Archive for the ‘Storytelling’ Category

Focus on the Story

April 14, 2021

I have a confession to make.

When I was in high school and a teacher would give us an assignment to write an outline for a story we would then be charged to create, I’d write the story first. Then I’d go back and write the outline, just so I’d have something to turn in.

Even as a teenager I thought outlining was counter-intuitive to the writing process. But outlining is still taught as if it’s “the right way” to shape a story. You’ll even hear the importance of plotting out your story trumpeted at writing conferences.

I’ve always been one of those seat-of-the-pants writers and, over the last decade, as I’ve published five novels and two collections of short stories, I’ve found when I advise people to stop outlining and develop a more personalized, organic writing process like mine, I get strange looks and comments, as if my suggestion goes against some rule.

Well, if that’s the case, I invite you to the rebellion. Throw away your outline and uncover your story word-by-word.

Regardless of how many acts or scenes your story has, there are several things it needs to be complete. It needs an orientation to the world of the characters, conflict, an escalation of tension, a moment at which everything seems lost, and a satisfying conclusion which reveals a character or situational transformation.

Readers need to know what your character wants, but can’t get, and what he’s doing about it. Stories build through escalating tension.

So, forget what you’ve learned about stories building through “rising action,” as many popular plot graphs would have you believe. Simply making more things happen won’t ensure readers will remain interested.

Focus your attention at the heart of your story, and you’ll begin to intuitively understand what needs to happen to drive the tale forward. By letting your story develop organically, you’re delving deeper into the essence of what storytelling is all about.

You should think of your story as a contract with your readers, an agreement that you will entertain, surprise and satisfy.

Give yourself the freedom to explore the terrain of your story. Wander through your ideas and unreservedly embrace the adventure, because, without serendipitous discoveries, your story runs the risk of feeling artificial and prepackaged.

Every choice your characters make has an implication. Every promise made needs to be fulfilled. The more promises you break, the less readers will trust you and, often, when readers put a book down, that’s exactly why. They’ve stopped trusting you’re going to fulfill the promises you’ve made.

Organic writers are well-equipped to make big promises and then keep them. We’re never directionless because, as the story takes shape, we can always work on scenes that fulfill promises made earlier.

In good storytelling, you cannot know where a story needs to go until you know where it’s been, but you cannot know where it needs to be until you know where it’s going.

I know…it’s a paradox.

And that’s part of the fun.

I love Stephen King’s analogy in his book On Writing, comparing stories to fossils we, the storytellers, are uncovering. His analogy helps me stop thinking of a story as something I create as much as it is something I uncover, by asking the right questions.

The biggest problem with writing an outline is you’ll be tempted to use it. By that I mean you’ll get to a certain place and stop digging, even though there might be a lot more of that dinosaur left to uncover.

Continually ask yourself, “What are readers wondering about, hoping for, and expecting at this moment in the story?”

Then give it to them.

Draft the scene that would naturally come next. Go back and rework earlier scenes as needed.

What you write organically will often have implications on the story you’ve already written. If you find yourself at a loss for what to write next, come up with a way to make things worse, and let the characters respond naturally to what’s happening.

When you understand the principles of good storytelling, you always have a place to start.

Move into and out of the story, focusing one day on the forest and the next day on the trees. Follow your ideas, and stories will unfold before you. So, leave the outlining to English teachers.

Sit down and write, and let the rebellion begin.

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Gentle Readers, my books have all garnered some terrific reviews. You can see all of them by using the Amazon link below. Check them out. Better yet, buy one and read it. You just might like it.

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You’re invited to visit my author’s website, BROKEN GLASS to hear the remarkable radio interview about my novel “Blood Lake” on The Authors Show, or see my three local television interviews. You can also like my Book of Face page, find me on Goodreads, or follow my shorter ramblings on The Twitter.

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Comments posted below will be read, greatly appreciated and perhaps even answered.

2021 – A Year for Innovation

January 31, 2021


For me, and many other indie authors, the global pandemic meant no in-person book launches. No speaking honorariums. No presentations at book industry events. Last year had a very sparse feeling to it. So, to try and keep things moving, I explored virtual readings, interviews and presentations. It wasn’t the same, but it helped.

Many indie authors were knocked off balance, and 2020 might best be remembered as the year they began innovating. They need to carry a similar “can do” spirit into the new year. Because, until vaccinations take control of the global pandemic, it’s going to be important to jettison old habits and embrace ideas that may be new to most of us.

Also a Year of Discovery
Hopefully, with a little continued innovation, and a willingness to keep moving forward, we will discover new possibilities. One of the things I discovered in my conversations with other indies was how strongly some still feel it’s a detriment to be listed in online product details as “independently published.”

Some mask the fact that they’re self-publishing by creating their own publishing imprint because, like it or not, they feel there’s a bias against self-published books.

I disagree.

I think a well-written book stands on its own, however it’s published. Successful novelists don’t let labels, or the lack of them, limit their efforts. I don’t go as far as creating my own bogus publishing imprint, because it’s not worth the cost, time and effort. But I do make certain to register each book with the Library of Congress.

The hard part, after all, is in the marketing, since there’s no publishing house to use their 85% of the proceeds to foot the bills for advertising.

Explore Promotional Tactics
Recognize a good idea when you see it. Rather than looking at something and saying, “Oh, that’s a clever idea, but it’s coming from a nonfiction author, so it won’t help me.” Instead, train yourself to say, “That is clever. How can I use it to market my novel?” Reshape it to apply to your situation and you might be surprised by how many effective tactics are suddenly available to you.

Take it a step further and study how major consumer product brands handle marketing. Can you learn anything from them, too? For example, more and more consumer brands are showing social responsibility by aligning with causes. Can you build goodwill with your ideal readers by doing the same?

Get to Know Your Readers as People
When you invest time in meaningful discovery, you can also learn what’s happening in the lives of potential readers. This gives you insights and situations you can use to improve your stories so they resonate with your target audience. The more you know about your readers, the better able you are to write books they will love and…more importantly…talk about.

Shake Things Up in 2021
If you’re an indie author, remember, I’ve mentioned before your book must have a professional cover design that meets the genre style, professional editing and proofreading, and beta reader input for feedback on the story, characters and dialogue.

Vow to make the coming year one that sees you reaching new success milestones. Instead of talking about what you can’t do to market your novel, make a list of what you can do. Be open-minded. There are more options available than you might think.

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Gentle Readers, my books have all garnered some terrific reviews. You can see all of them by using the Amazon link below. Check them out. Better yet, buy one and read it. You just might like it.

buy now;

**********

You’re invited to visit my author’s website, BROKEN GLASS to hear the remarkable radio interview about my novel “Blood Lake” on The Authors Show, or see my three local television interviews. You can also like my Book of Face page, find me on Goodreads, or follow my shorter ramblings on The Twitter.

**********

Comments posted below will be read, greatly appreciated and perhaps even answered.

Holiday Writing During the 2020 Pandemic

November 24, 2020


What? It’s Almost December?
When time becomes hazy and slippery, as it has for many of us during our almost year-long quarantine, it can stop being the primary force by which we organize our lives. Think about it.

Beginnings and endings, of just about everything, become harder to pinpoint, and our internal narrative structure changes. For instance, I sometimes have trouble remembering what day it is. Plus, I don’t sleep well enough to dream anymore.

I’ve noticed, however, that around here we suddenly seem to have a lot more dirty dishes.

So, when most everything is getting so muddled, what happens to writers, who depend on their imaginations?

Well, I started making lists just to have something to do. If you’re an author, and anything like me, you may also have started writing in short bursts and fragments, looking for different ways to tell a story. Hoping the muse would awaken.

Unfortunately, during many of these long weeks of quarantine, I didn’t write at all. I admit I’ve been very anxious about the larger situation, and watching news about it constantly.

I’ve mentioned before, I was working on three different novels before the pandemic hit. But, suddenly, nothing I was writing down was holding my attention. Worse, when I got stuck, I had no idea what direction to take to fix the problem.

Since I began writing in earnest, I’ve never had to deal with writer’s block quite like this before.

Good Advice
I’ve had one of my novels in my head for years. But the idea is still a big sprawling mess, made up of interconnecting parts that may, or may not, make any sense together someday.

My focus is scattered. My emotions are all mixed up. I’m cheerful, anxious, irritable, giddy, desperate, and optimistic, often in the same afternoon. My equilibrium gets thrown off by how everyone else in the house is feeling. And I’m tired, even on days when I’ve done almost literally nothing.

The best piece of advice I received was: “When you come to the end of it, what would you like to be able to say you’ve done?”

It made me realize doing something is better than doing nothing, so I forced myself back into the habit of writing every day.

I’ve always said, as a writer, when you have an impulse, follow it. But, it’s hard when your severely restricted physical space collides with overburdened mental space.

Now, with the holidays upon us, but sadly separated from family, that mental space seems even more crowded.

However, I went back to the novel-in-progress that was the most finished and looked over what I’d already written. Then, I started to read my research notes again.

I realized I’m happy with my book idea. It closes out a series. I’m not sure it’s going to work the way I hope, or be done at the end of the year, but there’s no way to know if I don’t try. So, bit by bit, I began to write again.

Don’t get me wrong. The dishes are still very much an issue.

But writing is more important than ever.

Keep going. We need you.

Have a safe holiday.

**********

Gentle Readers, my books have all garnered some terrific reviews. You can see all of them by using the Amazon link below. Check them out. Better yet, buy one and read it. You just might like it.

buy now;

**********

You’re invited to visit my author’s website, BROKEN GLASS to hear the remarkable radio interview about my novel “Blood Lake” on The Authors Show, or see my three local television interviews. You can also like my Book of Face page, find me on Goodreads, or follow my shorter ramblings on The Twitter.

**********

Comments posted below will be read, greatly appreciated and perhaps even answered.


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