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Archive for October, 2009

Source: How-to Author, Randy Ingermanson – Margie Lawson.

The storyline is a single sentence that summarizes your story.  If you write a great storyline, your editor will instantly get what you story’s about.  She’ll be able to explain that storyline to the publishing committee and they’ll get it too. Ditto with the sales team, the buyers for the bookstore chains, the staff in bookstores, and ultimately the readers.

I devote a lot of space in my book to teaching exactly how to write a strong storyline that instantly communcates the gist of the story.  You want it less than 25 words and you want to focus on one or two characters.  And you want to elimiate absolutely every ounce of excess weight.

The storyline for my first novel TRANSGRESSION is only 11 words.

“A physicist travels back in time to kill the apostle Paul.”

You either like that concept or you don’t. It doesn’t matter.  All that matters is that I can communicate my storyline to you in 5 seconds whether you like it or not.  A great storyline separates the sheep from the goats–the potential buyers from the nay-sayers.

The book Randy is referring to is Writing Fiction For Dummies which will be releasing December 2, 2009.

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Source: How-to Author, Randy Ingermanson – Margie Lawson.

The only teacher whom I’ve seen mention this is Robert McKee in his book STORY, but he doesn’t explain how it’s useful to the novelist, because he’s interested in teaching screenwriters.

This critical layer [of plotting] is the “sequence of scenes.”  McKee explains in his book that the tension builds in intensity through a sequence of scenes–usually 3 to 5 of them. Then something important happens and the tension goes down.  It begins building again in the next sequence of scenes.

When I read McKee, I realized that this is the golden key for writing the synopsis.  The synopsis is easily the most hated piece of writing that any novelist ever does.  But you have to write a synopsis.

Here’s the secret:  When you write a synopsis, each paragraph should summarize a sequence of scenes.  If you try to summarize each scene, that’s too much detail. Summarize several scenes together as a single unit.  If you do that, your synposis will come out to about 2 single-spaced pages which is just about right.  If you don’t do that, you’re going to hate your synopsis.  (Okay, you’re going to hate your synopsis no matter what you do, but if you do it this way, you’ll get a good result, which is all that matters.)

You gotta love Randy’s humor – and his attention to detail with the craft of writing.

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Source: How-to Author, Randy Ingermanson – Margie Lawson.

Characters always do something for a reason. Writers usually call that reason the “motivation.” I like to break that out into three main parts, and let me go backward from the most visible parts to the least visible parts:

1) A STORY GOAL — Each character should have only one of these and it should be a clear and objective goal. Your reader should know what it would look like for the character to reach her goal. Scarlett O’Hara wants Ashley Wilkes. Either she gets him to marry her, or she doesn’t. Either way, you can have no doubt. This part of a character’s motivation should be one-dimensional.

2) AN AMBITION — Each character has something abstract that they want out of life. Miss America wants “world peace.” But what does that look like? Ambitions are always fuzzy. They have to be; they’re abstract. Each character translates their ambition differently into a concrete story goal–which we talked about above. Scarlett wants to be “the belle of the ball forever.” And she believes that marrying Asley will give her that. She’s mistaken, but that’s OK. She believes it. That’s what drives her. This part of a character’s motivation should also be one-dimensional.

3) VALUES — Each character believes certain core truths to be self-evident. No proof is needed that these core truths are really true, because it’s “obvious”–at least to the character. The ambition we talked about above always springs from your character’s values. This is where you want your character to be multi-dimensional. You want your character to have several values–core truths–and these should be in conflict. Scarlett thinks it’s obvious that “nothing is more important than being the center of attention.” This drives her ambition to be the belle of the ball. But Scarlett also believes that “nothing is more important than surviving.” This leads her to do all sorts of things that some of her friends are just too genteel to do. Scarlett is willing to get her hands dirty doing things that no belle of the ball should ever do. Scarlett’s values are in deep, deep conflict, and that’s what makes her a three-dimensinoal character.

I’ve never heard it explained exactly like this, but I think Randy is absolutely correct.

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Source: Left vs Right | Information Is Beautiful.

If you ever need to write a politically-motivated character or write political dialogue, then this diagram may be very useful. It was created as a joint effort by David McCandless and Stefanie Posavec for David’s book, The Visual Miscellaneum.

Left vs Right (US Version)

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Source: Novel Journey: Interview with Tim Maleeny.

The ideas that can drive a story immediately lead to questions. What happens next? Why did she do that? Who killed him? What would you do under similar circumstances? If a premise doesn’t lead to an endless series of questions, it won’t sustain a novel-length story.

Practical advice.

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Source: Novel Journey: Interview with Tim Maleeny.

Writers are constantly learning and seem interested in everything, no matter how trivial or obscure. They are sponges, soaking up information that will one day be regurgitated in some other form, little bits of detail or trivia that define a place, a character or a plot.

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Source: Novel Journey: Interview with Tim Maleeny.

I think writers grow up as readers — passionate readers who get lost in books in a way that casual readers don’t. At some point a subset of those readers decide they have a story inside them, and then it becomes a question of stamina and commitment. And long hours in front of a keyboard for many, many years. So I guess I’d have to say a writer is made at that moment when a reader decides there’s a great story waiting to be read, only this time they have to write the story first. That’s what writing is…telling yourself a story.

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