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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Writing Craft, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 25 of 159
1. Dystropian Blog Series on Ellar Out Loud

Dystropian Task ForceHave you been reading the Dystropian Blog Series on Ellar Cooper’s blog? If not, you should!

I participated in the series back in January with my thoughts on breaking the rules of character development, but my fellow VCFA dystropian classmates (who are fast selling books, getting agents, and taking the writing world by storm) have posted a ton of amazing articles for you to devour. The posts include life lessons on writing, hard truths, and of course a picture of a cute dog!

How could you resist?

Check out the awesomeness:

Journal Writing and Craft  by Melanie Fishbane

Writing Truth and Authenticity Amidst the Noise by Jessica Denhart

Writing Lessons Learned from My In-laws by Jeff Schill

What Travel Writing Taught Me About Fiction by Steve Bramucci

A Cute Picture of My Dog … And Words About my Writing Life by Rachel Lieberman

The Top 10 Uses for an Action Scene by Sheryl Scarborough

Breaking the Rules of Character Development by Ingrid Sundberg


3 Comments on Dystropian Blog Series on Ellar Out Loud, last added: 4/15/2014
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2. Dystropian Blog Series on Ellar Out Loud

Dystropian Task ForceHave you been reading the Dystropian Blog Series on Ellar Cooper’s blog? If not, you should!

I participated in the series back in January with my thoughts on breaking the rules of character development, but my fellow VCFA dystropian classmates (who are fast selling books, getting agents, and taking the writing world by storm) have posted a ton of amazing articles for you to devour. The posts include life lessons on writing, hard truths, and of course a picture of a cute dog!

How could you resist?

Check out the awesomeness:

Journal Writing and Craft  by Melanie Fishbane

Writing Truth and Authenticity Amidst the Noise by Jessica Denhart

Writing Lessons Learned from My In-laws by Jeff Schill

What Travel Writing Taught Me About Fiction by Steve Bramucci

A Cute Picture of My Dog … And Words About my Writing Life by Rachel Lieberman

The Top 10 Uses for an Action Scene by Sheryl Scarborough

Breaking the Rules of Character Development by Ingrid Sundberg


0 Comments on Dystropian Blog Series on Ellar Out Loud as of 4/15/2014 6:43:00 PM
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3. Call for Submissions: Mason's Road: A Literary and Arts Journal

Mason’s Road: A Literary and Arts Journal is currently accepting submissions for our ninth issue. The theme for Issue #9 is “Truth,” and we are looking for unique and arresting takes on this topic.

All submissions will be given thorough consideration for publication. However, your work will also be considered for our Mason’s Road Literary Prize, which includes publication and a $500 award. For this issue, the award will go to the best entry we receive, as judged by Bill Roorbach, the award-winning author of Life Among Giants.

Our submissions period runs for three months: February 15 – May 15, 2014. Please look here for submission guidelines.

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4. Books I Didn’t Finish, AKA, What Killed it For Me

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Courtesy of wit @ Creative Commons

I like keeping lists. And I like books. So I guess it makes sense that I have a lot of book lists. Books To Read, Books I’ve Finished, Books I Want to Buy, and possibly the most informative one: Books I Didn’t Finish. As a reader, it happens quite frequently that I’ll start a book, and for whatever reason, my attention wanes and I end up putting it down unfinished. As a writer, I want to know why this happens so I can avoid making the same mistakes in my own stories. The reasons behind a book’s failure to grab my attention are varied. Some of them I see often in books I read; some offenses I’m guilty of committing myself. Because of this, I figured I’d share what I’ve learned so we can all try not to replicate these errors in our stories.

For this first installment, I’m pulling from a book I was really looking forward to reading…well, let’s just call it Book A (I’m a positive person, and since this isn’t a review, the title doesn’t matter). Regardless, this book was historical fiction—one of my favorite genres that I find in short supply—and a retelling of an old myth. The cover was gorgeous and the back copy contained an accurate summary of the story. The writing itself was strong, the descriptions evocative. So what killed it for me?

In the first chapter of Book A, the heroine’s life had taken a dramatic turn which included a global move away from her family and friends to a place she’d never been. And when she got there, everything was great. Her new home was luxurious, her benefactor doting and accommodating. In this new place, she was actually better off than she’d been at home.

Zzzzzzzz…

I was underwhelmed at this point but continued on to chapter two, hoping things would pick up—and I did find a vague undercurrent of danger, the feeling that all wasn’t as it seemed. But it was too vague, too distant. The character wasn’t concerned, and she didn’t seem to be in any real danger, so I wasn’t worried about her. And I never made it to chapter three.

Clearly there was a lack of tension, but why? What was it about this story that put me to sleep? When I examined it further, I realized that I didn’t know the hero’s goal; she wasn’t thinking about what she wanted or discussing it or wishing for it. Because she never revealed her greatest desire, there were no stakes for her should she fail to achieve it. It didn’t seem to matter one way or the other if she got what she wanted, so I didn’t really care if she succeeded.

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Courtesy of urban_data @ Creative Commons

For readers to be involved in your story, your main character has to have a goal. Simply put, this is something she wants to accomplish by the end of the story. Goals come in many shapes and forms. A character may want to discover his own identity (The Bourne Identity), make a living and survive in 19th century Paris (Belle Epoque), or find his birth father (Elf). If you don’t know what your character wants, then the reader won’t know, either. Figuring out the hero’s goal is the first order of business.

The next important step is to reveal this goal to readers through the context of your current story—through dialogue, the character’s thoughts, through action, or a symbolic keepsake or memento, etc. And the sooner you do it, the better. In the movie The Bourne Identity, we’re all of eight minutes in when Bourne, who has clearly lost his memory, says with great emotion, “What if it doesn’t come back? We get in there tomorrow, I don’t even have a name.” With this simple bit of dialogue, viewers see exactly what Jason Bourne wants. We know what he’s going to spend the rest of the movie trying to accomplish, and we spend that time rooting for him to do just that.

Because I have a fear of overstating things, I tend to be too vague when it comes to my character’s goal. Through consistent feedback from my trusty critique partners (What’s she after in this scene? I don’t know what she wants, etc.), I’ve learned that it helps, in the drafting stage, to state the goal outright. Mention it more than once. Then, when revising, soften those references and turn them into examples of showing rather than telling. Maybe remove a few of them altogether. This has worked well for me to make sure readers know my character’s goal without smacking them over the head with it.

So, to summarize: 1) know your character’s overall story goal, and 2) reveal it at the start of the story so readers will know what needs to happen for the hero to succeed.

Hopefully this information will come in handy for you and will help you write stories that readers can’t put down. An understated goal is one big reason why books fall flat for me, but there are definitely others. I’ll be writing more posts in this series as those reasons become clear. Enjoy!

~~~~~~~

Also, Angela’s at the DIYMFA today talking about Flaws, Emotional Trauma, and the Character’s Wound. If you’re interested in figuring out why your character is the way he is, she’s got some not-to-be-missed info for you.

The post Books I Didn’t Finish, AKA, What Killed it For Me appeared first on WRITERS HELPING WRITERS.

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5. Call for Submissions: CREDO: An Anthology of Manifestos and Sourcebook for Creative Writing

The Cambridge Writers’ Workshop invites writers of all stripes (Poets! Fictioneers! Memoirists! Journalists! Essayists! Dramatists! Genre-benders!) to submit to CREDO: An Anthology of Manifestos and Sourcebook for Creative Writing. Writers are invited to submit their personal aesthetic philosophies and manifestos for the anthology, writing exercises and prompts that have helped to kick-start their imagination, and short essays on the art of writing, reading, and being creative. Please send us a brief (7 pages max) submission in one of the following categories:

I. Credos:

Writing manifestos, rules to live by, artist creeds, hand-written notes to self, aphorisms earned, and personal philosophies on what makes good writing work and why. If you have ever typed or scrawled out a manifesto, we would like to see it. Feel free to send us manifestos for creative writing that you have drawn up for yourself or for your writing group. We accept typed written credos, hand-written lists, and even collages that demonstrate your aesthetic philosophy.

II. Writing Exercises:

We would like you to send us writing exercises, prompts, or any practices that have helped energize and motivate your creative writing practice. Is there a daily ritual you do to kickstart your imagination? Are there writing exercises and prompts that you keep on going back to or to use in class with your students? We are interested in your favorite writing exercises. Please send us original writing exercises or prompts, or please write to us about how your favorite published writing exercises work.

III. Essays on Writing Advice:

We are looking for essays that describe the writing process, essays on creative arts communities, salon culture, and advice on creative writing. What has helped you sustain and catalyze your writing career? What has inspired you, from reading the works of your favorite authors, experimenting with new forms, finding communities of writers, experience with social media and writing, etc.? We welcome any essays on creative writing between 5-7 pages.
 
Please also include: A brief biography of 200 words or less.

SUBMISSIONS PERIOD: October 15, 2013 - January 15, 2014

Submit here.

Follow us on Twitter @CamWritersWkshp

Facebook.

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6. Call for Submissions: The Cartier Street Review

The Cartier Street Review is alive and well and requesting submissions. Please send poetry, flash fiction, articles on writing, short stories, and reviews of books, music and other type articles for consideration to:

violetwritesATgmailDOTcom (Change AT to @ and DOT to .)

Please put submission into the subject line along with your last name and the type of work you are submitting.

A short note to the editor such as, “Hi I am writer submitting 3 poems titled …”

Include a short bio with your submission.

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7. Call for Submissions: TAB

TAB: The Journal of Poetry & Poetics is reading now for its monthly electronic issues in early 2014. Send a small batch of poems, a short essay on craft or pedagogy, a critical essay, a book review, or an interview. We will consider all writing of or about poetry.

Recent contributors include Hadara Bar-Nadav, Oliver de la Paz, Lauren Camp, Susan Johnson, Jesse Lee Kercheval, and many more. Online submissions only; no submission fee. To find out more and read recent issues, check out TAB at our website.

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8. Call for Essays on Writing Craft: Passages North

Contribute to Passages North's online Writers on Writing column.

Send us short essays about how you write, craft tricks you're willing to disclose, frustrations about your muse.

Send us your lamentations and praises. Tell us stories about stories. Share your insider info.

For more information, visit our website.

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9. Designing Principle #3: Time

DP 3_Time

We live our lives in a linear progression and that affects the way we think about narrative, how to live our lives, and what we value.  Structurally and metaphorically time can be an interesting element to design with. Continuing our discussion on designing principles, lets see how the way we use time can become an organic structural framework.

Backward structures, like the film Memento or Pinter’s play Betrayal become causal mysteries. Charles Ramirez Berg notes that they “draw attention to causal connections, like forward moving structures, but … the narrative fuel is the search for the first cause of known effects.” The play Betrayal begins with a couple’s separation, and as we move back in time, we search for the moment that caused the relationship’s end.

But time can also be chopped up and moved around in any way that serves your story best. In The Time Traveler’s Wife the non-linearity reflects both the premise and unveils the importance of memory to our relationships. In the novel One Day, there’s a linear progression, but each chapter skips forward a year, forcing the reader to fill in the time between. In Groundhog Day and Before I Fall, the protagonists must repeat the same day over and over until they get it right.  Even a ticking clock can create a structure; the TV show 24 takes a 24 hour ticking-clock and allots a single episode to each hour.

Does your novel span a day or many years?  How does time affect your characters? Is it about looking back, moving forward, or the gaps between? Can the way you slice and dice time reveal another of level of content in your novel and is appropriate for your novel?

Up Next: Designing Principle #4 – Community

Want to know more about designing principles? Try these links:


2 Comments on Designing Principle #3: Time, last added: 7/23/2013
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10. Designing Principle #3: Time

DP 3_Time

We live our lives in a linear progression and that affects the way we think about narrative, how to live our lives, and what we value.  Structurally and metaphorically time can be an interesting element to design with. Continuing our discussion on designing principles, lets see how the way we use time can become an organic structural framework.

Backward structures, like the film Memento or Pinter’s play Betrayal become causal mysteries. Charles Ramirez Berg notes that they “draw attention to causal connections, like forward moving structures, but … the narrative fuel is the search for the first cause of known effects.” The play Betrayal begins with a couple’s separation, and as we move back in time, we search for the moment that caused the relationship’s end.

But time can also be chopped up and moved around in any way that serves your story best. In The Time Traveler’s Wife the non-linearity reflects both the premise and unveils the importance of memory to our relationships. In the novel One Day, there’s a linear progression, but each chapter skips forward a year, forcing the reader to fill in the time between. In Groundhog Day and Before I Fall, the protagonists must repeat the same day over and over until they get it right.  Even a ticking clock can create a structure; the TV show 24 takes a 24 hour ticking-clock and allots a single episode to each hour.

Does your novel span a day or many years?  How does time affect your characters? Is it about looking back, moving forward, or the gaps between? Can the way you slice and dice time reveal another of level of content in your novel and is appropriate for your novel?

Up Next: Designing Principle #4 – Community

Want to know more about designing principles? Try these links:


0 Comments on Designing Principle #3: Time as of 7/22/2013 9:44:00 AM
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11. Designing Principle #4: Community

DP 2_Community

Some stories are not about a single protagonist. Sometimes a group or community becomes the larger focus. Using a community as a designing principle is the fourth category in this series.

Give a Boy a Gun by Todd Struasser explores the complexity of a school shooting and could have been told from POV of the shooter, or a friend of the shooter, or a teacher. Instead Struasser lets an entire community tell this story: friends, parents, teachers, students, etc. In so doing, a portrait of the shooters and the events is constructed by the reader through snippets, interviews, and emails. The structure unveils the fragmentation and chaos of the event itself, and how hard it is to find a single truth of an event or person.

Helen Frost’s verse novel Keesha’s House also creates a portrait of a community, but in a different way. The story follows eight protagonists who become homeless.  Each character has his or her own arc, and is given one poem per chapter with which to tell his or her story. Frost’s creates unity between these eight individual stories with the use of a wheel chapter structure. At the core of each chapter is a theme, for example: “Why I can’t live at home,” and each poem of that chapter touches upon the theme in a way that is specific to each character. This structure unites an entire community of abandoned children.

Is your story about a community or ensemble of people? How might you use this to influence the structure of your story?

Up Next: Designing Principle #5 – Parallel Stories and Myth

Want to know more about designing principles? Try these links:


1 Comments on Designing Principle #4: Community, last added: 7/26/2013
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12. Designing Principle #4: Community

DP 2_Community

Some stories are not about a single protagonist. Sometimes a group or community becomes the larger focus. Using a community as a designing principle is the fourth category in this series.

Give a Boy a Gun by Todd Struasser explores the complexity of a school shooting and could have been told from POV of the shooter, or a friend of the shooter, or a teacher. Instead Struasser lets an entire community tell this story: friends, parents, teachers, students, etc. In so doing, a portrait of the shooters and the events is constructed by the reader through snippets, interviews, and emails. The structure unveils the fragmentation and chaos of the event itself, and how hard it is to find a single truth of an event or person.

Helen Frost’s verse novel Keesha’s House also creates a portrait of a community, but in a different way. The story follows eight protagonists who become homeless.  Each character has his or her own arc, and is given one poem per chapter with which to tell his or her story. Frost’s creates unity between these eight individual stories with the use of a wheel chapter structure. At the core of each chapter is a theme, for example: “Why I can’t live at home,” and each poem of that chapter touches upon the theme in a way that is specific to each character. This structure unites an entire community of abandoned children.

Is your story about a community or ensemble of people? How might you use this to influence the structure of your story?

Up Next: Designing Principle #5 – Parallel Stories and Myth

Want to know more about designing principles? Try these links:


0 Comments on Designing Principle #4: Community as of 7/24/2013 1:48:00 PM
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13. Designing Principle #6: Storyteller

DP 6_Storyteller

The final category in my series on designing principles is the storyteller.

Who is your novel’s storyteller?

At the outset, it might not seem like the point-of-view or the narrator you chose to tell your story would have a large impact on its structure, but it does. Imagine if how differently the The Usual Suspects would be if it wasn’t told from the POV of Kevin Spacey’s character sitting in a New York City police station. Or imagine how the design of The Book Thief would be different if it wasn’t narrated by death. Or how the structure of The Hunger Games changes when you move out of the first person narration of Katniss’ mind in the book, to the omniscient eye taken in the movie? The choices of what is put where, and why, changes.

Additionally, consider the design effect of having multiple POV narrators as done in the book Will Grayson, Will Grayson which has two narrators, or Jumped which has three, or Tangled  which has four, or Keesha’s House  which has eight. How does one move from POV to POV? By alternating chapters? By telling the whole story of one and then the whole story of another? Or maybe weighing the POV of one over another?

The storyteller of your book is going to affects it pacing, its linearity, its patterns of repetition, and the breadth of knowledge and experience the storyteller has access to. It has ramifications in all your other design choices and shouldn’t be chosen lightly.

Hopefully, these six categories have helped you to think about how to structure and plot your own novel in a way that is organic, instead of plugging your characters in to a pre-designed template. Have fun exploring all the alternate plots and structures at your fingertips, and remember that using them should come organically from your premise and characters!

I know this has been a long series (thanks for hanging in there with me). I’ve only got a few final notes before wrapping it all up.

Up Next: Structural Layering (because yes, you probably won’t pick one structure and be done!)

Want to know more about designing principles? Try these links:


2 Comments on Designing Principle #6: Storyteller, last added: 8/1/2013
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14. The Many Layers of Structure and Design

layers_exampleI’ve spent the last two months talking all about classical design, alternative structures and plots, and designing principles! Hopefully you’ve seen that there are innumerable design possibilities at your fingertips. But as I walked us through this series, I’m sure a few of you read my posts and thought to yourself: Doesn’t that story fit into multiple types of structure? For example, as I explained that The Godfather uses a fairy-tale structure, you might have been thinking: But Ingrid, it also uses the mountain structure!

To which I’d say: You’re right!

Which brings me to my final point in this series: design and structure are layered. You won’t necessarily pick on design concept and be done.

In the film Memento, the designing principle uses a backwards structure to reflect short term memory. But it also has a goal-oriented plot and a mountain structure. Only the major structural beats are flipped.  If the story was told forward, what would be considered the inciting incident becomes the climax when it’s told backwards. Additionally, because the story revisits events of the past, again and again, you could also consider this movie to have a spiral structure.

Helen Frost’s novel Keesha’s House is also layered.  It’s told with eight protagonists as a portrait of a community and each chapter uses a wheel structure to unify the characters through a theme. But the structure of the whole novel still uses a mountain escalation as each chapter introduces new obstacles. It’s also a goal-oriented plot: to find a safe place to live.

Layered Design Slide

Stories are layered. And you may find, like me, that the story you’re trying to tell doesn’t fit easily into a three act structure or the hero’s journey. Or maybe it does. And it’s okay if it does. Just make sure that’s a choice you’ve made because it’s right for your story.

Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman said in a lecture to the British Film Academy that “there’s no template for a screenplay, or there shouldn’t be. There are at least as many screenplay possibilities as there are people who write them.  Don’t let anyone tell you what a story is, what it needs to include or what form it must take.”

Only you know how to tell your story and only you know how to design it.

Thanks for reading this series!


2 Comments on The Many Layers of Structure and Design, last added: 8/5/2013
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15. The Many Layers of Structure and Design

layers_exampleI’ve spent the last two months talking all about classical design, alternative structures and plots, and designing principles! Hopefully you’ve seen that there are innumerable design possibilities at your fingertips. But as I walked us through this series, I’m sure a few of you read my posts and thought to yourself: Doesn’t that story fit into multiple types of structure? For example, as I explained that The Godfather uses a fairy-tale structure, you might have been thinking: But Ingrid, it also uses the mountain structure!

To which I’d say: You’re right!

Which brings me to my final point in this series: design and structure are layered. You won’t necessarily pick on design concept and be done.

In the film Memento, the designing principle uses a backwards structure to reflect short term memory. But it also has a goal-oriented plot and a mountain structure. Only the major structural beats are flipped.  If the story was told forward, what would be considered the inciting incident becomes the climax when it’s told backwards. Additionally, because the story revisits events of the past, again and again, you could also consider this movie to have a spiral structure.

Helen Frost’s novel Keesha’s House is also layered.  It’s told with eight protagonists as a portrait of a community and each chapter uses a wheel structure to unify the characters through a theme. But the structure of the whole novel still uses a mountain escalation as each chapter introduces new obstacles. It’s also a goal-oriented plot: to find a safe place to live.

Layered Design Slide

Stories are layered. And you may find, like me, that the story you’re trying to tell doesn’t fit easily into a three act structure or the hero’s journey. Or maybe it does. And it’s okay if it does. Just make sure that’s a choice you’ve made because it’s right for your story.

Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman said in a lecture to the British Film Academy that “there’s no template for a screenplay, or there shouldn’t be. There are at least as many screenplay possibilities as there are people who write them.  Don’t let anyone tell you what a story is, what it needs to include or what form it must take.”

Only you know how to tell your story and only you know how to design it.

Thanks for reading this series!


0 Comments on The Many Layers of Structure and Design as of 8/5/2013 9:40:00 AM
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16. Organic Architecture: Links to the Whole Series

Organic Architecture SpiralI want to thank everyone for reading my Organic Architecture Series! I realize this was a long series with lots of posts. The following are the links to all the different articles. Feel free to bookmark this page for easy reference!

Happy plotting, structuring, and designing, everyone!

Organic Architecture Series:

Classic Design and Arch Plot:

Alternative Plots:

Alternative Structures:

Designing Principle:

Full Bibliography for this Series:

Alderson, Martha. The Plot Whisperer: Secrets of Story Structure Any Writer Can Master. New York: Adams Media, 2011.
Anderson, Tobin. “Theories of Plot and Narrative.” Faculty Lecture. Vermont College of Fine Arts, Montpelier, VT. July 2008.
Bayerl, Katie. “Must We All Be Heroes? Crafting Alternatives to the Hero’s Journey in YA Fiction.” Critical Thesis. Vermont College of Fine Arts, 2009.
Bayerl, Katie. “Must We All Be Heroes? Crafting Alternatives to the Hero’s Journey in YA Fiction.” Graduate Lecture. Vermont College of Fine Arts, Montepelier, VT. July 2009.
Bechard, Margaret. “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Plot.” Faculty Lecture. Vermont College of Fine Arts, Montpelier, VT. Jan 2008.
Berg, Charles Ramirez. “A Taxonomy of Alternative Plots in Recent Films: Classifying the ‘Tarantino Effect.’” Film Criticism, Vol. 31, Issue 1-2, 5-57, 22 Sept 2006. Ebsco Host. Web. 6 May 2011.
Burroway, Janet. Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narative Craft. 8th Edition. New York: Longman, 2011.
Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Second Edition. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1968.
Campbell, Patty. “The Sand in the Oyster: Vetting the Verse Novel.” The Horn Book Magazine. Sept.-Oct.2004: 611-616.
Capetta, Amy Rose. “Can’t Fight This Feeling: Figuring out Catharsis and the Right One for Your Story.” Graduate Lecture. Vermont College of Fine Arts, Montepelier, VT. Jan 2012.
Carver, Renee. “Cumulative Tales Primary Lesson Plan.” Primary School. 9 Mar. 2009. Web. 31 Aug 2012.
Chapman, Harvey. “Not Your Typical Plot Diagram.” Novel Writing Help. 2008-2012. Web. 6 Oct. 2012.
Chea, Stephenson. “What’s the Difference Between Plot and Structure.” Associated Content. 16 Feb. 2010. Web. 7 May 2011.
Doan, Lisa. “Plot Structure: The Same Old Story Since Time Began?” Critical Essay. Vermont College of Fine Arts, 2006.
Field, Syd. Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting. Revised ed. New York: Delta, 2005.
Fletcher, Susan. “Structure as Genesis.” Faculty Lecture. Vermont College of Fine Arts, Montpelier, VT. July 2012.
Forster, E.M. Aspects of the Novel. New York: Harcourt Inc., 1927.
Gardner, John. The Art of Fiction. New York: Vintage Books, 1983.
Gulino, Paul. Screenwriting: The Sequence Approach. New York: Continuum, 2004.
Hauge, Michael. Writing Screenplays That Sell. New York: Collins Reference, 2001.
Hawes, Louise. “Desire Is the Cause of All Plot.” Faculty Lecture. Vermont College of Fine Arts, Montpelier, VT. July 2008.
Kalmar, Daphne. “The Short Story Cycle: A Sculptural Aesthetic.” Critical Thesis, Vermont College of Fine Arts, 2009.
Kaufman, Charlie. “Charlie Kaufman: BAFTA Screenwriting Lecture Transcript.” BAFTA Guru. British Academy of Film and Television Arts. 30 Sept. 2011. Web. 18 Aug. 2012.
Larios, Julie. “Once or Twice Upon a Time or Two: Thoughts on Revisionist Fairy Tales.” Faculty Lecture. Vermont College of Fine Arts, Montpelier, VT. Jan 2010.
Layne, Ron and Rick Lewis. “Plot, Theme, the Narrative Arc, and Narrative Patterns.” English and Humanities Department. Sandhill Community College. 11 Sept, 2009. Web. 7 May 2011.
Lefer, Diane. “Breaking the Rules of Story Structure.” Words Overflown by Stars. Ed. David Jauss, Cincinnati: Writer’s Digest Books, 2009. 62-69.
Marks, Dara. Inside Story: The Power of the Transformational Arc. Ojai: Three Mountain Press, 2007. McKee, Robert. Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting. New York: IT Books, 1997.
McManus, Barbara F. Tools for Analyzing Prose Fiction. College of New Rochelle, Oct. 1998. Web. 11 Sept. 2012.
Schmidt, Victoria Lynn. Story Structure Architect. Cincinnati: Writer’s Digest Books, 2005.
Sibson, Laura. “Structure Serving Story: A Discussion of Alternating Narrators in Today’s Fiction.” Graduate Lecture. Vermont College of Fine Arts, Montpelier, VT. July 2012.
Snyder, Blake. Save the Cat: The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need. Studio City: Michael Wiese Productions, 2005.
Tanaka, Shelley. “Books from Away: Considering Children’s Writers from Around the World.” Faculty Lecture. Vermont College of Fine Arts, Montpelier, VT. Jan 2010.
Tobias, Ron. Twenty Master Plots: And How to Build Them. Cincinnati: Writer’s Digest Books, 1993.
Truby, John. The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Story- teller. New York: Faber and Faber Inc., 2007.
TV Tropes. Three Act Structure. TV Tropes Foundation, 26 Dec. 2011. Web. 11. Sept. 2012.
Vogler, Christopher. The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers. 2nd Edition. Studio City: Michael Wiese Productions, 1998.
Williams, Stanley D. The Moral Premise. Studio City: Michael Wiese Productions, 2006.

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17. Organic Architecture: Links to the Whole Series

Organic Architecture SpiralI want to thank everyone for reading my Organic Architecture Series! I realize this was a long series with lots of posts. The following are the links to all the different articles. Feel free to bookmark this page for easy reference!

Happy plotting, structuring, and designing, everyone!

Organic Architecture Series:

Classic Design and Arch Plot:

Alternative Plots:

Alternative Structures:

Designing Principle:

Full Bibliography for this Series:

Alderson, Martha. The Plot Whisperer: Secrets of Story Structure Any Writer Can Master. New York: Adams Media, 2011.
Anderson, Tobin. “Theories of Plot and Narrative.” Faculty Lecture. Vermont College of Fine Arts, Montpelier, VT. July 2008.
Bayerl, Katie. “Must We All Be Heroes? Crafting Alternatives to the Hero’s Journey in YA Fiction.” Critical Thesis. Vermont College of Fine Arts, 2009.
Bayerl, Katie. “Must We All Be Heroes? Crafting Alternatives to the Hero’s Journey in YA Fiction.” Graduate Lecture. Vermont College of Fine Arts, Montepelier, VT. July 2009.
Bechard, Margaret. “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Plot.” Faculty Lecture. Vermont College of Fine Arts, Montpelier, VT. Jan 2008.
Berg, Charles Ramirez. “A Taxonomy of Alternative Plots in Recent Films: Classifying the ‘Tarantino Effect.’” Film Criticism, Vol. 31, Issue 1-2, 5-57, 22 Sept 2006. Ebsco Host. Web. 6 May 2011.
Burroway, Janet. Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narative Craft. 8th Edition. New York: Longman, 2011.
Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Second Edition. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1968.
Campbell, Patty. “The Sand in the Oyster: Vetting the Verse Novel.” The Horn Book Magazine. Sept.-Oct.2004: 611-616.
Capetta, Amy Rose. “Can’t Fight This Feeling: Figuring out Catharsis and the Right One for Your Story.” Graduate Lecture. Vermont College of Fine Arts, Montepelier, VT. Jan 2012.
Carver, Renee. “Cumulative Tales Primary Lesson Plan.” Primary School. 9 Mar. 2009. Web. 31 Aug 2012.
Chapman, Harvey. “Not Your Typical Plot Diagram.” Novel Writing Help. 2008-2012. Web. 6 Oct. 2012.
Chea, Stephenson. “What’s the Difference Between Plot and Structure.” Associated Content. 16 Feb. 2010. Web. 7 May 2011.
Doan, Lisa. “Plot Structure: The Same Old Story Since Time Began?” Critical Essay. Vermont College of Fine Arts, 2006.
Field, Syd. Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting. Revised ed. New York: Delta, 2005.
Fletcher, Susan. “Structure as Genesis.” Faculty Lecture. Vermont College of Fine Arts, Montpelier, VT. July 2012.
Forster, E.M. Aspects of the Novel. New York: Harcourt Inc., 1927.
Gardner, John. The Art of Fiction. New York: Vintage Books, 1983.
Gulino, Paul. Screenwriting: The Sequence Approach. New York: Continuum, 2004.
Hauge, Michael. Writing Screenplays That Sell. New York: Collins Reference, 2001.
Hawes, Louise. “Desire Is the Cause of All Plot.” Faculty Lecture. Vermont College of Fine Arts, Montpelier, VT. July 2008.
Kalmar, Daphne. “The Short Story Cycle: A Sculptural Aesthetic.” Critical Thesis, Vermont College of Fine Arts, 2009.
Kaufman, Charlie. “Charlie Kaufman: BAFTA Screenwriting Lecture Transcript.” BAFTA Guru. British Academy of Film and Television Arts. 30 Sept. 2011. Web. 18 Aug. 2012.
Larios, Julie. “Once or Twice Upon a Time or Two: Thoughts on Revisionist Fairy Tales.” Faculty Lecture. Vermont College of Fine Arts, Montpelier, VT. Jan 2010.
Layne, Ron and Rick Lewis. “Plot, Theme, the Narrative Arc, and Narrative Patterns.” English and Humanities Department. Sandhill Community College. 11 Sept, 2009. Web. 7 May 2011.
Lefer, Diane. “Breaking the Rules of Story Structure.” Words Overflown by Stars. Ed. David Jauss, Cincinnati: Writer’s Digest Books, 2009. 62-69.
Marks, Dara. Inside Story: The Power of the Transformational Arc. Ojai: Three Mountain Press, 2007. McKee, Robert. Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting. New York: IT Books, 1997.
McManus, Barbara F. Tools for Analyzing Prose Fiction. College of New Rochelle, Oct. 1998. Web. 11 Sept. 2012.
Schmidt, Victoria Lynn. Story Structure Architect. Cincinnati: Writer’s Digest Books, 2005.
Sibson, Laura. “Structure Serving Story: A Discussion of Alternating Narrators in Today’s Fiction.” Graduate Lecture. Vermont College of Fine Arts, Montpelier, VT. July 2012.
Snyder, Blake. Save the Cat: The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need. Studio City: Michael Wiese Productions, 2005.
Tanaka, Shelley. “Books from Away: Considering Children’s Writers from Around the World.” Faculty Lecture. Vermont College of Fine Arts, Montpelier, VT. Jan 2010.
Tobias, Ron. Twenty Master Plots: And How to Build Them. Cincinnati: Writer’s Digest Books, 1993.
Truby, John. The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Story- teller. New York: Faber and Faber Inc., 2007.
TV Tropes. Three Act Structure. TV Tropes Foundation, 26 Dec. 2011. Web. 11. Sept. 2012.
Vogler, Christopher. The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers. 2nd Edition. Studio City: Michael Wiese Productions, 1998.
Williams, Stanley D. The Moral Premise. Studio City: Michael Wiese Productions, 2006.

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18. Musicality and Reader Emotions

Guest Post by Peter Langella

brain-musicWhen I first began writing seriously, I was just telling stories. I wasn’t thinking about plot or structure or the concrete and abstract desires of my characters. Sure, a lot of that found its way into my drafts, but it wasn’t my focus when I brainstormed or sat at the keyboard.

That all changed when I become a writing student at Vermont College of Fine Arts. My faculty mentors and talented classmates made me question my intentions in every scene. Were my characters learning, failing, growing, or changing? Was my plot moving forward? Was I creating an emotional arc for my characters that future readers could connect with?

Because of questions like these (among the many other things I learned), I grew exponentially as a writer during my MFA experience. I’m now gaining confidence with my writing voice, and my drafting toolbox is larger and much more accessible.

However, the question I struggle with on a daily basis is the one about character emotions and reader connection. This literally keeps me up at night. Many, many nights. I used to think that I didn’t need to worry about a potential reader. Just be true to your characters, I’d tell myself. Write the story that needs to be written, I’d hear my past professors saying.

Just write the truth, for goodness sake!

the-great-gatsby-movie-posterThen I watched Baz Luhrmann’s film adaptation of The Great Gatsby. I was blown away, specifically by his use of modern music in the 1920’s setting. By choosing a soundtrack that features Jay-Z, Jack White, Beyoncé, Florence & the Machine, and many other contemporary artists, Luhrmann isn’t only telling the characters’ stories, he is speaking directly to the audience.

Now, I’m fully aware that Luhrmann’s music choices made most critics cringe, but I think it was extremely innovative, and similar choices can certainly be used by writers to make our books more relatable.

Seriously. I’m not crazy.

For example, during the first huge party that narrator Nick Carraway attends at Gatsby’s mansion, Luhrmann chooses to blare techno behind the visuals with vocals by Fergie and just a tiny hint of horns from the 1920’s. It’s jarring for the viewer, but it works because the character and viewer are experiencing the exact same thing. Nick Carraway has never heard music like this before, and he’s never been to a party so lavish. He’s completely out of his comfort zone. Viewers feel the same way. Most of us have never been to a party like that, either, and we’ve definitely never heard music like that paired with the visuals on the screen. We’re completely out of our comfort zone, too. If Luhrmann simply chose a jazz number new to Long Island that summer, Carraway would probably be feeling the same. He would still be blown away by the newness of the situation. But we wouldn’t be. We’d be thinking about the nice period piece we’re watching with timeless jazz music authentic to the era. We wouldn’t be feeling the exact same thing as the character, and the scene would be much less effective for that reason.

THE GREAT GATSBY

That’s what keeps me up at night. How can I – without the sounds and visuals that Luhrmann has at his disposal – create that exact connection?

Or, at least, how can I get it close?

In my current work-in-progress, one of my main characters is the son of a presidential candidate. Obviously, most people don’t know what it feels like to go through that. Neither do I. But many people know what it feels like to have a detached parent or someone at school who doesn’t like you as much as you like them or a friend who can’t talk for more than two minutes without making reference to some book or movie or TV show they watched recently.

The musicality, so to speak, is what happens in the background. It’s what the story is about, even though a hundred people could outline the plot and not mention these smaller items. These items that (hopefully) create an intense bond between the characters and a potential reader.

Looking for AlaskaWhen I read Looking for Alaska, I was blown away by the scenes where Pudge and The Captain hang out in their dorm room. Maybe it’s because I went to boarding school, so I could understand and appreciate the rhythm of the monotony. But maybe it was because that’s where the characters figured out who they were. When I think about that book, I don’t think about Alaska Young or any other characters or anything any of the other characters did. I only think about those quiet scenes where nothing and everything happened for me all at the same time.

So, whether you’re famous like Baz Luhrmann or John Green, or you’re just someone trying to write their heart out like me, take another look at your draft and ask yourself if there’s any room for musicality in it. Ask yourself if there’s a way for your characters to connect with readers on a profound level, even if it happens in a small or weird way that might not seem to have anything to do with your story. It could be a scene from the roaring 20’s with techno music or a chapter where two friends sit around talking about nothing, but it will probably be something brilliant that only you and your characters can team up to create.

Trust me, when you’re up at night thinking about it, I’ll be up thinking about my stuff, too.

Peter LangellaPeter Patrick Langella holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. He lives and writes in Vermont and thinks elevenses should be recognized by his employer.

Other posts by Peter:

 


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19. Musicality and Reader Emotions

Guest Post by Peter Langella

brain-musicWhen I first began writing seriously, I was just telling stories. I wasn’t thinking about plot or structure or the concrete and abstract desires of my characters. Sure, a lot of that found its way into my drafts, but it wasn’t my focus when I brainstormed or sat at the keyboard.

That all changed when I become a writing student at Vermont College of Fine Arts. My faculty mentors and talented classmates made me question my intentions in every scene. Were my characters learning, failing, growing, or changing? Was my plot moving forward? Was I creating an emotional arc for my characters that future readers could connect with?

Because of questions like these (among the many other things I learned), I grew exponentially as a writer during my MFA experience. I’m now gaining confidence with my writing voice, and my drafting toolbox is larger and much more accessible.

However, the question I struggle with on a daily basis is the one about character emotions and reader connection. This literally keeps me up at night. Many, many nights. I used to think that I didn’t need to worry about a potential reader. Just be true to your characters, I’d tell myself. Write the story that needs to be written, I’d hear my past professors saying.

Just write the truth, for goodness sake!

the-great-gatsby-movie-posterThen I watched Baz Luhrmann’s film adaptation of The Great Gatsby. I was blown away, specifically by his use of modern music in the 1920’s setting. By choosing a soundtrack that features Jay-Z, Jack White, Beyoncé, Florence & the Machine, and many other contemporary artists, Luhrmann isn’t only telling the characters’ stories, he is speaking directly to the audience.

Now, I’m fully aware that Luhrmann’s music choices made most critics cringe, but I think it was extremely innovative, and similar choices can certainly be used by writers to make our books more relatable.

Seriously. I’m not crazy.

For example, during the first huge party that narrator Nick Carraway attends at Gatsby’s mansion, Luhrmann chooses to blare techno behind the visuals with vocals by Fergie and just a tiny hint of horns from the 1920’s. It’s jarring for the viewer, but it works because the character and viewer are experiencing the exact same thing. Nick Carraway has never heard music like this before, and he’s never been to a party so lavish. He’s completely out of his comfort zone. Viewers feel the same way. Most of us have never been to a party like that, either, and we’ve definitely never heard music like that paired with the visuals on the screen. We’re completely out of our comfort zone, too. If Luhrmann simply chose a jazz number new to Long Island that summer, Carraway would probably be feeling the same. He would still be blown away by the newness of the situation. But we wouldn’t be. We’d be thinking about the nice period piece we’re watching with timeless jazz music authentic to the era. We wouldn’t be feeling the exact same thing as the character, and the scene would be much less effective for that reason.

THE GREAT GATSBY

That’s what keeps me up at night. How can I – without the sounds and visuals that Luhrmann has at his disposal – create that exact connection?

Or, at least, how can I get it close?

In my current work-in-progress, one of my main characters is the son of a presidential candidate. Obviously, most people don’t know what it feels like to go through that. Neither do I. But many people know what it feels like to have a detached parent or someone at school who doesn’t like you as much as you like them or a friend who can’t talk for more than two minutes without making reference to some book or movie or TV show they watched recently.

The musicality, so to speak, is what happens in the background. It’s what the story is about, even though a hundred people could outline the plot and not mention these smaller items. These items that (hopefully) create an intense bond between the characters and a potential reader.

Looking for AlaskaWhen I read Looking for Alaska, I was blown away by the scenes where Pudge and The Captain hang out in their dorm room. Maybe it’s because I went to boarding school, so I could understand and appreciate the rhythm of the monotony. But maybe it was because that’s where the characters figured out who they were. When I think about that book, I don’t think about Alaska Young or any other characters or anything any of the other characters did. I only think about those quiet scenes where nothing and everything happened for me all at the same time.

So, whether you’re famous like Baz Luhrmann or John Green, or you’re just someone trying to write their heart out like me, take another look at your draft and ask yourself if there’s any room for musicality in it. Ask yourself if there’s a way for your characters to connect with readers on a profound level, even if it happens in a small or weird way that might not seem to have anything to do with your story. It could be a scene from the roaring 20’s with techno music or a chapter where two friends sit around talking about nothing, but it will probably be something brilliant that only you and your characters can team up to create.

Trust me, when you’re up at night thinking about it, I’ll be up thinking about my stuff, too.

Peter LangellaPeter Patrick Langella holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. He lives and writes in Vermont and thinks elevenses should be recognized by his employer.

Other posts by Peter:

 


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20. The Tension of Unfulfilled Disaster

the-spectacular-now-book-imageI recently saw an advanced screening of the film The Spectacular Now. This honest and moving film is based on Tim Tharp’s YA novel (which also happens to be a National Book Award Finalist). The story follows Sutter Keely (Miles Teller), a high school senior determined to live in the present and forget the future, as he stumbles from one good time to the next. With a flask in one hand and his happy-go lucky attitude in the other, Sutter gets involved with the sweet and shy, Aimee (Shailene Woodley). But disaster is coming … because who can live in the present moment forever?

I’m going to try really hard not to spoil this movie (because you really should go see it). But what I want to talk about is the film’s uncanny ability to build tension based on the audience’s expectation of impending disaster… and then, never fulfilling that expectation.

Spectacular now movie

Let me give you an example: If I show you a character who’s an alcoholic and then I hand that character the keys to a fancy new car, what do you expect to see happen in the next scene?

A car crash of course.

This is a classic example of reader interaction. Readers love to guess what is going to happen next. It builds tension. It gets the reader involved as a participant in the story. It’s fun to wonder what will come next! But a great story doesn’t usually fulfill that expectation. It exceeds it. This is where crazy plot twists come from. The reader thinks a plot will go one way, and then — BAM! — it zags in a whole other direction. What a thrill!

Only, The Spectacular Now doesn’t really do that either.

It doesn’t try to up the ante with a new twist or an even bigger payoff. In fact, the film doesn’t like to payoff the viewer’s expectation at all. Sure, this sounds absolutely frustrating, but in actuality it’s surprisingly fulfilling and honest. Because how often does disaster really strike in our lives? Yes, we are always afraid of it (and that’s the exact expectation the story is playing on), but I bet most of us would agree that our lives are never as intense or dramatic as a film or novel. It’s the fear of what’s coming that scares us. And that turns out to be the primary tension of the movie. Disaster is hanging out there, somewhere in the future, but the future is what the protagonist is trying so hard to avoid. It’s brilliant, and at the same time, there’s something insanely dramatic and fascinating in Sutter’s ability to avoid it!

I wanted to bring this up because I feel like stories far too often choose the dramatic disaster. This is particularly hard to avoid when films overwhelm us with explosions and fights to the death. But I think there’s room to make writing choices without the spectacle. Choices that can be just as powerful. Choices that might actually be more honest and fulfilling because they don’t “go there.” I feel like so much of our lives (our real lives, not fictional character lives) are built on the tension of unfulfilled promises and that space between living in the now and looking toward the future. That feeling – that’s what The Spectacular Now so beautifully captures. And frankly, its one of the best films I’ve seen in a long time.

Go see it.

Spectacular Now


2 Comments on The Tension of Unfulfilled Disaster, last added: 8/22/2013
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21. The Tension of Unfulfilled Disaster

the-spectacular-now-book-imageI recently saw an advanced screening of the film The Spectacular Now. This honest and moving film is based on Tim Tharp’s YA novel (which also happens to be a National Book Award Finalist). The story follows Sutter Keely (Miles Teller), a high school senior determined to live in the present and forget the future, as he stumbles from one good time to the next. With a flask in one hand and his happy-go lucky attitude in the other, Sutter gets involved with the sweet and shy, Aimee (Shailene Woodley). But disaster is coming … because who can live in the present moment forever?

I’m going to try really hard not to spoil this movie (because you really should go see it). But what I want to talk about is the film’s uncanny ability to build tension based on the audience’s expectation of impending disaster… and then, never fulfilling that expectation.

Spectacular now movie

Let me give you an example: If I show you a character who’s an alcoholic and then I hand that character the keys to a fancy new car, what do you expect to see happen in the next scene?

A car crash of course.

This is a classic example of reader interaction. Readers love to guess what is going to happen next. It builds tension. It gets the reader involved as a participant in the story. It’s fun to wonder what will come next! But a great story doesn’t usually fulfill that expectation. It exceeds it. This is where crazy plot twists come from. The reader thinks a plot will go one way, and then — BAM! — it zags in a whole other direction. What a thrill!

Only, The Spectacular Now doesn’t really do that either.

It doesn’t try to up the ante with a new twist or an even bigger payoff. In fact, the film doesn’t like to payoff the viewer’s expectation at all. Sure, this sounds absolutely frustrating, but in actuality it’s surprisingly fulfilling and honest. Because how often does disaster really strike in our lives? Yes, we are always afraid of it (and that’s the exact expectation the story is playing on), but I bet most of us would agree that our lives are never as intense or dramatic as a film or novel. It’s the fear of what’s coming that scares us. And that turns out to be the primary tension of the movie. Disaster is hanging out there, somewhere in the future, but the future is what the protagonist is trying so hard to avoid. It’s brilliant, and at the same time, there’s something insanely dramatic and fascinating in Sutter’s ability to avoid it!

I wanted to bring this up because I feel like stories far too often choose the dramatic disaster. This is particularly hard to avoid when films overwhelm us with explosions and fights to the death. But I think there’s room to make writing choices without the spectacle. Choices that can be just as powerful. Choices that might actually be more honest and fulfilling because they don’t “go there.” I feel like so much of our lives (our real lives, not fictional character lives) are built on the tension of unfulfilled promises and that space between living in the now and looking toward the future. That feeling – that’s what The Spectacular Now so beautifully captures. And frankly, its one of the best films I’ve seen in a long time.

Go see it.

Spectacular Now


0 Comments on The Tension of Unfulfilled Disaster as of 8/20/2013 5:16:00 AM
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22. The Right Word

Mark Twain QuoteMark Twain famously once said “the difference between the right word and the almost right word is really a large matter – it is the difference between the lightning and the lightning bug.”

As writers it’s important to know that we’re more than storytellers, we are wordsmiths! Every word we type has potential to do more than convey character and plot. Our words can also deepen the mood and emotional resonance in our novels.

Ilsa J. Bick is a master of this technique. In her apocalyptic zombie novel, Ashes, Bick intensifies each page with the danger of her world through the use of aggressive words. In the following examples Bick uses the violent words of: slash, spear, and pierced, to describe otherwise peaceful images.

ashes_sales-1“She registered the slash of morning sun in an already too-bright and very cold room…” (301).

“She heard the creak of Tom’s footsteps overhead, and a spear of light pierced the darkness as he shone his flashlight down the stairs” (159).

Bick’s words are doing double-duty. They not only convey the imagery and action of the scene but they also infuse each sentence with emotional stakes. Never once does Bick’s protagonist feel free of the horror that surrounds her. This is because Bick allows her powerful word choices to accumulate over the entire novel, creating an air of danger that is unconsciously felt by the reader.

Two Great Exercises to Learn How to Do This Yourself:

Exercise #1: Scene Analysis

Pick a scene in a book where you (as reader) felt an emotional connection. Perhaps this was a scene that made you cry, or cringe, or got your blood pumping. Re-read the scene and pick out the words that relate to the emotion you felt. Take a look at those words and how they’re used. Become aware of when a specific word choice affected you unconsciously!

Exercise #2: Write with Word Lists

A great way to use this technique in your own work is to create word-lists. Ask yourself what the emotional mood of the scene you’re writing is (i.e. fear, nervousness, lust, etc.). Now write a list of words that invoke this feeling for you. For example, if the feeling is nervousness, my words list could include:

wobble
chatter
prickle
tremble
ice
upturn
squeamish
clench

As you go to write your scene, try to use some of your words. You don’t have to use all of them, and you will easily start to come up with new ones as you write. But when you’re done you’ll find a new emotional layer has been added to your work with the touch of a few carefully chosen words.

If you’re interested in word choice and the use of language, also check out these great articles:

This article was originally published on THE PARKING LOT CONFESSIONAL in 2011. 


2 Comments on The Right Word, last added: 9/3/2013
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23. The Right Word

Mark Twain QuoteMark Twain famously once said “the difference between the right word and the almost right word is really a large matter – it is the difference between the lightning and the lightning bug.”

As writers it’s important to know that we’re more than storytellers, we are wordsmiths! Every word we type has potential to do more than convey character and plot. Our words can also deepen the mood and emotional resonance in our novels.

Ilsa J. Bick is a master of this technique. In her apocalyptic zombie novel, Ashes, Bick intensifies each page with the danger of her world through the use of aggressive words. In the following examples Bick uses the violent words of: slash, spear, and pierced, to describe otherwise peaceful images.

ashes_sales-1“She registered the slash of morning sun in an already too-bright and very cold room…” (301).

“She heard the creak of Tom’s footsteps overhead, and a spear of light pierced the darkness as he shone his flashlight down the stairs” (159).

Bick’s words are doing double-duty. They not only convey the imagery and action of the scene but they also infuse each sentence with emotional stakes. Never once does Bick’s protagonist feel free of the horror that surrounds her. This is because Bick allows her powerful word choices to accumulate over the entire novel, creating an air of danger that is unconsciously felt by the reader.

Two Great Exercises to Learn How to Do This Yourself:

Exercise #1: Scene Analysis

Pick a scene in a book where you (as reader) felt an emotional connection. Perhaps this was a scene that made you cry, or cringe, or got your blood pumping. Re-read the scene and pick out the words that relate to the emotion you felt. Take a look at those words and how they’re used. Become aware of when a specific word choice affected you unconsciously!

Exercise #2: Write with Word Lists

A great way to use this technique in your own work is to create word-lists. Ask yourself what the emotional mood of the scene you’re writing is (i.e. fear, nervousness, lust, etc.). Now write a list of words that invoke this feeling for you. For example, if the feeling is nervousness, my words list could include:

wobble
chatter
prickle
tremble
ice
upturn
squeamish
clench

As you go to write your scene, try to use some of your words. You don’t have to use all of them, and you will easily start to come up with new ones as you write. But when you’re done you’ll find a new emotional layer has been added to your work with the touch of a few carefully chosen words.

If you’re interested in word choice and the use of language, also check out these great articles:

This article was originally published on THE PARKING LOT CONFESSIONAL in 2011. 


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24. Minimize the Obstacles

boulder_in_road_obstacle
I’m blogging at Books & Such today. Here’s a preview:

When you’re a debut author trying to break in to traditional publishing, one of the most important things to remember is this:

Minimize the obstacles.

You already know it’s not going to be easy to break in, so you want to avoid making it even more difficult on yourself. This is why agents give so much advice on their blogs. Not every piece of advice applies across the board to every author, but we’re trying to help you have the best chance of attracting an agent and publisher.

Assuming you’ve written a terrific book…

What are some possible obstacles to finding an agent and publisher?

Read the post at Books & Such to find out. Click Here.

 

The post Minimize the Obstacles appeared first on Rachelle Gardner.

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25. Designing Principle #1: A Character’s Mental State

Character Mental State

My first category exploring the concept of a designing principle is a character’s mental state.

A lot of novels today are written in the first person and the reader is allowed inside a character’s mind. If you’re writing in first person consider the mental state of your character. Is there a design that could mimic their experience?

In the film Memento the protagonist, Leonard, has short term memory loss. Every ten minutes he forgets what has happened and must reorient himself. Writer/director Christopher Nolan uses the designing principal of telling the story backwards in order to put the viewer in the same mental state as the character. He’s constantly disorienting the viewer and forcing them to put the pieces back together, just as Leonard must do with his own life.

In the novel Liar, the protagonist tells multiple versions of her story, starting out believable and moving to the outlandish. Sometimes she goes back and retells a scene completely differently than before. As a reader it’s hard to know what is true. The story moves forward and then back and then forward again. But what can you expect from a compulsive liar who’s always changing her story?

In Beneath a Meth Moon and How to Tell a True War Story, both protagonists are coming to terms with past trauma. In Meth Moon it’s a struggle with drug addiction, in How to Tell a True War Story it’s post-traumatic stress disorder. Both are told in a fractured narrative with vignettes and a non-linear construction. Both reflect how memory is faulty and vague.

In How to Tell a True War Story the narrative is structured in a spiral, going deeper and deeper into a particular time in the narrators life, repeating events, and  introducing new information at each return to the event. In Beneath a Meth Moon the structure is a wheel, where the story revolves around a central theme: the cause of Laurel’s drug addiction.  Or the narrative could be a fractured collage where the reader has to connect the dots in search of understanding, mimicking the same quest and mental state of the protagonist.

Have you considered your character’s mental state and how their unique struggle through the world might influence your story’s design?

Up Next: Designing Princple #2 – Setting and Environment


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