I promised to report back on last weekend’s craft marathon, otherwise known as Four Days of McKee—three days of the legendary Story seminar and a further day dedicated to the Love Story.
It was physically grueling. I can’t remember the last time I spent four eleven-hour days in a row sitting in a lecture theater, and it’s been more than thirty years since I had to take notes longhand. I treated myself to a new notebook and pen for the occasion.
It was mentally challenging. I had mixed feelings about Mr KcKee’s teaching style (to say he has strong opinions, robustly expressed, would be to understate the case), but no reservations about the quality of his analysis. Even though much of the material was familiar to me and I only made extended notes where I thought it necessary, I still filled more than sixty pages and went home every night with a head full of new ideas.
I could blog for the next year or more about the things that I learned, but three nuggets top my list of things to chew on, because I think they will be especially useful to me when I get on to writing Alexis’s prequel story. All three were superbly illustrated during the final session of Story—a six-hour scene-by-scene analysis of Casablanca and again during Love Story’s breakdown of The Bridges of Madison County.
People who read Lois McMaster Bujold’s new novella, “The Prisoner of Limnos” in the first 24 hours of release got bit of a shock when Lois announced on her blog that the early edition had somehow dropped the last lines of several chapters. (Links at the end; WordPress isn’t in a sharing mood today.)
As students of writing, we’re taught that these last lines are of extreme importance. Story, by Robert McKee, talks about how a scene can change the whole situation from a plus to a minus, or vice versa – and sometimes, it’s that last line in a scene or chapter that gives the final twist. Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King also places importance on the final words of any scene. Compared to painters, we writers have it a little bit easier – we can put on as many finishing touches as we like, and all of them can be take-backs or do-overs with a simple application of the delete key or strike-out. In the editing stage, we decide, and the reader never has to know the anguish we put into those decisions to keep or to leave.
Given the importance of the endings, what’s shocking to me is that as an early reader of “The Prisoner of Limnos”, I only noticed one chopped-off ending. If endings are so important, what was going on here? I had had a great experience with the book as-is; had I missed an even greater book because the ending lines had been dropped?
Well, I’m happy to report my second reading was as rewarding as the first, even though I had to stop (!) and think (!) instead of ride the wave of story. From now on, we’re heading into spoiler territory, so if you haven’t read the Penric novellas, I highly recommend that you do, and come back. They are all fixed now, and you can update the old ones. (See second link below.)
In general, Lois’s last lines add Continue reading
It’s October already. How did that happen? What do you absolutely, definitely, non-negotiably intend to get done before the end of the year?
I’m not one for new year’s resolutions, but I do like to end the year with a feeling that I’ve achieved something, finished something, made some progress. So I usually take stock around now, at the beginning of the fourth quarter, and set myself some objectives for the next three months.
‘Choose your battles’ isn’t only advice for the parents of teenagers. It can also be useful for writers. If you’re a regular reader of the blog, you know I’m a big fan of Robert McKee’s Story. In Story, McKee writes, “Nothing moves forward in a story except through conflict.”
McKee and many other writers contend that scenes are, by definition, units of conflict. Approaching scenes with this in mind has helped me cut through a lot of crap in my own WIP. When I did the first revision, I marked every scene where there was no conflict, defining conflict as one character having a goal and another (either intentionally or unintentionally) blocking that goal. My litmus test for every scene was whether it moved the story or one or more characters forward. And hearkening back to McKee, without conflict, there was no forward momentum. So no conflict, no dice – the scene was cut.
If the idea of putting conflict into Every. Single. Scene. freaks you out, try thinking about conflict differently. Continue reading
Last week, I discussed character appearance/description and the lack thereof in my WIP. Of course, as with any other aspect of reading, the amount of description a reader wants to see is based on personal preference, and even among the Ladies here, we have a wide range of opinions. But we weren’t the only ones thinking about writing characters this past week.
Over at ArghInk, as part of her Questionable series, Jenny Crusie answered a question from friend of 8LW, Deb Blake, about building in-depth characters. (I love this series. Basically, if Jenny is talking about craft, I’m listening!) Jenny talked about creating characters with length (character arc) and depth (the way the details of her life reflect that arc). Continue reading
This past week, I had an opportunity (READ: no choice but) to go back to some of our McDaniel program basics to fix a scene that had gone off the rails. Actually, it was more like it had stalled on the tracks.
First – a bit of context for the horrible, no-good, very bad scene. My protagonist, Eileen Parker, has been stuck in idle since her (now) ex-husband went to prison for the night he attacked her and set the neighbor’s garage on fire in a rage. When she learns he’s going to get a parole hearing, it spurs her into action to create the life she has wanted for herself, a life without and safe from her ex. She starts working her plan, which at its core involves starting her own business.
What I knew I needed after I read the first draft was a confrontation scene between Eileen and her ex (who use to be named Jim but is now Alex, for those following along at home). But I needed a device to get them in the same room – no easy feat since he’s in prison and she isn’t about to go visit him. Continue reading