Update: Great start on our Kickstarter campaign yesterday. We made it to 50 backers and 15% funded on day 1! Thank you so much to our early backers. We hope you are enjoying your Writer’s Boon Companion journals. If you missed out on this gift for early backers, never fear, we have a new journal, The Writer’s Friend and Confidante, for the next 50! Get in on it here.
In the meantime, here’s another wise and wonderful writing tip from Mel:
Blake Snyder in his brilliant Save the Cat wrote that Act 2 is what the audience pays their entry money for. Here’s where the promise of genre is honoured with adventures that are not just exciting, but meaningful.
How to make these adventures meaningful?
No matter the genre, we return to story structure that endures from The Odyssey to the great book you’re reading today. In every adventure your protagonist experiences in Act 2, the Belly of the Beast, that protagonist must learn more and become more than he was, through making believable choices that he would never previously have made. As well, it’s wise to remember what John Saul said about writing success – that is, until he realized that he was plotting along a straight line to the story goal, his books were rejected. As soon as he began writing in a non-linear fashion, setting up surprise turns and then surprising the protagonist and readers as well, success was his.
Plotting isn’t easy, but then we’re not in the writing game because it’s easy. We’re in it to please ourselves and our readers, and to make some money through honest toil.
I wish you another brilliant writing week.
This week from @yourwritingmuse: You create strong frameworks for storytelling, no doubt because you think so hard about your story arcs. From your Writing Muse
One of the finest ways to use 10 minutes in a busy week is to master the elevator pitch — that is, one sentence that encapsulates your story and intrigues the listener. You can’t figure this one out too soon. Even if you’re on page one, with no thought of pitching to an agent or writing a blurb for your ebook for another six months, a pitch sentence will be as useful to you in your growing career as a quality pocket knife on a wilderness camping trip. Here’s why.
- You need to be ready with your elevator pitch when relatives, friends and co-workers ask you exactly what an agent, editor, or Amazon reader is going to ask: “What’s your book about?”
- You will need your elevator pitch to put on your author page and for your blurb if you decide to go with indie publishing.
- You will need your elevator pitch for your query letter if you decide to go the traditional publishing route.
- But the person who most needs to hear your elevator pitch while you’re still writing your book is you. If you’ve got that gripping sentence in mind, it’s going to keep you on track and can save hundreds of hours that might be spent writing pages that you’ll throw out and revising chapters that go nowhere.
The best book I’ve read on building pitch lines is Blake Snyders’s Save the Cat, a favourite professional read. Here are two of his examples:
- A cop comes to L.A. to visit his estranged wife and her office building is taken over by terrorists – Die Hard.
- A businessman falls in love with a hooker he hires to be his date for the weekend – Pretty Woman.
There are few better ways to use 10 minutes than to write out and polish your elevator pitch.
I hope it’s another brilliant writing day for you.
Somebody who would be a brilliant writer if he stuck with it said to me, “I got a good ways in and then the whole story petered out.” I hear that a lot. The novel gets off to a great start and then….
Sometimes the writer knows how the story is going to end, but can’t bear the tedium of writing the protagonist through the path to that excellent final scene.
That middle bit, as we leave our Act One, with our protagonist set up for and locked into the story goal, is the section Blake Snyder, in his superb Save the Cat, refers to as “Fun and Games” – the section they pay the money to come see at the movies. The part they pay to see again.
How wonderful to see our protagonist and his allies – and the antagonist, as well, whether it’s wind, sea or Sauron – growing and changing and doing, believably, what they’d never do, as master teacher Donald Maass reminds us regarding character growth.
I told that fellow who petered out that he’s just heading into the part of his story that can very well be the most fun to write, after all. So, lucky it’s the longest section, right? He didn’t answer. Anyway, I’d rather read the answer in his book.
Blake Snyder, Save the Cat, Studio City, CA : M. Wiese Productions, 2005.
Christopher Vogler The Writer’s Journey, Mythic Structure for Writers. Sheridan Books Inc, 2007 – Third Ed.
Donald Maass, Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook. Writer’s Digest Books, 2004.
This week I promised to write up some ways to bypass writer’s block. If you have more I’d love to hear them. Like sleep mnemonics, it’s wise to change up strategies to keep them effective.
- Often “writer’s block” occurs at about a third of the way into the story. What’s stopping you might well be your own excellent professional intuition, your feel for story. Because this is where any weaknesses begin to show up and the storytelling energy flags. Thank your intuition — disguised as “writer’s block” — because this is the time to address any structural flaws in the first act of your story. What if you weren’t blocked? You would have to make changes through the whole thing instead of just the first third or so. Whew. Thanks, writer’s block! To sharpen your first third, here are some strategies and resources:
- The best way I have found to strengthen Act 1 of a short story or novel is to visit the masters of story structure: screenwriters. Visit scriptlab.com and listen to the superb five minute talks on Act 1. Read Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat. Take out your favourite films and examine the first 8 of 24 chapters.
- Re-outline your first act, and use the screenwriter’s rule of 15: make a list of 15 different ways you could have opened the story, could have established tone, setting, saved Blake Snyder’s Cat, etc. That’s 15 each. You’ll be digging so deep you’ll be sweating. It’s worth the effort.
- Cut your story from the beginning, page by page or chapter by chapter, saving all for possible use as backstory later. Do this until you reach a moment when the energy seems fantastic and your character is making a strong choice, preferably a sacrifice. This is the point that no matter how irascible, misguided or irresponsible, your protagonist is a hero. When you and the reader desire what your hero desires it’s easy to write what the hero will do next.
- Use Donald Maass’s brilliant advice: think what your character would never do, and have her do it — believably. This is possibly the best recipe for character development ever devised. And buy his books and attend his talks if you possibly can.
- Trust your craft and story prompts. Record yourself reading story prompts (I record Dale Adams Segal‘s Hour Stories for my own use) and set yourself in your best writing spot with a timer and the knowledge that your talent never has and never will fail you. The story prompts set your inner writer on autopilot. If you try this and nothing happens, do return to point 1 in this article and try one of the preparations again.
- You love writing. Remember what that feels like. As often as you may, for a few moments imagine yourself where you want to be. Picture yourself in your best writing spot. See your hand moving your pen across paper, your fingers tapping at your keyboard. Feel the smile on your face. Think, I love writing. Think, And I’m very good. And my characters rock.
In a writers’ life as in a writer’s work, pacing is everything, and there have to be times of rest and beauty. Writer’s block is the eye of the storm. It’s a moment of reflection, a pause to gather strength. Don’t worry, because your work has been, will be, and is, wonderful.