Michaeline: Crazy stories

Now here’s an example of structure combined with crazy — leading to an incredible body in motion. Strandbeest by Michael Frey, image via Wikimedia

We love structure and craft here on Eight Ladies – combined, we’ve spent thousands of hours on classes, and maybe tens of thousands reading about how to write, and listening to podcasts. Structure is important, and it makes a book great.

But . . . it’s not the only tool in the toolbox. There’s that big, blasted sword of Crazy that only shows up in this dimension when it wants to, and can disappear nearly as fast. It’s also only visible to certain readers, so whoever wishes to wield the sword of Crazy had better have a thick skin or numb ears: a lot of people are going to be telling the wielder that s/he is . . . well, crazy.

Crazy sometimes carries the day, though. I love Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series – adored them as a teen and imprinted on them, and even read them as an adult and still loved them!

Adams had a gift for funny ideas, and was skilled at winding them up and letting them run into each other at full speed. Structure was more hit and miss – he was more like a jerry-rigger than an architect of literature. The Hitchhiker’s Guide has not just one, but multiple prologues. The climaxes seem to come regularly, but not in any particular order. And the dangling threads? Well, apparently that’s why this trilogy needed four sequels instead of the usual two.

Still – look at Adams’ impact on culture. Anyone in the English-speaking world who has Continue reading

Michaeline: Fun Structures for Writing: Epistolary

A beautiful Persian woman writing a letter, while another woman is waiting outside her window. Consulting? The Messenger?

Letter-writing allows a story to be both intimate and public at the same time. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

As a reader, one of my favorite structures is epistolary writing – the friendly chat of a series of letters (or emails or texts) brings a certain coziness to a story, while preserving a definite curation of information. The writer is writing to a good friend (usually), but at the same time, WRITING (not talking – talking would be more spontaneous), and choosing details and trying to entertain.

Done well, it can be a great romp with a lot of meta. There are built-in layers, and the reader is invited to take part in discovering the bits that are left out because of the conceit that this is just between friends who share a history. (In practice, the good author or authors make sure the reader has the information to figure out just what is going on – the secrets require some work, but the burden upon the reader isn’t too onerous. Just enough pleasant exercise to make the sweetness of the unfolding story taste great.)

In addition, there’s a sense of Continue reading

Jilly: Craft Book Squee – Story Genius

story-geniusHave you had enough politics yet? If the answer is no, please check out yesterday’s excellent post by Michaeline, The Election and the Future of the US Writing Market. Plenty of insightful, positive, actionable food for thought there.

If you’re ready for a break from world affairs, let’s discuss creating quality stories to sustain us through the challenging times ahead 😉 .

Last Sunday in Storyteller v Smooth Writer I talked about judging contest entries and understanding the difference between polished writing and addictive storytelling. I said I’d decided not to take any more classes or buy any more writing books until I’d figured out how to make the storyline of my WIP as powerful as it can be.

Yeah, but no. A couple of days after I put up that post I bought a writing book and I’ve been glued to it ever since. I have not been this excited about a craft book, ever.

Continue reading

Kay: Close the Book or Turn the Page? Hooking Readers

Photo by AntanO

Photo by AntanO

The other day I got caught in a long wait without the new book I’d just started, so I pulled out my phone and started a book from my digital TBR pile. It was great! I liked the protagonist, a 20-year police veteran, now a PI, shattered from a tragic personal event, resisting the lure of paid clients. And then this dame walks through the door…

And I was off and running. I loved the PI, loved the dame, loved the premise. And then—on a stakeout, the PI leaves his gun on the passenger seat, his laptop on the back seat, his burglary tools and other equipment in an open bag on the floor…and doesn’t lock his car door.

Boom, just like that, I was done. What cop turned PI—anyone at all—wouldn’t lock their car with all that stuff visible? No one. Behavior like that is either a screaming Plot Device, or it foreshadows an investigator who’s too stupid to live. Either way, I didn’t read one more page.

Hooking the reader at the beginning of the story is difficult, but crucial for writers. My instant turnoff of this mystery reminded me of Nancy’s recent post, describing her many rewrites of her first chapter as she works to find the true starting point of her story. And Jenny Crusie, in a recent post of hers, wrote of her struggle to figure out who her hero is. A different character emerges with each draft, she says. Continue reading

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: Serial Storytelling

serial_imageWheaties.  Frosted Flakes.  Cheerios.  Oh wait; wrong kind of cereal.

Today we’re talking about serialized fiction – stories that are released to readers in installments over time.  I am also including serials – stories that are written as they are released over time – in this definition, although the two are technically distinct kinds of stories.

Serialized or episodic storytelling is nothing new.  If you watch television, you’re already familiar with the concept, and if you watch broadcast television, rather than binge-watching shows from Netflix or something similar, you know what it is like to have to wait from one week to another to find out what is happening in your favorite shows.

During the Victorian Period, Continue reading

Michaeline: Evita’s Structure and Conflict

Official portrait of the Perons in evening dress looking very happy.

Eva Peron doesn’t look like an action hero with agency, but oh, how she hustled. She moved half a continent by the time she died. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

This week, I’ve been plowing through snowstorms in the car while listening to the soundtrack of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical, Evita. It’s perfect music for when you are crawling along at 35 km per hour (what is that in miles? I’m not sure, but I’m afraid it’ll sound even more dreadfully slow). There’s a warm Latin beat, and the white-hot chronic anger of the heroine fueling various project. It makes me feel cozy in my little rolling deathtrap.

I don’t think anyone would deny that Evita works. According to the Internet Broadway Database, it’s been performed 1,567 times, and according to Wikipedia, it took award after award in 1978 and 1980. And I love it. But the heroine’s goal is a little fuzzy, and there isn’t a single overarching conflict lock that unites the story.

Evita is the story of a young Argentinian girl who goes to the capital at the age of fifteen, then proceeds to get modelling jobs, movie jobs, radio serials and finally the heart of a military man and through him, the reins to control the country. And then she dies, because . . . Continue reading