is called narration. What are some of the ways we judge a narration to be good or bad?
if the details of what happened aren’t given to us in specific ways….we become lost or uninterested.
There is of course in all stories the beginning, middle, and end/conclusion. That type linear reality in real life isn’t always so clear cut. But in a story, without a clear linear progression of time the narrative its hard for an audience to process. Really good storytellers lead an audience through the elements of time in any order. The stories we love the best present unique details in a specific context (time to name one) so we may provide the emotional ramifications as events unfold. What are some of those emotional ways we responded to the tenors?
We are introduced to our protagonists and we understand from the beginning what’s at stake. There’s no guessing as to what’s going on here – these guys are on TV to follow their dreams. We are then introduced to the main obstacle and the conflict: they’ve never performed in front of an audience together. We also don’t know if these guys can sing or not? How are we feeling about this?
We are also helped to process all the specific uncertainties by being allowed to see the interviewer’s response to these singer’s surprise confession. All these uncertainties are continued to be reinforced by specific things like the interview with the three tenors and one of them doesn’t know Puerto Rico is a US territory.
we may provide the emotional ramifications as events unfold
In how these events are presented, we the audience are never told what to feel, or how we should process these events. We are given the freedom to experience a lot of emotions, and the more emotions the better. Narratives become manipulative when a teller demands you to respond a very specific way and not give the audience room to be themselves.
Look at our example, some people may want the tenors to fail and will take joy in this. Others may have compassion that these guys will humiliate themselves on national television. Some may want these guys to succeed and continue to live vicariously through the experience. There is room for all kinds of emotional responses, but the only common thread\plot is: will they fail or succeed and in what way should we care or not care?
What are some of those emotional ways we responded to the tenors?
One of my favorite elements in this narrative is when the women in the audience says, “they look like a joke.” This highlights why human beings love stories so much. Stories help us see into the lives and experiences of others. In real life, there is no way we could know the response of the woman in the audience. We don’t even know such auditions exist, this story lets us become the fly on the wall as three men follow their dreams.
Let’s look at a basic example of how narrative creates order. Start the link below, but before you play the video, mute the volume.
Now play the video again with the volume up, notice the difference? Without narration or narrative, everything appears random, incoherent, and uninteresting.
The stories that fascinate us always provide what we need to understand it- or provide for an audience the center of consciousness or perception. That’s just a fancy way of saying, “seeing an interesting story through the eyes of an interesting character, and never getting lost as events unfold.”
In The Art of the Novel Henry James states, “…there are…five million ways to tell a story, each of them justified if it provides a ‘center’ for the work….” James believed that a good story was always interesting and accomplished what it’s author intended it to. If it didn’t do that? The book was awful. For the record, James loved Treasure Island for the exact stated reason.
Henry James liked Treasure Island.
So let’s go back to our tenors and their tryouts. What do you suppose this clip was intended to do (theme)? Did it accomplish what it was shooting for? Is the narrative successful? What emotions did you experience as you watched?
My next post will be about the “nuts and bolts” of building narrative.
It’s not something planned, but I always imagine the end of a story I’m writing before settling on the beginning. How do I want my protagonist to have changed for the better? Which other characters do I want to appear with her in the final chapter and scenes? Just how bittersweet do I want the ending to be, and who or what do I want her to have lost when the end comes?
My personal library of books on the writing craft has grown to include several by James Scott Bell. The latest is Write Your Novel From the Middle: A New Approach for Plotters, Pantsers and Everyone in Between, and it’s a great tool for someone like me who is a “tweener.” I don’t write by the seat of my pants, but neither do I outline. Chapter summaries work best for me because I like to write the beginning, middle, and end and then fill in to tie them all together.
That’s where Mr. Bell’s book has been helpful. He describes the middle of a good story (novel or movie) as having a “magical midpoint moment.” The main character looks at herself “in the mirror,” either literally or figuratively. This is a hard look, one in which she reflects on the kind of person she is or has become, how she might (or might not) be responsible for some of her own troubles, and what she might have to do to overcome her challenges. In a plot-driven novel, that mirror moment must show the protagonist considering the awfulness of the antagonistic forces against which she must fight and risk death of some sort–physical, professional, or psychological.
“Mirror moment” is so descriptive, it’s one of those elements of story that I will probably never forget now that I’ve heard the term used. I will look for it in others’ work as well as my own.
If I know why and how, and at what cost, I want my protagonist to change by the end of my novel, it makes sense to set up a “mirror moment” for her somewhere in the middle as soon as possible. It’s the place where I should see (and later the reader will see) the entire narrative pulled together in one character. If my writing has somehow failed to place the reader in deep point-of-view with the protagonist anywhere else in the story, I certainly don’t want to fail with this opportunity!
Do you recall a mirror moment from a favorite book or movie? Have you ever created an ending for a story before writing the rest of it?
Before anyone accuses me of disrespecting dogs, let me say that I’m a dog owner, and I absolutely love dogs. Cats are okay too, and I don’t recommend any cat try to outrun a dog, whether the cat thinks that dog is dumb or not. I’ve heard stories.
“Good Cats Don’t Race Dumb Dogs” is my mnemonic for the building blocks of scene and sequel structure that motivate and change the protagonist to move the story forward, hopefully with a willing reader along for the ride.
Scene: Goal, Conflict, Disaster
Sequel: Reaction, Dilemma, Decision
While writing, I could never remember those specific terms, although I sometimes got the structure right by instinct and other times relied on a note kept near my computer keyboard. But I wanted a helpful device to recall scene and sequel structure in an instant. A mnemonic about animals was perfect for me.
I’ve read a number of books on the fiction writing craft that refer to or analyze that structure, introduced by Dwight V. Swain in his Techniques of the Selling Writer, I believe. I haven’t read any of his books, but I’m now reading K.M. Weiland’s Structuring Your Novel, and she refers to Swain’s work. Other published authors and bloggers, such as Randy Ingermanson, address the same structure. Sometimes the terms vary, but they have the same meaning.
So what do you think? Will this mnemonic help you remember, as it does me? Do you have a mnemonic for remembering anything else important to your writing?
I’d like to lose 30 pounds in 3 months. And I’d like to write 30,000 new words in one month (outside of editing).
Would LIKE to.
A cousin of mine can shed 20 pounds–BOOM!–whenever she wants. Often, I’ve seen her at a certain weight, and when I see her again in a month or two, she has a seemingly different body. And she doesn’t exercise. She simply disciplines herself to eat less. I’ve watched her and lived with her at times, so I know that’s how she does it.
Unfortunately, I don’t have the capacity to do anything in big chunks like that. I’m the type to pace myself and take small steps. I don’t want to feel as though I’m starving, so I cut back slightly on total intake and eliminate the worst of the worst foods. I lose a pound every couple of weeks. If I achieve the same results in a year instead of a few months, isn’t that okay?
It concerns me that a woman (or man) might beat herself up emotionally over her struggle with weight. And I worry about some of my writing friends who stress themselves out over their daily writing goals. A thousand or two thousand words per day is an admirable goal, but I wonder what it costs if their lives are already jam-packed with other goals and duties. I’d hate to think they berate themselves when the goal isn’t met.
I admire the highly disciplined. I really do. And there was a time when I was like that– I hit the floor running in the morning and didn’t stop until my head hit the pillow at night. But I’ve learned what I’m comfortable with at this stage of my life. I set my goals at amounts that don’t make me sick or take the joy out of my day. With 300 to 500 words written per day (including weekends), I can write one of my YA novels in 3 or 4 months.
Not saying my way is right for anyone else but me. But I reach my goal just the same.
Do you have a goal you’re currently trying to achieve? What is your method of attaining it?
I’m writing today about the awesomeness that is the love triangle. Ever since my grandma sat me on her lap and read Little Women, I’ve enjoyed a good love triangle, or tetrahedron, or–well any more than that, and it’s probably a hot mess. Ditto for one poorly done which happens more often than not. Although a poor love triangle does not a poor book make.
There are no even sides and often one angle is obtuse. That is it’s such a stretch it doesn’t make sense. I’m going to use heroine and two heroes since I think that’s most common. So this is girl meets up with two guys, one a really good choice and one really bad. No matter how this plays out, it’s a problem. Although making the wrong choice and having to live with the consequences to add some good drama. This is the stuff of good tragedies.
Two sides are even and one is short. This is the majority of triangles. We know who the heroine is going to end up with, but there’s enough tension between the two angles with the short side, it’s not a total bore. Typically, the wrong pair come together for a time but then it doesn’t work out and the heroine ends up with her true love. Formulaic, yes but it can be done well. It’s best done when either off screen or in the first few chapters the heroine is with the wrong guy and the hero comes in and rescues her. The remainder of the story doesn’t even have a triangle. Although sometimes wrong guy comes back to mess with the even sides. This is pretty much the formula for many a romance novel.
Now this is literary gold. There’s a heroine with two equally great choices. Better yet if they’re both great guys but completely different. The best love triangle I have ever read falls into this category, Cassandra Clare’s Infernal Devices. [Disclaimer–this is not a Christian book. It’s mostly clean but there are a couple of objectionable scenes.] I’m not going to spoil it but you need to read about halfway through book 2 to even realize there’s a love triangle. I read the synopses (which are spoilerish) and wondered how there could even be a triangle when there was an obvious couple. Let alone for me to gain sympathy for the second pairing when I was so in love with the first one. The author brought it! Did she ever.
Sometimes there’s more than one option. Take Little Women. There are four sisters and one handsome next door neighbor, Laurie (Theodore Laurence). One of the few love stories with more than four sides that works. I think many people who read Little Women are surprised and disappointed by who Laurie marries. For me, probably because I was young, and in many ways his choice is my favorite character, I was satisfied with the outcome. I also recommend Little Men and Jo’s Boys to see how truly right Louisa May Alcott was when crafting her story. Then again, it’s quasi-autobiographical, so she drew upon reality.
Two more Alcott books I love are Eight Cousins and Rose in Bloom. In Rose in Bloom, Rose returns to be with her eight male cousins as a young woman. While several of the cousins are too young, four of them are candidates to win Rose’s heart. Various circumstances narrow the pool until she ends up with one of the cousins. Never mind the ick factor of first cousins pairing up, this is one of my favorite love stories.
What is your favorite love story? And what geometry does it take?
Usually, I like to acquaint readers with children’s classics and older stories still worth reading in our postmodern world. Thought I’d take a break and enjoy some tongue-in-cheek (or morsel-of-meatloaf) ruminations on how to write a novel.
I’ve written four — three middle grade or YA and one women’s fiction, each in various stages of completion from first draft to polished enough for a major house to take a look at it — and reject it (sigh). But the rejection letter offered kind encouragement and several suggestions. Give me time, and someday I’ll have good news to share on a release date!
While I’ve enjoyed writing since I was eight years old, I did not pursue the passion of writing fiction until four years ago. I’ve penned memorable letters to the editor on various issues, at least my local post office clerk thinks so, and I had several magazine articles published while my children were small. In a fateful decision back in 2009, I took the Nanowrimo challenge and found that I could write 50,000 words in thirty days. I haven’t looked back.
Authors have their own styles, their own methods, the work routines that make them the writers they are. I’ve decided I’m a meatloaf writer.
Consider the average meatloaf recipe: collect ingredients, mix them together, add a dash more basil, a little puddle of ketchup, an additional handful of rice cereal until the mixture looks and smells about right. Press it together in the bowl then plop it into the pan. Continue to push and shape until you have formed a rectangular loaf. Bake until cooked through. Now you know a good portion of my meatloaf recipe.
I seem to follow the same procedure in writing. First, I gather characters and my story idea. I mix them together to start the writing process. As the story progresses, I add plot twists, new characters. I press them together trying to make sure they blend well into a recognizable theme, and plop them into my first draft. It’s recognizable as a story, but needs shaping, finesse. I continue to revise, edit, add, subtract until the conglomeration of words forms a worthy story.
My novelist friend Steve considers my writing recipe a horror. He’s more of a gourmet, who knows exactly how a meatloaf ought to be put together and plans accordingly. Other writers out there: what’s your recipe? What creates a delicious novel for you?
Disclaimer! This post contains potentially controversial—possibly offensive—ideas. Continue reading only if you’re prepared to take a risk!
Last week I read a current, best-selling ChristianFic book in which the narrator told us the main character was urinating. I rolled my eyes—did I really need to know that? After a double-take, I kept on reading.
Another ChristianFic best-seller I read in 2005 included a female character who had intimate relations with a male temple prostitute and drank to excess (among other things). I found it disturbing, but wanted to know how the character’s redemption would unfold. I kept on reading. Would you have kept on reading?
Deep down, I hunger to see depictions of God’s raw power, the things He’s famous for—actions that defy physics—and showdowns between angels and demons. Things the mainstream would label as Paranormal or Sci-Fi. I would read about that. Would you?
No names, please, but we’ve encountered ChristianFic publishers and agents who won’t accept manuscripts that contain topics like teen pregnancy, addictions, child abuse, or pre-marital sex—even though the purpose is to reveal God’s heart for lost sheep. And… one person’s idea of edgy may be tame by another’s standards. Would I read about things like this? Would you?
Some of us at The Scriblerians have been told we write edgy. Is there a market for us or should we sanitize reality to fit in? Tell us what you think.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re a professional novelist or a middle-school student assigned to write a short story. To find new character, conflict, and plot ideas, pay close attention to ordinary life around you. More precisely, look at what people buy, sell, and eat.
At lunchtime—either at school or work—notice the selections, whether purchased on site or bagged and brought from home.
Chili, corn chips, and baklava? You may imagine a south Texan introvert living with his Greek grandmother, and there’s the start of an interesting situation. (So as not to hurt anyone’s feelings, begin with a compliment if you’re unsure what a particular delicacy is. “That looks/smells good. What’s it called?”)
In a grocery or discount store checkout line, strange combinations of purchases may inspire you.
Bandages and a set of kitchen knives (for a clumsy chef?)
Tomatoes and an opera CD (for a disgruntled patron of the arts?)
Now I’m thinking of a story about a chef who is also a disgruntled patron of the arts and goes on a killing spree at an opera house.
And don’t forget to look in the classified ads for hidden gems.
There’s one from many years ago I’ll always remember.
FOR SALE: Loveseat and a pair of women’s motorcycle boots
Now that’s a writing prompt.
What kind of ordinary thing or situation has sparked an idea for a character or story for you?