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Structuring a story is a challenge that writers meet in one of two ways: either they outline diligently before they write so much as a sentence, OR: they fire up the word maker and see what happens. The former are called plotters. The latter people are called pantsers and I am one of them.
The difference between the groups lies in how comfortable a writer is with chaos. To write is to literally visit a foreign land. Plotters like to have an itinerary. They know where they will be in the morning, where they are eating lunch, etc. Pantsers wake up and walk out the door with nary a thought for the day. Plotters attempt to impose control. Pantsers attempt to maximize experience.
I view writing as a discovery process. It lets me explore the characters, their interactions, the plot and setting. It lets me feel the story. I’m frequently surprised by what occurs, which leads me to more character driven, organic stories. For plotters, the outline process performs the same function. The end result for both groups is a story that is thematically and narratively coherent.
For me a story begins with either a situation or an image. If I see an image then it is usually the climax. Seven men on a sailboat in the Pacific. One of them is trying to sabotage the boat, everyone knows it and everyone is on edge. If I have a situation, it is usually the inciting incident. A dying billionaire wants to read his obituary so he fakes his death.
Why my brain works like this is not something I think about. I believe it is churlish to be picky about how one receives inspiration. One does not find a ten dollar bill on the sidewalk and get upset it was not a twenty. Inspiration is a gift.
Next I figure out the bones of the story, a.k.a. structure. Authors use story structure because it is how people’s brains and hearts respond to narrative.
In the first act, the character sees a flaw in the normal world and ventures into the unknown to fix it. In the second act, the character faces myriad challenges to create a solution to the problem. In the third act, the character braces for a final showdown to win the prize and restore the normal world. This template covers everything from Star Wars to Liar Liar and all points in between.
After being bit by the “I’m going to write a book” bug, I blazed through five months and 113,000 words to create two separate stories. All the time I spent was filled with excitement and enthusiasm, feeling my ‘muse’ on my shoulder cheering me to the finish line.
As it turned out, I realized I was in a race on a very long course, not a drag strip. Completing the first 2 eBooks was just the beginning. As I wrote those stories, each chapter I completed filled my head with new ideas and plot twists for the follow-on story.
After completing the second story to my second trilogy (that’s another by itself) I took the leap and decided to go the self-publish, print-on-demand route by placing my completed work on CreateSpace for all to hold if they so choose.
Unfortunately, while my artist and I struggled with a formatting issue on one of the covers, my ‘muse’ decided to take a nap as it were, without permission. I still had pages of notes and plotlines to work through on my fifth WIP, but my desire and motivation had left on the heels of my ‘muse’.
One thing I do to escape is to listen to music, and this is what I turned to in an attempt to coax my ‘muse’ to return. Thankfully I have an abundance of instrumental music to dive into, and so for several days, actually weeks, I would sit and listen, staring at the proverbial blank page of MS Word in the hopes something would jump out and stick.
My other trick I used in the past, and once again in this case, was rereading my previous work. After writing 3 individuals ‘chapters’, I create a new file allowing me to consolidate what I’ve completed. After this is done, I continue to add my completed pieces until I exceed my word count or page count, whichever comes first.
I’m happy to say, this works for me, but for others, I’m sure they have their own methods, tricks and secrets. In the end, it all comes down to one think, Keep Writing!
By Anthony Harrison
READ THIS FIRST
Today is a writing day. This is about word production. Start at the beginning then go in chronological order. When finished, put the word count in the title. Change the icon to something awesome like a star or something.
STARTUP: Keep a legal pad handy for notes.
-What’s my goal for today’s writing session?
-Word count by 15 minute increment.
-Doubts about my character.
-Doubts about my fictional characters.
-Doubts about the direction of the scene.
-Questions about the next scene.
-Any other interrupting thoughts.
Then at the end of a writing session:
-What did I accomplish? Yay me!
-What should I do before next writing session?
-What will I write next?
-Review these notes before the next Day’s writing.
NOW CRUMPLE IT UP AND THROW IT AWAY! YAY!
KEEP IN MIND WHILE WRITING:
-Why do I love writing?
-What is my story about in a paragraph?
Act 1 is a bitch.
It took me 2 years to write Act 1 of my recently completed WIP Winded Embers. It took 7 months to write Act 2.
Act 3 took less than a week.
Act 1 seems daunting because there are multitudinous variables to organize and implement. You must answer questions like: What does this character want? Why does he want it? Who is in his way? Why?
I’ll stop now lest I begin sobbing. You will revise so breathe.
That is just what comes from the story. Never forget, humans are pre-fabricated with self-doubt and anxiety. This is extra true for creatives who must essentially get naked in public. Accusation and questions will flood you while you write.
What if I suck and have to re-write the entire thing? Wow, am I screwed up for writing about this? Who am I going to offend by writing? Worse, I am not going to offend anyone? Am I writing garbage that doesn’t mean anything?
In my experience (limited though it is) stories tend to come more easily when unimpeded by Writer’s block. Industry secret: Writer’s block= personal problems.
Here is my advice on surviving the production of act 1.
–Create a positive writing habit (more on this in “go Analog”).
–Recruit allies. Writer buddies can shut down your self-doubt and make you work better. There are some questions you cannot answer about your own book. Knowing you have beta readers creates a mental toilet for the questions you can’t answer. “Is my character relatable?” I have Betas for that. ::FLUSH::
–Go Analog. never underestimate the power of paper. Physically setting down a noisome idea is underrated. Nothing gets rid of negative thoughts like a pad of paper. Little in this world is as satisfying as crumpling said thoughts and winging them across the coffee shop into the waste basket. I’m just sayin’
Below is my warm-up. I needed it while writing Act 1. KEY: This worked for me. Use what works for YOU!
Now go write and be awesome, you writer you.
Ames Karas candor.amykaras.com
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