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How to develop a good story

There is not a lot of magic in writing a story. Skill, hard work and imagination all count but the elements of a good story follow a well-developed tradition developed by classic playwrights. The concept even has a name, the arc of a story. It is the plot that lifts and rises across three acts, from a beginning through the middle section to a cathartic resolution at the end. A good plot traces a protagonist’s emotional development over time. The trick is to make this story journey as interesting as possible.

The nuts and bolts of crafting a good story is to make every written scene count. Scenes should move characters through the plot, developing characters and relationships as the story moves through time. In the beginning, from the very first page, the author must make the reader identify with the characters. The characters must be believable and the reader should have an inkling of what the characters want, how they want it, and why it matters. By the middle of the story the main character undergoes a transformative change. Even before the character experiences that crucial “aha” moment, scenes must be full of situations creating tension and conflicts that force the character into unexpected change or circumstances. If there is any magic, it is the twists and surprises that the writer launches in the path of the character, imagination at work.

Professional writers, those who are paid for their writing and who are under a deadline, draft an outline. High productivity requires an outline because it prevents the writer from stalling, losing time, or deviating from the end goal. In some genres, like mystery novels, planning scenes is imperative to the outcome, but stories that focus on emotional development tend to have looser outlines. An outline is not always an academic table of contents, they  take all forms from a collection of index cards, diagrams, or charts. Anything that addresses the beginning, middle and ending will work.

My favorite explanation of the universal story, and a detailed analysis of plot, is by the Plot Whisper, Martha Alderson, who turned her passion for good books into plot analysis and workshops. I get, love the concept, and have heard about this approach from others, but the ending of my story is still not mapped out. One day.

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Something Is Better Than Nothing

Read this. Now, will you, or I write a blog post?

YoRocko!

Another blog died today, suffocated by its author’s expectations for herself: the posts are uninspiring; they’re too confessional; she doesn’t enjoy blogging like she once did and isn’t reading enough to write well; her creativity needs other outlets.

Like the balance of most blogs ever created, this one’s brave observations went gently into the dark night of unhelpful standards for work that is worth doing.

R.I.P.

Inspiration is snake oil. There’s strength in vulnerability. Worthy work is not fun for long stretches of time. Writing well depends more on regular publishing than it does the right kind of reading. Creativity is something you find after the fact.

Blogging is building a body of work, and so I’m giving creativity and inspiration over to the artists, although I’m fairly certain they, too, will say that their songs and films and books and sculptures and poems and lesson plans and games are a body of work…

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advent · historical fiction · Stories · Uncategorized · Writing Craft

Tell All the truth, but Tell it Slant

Write what you know, ever heard that advice before? It helps to locate and ignite an author’s passion. Ona Russell, the California Writers Club, Inland Empire Branch, February speaker, found a scrapbook of articles about her great-grandfather, a celebrated judge in Toledo, Ohio. Intrigued, Russell’s research unearthed family secrets and inconsistencies. Her own mother’s birth date was incorrect, the judge struggled with mental disorders, and a mysterious lady, Sarah Kaufman, legal assistant to the judge, appeared in many photos. Russell fell in love with these uncelebrated personalities from the past. Eventually, Sarah Kaufman became a sleuthing protagonist in Russell’s own historical mystery novels, a trilogy set in the 1920’s.

Part of her storytelling is true, based on the articles. Some of the storytelling is fact, based on research, but Russell worked hard to highlight the “slant,” the re-invented tensions and conflicts. Russell explained that excitement is created in the margins of the truth, in the details, in the spots where the story pauses and shifts gears. Generating a narrative from this blend of truth, fiction and fact is a tricky balance for writers, whether the works are memoir, science fiction, fantasy, or historical fiction because all the world-building elements have to be credible to the reader. For Russell, this credibility is key. She said the way to engage the reader is by establishing credibility with an authentic setting, with historical details, with nuances and a pace that is true to the era. This means eliminating everything that does not move the story forward, research, back story, even a favorite character. A writer should look for things to emphasize, create complexity, and sacrifice anything that is not relevant to the story.

This except is from the Fresh Ink March 2016 issue. The title “Tell all the truth..” is from a poem by Emily Dickenson.