Tag Archives: writing process

Where should you start your story?

11 Jun

manuscript

My second draft manuscript has been in the breathing phase for two months now, while I’ve been mulling over the feedback I received from my critiquer. When she told me my story started in the wrong place – despite having prepared myself to hear this – I was crestfallen and frustrated, mostly because I had already deleted the first three chapters and reworked their content into the story.  Realizing that the first 18K words of your precious novel could in fact be superfluous is hard to swallow, and more so if you think you have actually followed the ‘no back-story’ and the ‘start in the action’ rules.

With my writing confidence somewhat bruised, I had to embark on a self-imposed reading exploration to find out where my story should actually start. My critiquer and my beta-readers indicated ‘somewhere around chapter six or seven’ as they felt this was where the story got really interesting.  Had I really filled the first six chapters with banal waffle so boring that it rendered the first fifth of my novel redundant? For two weeks, all I could think about was that I had worked on 18K words that were now useless to my overall 100K words. But then this is why there are third and fourth drafts, right?

Lagos Egri’s ‘The Art of Dramatic Writing’ has now spent about six weeks full-time by my side. I needed to fully understand conflict in all its power and how it drives a story forward. When I reached the chapter titled ‘Point of Attack’, my eyes and ears shot open. Egri states that ‘the curtain rises when at least one character has reached a turning point in his life.‘ At the end of the chapter Egri states that ‘It is imperative that your story starts in the middle, and not under any circumstances, at the beginning.’ 

With these two notes in mind, I had to think about all my main character’s conflicts that served my novel’s premise and decide which ones were actual ‘turning points’ in my protagonist’s life. There were lots of conflicts, but I had to go through the process of pin-pointing which events where so forceful that they revealed strong, true character traits witnessed only when a person faces a life changing conflict situation. Would it be when she makes a hard decision about a job, when she decides to accept less than stellar behavior from a loved one or when she makes a decision so pivotal that the outcome of the decision will determine the direction of her life, and also the novel story? Identify this conflict situation and this is where you start your story.

American Science Fiction author, Nancy Ann Dibble advises to ‘Make everybody fall out of the plane first, and then explain who they were and why they were in the plane to begin with.’  Back story is okay once the action is set up and being played out. Egri also states that ‘In conflict we are forced to reveal ourselves‘ and it is this character revealing conflict that will keep readers interested and move your story along for the get-go.

I’m still re-structuring and editing and not quite there yet but in simplest terms it looks like I am taking the first half of my novel and flipping the content on its head. Maybe I’ll get it right by the fourth draft!

 

NMG.C

Main image via here

My Novel Writing Book Basket

7 May

photo A.1

This is my novel writing ‘book-basket’ and it travels with me everywhere I go. I have been lugging it about from house to house, desk to desk and room to room for over six months, carrying about the books I refer to on an almost daily basis as I go about my fiction writing. There are plenty more books in my ever-growing home library, from which I select a new fiction novel to read and it then goes in the ‘book basket’ with the other reference books. The spotty folders at the back of the basket are my printed out manuscript drafts (one & two), as I like to have these with me at all times too.

So here is the list of books I carry about in my novel writing ‘book-basket’.

1. The Art of Dramatic Writing – Lajos Egri

2. Reading Like a Writer – Francine Prose

3. Story – Robert McKee

4. How to Write a Sentence and How to Read One  – Stanley Fish

5. The Elements of Style – Struck & White

6. Copywriters’ Compendium – J. Jonathan Gaby

7. The Law of Success – Napoleon Hill

8. Dictionary of Psychology – Penguin Reference

9.  On Writing – Stephen King

10. Atonement – Ian McEwan

There are other writing reference books I should also have as a writer, such as Artful Sentences by Virginia Tufte – however the above list is the books I have ended up with.  The two books the helped most when I was trying to figure out what I was writing about were Story by Robert McKee and The Art of Dramatic Writing by Egri. McKee’s principle of the ‘controlling idea’ and Egri’s dealing of the principle of  ‘unity of opposites’  really helped me to clarify the themes and conflicts I was writing about and how best to make them work on paper. I flick into these two books more than once a day and always find something new to help me along.

For now, I am still editing my second draft manuscript with the help of all the above, so lets hope I can translate what I read and learn onto my own writing paper.

NMG.C

Dominating Thoughts and Achieving

12 Mar

law-of-attraction

 

Two weeks ago, a forceful crisis of confidence took hold and set me back about six weeks in terms of my writing. I spent a sorry week restructuring my story, reworking my scenes, changing the plot direction and the fundamental motivations of my characters. As I worked frantically to resolve the issues that arose in my manuscript, I began to seriously doubt that my story had any other value beyond being a story that I felt compelled to write and that I wanted to read as a reader. Failure seeped into my thoughts and I became so anxious at the thought that perhaps I had dedicated so much of my time and efforts over the past year to something that may turn out to be an unworkable disaster.

When the fear peaked to this advanced state of realization that I may have wasted so much time on something so speculative, I clung tightly to a quote by Napoleon Hill – ”You are but the sum of your dominating or most prominent thoughts.”  It’s a pretty famous quote from his book ‘The Law of Success in Sixteen Lessons’ published in 1928. The theory is similar to the law of attraction and positive thinking, but no quote on this topic has held more resonance for me than Napoleon Hill’s.

Every morning when I got up – daunted by the writing task at hand for the day – I repeated this quote over and over in my mind. If I allowed myself to dwell on the fear that my manuscript to date was so flawed that it was beyond saving, I would descend into panic and desolation. I had to be convinced that my manuscript was save-able, even as the further I went into the editing, the worse the structural problems seemed to get.  The knock-on effect resulting from the alteration of a simple piece of dialogue or the tweaking of one action or response almost toppled me into the sea of self-doubt.

I developed two personalities over these two weeks. One personality kept telling me that I would complete my novel, that it would all work out in the end, that I was right to dedicate serious time and effort into the project and that it would not all be the biggest mistake I ever made. The other personality told me I would regret wasting the past fourteen months, that I had wrongly steered myself into a perilous financial situation because of my commitment to the project and that I was naive to think I could call myself an aspiring novelist, never mind that anyone might read what I wrote.

Napoleon Hill kept me going, solidified a steely determination within me so as not to allow the negative thoughts dominate my thinking. I completed all the restructuring and I’m now well on my way to completing a much better story all round (for now anyway), streets ahead of where it was five weeks ago. Strangely, something innocuous also happened around the same time to assure me I kept focused on the positive thoughts. I developed an irrational fear that I was going to wake up one morning to find a spider on my pillow as I lay in bed. And you guessed it, three weeks later I woke up to find a spider on my pillow, a bit unsure as to why he was there.

I’m sticking with Napoleon.

NMG.C

Main Image via here

%d bloggers like this: