Tag: Character arc

Story Engineering

At the behest of my Jedi Master, Kristen Lamb, I’ve begun dog-earring a copy of Story Engineering by Larry Brooks. It’s a masterful guide for creating a strong, complex story.

If you’re thinking, “I’ve got story structure down,” I thought similarly after highlighting James Scott Bell’s Plot & Structure into rainbow-like proportions. Brooks subtitled his book “Mastering the 6 core competencies of successful writing.” Structure is only one of the six.

Two hours on the phone with Kristen reiterated for me the fact that I’m still a noob in the writing arena. Sure, I’ve been writing stories since I was nine. Does that mean they were well-written stories?

My first attempt at young adult fantasy flopped because I didn’t understand my antagonist’s motivation before I started writing. In the past, I had an idea and I sat down and wrote it. That might work for a short story, but all it provides in the novel-writing world is 60,000 words of warming up to the real story.

Trust me. I was halfway through the revision process when Master Lamb tapped the major plot points with her force push. The resulting pile of rubble buried my heart. A novel shouldn’t be a wobbly house of cards. It needs to have bones of steel beneath its thin skin (or maybe it’s the writer who has thin skin?).

Most of us right-brained artistic types see the word “engineering” and lose our appetite. Isn’t engineering all about calculus and equations with 18 variables and figuring out how to use all the buttons on a $200 calculator? So not interested.

The point behind Brooks’ use of “engineering” in his title is that writing a great story doesn’t just happen. We all know that only a fool would run out to build a tower without having blueprints and expertise. Brooks presents a logical (yes, very left-brained) argument for planning the major plot points and character arc before you attempt to build your novel.

The six core competencies of writing according to Brooks are:

  • Concept
  • Character
  • Theme
  • Story Structure
  • Scene Execution
  • Writing Voice

I was directed to this stellar directory for story-planning for the lesson in story structure. I started with Part Five of the book so I could take my medicine and “do” rather than “try” to plan a successful novel.

In reading the entire book, I see that Brooks marries character arc to story structure in a way that simplifies the planning process. He offers sage advice for weaving theme between these major elements, as well, and erases the gray area between concept and theme.

In short, this book should be required reading for newbie writers. Using a conversational tone, Brooks invites the panster to do a little planning and gives the outlining mavens a blueprint to follow. He never talks above our heads or down his nose and he uses examples from fiction and film to illustrate every point.

Is your work in progress a mess of Bondo? I highly recommend Brooks’ book. It works better than an air sander at smoothing out the rough spots.

Beginning a Rewrite

Image from wikimedia

Writing is rewriting – E.B. White

I guess E.B. White knew what he was talking about since every good writer owns The Elements of Style. Considering the first draft of my novel, I’m beginning to agree to the validity of that assertion.

In order to rewrite my manuscript into something remotely readable, I’m going to use the methodology given in Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell. Believe me, the young adult fantasy novel I just completed *happy dance* needs plenty of work.

According to Bell, the rewriting process has seven steps:

  1.   Let it cool
  2.   Get mentally prepared
  3.   Read it through
  4.   Brood over it
  5.  Write the 2nd draft
  6.  Refine
  7.  Polish

Because I’m serious about completing this process, I set a schedule. (Some who know me would say I’m organized or perhaps a control freak.) After I completed the novel, I waited a week, getting mentally prepared all the while. Now it’s on to Step 3.

First Read Through

Bell gives great ideas for making simple marks on the manuscript. He recommends just reading it and not stopping to make any additions or corrections. Use his marking system at this juncture, and when you get to step five, you can go crazy.

I started this on the scheduled date (Monday, July 29) and finished the next day. Disappointment flogged me. Where was the adrenaline? Excitement for my story migrated to somewhere south of where I sat.

This story was lame. It had several holes and so little description that I felt like no one could even remotely imagine the fantasy worlds I invented for this book.

Brood Over It

After sleeping on it, I pulled out my spiral notebook and made a plot diagram. Yeah, just like those your middle school language arts teacher made you draw and label. The story progression seemed to fit. I discovered where the plot holes were and plugged in events to fill them.

I think character arc will take more thought and planning. My main character has changed very little by the end of this story. Yes, that’s a major faux pas for any story. I need to evaluate what her real motives are and get a better picture of what she’s like and how this adventure is changing her to be the girl who helps take down the Big Boss Troublemaker in book three.

Writing the Second Draft

This is what I started on Monday, August 5. Yes, that was a full three weeks ahead of my original schedule. Rather than patting myself on the back, I’m planning to utilize that extra time to fill the plot holes, finagle an interesting character arc and rewrite something that will get my blood pumping.

After all, I want to be proud to claim this work as my own.

What are your thoughts on rewriting? Do you start over with a blank document or do you cut-and-paste?

I’m not a Playwright

Words well within me, an unquenchable passion, until my fingers transfer them to the page. Writing, flying for my soul and spirit, frees me like nothing else.

Penning a play – especially one that must be performed within ten minutes – just doesn’t offer the same joyful release.

Two Problems

  • Story line: Really, what sort of story that has any plot development or character arc can be told in ten minutes? Solely with dialogue. In a single setting and make it a simple one. It can only be a snippet of a story and yet, the instructor expects it to have the richness of a full-length work.
  • Stage directions: I am bogging my script down with stage directions. Even as I know this, I feel the only way to develop my characters is to show their facial expressions and body language. So much can be said in narrative. My story seems empty if I don’t insert these specific emotions and actions for the characters.

I’d Rather Write a Story

I keep telling myself that the only difference between what I’m writing for this workshop and what I love to produce is the format. Instead of using paragraphs and quotation marks and endless lines of prose, I’m typing stage directions and parentheticals and character names.

I’m not fooling myself. I’ll be surprised if I pull the wool over the eyes of my professor and classmates.

The story is shallow and the characters don’t have time to be fully developed. They will appear onstage as completely formed, speak their lines and exit.

In the end, I’m hoping for a few chuckles over my preposterous premise. If I could change the world in ten minutes I would have some sort of dedicated following, wouldn’t I?

Have you ever written in a form that felt uncomfortable and unworkable? I’d like to hear your story.