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

Jilly: Oops! I Did It Again

Oops!Do you make the same mistakes over and over?

Last week I finally got back to my WIP after almost a month fighting the good fight of Real Life. I was hoping I’d get my head back into the story and power forward, but the reverse happened. When I read my pages I realized I’d fallen into a familiar trap – I’d invested too much time and word-count establishing a secondary character and he was hogging the limelight.

I had this problem with Sasha, the super-rich super-bitch from Dealing With McKenzie. Sasha was trouble with a capital T and I wanted to understand what made her so damaged. I gave her a family, developed her backstory and established her goals, which were strong ones. Then I got over-invested and I didn’t want her to come across as one-dimensional, so I gave her a POV and a powerful sub-plot that took up a big chunk of story real estate (see blog posts passim). Fortunately I was saved from myself Continue reading

Nancy: Justified (and Why That Prologue You Love Probably Isn’t)

Justified_2010_IntertitleI’ve spent the past month not getting very far on my own story, so instead of spending a post talking about my progress (dismal), I thought I’d talk about someone else’s story. Justified is a TV series based on an Elmore Leonard short story called Fire in the Hole. And when I’ve come home late at night, too tired to work on my own WIP or even to make much of a dent in my overflowing TBR pile, I’ve been able to satisfy my craving for good story by binge-watching this series (available through Amazon Prime, in case you’re interested in checking it out for yourself). I’ve been enjoying the writing on this series so much, I thought I’d spend some time here talking about the craft behind it.

First, the disclaimers. I haven’t read Leonard’s short story, and I don’t plan to do so until I’ve finished watching all six seasons of the series (I’ve watched the first three so far). Leonard was involved with the series, which I love because it means they’ve kept a lot of his original vision in the story, and the head writer/show runner Graham Yost has made a concerted effort to keep close to that writer’s voice. But I’ve heard there are differences, Continue reading

Nancy: An Oldie But (Hopefully) a Goodie

Because my day job is in a high-stress, deadline-driven field, I have a tendency to have weeks at a time when I don’t have time to write, or sleep (much), or blog. The past several weeks have been just this kind of time, and adding to that, we had Puppy (real name Pepper) to foster for 10 days.

Puppy, aka Pepper, channeling beagle patron saint Snoopy.

Puppy, aka Pepper, channeling beagle patron saint Snoopy.

Here is a picture of Puppy and me saying goodbye the day she was going back to her owners. (The smile was for the camera; we were ridiculously weepy to say our final farewell to her). But there’s still another week of crazy before I can get back to some semblance of a normal writer’s life (ha!), so today I’m going to cheat a bit by sharing one of my favorite blast-from-the-past posts, written in 2013 before the 8 Ladies told anyone outside their immediate families and closest writer friends that we were embarking on this blogging adventure together. It combines two of my favorite topics: writing and the Beatles! What’s not to love? So until next week, I’m going to carry that weight down the long and winding road while I leave you with some food for thought, Fab Four style.

And in the End…

Most people who know me in the non-internet world, and a few who know me via the internet as well, know I am a HUGE Beatles fan. I am not of the Beatles’ generation or the time period of their music, but I love their work, their persona, and their lore with the intensity of a thousand suns. So imagine my pure joy when, last week, I came across a local radio station playing the original Beatles collection (albums released while they were still together as a group) on vinyl. And in listening to the beginning and end of this day-long broadcast (with the inconsiderate interruption of the day job in between), I got to thinking about story beginnings and endings.

Hearing the Beatles’ earliest recorded album, Please Please Me, as I drove to work, and then hearing their last recorded album, Abbey Road, after I arrived home that night, made me realize how much that last album took the band back to its roots. Continue reading

Kay: My Cluttered, Creative Desk

my linen closetThis is my linen closet here on the left. Notice how neat it is. I’m leading with this picture because I don’t want readers to think my house is always a total mess. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But if I led with a picture of my desk, you’d wonder how I ever get any work done. It’s easy, though. Really.

my desk2To the right is a picture of my desk as it looks right now, but it doesn’t always look like this. Sometimes it looks like this picture below. cleandesk5But before long, it’s back to the first picture again. I just can’t seem to keep it tidy.


The clean desk of Susan Elizabeth Phillips, or, as Jennifer Crusie would say, “SEP’s sterile existence.”


SEP’s messy desk

Desks—messy or not—are an individual matter. To the right is a picture of the clean desk of Susan Elizabeth Phillips. In a comment on Jennifer Crusie’s blog, SEP claimed that she’d just finished a book and had straightened up. Jennifer Crusie, SEP’s good friend, calls this image “SEP’s sterile existence” and wonders how she can ever find anything. Once, years earlier, SEP had posted a picture of her messy desk, and her messy desk looks a lot like my clean one.

Jenny's desk (from Facebook)

Jenny’s desk (from Facebook)

And as long as we’re being voyeurs here, below is a picture of Jenny’s desk, lifted from her Facebook page (so it’s not current—not even in her new house, but I imagine the effect is more or less the same).

I’m dragging this all up now because—good news for those who have messy desks!—researchers from the Netherlands report that a disordered environment can inspire people to set and achieve goals. In fact, clutter can be a catalyst.

University of Groningen researchers Bob Fennis and Jacob Wiebenga write in the Journal of Environmental Psychology that people have a basic need for order and structure, and if we don’t find it in our immediate environment, we’re driven to create it elsewhere. They write that what people do is convert a fuzzy world into a more understandable and predictable one, and pursuing goals provides a sense of order because goals specify concrete agents, means, and ends—the building blocks of order and structure.

I’m so relieved to learn not only that I don’t have to clean off my desk, but I’ll get more done if I leave it alone! And as those who follow her blog know, Jenny is all about structure. On the left

Notebook for Lavender Blue

Notebook for Lavender Blue

Whiteboard for Agnes and the Hitman

Whiteboard for Agnes and the Hitman

you see two pages from a journal she kept for figuring out the structure of Lavender’s Blue. and on the right is a whiteboard she kept for Agnes and the Hitman. That’s organized!

So—what does your desk look like?



Michaeline: Summer Ghibli Film Festival

A giant old tree that resembles Totoro.

A narrative can take surprising shapes and forms. Tree of Totoro, by contri via wikimedia commons.

It’s week three of summer vacation here in northern Japan, and my daughter decided to remedy a terrible gap in her education by renting 10 Ghibli DVDs last week. Ghibli is a world-famous animation studio, and you may know their films – Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro  and Kiki’s Delivery Service are just a few of the internationally released full-length features.

I’m trying to figure out what structures underlie the films. Continue reading