The 1,200 Word Story

 

I’ve been thinking about how to write a piece of flash fiction. How to fit the components of a story in 1,200 words? I accidentally write 250-500 word stories. I have no intention of writing a particular scene as a complete story. Those short story paragraphs are in the middle of a longer piece. That actually works really well. If each scene has all the parts of a story, then multiple scenes build a longer piece.

 

Learning about this length of a story, 1,200 words should help my story writing a ton. It’ll help me find the essential parts of a story. What can be left out, and what can’t. It’ll teach me more ways a story can go. And writing that word count should take me a day to type out. That’s how I learn best. I closely study things related to my primary goal. Flash fiction is so close to novel writing, we’re splitting hairs. Most writers practice with short stories before getting into longer things. I also want to get published somewhere. This new skill will help.

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I was researching literary magazines for somewhere to send my future short stories. That means, for me opening tabs in my browser of potential magazines. I screen through for criteria the precludes a few things that aren’t feasible for me. I’m not happy ordering a print copy because that’s difficult for me to access. I’m not sure about ordering digital versions from providers with worrisome persistence. If a digital service shuts down, it’s possible you lose access to everything on there. That means publications with a few free examples. At first, I was going through the list at Writer’s & Poet’s. Then I found a list for new writer’s. All those tabs are open in my browser.

New Writer Magazine

I add each to this spreadsheet I keep. That includes the description of what they want and submission guidelines. I read through two pieces and a lot more if they’re shorter. I started researching The Zodiac Review. It’s just flash fiction. I’ve come across a lot of magazines that accept flash fiction. Given the fact that the majority of the short stories featured on Radical GK are less than 1,000 words, it should be pretty easy, right?

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Well, it’s not. Those stories aren’t exactly complete. Those were designed with emotional impact in mind. They weren’t supposed to be stories in themselves. And they bear that out. The writing is lyrical but too difficult to understand. Look at The Sum of an Empty Life. About 13% in, C decides to wait for Brian Whalen. That’s the first plot point which is supposed to happen 20-25% in. The second plot point is C walking away with Brian’s briefcase. That happens 44% through the story. That’s nearly right. The part where C figures out the combo is the third plot point. That’s 79% in. The fact I wrote that story two years into my writing journey is amazing to me. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. The story structure is nearly spot on.

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I didn’t come prepared to write this post. That simply means I’ll discover something in the process. The last paragraph planted an idea. Maybe I should just forget about everything I learned in Story Engineering by Larry Brooks and return to the way I used to do things. Just maybe.

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Anyway in my research, I found a few ways to tell a story in 1,200 words. There’s this much longer piece (The Watchers). It feels like that method could be brought over to this. You list the scenes with a break between each scene. That could work, right?

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Some story lines are better for that method. If the story is done so much that the reader knows the sequence of scenes. If it isn’t scene after scene in rapid succession. Some time can pass between each scene. For example the development of PTSD in soldiers. It usually isn’t one event (scene), but a long series of stressful events. If the sequence of scenes isn’t all that important, or the sequence of scenes doesn’t matter. For example the story of going from place to place, a travel story. Establishing the connections between scenes is tricky. And the reader is always searching for how much time passed between each scene.

Zodiac

There’s this other story (The Game) that uses another technique to tell flash fiction. I call it the slow reveal. It combines story with exposition. That works well when one event exemplifies a continuing pattern. I’ll provide an example of my own below. As the indicative event takes place, exposition adds the missing plot points on their time cues. The plot points can come from the exemplifying event or the flashbacks to the continuing pattern. In the piece I linked to, the first plot point is the generalization of what usually happens (20% in). The second plot point is how they act towards each other, the protagonist and his competition who is also his friend (53% in) Then the argument about who won (77% in). That matches the established structure nearly to a tee. That’s the structure from Story Engineering. I have another shorter example from this blog I follow.

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The last technique is the obvious one, writing it like a regular story except having the transformation happen in one scene. Like when a battle turns into a win. What happens is the enemy heavily bombards you. A new enemy weakness is discovered, and you defeat them. That isn’t too difficult.

 

1,200 word stories need a plot that works with the length. Too complicated, hard to explain plots are much harder to get across in the limited space. More nuance can be achieved with the second technique, the slow reveal.  That’s using one event to establish a pattern of behavior. That kind of feels like cheating to me.

 

A story needs to do a number of jobs in sequence as Story Engineering taught me in definable terms. Here’s the list from memory. Gain sympathy for the character from something bad happening. Establish the character or stakes. Basically the before state. Then the character decides to take the quest which is the first plot point. The character responds to what the choice brings. The character finds something internally or externally that allows them to face the conflict, second plot point. They fight against the conflicting force and lose. The character finds the missing piece to success and the will to do anything to prevail, third plot point. The events play out, enemy defeat or character dying in the process. That story I divided into plot points above shows there are many ways to fill those requirements. Accept the challenge, get permission to engage, and proof they will do anything to remain friends. You can combine those requirements anyway that works into different scenes as long as the sequence doesn’t change. That means anywhere from one scene on up.

 

This is an example plot. Abuse story: woman is abused, entering relationship flashback, hiding bruises at work, buying a gun flashback, trying to talk about it with support person, returning home hoping he isn’t there, pushed to the ground changes her mind to kill him, murder then admitting to self-defense. You could easily replace any of those scenes with anything the fills the same purpose.

 

Hiding from abuser, has to return for belongings, friend doesn’t show up so leave, buying gun/pepper spray, return to get stuff and defend, stalking causes restraining order, face him with gun, run away/disappear.

 

Fear with partner, abuse cause visible symptoms, run away, abuser follows and finds, ran away after facing enemy, finds new partner, kill abuser together, live free from suspicion.

 

All of those work. A different method perhaps, but it’s doable. Those are my explorations of 1,200 word stories. The plot has to specifically engineered to fit the constriants of the length. With novels, any story can fit. A focused story is required for shorter formats. That’s everything I have to say. Feel free to add more in the comments below.

 

Coverphoto credit: Photo by Andre Benz on Unsplash

 

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Memoirs, Writing Fiction, and the Difference

Memoir is really very similar to fiction in how it’s written. They both follow the same structure. Events are organized in the framework of a story. The flow isn’t interrupted to preserve the totality of events. Things that pertain to the story being told are included. Everything else is left out. Fiction is an additive method. Memoir is subtractive. You take a subset of everything you remember and from that into a cohesive story. Events are picked from a multitude of things that actually happened.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This selection of events is apparent in movies based on true events or a dramatization of the truth. Take for example, Steve Jobs. I’ve watched three versions of Jobs’ life. First, the biopic starring Ashton Kutcher, Jobs. Then the factual documentary Man in the Machine. Finally, Steve Jobs directed by Arron Sorkin and starring Michael Fassbender.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Each movie had a different angle. Jobs was about Jobs getting ideas and using them to be the best. Man in the Machine is trying to be as unbiased as possible. It was the most balanced but tried to talk about the relatively unknown things about Jobs. Steve Jobs was controversial in its directorial and writing direction. It omitted his accomplishments for the most part and focused on his relationship with his daughter, Lisa.

 

 

All in all, the based on true story movies tried to make Jobs relatable. And the perception of Jobs was he wasn’t approachable. He was a strict, straight to business type of guy. He had stringent expectations and expected them to be met. He was thought to be the driving force behind Apple’s success. Each movie took a different approach to humanize and create a connection with the audience. Sorkin focused on Jobs’ personal life and matched it to Apple’s performance/Jobs’ fortunes. Jobs started us with Jobs as a student that couldn’t really connect with anyone except when he started Apple. Man in the Machine used his relationship with the mother of his daughter.

 

Memoir and fiction follow the same pattern. First, we see the character before anything starts. Then, something happens they have to react to. Then, they try fixing the problem different ways and fail successive times. Then, something starts working. Finally, the character succeeds, finds something that changes their life forever, and the story ends. This matches the character arc of a fictional story. Fiction adds an external conflict. When the character arc is the main conflict, it’s a literary story.

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Some recent stories have a strong character arc and conflict arc that are nearly equivalent in importance. Take The Girl on the Train as an example. The character arc of Rachel’s drinking and the central conflict of finding Megan’s killer. Or Gone Girl. The internal conflict is how Amy feels about Nick and the external conflict is Amy’s murder. Adding a strong character arc to a compelling plot brings a story up by an arm and a leg.

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I recently read Naked, Drunk, and Writing by Adair Lara. She is a prolific writer of memoirs and personal essays. She pointed out some key points. You have to be a hero, not a victim. It’s easy in this society and time to feel like a victim. You need a time in your life where you take action. A bad thing comes your way, and you fix it. Getting your car stolen is bad luck. Bad stuff happens. But if you track down the thieves, steal your car back, and you learn how to overcome a debilitating fear of confrontation. Then, it becomes a story that works in a memoir.

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You need to be done with the problem. If you haven’t found a way out, there’s nothing really there. Struggling and still struggling with the issue you want to write about, it is too soon. The writer needs perspective to make a memoir. You need to know the lesson and be detached enough to know what really happened. People read a memoir to gain a new understanding of the human condition. Something that can help figure out life, a little better.

 

A few things are in the way of me writing personal essays. When I write about myself, the writing comes out snobbish and stand-offish. I have allows been a little showoff. For years, I never knew why I wanted to prove my intelligence. Recently, I found the reason behind it. I have always felt less than everyone else because of my physical limitations. I always felt a little trapped by my condition. My way out and to feel better about being “less”, I try to feel equal by proving my intelligence more than balances out my physical weakness. That realization changed a lot, but I still worry about falling back into old habits.

 

When I have in-depth conversations about my intense emotional states and the inner workings of my mind, the person on the other end doesn’t understand me. That’s because I’ve never tried telling people even a percentage of that stuff. I have trouble relating to other people. I’ve been anti-social for that long. I’m slowly improving there.

 

This is an example of a recent conversation where I try to get better at explaining something.

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Recently saw Collateral Beauty. It’s about a father that recently lost his 6-year-old daughter to cancer. He writes letters to Death, Time, and Love and they reply. Towards the end, there was a really emotional scene where he admits his daughter is dead. I actually had tears forming a well in my eyes but didn’t allow any out. I pulled away emotionally.

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Why didn’t you let your tears come? Don’t you think you’re cutting out emotion unnecessarily?

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Whenever I describe something in too much detail, it doesn’t make sense. I need to fix that before writing a memoir. I’ll try my usual description first.

 

Emotional history: Started as a person with normal reactions to my emotions. Feeling them and becoming numb when some emotion became too much. Everyone does that except it isn’t going to happen frequently for most people. For example losing a close loved one. That might happen a few times. Simple sadness was enough to make me numb after a little while.

 

Then I started to decrease the threshold before I became numb. It worked for a time, and I reached my goal to fit as a male in American society. At one point, I was unable to feel anything.

 

Then, I slowly reduced the threshold when numbness happened. Through that still ongoing process, I thought I was rediscovering something I lost. That moment, watching that movie, I was in a struggle to stay there and feel. Becoming numb would have been slightly easier. There was a standstill and anything could tip the balance. Something did.

 

A better image. Everyone has three parts to their psyche. We’ll ignore the superego. There are various names that work for superego like conscience, mother’s voice, God, and hindsight. We’ll ignore that.

 

There’s a childish side or you at your weakest, id, baby, or the person you would be without an external influence. Then the protector, ego, or what the world made you into. The protector usually acts in small ways. Like covering your face, when you cry. Hiding you away, when you’re boiling mad. Putting on a brave face, when you’re really scared. It basically reacts to what the baby wants and finds a socially acceptable way to meet those needs.

 

What happens with normal emotions? The protector does those little things. When something too much happens, like the death of a close loved one, the protector says, “Baby, you need some time in your quite room. I’ll be with you the whole time. Too much is going on out here.” You become numb while the baby has some time away from life.

 

For someone like me, the baby cries bloody murder when something sad happens. Everything is exaggerated beyond the average. A baby like that spends too much time in the quite room. That baby never gets to experience a lot, because a lot of things are too much.

 

I increased the sensitivity of my protector to the baby by showing the protector more emotional states. Like an abused child, the protector grew more attuned to the tormentor, the whiny baby. Then the baby spends less time out and then none at all.

 

Right now, I’m dismantling the safe room. If an external threat appears, the deconstruction stops or reverses temporarily. Very similar to the process of growing up.

 

That’s still a little confusing.

 

The other part is sharing too much. The vulnerability of it. We’re all scared to sharing too much. That allows the possibility of getting hurt. The more you share, the greater the rejection. I feel like I should share my life’s lessons. I’ve been through a lot. Moving to a different country at five and never going back. My medical experiences that vastly over date my time to 28 years of age. Then the lessons meditation taught me. Finally finding meaning in my life. There is a lot I could share. There might be a memoir in my future. We’ll see.

 

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Going Back: High School

This previous summer, I went to my ten-year high school reunion. I think the best thing is to describe how I was during High School. I was shy and more anti-social than anyone I knew. A lot of things that could have broken my shyness came my way, but I’d always been too stubborn to let it take. I made a few loose friends during school hours, and that was everything I knew about being social. And I was satisfied with that. Frequently, I was lonely and my imagination grew to fill the space. That’s how I coped.

 

Anyway, that was over ten years ago. It’s kind of embarrassing that I’ve been looking forward to the reunion for around five years at the point it was announced. I had developed a few ideas about reunions that likely fit with my emotional state through a vast number of years after high school. I had misconceptions about the whole thing. I thought two kinds of people went to reunions. First, those that had their best years in High School. That fit with the jealousy I had for people that could navigate the social landscape way better than I ever could. Then, the people that wanted to show everyone how they had changed since High School. I put myself into that group even though I hadn’t changed a ton until two-three years ago. I credit meditation and writing with those changes. Being ignorant in social matters doesn’t work for a writer, writing, and marketing. I was wrong. Popular media is way off.

 

I went as a test for myself and to see people from years ago. There were a few things I needed to know about myself. A personal test motivates me the most. I needed to check if I wanted to talk to people and could overcome my anxiety/insecurity/shyness. Basically, if everything I’d worked on was good enough. Also, I wanted to test if I could use my new communication device in a social setting with real world conditions. And if I could network and hand out business cards. And if having someone driving my chair worked good enough.

 

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Photo by Bulkan Evcimen on Unsplash. Enhancement by Graham Kar.

 

I went in with my nurse, a wheelchair driver, and the medical supplies I always have with me. I meet one of the people I’d wanted to see. We had a nice conversation, and I gave a business card. Success! And somehow I engaged in a conversation with someone new I never remembered meeting before. That has never happened in my entire life, if you can believe that. The device wasn’t loud enough in the ambient noise of the reunion. Using the device was much harder with the distraction of the people around but still manageable. A few people called my name and I smiled at them. I had no idea they wanted to talk to me until near the end. Communicating that to my driver was near impossible. I couldn’t think at my best in the slight crowd. I could’ve typed it on my device but it never occurred to me. At that point, I decided to go out to the patio for something different.

 

I meet the other person I’d wanted to see out there. The device didn’t work outside. I tried for a solid 30 minutes it seemed like. Then I figured out having the device up was sending the same message as if I was using my phone. I put the device down and returned to the person I was in High School. I silently nodded and smiled while other people talked in front of me and other people spoke for me. I wanted to talk the whole time though. It was two hours into the reunion by then.

 

I returned to the main reunion room. I would have to leave within thirty minutes to make it into bed sometime before eleven. By eight thirty, I had to leave. A have a ton of medical stuff to do before going to sleep. By the time I was back inside, people were beginning to get drunk. The late arrivals were sober still. I don’t drink and rarely eat anything through my mouth. A few people looked stunned to see me. Another test passed. I could finally read facial expressions.

 

I was disconnected from my emotions, facial expressions, and physical manifestations for so long that determining facial expressions in others was impossible. I always had intense emotions and during high school everything was buried for some degree of normalcy. That hid a large part of the social learning most people were going through in the teen years. That reunion night, I read facial expressions and responded with my own instinctually. I got the expression of stunned then surprise. I hurriedly looked away as she looked into my eyes. Accidentally, they moved up in an eye roll. If anything, I was too honest. You’re surprised I showed up? Well, I don’t care. I’m here, deal with it. At that point, I didn’t have anyone else I’d wanted to see.

 

I wanted to talk to people that used be unapproachable. I could use the device indoors. Typing up phrase before hand is a must at parties and crowded places. Sometimes reading the communication device is easier than hearing what it says sometimes. The backup system is abysmal in comparison, allowing people to speak for me. I need to drive my chair around. Body language is a huge part of social interaction. It’s not something that can be delegated.

 

It was a learning experience, and I’ll never forget it. I’ll fix all the mistakes I made. I rarely make a mistake more than once these days. I’ll figure out this social stuff like I figured out everything else. Nothing can stop me. Hard work can get you anything. Here are a few words about change from Tony Robbins.

 

“Change happens when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change.”

— Tony Robbins

 

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Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash. Enhancements by Graham Kar.

 

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Experience, Write, Publish: Thoughts on a Memoir

 

I’ve never been drawn to reading memoirs, autobiographies, personal essays, or creative non-fiction. It feels to me that people can say almost anything in those literary forms. Selectively choosing moments that fit into the conventional craft of writing fiction. It’s like those movies based on true events. The screenwriters dramatize the story and your left wondering what exactly happened and what was changed for dramatic effect. The truth is always elusive and that genre really makes it too apparent for my comfort. And anyway, my life is far from typical, muscular dystrophy, mediation, immigration, and intense emotion. Maybe that’s just a little too much ego there, but that’s the starting point.

 

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A writer I’m following that writes great satire. I’m totally new to reading satire.

 

Around a year or two ago, things started to change. I discovered Medium for the first time. Medium is this micro-blogging site taking off right at the moment. It was a hidden writing community when I first joined. A lot of things changed from that time. Getting sold to Facebook and the introduction of membership. Medium specializes in creative non-fiction, point of view pieces, and lastly, fiction. Now it’s shifting to listicles like the rest of the web, sadly. Throughout this post, I’ll link out to the best articles I’ve read on Medium.

 

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A listicle I actually liked reading.

 

I went there from a link on Facebook, originally. I don’t read news frequently, and Facebook mentions are what I go by. Reading the news feels too real for me. I logged in and found a few stories, not in the news like the refugee crisis in the Middle East. A POV piece by Piper Perabo visiting a midway point in the refugee’s path. That happened a few times.

 

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That POV piece by Piper Perabo as mentioned in the paragraph above.

 

Then I dived into the creative non-fiction and POV. It was a window into the life of women. Medium has a surprising number of things I had never been exposed to in my entire life. Pieces about the bad experiences that a ridiculous number of women have gone through, sexual violence. Things like rape, unwanted sexual attention, harassment, inappropriate gestures, and trouble with mostly men.

 

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One such piece.

 

 

 

My thoughts were astonishment. For a really long time, I couldn’t figure out how women even functioned in society. How could people get out of bed with the looming threat around every corner? Knowing it was virtually impossible not to run into someone that had done something like that in the past. It was unfathomable that was the case in 21st century America. This is America. How is it possible?

 

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The possible future state of America.

 

Sure we could blame so many things. The over-sexualization of American culture, women, and body image. But the cause isn’t the big issue. What can we do now? How do people still function?

 

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This is an article about Pick-up Artists and Ovid. I used it to help research a character I was writing for The Trouble With Dreams.

 

Simple. By accepting the condition as it is now. Continue with life as it is. And wait for change. Is that really what’s going to happen? So far it has.

 

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A story of finding yourself.

 

I’ve basically gone on a rant of incredulity for the last handful of paragraphs. Let’s return to the topic. What changed after discovering Medium? Not much. I subscribed and tried writing a few things. After that nothing really changed.

 

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A story of not belonging.

 

Then I read Eat, Pray, Love. I’d watched the movie ten years ago when it came out. I didn’t think it was a memoir. The movie seemed too neat to be real life. Everything fit perfectly together and smoothly transitioned like fiction. I’ve seen a ton of biopics, but it was never so neat. I happily went on for years, bought the book, and eventually read it. It had always been a memoir. The book wasn’t as neat as the movie, but the events were rearranged a little, to fit conventional storytelling craft. I kept merging the images from the movie with images I constructed in my head. Reading to me isn’t a series of phrase but a series of pictures based on the written text.

Eat Pray Love

Liz started in New York and her messy divorce. The book spent way more time before the travel started. The mess with her rebound relationship. Then the happenstance of finding her guru and the Balinese Medicine man. With that, her travels began.

 

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Got to love satire. For the longest time, I didn’t.

 

In Italy, there was so much more than food. Learning the language and living in a city for months. I never knew so much research went into a memoir. Liz explained why Italian is such a pretty language. I fell in love with Italian through reading it. I’ll admit, I wasn’t very enthused to read my first memoir. If Liz wasn’t so funny, I wouldn’t have finished it. I found the description of tastes wanting. I haven’t eaten solid food in years and wanted to imagine the tastes of Italy. The taste should run a few paragraphs in my mind. I was glad to see she asked the locals what was good. That’s the only way.

 

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Ella Dawson. Written really well.

 

The Thanksgiving was a big difference between the book and movie. In the movie, they fell asleep in the dining room. But in the book, the turkey took way longer to cook than they expected. Turkey was for breakfast.

 

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Another article I liked.

 

Then it was off to India and the ashram of her guru. India is a very spiritual place. The saying goes, you walk a few paces and run into a guru of some kind or the other. Gurus are that plentiful in bigger cities. Liz went to a remote ashram filled with foreigners and local devotees. I don’t agree with a few things. I have never learned from a guru and figured out meditation mostly in isolation. I don’t think a guru has to bless you to have a chance at enlightenment. Learning in isolation leads to a longer, meandering, and wandering journey to the same goal. Three months isn’t enough to learn a self-guided meditation practice. I have a lot to learn about describing meditation practices. When I try to explain meditation or my deep experiences, the person listening doesn’t understand what I’m saying. I’ve spent too much time in self-monolog and isolation, that explaining things in an understandable way is really difficult at times. Before writing a memoir on me, I need to learn how of write deep things in a way that other people get.

 

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A deep discussion well written by another writer I like, Emma Lindsey.

 

I don’t believe a set of holy words must be used as a mantra. A mantra should have the required associations in the mind. The final description of Liz’s experience with the divinity inside her wasn’t that clear to me. Some experiences can’t be put into words even by the best. I was nice to see the ashram through the author’s eyes.

 

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A perspective on defining something that shouldn’t need defining in a perfect world. 

 

The Bali part was about balance. I would state it as filling your life based on your loves. Whether it’s meditation, writing, and thought or meditation, love, and writing. Ketut and Balinese culture were strangely familiar to Indian culture and weirdly different. Liz had so many facts and peculiarities that I enjoyed reading. Meeting Filipe was interesting. Ex-pats are a microcosm of the world writ large if everyone wanted chill above all else.

 

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Emma Lindsey figuring things out for us.

 

Her dealings with Wayan, another healer, and Ketut, the medicine man were interesting. Sometimes Ketut didn’t remember some things. And Wayan was a rarity there. She was divorced. The family is really important in Bali and acts like a compass to help navigate the world. Wayan and Liz were both divorced. Then Liz finds a way to help Wayan and works through the hiccup associated with it. Ketut teaches Liz a few mediations and many life lessons.

 

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A possible answer.

 

The third to last chapter felt odd to me. It was a flashback to her first trip to Bali. Liz was silent for a few weeks on a remote island. She eventually discovered that her current life wasn’t working and she needed a change. It felt like an epiphany and it came in the right place. It was placed out of time, towards the end of the novel. The sequence of events in time doesn’t matter to the sequence of the memoir. The majority of the events should be in chronological order but a scene here or there is fine.

 

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Another article for book research.

 

The memoir worked like it was supposed to. Reading a genre before writing in it is essential to the craft. Not sure which ones I’m going to read. I have no idea when I’ll even write a memoir. Everything is up in the air. I’ll work towards getting my deep experiences across on the page. Sometime down the line, I’ll try writing a memoir, maybe. Experience, Write, you know the rest.

 

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A woman working through illness.

 

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Story Engineering: Getting Down to the Story Mechanics

 

Larry Brooks is a published author that has writing classes/workshops. In Story Engineering, he shows us what he teaches his students about writing fiction. Apparently, writing a screenplay is very easy in comparison. Books out there detail the rules required in an acceptable screenplay. Larry Brooks has brought that over to fiction writing. If you ignore the condescension of organic writes, the book brings a needed insight to novel writing.

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Story Engineering starts with an argument against the formulaic nature of planning out a story using his components. The difference between art and putting matching things into a formula is the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. I wasn’t sure exactly what that meant while reading it. That’s one of the few things not explained in Story Engineering. I figured out a possible explanation. The various story elements, concept, story structure, character, theme, writer’s voice, and scene construction have a synergy between them. Each element builds on another. For example, first person, solitary confinement, weak mental state, and being alone is inhumane. With first person, we are with the inmate at all times. There’s minimal interaction with other people. Add the weak mental state and there’s a compelling story. Add examples of what other inmates in solitary confinement come out as. That makes a pretty good story right?

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Concept is the central question of the story. Story structure is the pacing of the story. The author does a really good job of getting this point across through the book. What plot event should happen at certain points throughout the story? Several movies and books are discussed as examples. Every book and movie I remember follows the plot events. I’m not sure about the timing yet.

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Character is presented as a personality selector you would use in The Sims. Different characteristics that can be tweaked to show the universality of humanity. Figuring out how each characteristic affects the others is where the art part comes in. Then the character arc. That was completely new to me.

 

I use a few lines of research to understand how characters operate. First, observing people and imagining what goes through their heads. Talking to people and looking for the motivations. Deeply analyzing my psyche through meditative practice. And method acting in my head. What would this character do if that happened?

 

Theme is the meaning behind the story. The story can give an opinion or explore a question. Figuring out what to say helps put it into the novel.

 

Writer’s voice is something that needs to be discovered through writing and trying different things. Scene construction states each scene has a mission. The scene needs to be short enough to accomplish its mission.

 

Reading Story Engineering will forever change my novel writing. I was already close, and now I get it for the first time. Larry Brooks knows his stuff. Great book Mr. Brooks.

 

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Instant Feedback

 

This is a guest post from my friend, Cori Nelson. She’s a writer of children’s books and middle-grade novels. Right now, Cori is writing her thesis. She traveled halfway around the globe to continue her writing career. Check out her WordPress blog and scroll through her tweets if you’re so inclined.

 


 

Writing is a lonely business. That seems like a pretty generic statement, but it’s true! As a writer, you sit alone with your computer or notebook and argue with yourself over and over and over about plot and grammar and spelling. Being trapped in your own head all the time is not only lonely, but it can hinder your ability to make good decisions (not to mention drive you completely crazy). This is why I think every writer should join a writing group.

 

This year, I’ve been studying Writing for Children at the University of Winchester. Through the course, I’ve had to share my work in progress with others and then receive instant critiques on my writing. As an introverted, I’m-fine-sitting-in-the-corner-by-myself kind of person, I was very nervous about this concept. I remember reading my first piece out, my voice and hands shaky, my brain forcing me to read at top speed to get it over with. But afterwards! After my voice faded away from the room, after the short awkward silence that follows any reading, after everyone stopped writing down their thoughts on the excerpt in front of them and looked at me, was amazing. My classmates, people I had just met for the first time a week ago, went around the room and told me all of their thoughts, good and bad.

 

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It was incredible. And it felt so good to share my writing with others and have them not only like and understand it, but give me feedback that was helpful, too.

 

Receiving the feedback immediately after reading my writing out was great, too, and something that I think makes in-person writing groups better than remote. It’s nerve-racking enough to read your work in progress out in person and getting feedback right away. I can’t imagine the agony you would feel sending your work in progress to someone and having to wait weeks for their thoughts. Plus, as a children’s writer, I like to write funny. There is simply nothing better than reading something you wrote out loud and listening to your group members laugh at the moments you were hoping were actually funny. That’s something you cannot get with a remote writing group.

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It can definitely be very scary to share your writing with others, as writing is a very personal thing, but there are so many things you just do not catch when reading through your own work. Your eyes glaze over a missing ‘the’ just assuming it’s there, your brain tells you that a sentence makes complete sense, when really it’s just a jumble of nonsense. Someone unfamiliar with your work, though, will catch all of those things. She’ll notice when you’ve used the same word twice within two sentences and when one character sounds the exact same as another and will ask the all-important “but why?” to a scene that actually, now that you’re thinking about it, doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Having someone else read your work is so helpful, I can’t say it enough!

 

All of my classes here in Winchester were designed to have a lecture for the first half and a workshop for the second half. Eventually, I began to yearn for the workshop half of class, especially when it was my turn to read and there was something I was stuck on with my piece and needed to discuss.

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Along with helping you find grammar and spelling errors, and helping you to better understand your own story by asking questions and giving suggestions, a writing group is a great support system. The group I’m in now (that I sadly have to leave in less than a month!) is amazing, to say the very least. It is made up of some of the most talented children’s writers I have ever met. Each and every one of us is devoted to each other’s writing as if it’s our own. When one member of the group has a victory (like hitting a word count goal), the entire group celebrates. When a member has a setback or is doubting themselves and their work, the entire group comes together to reassure them that they’re not a terrible writer, to offer suggestions to help stimulate new ideas, to offer the sympathetic and always appreciated “it’s going to be okay”. And when a member is having irrational thoughts about their work in progress, the entire group is there to help talk them off the ledge, to remind them that an idea had mid-dream is not always the best idea, and that “no, rewriting your entire dissertation two weeks before hand-in probably isn’t the best idea.” talking from experience, here. I honestly had a thought about rewriting my entire book even though it’s due at the end of the month. Thankfully, my writing group members stepped in with some rational thinking to save the day.

 

It’s important for everyone to have people like this in your life, true. But as a writer, I think it’s even more important because they’ll help you to keep going. As I said earlier, writing is a very lonely business. It is so easy to get lost in your own thoughts, especially the bad thoughts that tell you you’re not good, that your writing is awful, that you should just give up.

 

JK Rowling got hundreds of rejection letters when she started querying Harry Potter. As did Stephen King before he made it. As did Kate DiCamillo. As did every single author who’s ever been published. And I can guarantee you that all of them had a support system of some kind to help them get through the many rejections. If not an entire writing group, then at least someone who believed in them and their writing. At the end of the day, what more can you ask for?

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The Forest for the Trees: A Way through the Mess of Being a Fiction Writer

 

Betsy Learner is a writer, editor, and agent. In The Forest for the Trees, she offers a collection of sage advice for any writer, especially when you’re questioning your ability as a writer. Reading this book helped a lot. I’m on the right path and need to wo4k more before I get there.

 

The first half of the book identifies several different types of writers. There’s something in there for everyone. I identified with several things that matched. When I’m the most truthful and unafraid, my writing is at its best. Very few writers are naturally successful. The vast majority need to work really hard to get in and become something. The process of writing and getting good is a long process. Write, get feedback, make improvements, write, and repeat until you arrive. Throughout there are many examples from a ton of successful writers and how they got started.

 

The second half of the book is about the publishing side of things. Betsy tells us how she started and moved through the publishing world. These are my biggest takeaways. Sometimes you find a person that can voice your inklings about something you wrote. A good editor should also alight on those things. Query letters are replied in several ways. The first stage is a form rejection letter. Then a form letter with a little personalization. Third a personalized response and finally an acceptance letter. Seeing the process of traditional publication was like witnessing someone else living your dream. One day, that’ll be me. I’ll get there.

 

Later guys.

 

GK

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