Michille: Narrative Structure


Save the CatMy son and a friend have been talking about writing a movie. They are 17. So they had no idea where to start so I gave my son my Save the Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need by Blake Snyder. I loosely use it myself, but it is structured in three acts and is focused on movies and I prefer five acts and novels. Plus, I use Joseph Campbell’s 17 stages of the Hero’s Journey as my overall structure (that is also three acts, but I break my story up by the major turning points). Discussing this with my son brought back the research on structure I did for my master’s thesis.

For that, I looked at dramatic structure through time. One of the required courses was Ancient World. Many of the texts we read followed a three-act structure similar to what Aristotle defined in approximately 335 BCE as having a beginning, middle, and end (or protasis, epitasis, and catastrophe) regardless of whether it was tragedy or comedy, epic or play. The three-act structure prevailed until Horace advocated a 5-act structure in his Ars Poetica in approximately 19 BCE. Continue reading

Elizabeth: Self-Publishing 101 – Platforms

publish_buttonKids are heading back to school, the leaves are starting to turn, and the local craft store has their shelves stocked for Christmas – obviously summer is drawing to a close.  Guess that means it’s time to put away those vacation pictures and get back to our discussion of self-publishing.

We’ve already talked about designing a cover, defining taglines and concepts, and the importance of editing.  We also got some good firsthand self-publishing knowledge over the past few weeks from Molly Jameson and author/editor Nan Reinhart.  Now it’s time to turn our attention to how to choose the appropriate self-publishing platform.

What is a self-publishing platform? Continue reading

Jeanne: Thoughts on Voice and Metaphor

On Sunday, Jilly talked about writing voice.

After 40 years of writing, my own voice has developed a lot over the past 5, due in large part to my trusty beta reader and queen of metaphor, Nicole Amsler. Because the experience of developing a stronger voice is so recent, I have some thoughts to offer on this topic.

I recommend going here to review Jilly’s post before you read this. If you don’t have time to do that, here’s a brief overview:

Jilly’s protagonist, Alexis, is a six-foot-tall, shaven-headed girl who was raised as a boy in a monastery of fighting monks. In her first real fight, she fells a much larger opponent in hand-to-hand combat. Jilly was looking for a metaphor to capture the way he falls to the ground. Continue reading

Nancy: Week 3 of the Plan: Applying the Math

The good news: the math required to build your writing schedule will be much easier than this!

The good news: the math required to build your writing schedule will be much easier than this!

What I’m about to tell you could get my ‘writer card’ revoked, but I’m going to say it anyway. I love math. I love the elegance of a descriptive equation and the joy of solving a complex problem. And spreadsheets with built-in math functions – you know how I love  spreadsheets! So this week as we discuss our Big Plan for writing, we’re going to break it down with some fundamental math. But not to worry if you’re not a math geek. There will be no hard problems, no pop quizzes, and not even spreadsheets (unless you really want them).

In week 1 of the plan, we discussed setting writing goals and aspirations for a year or two or five. (Improving craft and/or publishing? Traditional, self, or hybrid publishing? Novels, novellas, short stories? Series or standalones?) In week 2 of the plan, we started looking at the building blocks necessary to reach those goals and laying them out on a high-level schedule of weeks or months per task, considering all the steps that go into creating a book, the additional steps and time required for self-publishing, and the mysterious black hole that is the timeline for traditional publishing.

At that time, I asked you to think as objectively and critically as you could about your own capabilities in meeting your schedule, and cautioned you to pad that sucker like an Olympic fencer. This week, let’s take a look at a week-by-week approach to writing, apply our metrics, and figure out if the math works. Sounds like fun, right? Trust me, it won’t be as painful as you think. Continue reading

Jilly: Voice

VoiceI’ve been away from home the last couple of days, visiting my mum. She’s in her late 80s and her health is variable, so I try to get the most out of every hour I spend with her. It can be challenging, and I’ve learned by experience that there is no point taking my WIP along. By the end of the day, I’m generally too fried to tackle anything more demanding than a large glass of wine and a good book.

Reading inspires me, but I don’t read new novels in the sub-genre I’m writing, because I don’t want to borrow, even subconsciously, and I don’t want to be put off developing something my story needs because it feels too close to something someone else has created. So new fantasy or urban fantasy authors are off-limits. I’m not in the mood for contemporaries or historicals. Romantic suspense might be a possibility, but best of all, for now, is a Terry Pratchett re-reading binge. Pratchett suits my current reading needs perfectly – he’s familiar, fantastic, funny, brilliant, inspirational and unique.

I’m currently half-way through Mort, the fourth Discworld novel – the one in which the eponymous hero becomes Death’s apprentice. I threw it in my travel bag without even thinking about the storyline, but after a day spent with the residents of mum’s nursing home a story about life and death expertly told with intelligence, humor and compassion was, oddly, exactly what I needed.

I sneaked in a few more pages over breakfast yesterday morning, and as always, I was dazzled by Pratchett’s voice. Continue reading

Michaeline: The Pathetic Fallacy of Weather

A triptych with an outdoor winter storm, two birds, and three children enjoying the warmth of the hearth in front of the fireplace.

Winter weather captures a whole lot of story settings: the frigid cold, the hopeful life hopping around, and the coziness provided by our human technologies. We can create our own bubble of warmth even during the coldest winter. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

“It was a dark and stormy night” has been mocked throughout the 20th century, but I think it’s time to bring back the pathetic fallacy of weather for the 21st century.

What am I talking about? I’m talking about using weather in a story to help boost a mood in a scene. Tragedy accompanied by fog and gloom, horror to the tune of a thunderstorm, and an idyllic love interlude accompanied by sunshine and roses. Some people call it cliche, but I call it a device from our writing toolboxes that can be useful and fresh, depending on how you use it. (-: Perhaps the roses are overkill.

I very deliberately set a short story in February, just so I could take advantage of the weather. In the northern hemisphere, we start seeing the very first signs of spring – in my area, the ice begins to melt during the day, and pussy willows start to bloom. The earth is getting ready for new life, and my characters’ hearts were getting ready for a new season in their lives.

That said, almost every place I’ve lived, February is still the battleground for winter. I took advantage of a wild blizzard to do several things for my story.

First, it symbolized a cold and lonely past. Second, Continue reading

Elizabeth: Friday Writing Sprints – The Scottish Chronicles

A Bagpiper stands at Coire nan Lochan. Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0

A Bagpiper stands at Coire nan Lochan. Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0

Thanks to the travel suggestions in the comments of Wednesday’s post, I’ve spent far more hours on the internet than I’d care to admit in recent days, looking at pictures of Scotland and daydreaming about possible travel itineraries.

With next year’s vacation plans well underway, it’s time to get back into a writing frame of mind.  First up, a little Random Word Improv.

Care to join me? Continue reading