Tag Archives: Writing

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

Dublin Writers Festival 2013

22 May

DWF2013

This week it’s all about the Dublin Writers Festival – Ireland’s premier literary event, gathering the finest writers in the world to debate, provoke, delight and enthral. Running all week at various venues across Dublin city, the programme boasts writers such as Dan Brown, Caitlin Moran, Colum McCann, Roddy Doyle, Aleksandar Hemon and Kevin Powers.

Check out my Dublin Writers Festival event blog posts on Dan Brown and the amazing Colum McCann and then on Friday it’s the ‘Publish and Be Famed’ event.

An exciting week for writers in Dublin – see the full programme here

NMG.C

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

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