“Tell me a story…” Every kid has uttered those four words. As teens and adults we have devoured countless books in hopes of being whisked away, to forget about the world whining in our ears. Stories come in many forms, they can be told by mouth, presented from the theatrical stage, projected on the screen (big and small), delivered in song, shown through graphics and art, brought to life with dance, and of course found on the written page (or e-page). There are stories that make us laugh, ones that make us cry. Others make us think, or move us into action. Stories entertain and inform us. They are universal and have existed for as long as we have been able to communicate.
Countless tales exist, and countless more wait to be told. Successful ones contain similar ingredients, which I would catalog as (1) an engaging main character, (2) a catalyst that drives the main character on a particular course, (3) the introduction of detours and obstacles, (4) a point of crisis, (5) confronting the crisis and (6) overcoming or failing that crisis to bring the story to its conclusion. This can be delivered in a single cycle or a series of escalating tests and resolutions that bring us to the main climax of the story.
Type “On Writing” into the search bar at Amazon.com and you will get a return of nearly 330,000 titles. So I am not going to try to spell out the secrets of writing in an 800-word post, but I would like to share at least a few resources where you can get a taste of several approaches to writing.
Author Jennifer Monahan (An American in Oz and My First Three Husbands), shared a comment on one of my posts that author David Nicholls defines the critical elements of a story as “1) Action 2) Confrontation 3) Moments of Decision.” Jennifer also pointed me to the website of Lee Pound who offers a home-study course on storytelling where you can find great information about crafting powerful storytelling. His take on the necessary elements of an inspirational story are: (1) a defining moment, (2) a strong character, (3) a desire within the character, (4) opposition/obstacles, (5) plot, (6) resolution, and (7) a lesson learned.
Rebecca Berto (aka Novel Girl) has embarked on a series of posts in which she is distilling Larry Brooks’ book Story Engineering, which contends that (1) Concept, (2) Character, (3) Theme, (4) Structure, (5) Scene Execution, and (6) Writing Voice are the core competencies for a successful book. Rebecca has begun explaining Larry’s approach very clearly. Visit her blog and/or buy Larry’s book for more information.
Randy Ingermanson has developed a process for writing, which focuses on meticulously planning out the details in advance with a 10-step system called the Snowflake Method. He advises to start short and general and then gradually expand your focus bringing in more detail to your outline. (1) Start with a one sentence summary that is 15 words or less. (2) Expand it into a paragraph. (3) Describe each of your characters in one page each. (4) Take all of the sentences in your single paragraph summary done in step 2 and expand each one into a paragraph. (5) Summarize the story from each character’s point of view. (6) Expand your one page synopsis created in step 4 into a four page summary. (7) Expand your step 3 character descriptions. (8) Make a spreadsheet with a sentence describing each scene in your book. (9-optional) Expand your spreadsheet into a narrative version providing a paragraph for each scene. (10) NOW write your book. Randy has written Writing Fiction for Dummies and has Snowflake Method software that will guide you through his process.
Jordan McCollum has provided a very exhaustive exploration into the art of writing with a series of 22 posts back in 2009 full of great information about the need for plotting, the three act structure, the Hero Journey, the Snowflake method, and Brook’s Story Structure method. I commend this series of posts to you as well.
There are countless approaches to writing but I think we’re all on the same page. From Homer’s The Odyssey to Star Wars, from Gulliver’s Travels to J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy, authors (aka storytellers) have followed the same basic pattern to entertain, frighten, enchant, anger, and inspire us.
Whether you are one who maps everything out in advance or are the kind of writer who takes the seat-of-the-pants approach, we all write one word at a time. I work using a hybrid, but lean much further in the seat-of-my-pants direction. I am just not very organized. You should see my desk at work, it’s piled with the refuse of past and current projects. I don’t think that I am disciplined enough to chart out a book from beginning to end, although the snowflake approach sounds intriguing. I have noted in this blog a number of times that the journey of discovery is where the pleasure of writing lies for me and I fear that plotting every detail out ahead of time would diminish that sense of discovery. What ever your approach, I hope there is something here that caught your attention.
What are your tips on how to be successful in writing?