Tag Archives: tips

How do I love thee? For writers here are ten tips on process to show we love our work of writing

In March Brunonia Barry posted these tips on writers unboxed.com. The precise URL for this wonderful website appears below:

(You) »

10 Tips about Process

to do list

So recently, when guest speaking at a college creative writing class, I was asked for ten writing tips I’d like to pass along to students. My first impulse was to run screaming from the building, but, when I thought more about it, I realized that the one sure thing I’ve gained in knowledge is an understanding of my own writing process, something I didn’t have a clue about while working on my first two novels.

Today, I thought I’d pass those tips along. I’m not suggesting you adopt them, just telling you what works for me.  After you read, I hope you’ll share some tips of your own.

1. Ask the question, but don’t necessarily answer it: “What if?” is almost always the question that inspires my stories. As I work, I usually find that this initial, situational question leads to a deeper, more philosophical one, which becomes the theme of the novel. I don’t try to answer that deeper question. I don’t presume that I could. I hate to see the ego of the writer in a story, and I’m not fond of stories that tie things up too neatly.  Certainly plot must be resolved and characters must arc, but I believe that writing and reading are collaborative, and I leave the larger question for my readers to answer for themselves.

2. Write a mess of a first draft and never show it to anyone:  The initial pages I write are almost always discarded, but somewhere among them, I discover the beginning of my story. The first draft is where I begin to hear the voice of the main character and allow myself to follow her for a while, never knowing where she might lead. If I thought I had to show those pages to anyone, I’d probably stop writing. I think first drafts should be messy, like finger painting. When I finally finish the book, I burn them.

3. Write detailed biographies for every character: For me, character creates story, so I always do this first. If I get stuck, I generally find the answer by going back to the biography. As I write each character’s backstory, I sometimes try to become that character, as an actor might do to prepare for a role, venturing out and behaving as the character would. Warning: This kind of behavior can cause a number of problems, depending on who your character is and where you live, so, if you try it, be careful. In my town (Salem, MA), just about anything goes. People barely notice, or, if they do, they’re not mentioning it to me.

4. Listen to the Characters: What does each character want? What’s keeping her from getting it? If I put the right characters in a situation and understand what motivates them, the plot seems to develop naturally. If I’m trying to control the outcome instead of listening, the story always falls flat.

5. Treat place as Character: I create biographies for location, asking and answering the same questions I would ask my human characters.

6. Is the action of the book in the right order?  This is a weak point for me. Sometimes I find myself writing very fast, following an idea in order to capture it. When I look back, the progression of paragraphs almost always needs reordering. Or, I might have a character skipping steps by taking an action early on that shouldn’t happen until later in the story, a sure way to leave the character with no options going forward.

7. Study psychology: I always say that if I hadn’t been a writer, I would have wanted to be a psychologist.A great deal of my leisure reading is about human psychology. For me, this has been an invaluable tool for character development.

8. Outline, but not too early. Then follow the outline:  I don’t outline until I’m well into the first draft and certain I know my characters well enough to understand their motivations. If I outline too early, I become blocked.

9. Rewrite, Rewrite, Rewrite: I’m never happier than when I’m revising. There may be bits of good writing that come earlier, even ones that inspire the story in the first place, but the poetry, if there is any, comes at this stage for me. There is something about having the initial story down on paper and knowing that it holds together that frees up my creativity.

10. Read aloud: I do this at least three times with different groups of trusted readers. First: to see if the story works. Does it flow? Do the characters ring true? The second time I read for rhythm: Is the dialogue of each character unique? Does the rhythm vary? The third time I read for continuity: Have the changes I’ve made necessitated other changes that I’ve neglected? This is something I have to watch carefully.  I once changed a character’s birthday, which resulted in a pregnancy that lasted 15 months. Hopefully, this third reading is where I catch and correct that very embarrassing kind of error.

That’s what works for me (Brunonia). What about your process? Do you have any tips to share?http://writerunboxed.com/2014/03/31/10-tips-about-process/        Brunonia is asking that , but I would hope you would share your tips with my readers in the comments section here as well.

Learn from a Master!

I follow several people who are masters of my two crafts (writing and story performing). From time to time, I am particularly blessed by advice they offer and I want to share it with you, my followers, as well as introducing you to these Masters of the craft. Often what they say is useful for both writing and performing! Not so strange that those would be the posts that resonate most deeply with me. This one comes just as I am struggling with the structure for my fourth book in the Legacy of Honor series.

Enjoy these words of advice today from Doug Lipman whose website is full of good things. He is a major talent and  exceedingly generous in sharing them on his website and in allowing me to share this with you today. Thank you, Doug.

I encourage all of  you to sign up for his newsletter and follow him where you can–two links are right here

 

I copied the material (with his permission) directly from the newsletter with all of his links intact, I hope . Please notice the copyright on his newsletter and do not repost without his permission.

                                                                                

Plot Confusion?

As a long-time professional storyteller, I have led workshops in many elements of storytelling, including character and place. But I have never led a workshop in plot.

Why not plot? The simple truth is that I’ve never been able to make sense of it. In particular, the various theories of plot have seemed interesting—but neither convincing nor especially useful.

Aristotle’s idea of “beginning, middle and end,” for example, makes a kind of intuitive sense, but it also seems to apply equally well to a doctor’s appointment and to washing a load of laundry.

Well, In Theory…

Then there are the theories like “the hero’s journey” and Freytag’s “exposition, rising action, climax, falling action and denouement.” These seem closer to my sense of the word “plot,” but also seem specific to certain kinds of stories.

For example, it’s hard to apply this kind of theory to any very brief stories. But doesn’t a 3-minute story have a plot, too? Yes, you can force the brief story into the theory, but that doesn’t mean the theory can help you shape the story.

As a result, in my absence of a general understanding of “plot,” I have mostly kept silent about it. Until recently.

Now I have had a flash of insight that shone through the mists of my plot confusion. Perhaps it will help you, too.

What Do You Mean By Plot?

The flash of insight came after a coaching client, Sharon Livingston, recommended a particular book on plot. A short way into the book, I discovered that the author’s concept of “plot” was broader than mine.

Suddenly, I saw part of my problem with plot: there are, in fact, three main meanings—or levels—referred to by the word “plot.” Separating them, at last, has opened the gates to increased clarity. (In this article, I’ll focus on these three levels of plot. Elswehere, I’ll talk more about how the three levels relate—and how to build and shape each level.)

Plot Level #1: Chronology

The first level of plot can be called “chronology”: what happens, in what order. This is something like what novelist E.M. Forster calls “story.” In a simple story, the chronology might include something like this:

  1. The queen announces to the world that she seeks a husband.
  2. Numerous suitors apply.
  3. The queen chooses a suitor.
  4. The suitor marries the queen, becoming king.

The Chronology doesn’t include why things happen or what they mean to the characters or to the storyteller. It doesn’t allow for flashbacks and the like. It consists of only two kinds of information:

  • The events;
  • The order in which the events happen.

Simply said, the Chronology is a list of events, put into chronological order.

Obvious—Or Not?

In most stories, the list of what happens is evident to all, as is the order in which things happen. In such cases, there is no controversy about a story’s chronology. In fact, multiple versions of a story—each with a sharply different central meaning—might even share a common chronology.

Still, the choice of which events you include in your story is always an artistic choice. It’s probably true that the queen chose a herald to carry her announcement from town to town on horseback, for example, but the storyteller must make an artistic decision about whether her choice of herald—or the herald’s method of transportation—matters.

Plot Level #2: Causality

The second level of plot adds the element of causal connections: what causes the events to happen? How does one event lead to the next? More broadly, once the causal relationships between events are agreed on, what is the significance of the sequence of events? In other words, what do these events mean?

This is the level that E.M. Forster calls “plot,” as in his famous dictum:

“The king died and the queen died” is story. “The king died and the queen died of grief” is plot.

So Forster calls my Chronology level “story” and my Causality level “plot.” Elizabeth Ellis, on the other hand, in her excellent book From Plot to Narrative, calls the Chronology level “plot” and the Causality level “narrative.” Confused yet?

Causes and Meanings

In the case of an actual king and queen, for instance, historians (not to mention historical novelists) might not all agree about why the queen died. Was it because she was consumed with guilt for killing the king? Or was she subtly poisoned by the same third party who had poisoned the king? Or was she so relieved to be free from the king’s harsh domination that she went on a binge of eating and merry-making that led directly to her death?

Until the storyteller has come to a personal understanding of the causal connections between the story’s events, it’s not possible to create meaning for the story. Is the story about the effects of grief? About guilt? About possible responses to liberation from constraints?

The meaning assigned to events, therefore, builds on the teller’s understanding of the chain of causation. Further, if you change your understanding of the chain of causation, the meaning will likely also change. For this reason, I include both “causal connections” and “meaning” in this second level of plot.

Plot Level #3: Presentation

The third level of plot adds the order in which the story is told. No matter which events you include in your story and what causal connections and meaning you give to those events, you still have many options for the order in which you will tell them.

For instance, you could tell the queen’s story beginning with her decision to seek a suitor, then continue to proceed in chronological order. Alternatively, you could start with the queen’s death and then fill in the previous events. Almost every mystery story holds back at least some of the key events until late in the presentation of the story.

This third level, which also includes important devices like point of view, sensory descrptions and much more, is what Ronald B. Tobias calls “plot”. Forster doesn’t seem to have a name for this. Others just lump this with the second level.

Plot Finally Stops Thickening

Once we can clarify which of these three levels we mean when we say “plot,” then we can finally begin clear and helpful discussions about each level.

To aid in those ongoing discussions, I suggest that we not redefine, yet again, the familiar terms “plot,” “narrative,” and “story.”

Instead, let’s just divide “plot” into three strands, give those strands helpful terms (I nominate “Chronology,” “Causality” and “Presentation” but welcome other suggestions), and then begin to ask the important, practical questions we need answered:

  • What matters about each level?
  • How can the work at each level be improved?
  • How do decisions at one level affect decisions at another?
  • How can the levels work together to engage our listeners in any desired way?

Those are questions for later articles—questions that can only be answered well when our basic “plot confusion” has been cleared up.

Yours in storytelling,

Doug

 

                                                                                                                    

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ABOUT THE STORYTELLING COACH


Storytelling coach Doug Lipman is the creator of the acclaimed Storytelling Workshop in a Box — the one-of-a-kind, 37-lesson, comprehensive, audio-plus-print storytelling workshop that comes to you!

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Renovations–Need your help

Hi! We’re doing some household renovations and I will be offline for a while and off the blog for a longer. I’d like to make good use of this time for writing and posting as well as for having the joy of a lighter load in the house (we will use the renovation as a time to clear out things as well as put in the new. I’m not asking you to come and clean out the house or help lay the new floors. What I’d like is for you to use the comment section to tell me what you would like to see in Family Creativity, Food posts and writing and performing posts. Do you want to guest? Let me know. When I start up again, I’ll try to fill your wish lists as best I can. The purpose of my blog is to serve you while putting forth my ideas and books. How can I deepen our relationship and broaden the appeal and utility (to others) of the blog? Thanks.