Category Archives: Story Arc

Self Editing: Eveything you need to know

I had planned a post at some point similar to this, but when I read the talented Sharon Zink’s page I decided to share it.

Sharon is an amazing writer and I have had her on my blog. She also does the same job as me in that she offers manuscript appraisals; the same level of detail.

So I decided to share this link because it really is a masterclass in writing and everything on here is exactly the kind of thing I say to clients all the time when I assess their manuscripts…

Take heed fellow scribes!

I am now about to write the homecoming chapter on Pelicans… this is exciting, it’s the final chapter when we reveal the last of the missing pieces… and it’s raining so I am loving the sounds of rain on the roof as I write! The morning goes pitter patter… ❤

Have a wonderful day everyone!

http://sharonzink.com/writing-tips/all-first-drafts-are-sht-so-heres-a-masterclass-on-self-editing/

 

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Is your story in good shape?

I am planning on joining a gym as part of my early morning routine (long term) and a needed change in lifestyle when I move to Essex in September. Most of us appreciate the importance of being in good shape. One of the hopes is to stay fit, healthy and I guess we hope for longevity. Right?

So can this be applied to our writing? Can you think the same way about your stories?

What stories stand the test of time and live beyond our mortal physicality?

I have talked about the story arc before but sometimes it helps to recap.

There are variations but this is the one I tend to use and send to clients if their story needs a little ‘gym’ action.

 

Story Arc

I would never suggest the arc is used as a blueprint as you write or the writing is likely to become formulaic. This is why understanding story, a lot of this being gained from reading, is so important. When I call the arc into action for clients is when something about a story isn’t working and in that case I see the arc as more prescriptive.

  • Are you building enough tension into the writing?
  • Do you have enough crises to keep the reader hooked?
  • Is what the protagonist wants and therefore the motivation for action defined enough?
  • Does the climax lead to a satisfactory resolution and is the key question/conflict/dilemma solved?
  • Has your character been changed enough by the story — change being a function of plot?

Story analysis is one of the key considerations when examining your own work. While we have to look at devices and your use of words, phrasing etc. that is all great but if what you have isn’t a story it’s just a nice piece of prose. But if you want something to work properly you have to pay close attention to the SHAPE of your story.

My advice for first drafts (novel or short story) is just to get the story down (although I have written so many now I do a lot of editing and polishing as I go, but it’s whatever works best for you). Once you have the draft now begins the fun part. And this is where you might feel something is missing, overdone, and the shape needs consideration.

If the story appears to fall flat in the middle or the climax feels like its missing or ill-defined and the ending isn’t as satisfactory as you want it to be, you probably have a story in need of a little body sculpture and the questions above could prove useful.

To get into the practice (especially for the newer writers) of looking at this, try thinking about these questions and the story arc in the book you’re currently reading and the short stories you’ve read. Step out of yourself and apply this to films, TV series, plays even West end musicals. Can you tease apart the key elements? Can you think of ways you might have improved this in something you’ve read?

Once you understand these basic principles of story telling, you have access to something that will no doubt improve your plotting and story telling.

I hope this has been helpful!

Have a great day! Some plotting of my own to do!

Get into shape ...

Get into shape …

 

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The Glorious City of Bath

Winning the Bath Short Story Award (BSSA) this year has to be one of the big highlights. It knocked my socks off to actually win something and with a story  that had some very personal meaning. It seemed other people got it, it resonated on some level and isn’t that what being a writer is all about? So this is a great feeling when you make that connection. Thanks BSSA for choosing Learning to Fly –– read it here! LINK

Jude, one of the BSSA ladies, also wears another hat, that for Writing Events Bath, so when she knew I work with developing writers and my novel was out this month, she invited me to run a workshop on writing a psychological thriller at the wonderful Mr B’s Bookshop. And I love psychological thrillers, and while While No One Was Watching isn’t exactly that, it is kind of and I call it that if I have to pigeon-hole it and of course it uses many of those devices that tap into the psyche. I  grew up reading and being influenced by such books! So I loved putting this workshop together — a pig in literary mud!

And so last week Mum and I did something we never do, we left Dad in charge of the pooch and took a little trip to Bath, and the Hilton Hotel. And what a treat we had!

This time last week in fact we were  getting ready to set off to the station, although sadly it seems like ages ago now! Want to do it again! Want to do it at lots of hotels and places! Anyone else want to hire me? He he …

The hotel, although not quite as aesthetic to look at as the other Bath buildings, is lovely and central and a very short walk to Mr B’s although we did take a rather convoluted route because the girl at the hotel wasn’t sure! But we found it and around the corner at 3,30 we also found Halls and Woodhouse, the cafe where we were kindly treated to afternoon tea by the lovely ladies from BSSA. So nice to finally put faces to names, I met Jude, Anna and Jane and from Writing Events Bath also Alex.

We had a lovely chat about all things writing and enjoyed the delights of an afternoon tea. Then we relaxed on the sofas before it was time to go to Mr B’s ready for the workshop.

 

Writing Events Bath

Jane (BSSA), Debz (some writer apparently) and Jude (BSSA and Writing Events, Bath)

I had not run this particular workshop before, with a specific genre, but as I pointed out good writing is good writing and many of the things we talked about relate to any genre — good characterisation, motivation for action, sharp narrative etc. However I did focus it on what a psychological thriller is, where it fits in the context of other thrillers and the premise of many of these novels. I will do a blog post about this as I think many would find this interesting.

We had a couple of writing exercises, one writing an opening scene or blurb to see if we could capture the essence of a good psychological thriller. And after the break we wrote a scene with tension, after a discussion of narrative devices.

We finished with a Q&A and I even signed copies of my novel, in fact we ran out of books.

People were lovely and many said it had been very helpful 🙂 I hope that what I showed was that it can be done, we can get published if we work at the craft.

I have sat through many workshops and so I did what I thought I would want from a good workshop, it needs to be two-way, interactive and they needed to know I do know what I’m talking about (most of the time!).  So it helps that I work with lots of writers and I know the common errors! And that my novel was published of course!

I had a lovely time! And am so pleased some of the writers that took part have have found me on Twitter and said they’re enjoying the novel and loved the workshop! Phew!

The following day we did a spot of sightseeing in Bath, the tour bus, the Jane Austen Centre and of course some shopping! Although I bought very little.

A nice meal in the hotel that evening, and  then we relaxed in the room.

The following morning at breakfast, who should walk in but Ade Edmondson, who had been performing with his band in Bath that night. I didn’t disturb his breakfast but I was tempted to ask him if he wanted a copy of my book! I didn’t of course!

So here are some pics guys! I wish I was still there now!

 

Bath Abbey (1)

 

 

Bath Abbey (2)

 

That writer person again, who does she think she is?

That writer person again, who does she think she is?

 

Off to talk to the lovely writing group at Canvey Library this afternoon and you can hear me on Sarah Banham’s show on local radio Saint FM from 7pm, here’s the link: SAINT FM

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The moment when everything changes ….

The title of this post is a line plucked randomly from one of my many writing books.

Aptly it is something I often discuss in relation to plot when I work with clients.

Of course you all know change is the most important action of any key character in terms of both the character arc but also the story arc. Without change, is there even story?

But what brings about this change and how do you get there?

One of the common weaknesses in story is not so much a lack of change, although I do see this too, but it tends to be either a lack of real motivation for change and/or a lack of credible reason at the moment when everything changes — and these are different.

Let me explain.

I have come across stories where the motivation for a character to change is lost or ill-defined but how can you have a true story if you don’t know or you don’t believe what’s at stake? The conflict needs to be established early and it needs to be believable and as we ‘cross the threshold’ into the story (to coin Christopher Vogler’s much-used expression in The Writer’s Journey) then you will also need to crank up the tension, raise the stakes just at that moment so now the character has no choice but to — take the challenge, get the bus, confront the inner demon. This is fundamental to good story telling in any form or genre — be the conflict internal or external, small or large. The reader needs to believe the character and feel there is no other action ‘they’ can now take. And now we have mapped out an arc where we know the climax will be the point where ‘that’ question to be answered, ‘that’ conflict resolved in one way or another.

Of course this sounds simplistic (and yes I have talked about this before) but it’s how you do this that makes all the difference. The reader knows what’s to come but they don’t know what curve balls will be thrown along the way or what the outcome will be at that moment of resolution. Throw in strong believable characters and I can tell you one thing — the reader does know if they’re rooting for that character or not and what outcome they want, already. And they should or at this point they’re putting down the book! Note as well that we need the conflict as early as we can, stories that take too long to set it up can lose the reader before they get started!

So make sure you the motivation for action is defined enough — something really important (life changing even) has to be at stake for ‘that’ character.

So if you get this right, what about that moment when everything changes?

Well in a story with good subtext and character development the change begins with the journey just as we start to age as soon as we become adult! So the key plot functions will not just be how the character seeks his goal and overcomes his dilemma but in the way the events of the story start to change him or her. So by the time we reach the climactic scenes we believe why the character is now able to walk in a dark room, confront the enemy etc.  We believe it but it still needs more …

The biggest change has to be the one that pushes the character to ‘their’ limits at the key moment after which we head for the resolution and of course the ending, the homecoming usually shows the effect of this change afterwards.

Again this might seem to be a simplistic interpretation of the story arc — but that’s the point, it is simple and it should be simple. It’s from that you build the intricacies of the real story. What you don’t want is a character to have an unexpected change of heart at a key moment that breaks down and is inconsistent with everything we know about him so far.We need to have seen the gradual change and then the big one at the key moment. A sudden change of heart would only work (I think) if it has also been built into the character’s development and foregrounded. A flaw of the character but one we kind of see coming?

Now some of you might think this doesn’t apply to the more subtle more character-driven ‘literary’  story and it sounds more like a plot-driven dragon slaying adventure but you’d be wrong. That’s the reason for the inverted commas today for ‘that’ character and ‘their’ conflict. The story can be Harry Potter with a huge external quest where life and death stakes are there bold and clear, we know exactly what’s at stake. Or it can be subtle, internal, psychological but it can still be life and death for that character.  Remember my OCD story I talked about in the dim and distant past (probably not!) well all she had to do was press three odd numbers on a mobile phone — call 999. Hardly life and death for Harry potter or indeed most of us — but for her, it was and ‘that’ story set out to show that and make us believe why.

Whatever the form of the story when that pivotal moment comes — we need the reason for the change that brings about the resolution to be credible. If there is a change of heart we need to see why and buy into it completely.

Have a look at the books you’re reading and see how and indeed how soon the key conflict is established. How does the plot slowly change the character and what happens at the climax of the story?

Getting to grips with story is key to writing a good one — a memorable one, one that stays with the reader. It isn’t just about how you write it and those narrative devices. You need everything to work together.

Have a good one everyone!

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We all fall down …

I thought I would do that looking in one of my writing books today and seeing which page I landed on and I landed on story structure.

I have talked about this before of course but it’s actually a key component to why some short stories and novels fail and why some really work. And I found not only did I have to get a real grasp of this for my own writing — but if I was to define what doesn’t work in someone else’s story I needed to really ‘get it’.

Some stories oddly, like one I looked at recently, kind of broke the rules, it moved over a large time gap in a short story, it also used an authorial voice shifting from one character to another and it’s structure was slightly skewed in terms of arc and the conflict driving it — yet it worked and so it forced me to look more closely at how it was structured. And it also proves we need to know the rules, we need to ‘get it’ before we then play around. And while we might say with something like the arts, there has to be room for subjectivity (and who’s arguing) at the same time we need to know how to build our houses  — so they don’t fall down. And there are many ways to do that right? But while there may be many types of houses, they all need the same key features — good foundations, support work, roof etc and this metaphor can be applied to how we structure our stories.

Actually when I did tease apart the structure of the story mentioned, I saw that what ran through it was something that connected each character, in different times and places and almost took on the role of the character the reader engages with even though it’s not a person, it’s not even a living thing. And here formed the skeletal backbone around which the other components assembled. And that’s why it worked. It did follow the rules!

Structure is key. Might sound obvious but trust me when I say how many stories I read that fall down, literally because not enough attention is paid to this very thing. It isn’t always enough just to tell the story in a linear way but at other times it’s exactly what’s needed to help along a limping,meandering, overcomplicated plot. So as you can see it’s no exact science.

For me it’s about making sure the basic structure is totally sound and then starting with a simple arc, a strong story and then add the complexities to it BUT never tear up the foundations (the THEME) or the joists or the walls that hold it together or it will fall down.

If you do it right you will feel it and you will measure that in the reactions to it. And if you think it was more by fluke than design take a closer look. Study the structure — do the same with books and stories you love and think how you can use that in your own work.

When I do my second bit edit on a completed first draft it’s the structure I look at before I start getting pedantic about the words and the way I develop voice and use language (also integral to the story but more interior design than stabilising walls). And since you might well lose characters and whole plot points in the ‘redesign’ then start with the structure and redecorate later.

So what you ask is structure precisely? Well it’s how is the story told? Three first person narratives at different time points? Multiple narrators chronologically? Using the past and the present in an alternating way? Time slip … etc. And again this all boils down to the question I ask my clients all the time BUT IS THIS THE BEST WAY TO TELL THIS STORY? Look at voices, who’s telling the story? Does the tense work? Do the voices sound different? Would it be better to start at the climax and work back? Do you need all the build-up, why not start in the action and then go back and build to it? Do you need all the exposition (back story) at the beginning (NO!) — you carefully drip feed on a need to know basis?

And how is your scene placement and function tied to the theme — how does it explore it since everything needs to EXPLORE THEME — and REVEAL CHARACTER AND MOVE PLOT. So does it?

There are many ways novelists and short story writers structure their work and so the only way to really grasp it is to read what other writers do well and not so well and write, write and oh er — write. And if you have a story written one way, let’s say a very articulate first person monologue of let’ say a woman talking about the loss of her child — now see if you can tell the same story in a different way. Can you use a different voice, alternating narrators to show a whole other perceptive, start at the end and move backwards and now see what works the best?

In a world of infinite possibilities, there is an exciting assortment of methods and techniques and structures out there — you won’t be reinventing the wheel, but the more you play, the more you might just hit upon a masterpiece in structural engineering. And it might feel new. I think that’s the magic agents and publishers are looking for — that thing that’s so hard to define.  But they know it when they see it and so will you. And the odd thing is when I  come across a novel like that, or its film adaptation even though it might feel new and innovative and exciting — it also feels like a story I know! And one I wish I’d written. Do you get me?

So always worth mixing up your writing and trying something new.

And won’t it be fun trying.

Books

 

One that falls down?

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The Publishing Process continued …

I thought I would do a quick post today about the progress with the novel as we move ahead towards publication date and the way time is flying it will be here before we know it!

The editing process was pretty painless but I have already extensively edited the work many times. But what having an editor did for me and Cerys is lovely, apart from catch those missed typos, was to question when something wasn’t as clear as it should be and suggested where something might need expansion.

And as I mentioned one suggestion led to a brain wave that fuelled the rewrite of the last chapter and I am so much happier! Thanks for that Cerys 🙂

So the edits went back and forth until it was only minutiae and now the book has been sent for typesetting and then will be proofed again! — for typos etc.

And while we decided on a cover, plans fell through and it went back to the drawing board so I am still waiting on news of that!

So it all seems to be happening and every time I think about it my heart does a little jolt!

Already I have events booked but as soon as I have the cover and an AI sheet I will be sending it out and trying to organise signing events. That’s where the self-promotion will really begin! So if you know of any writing festivals later in the year, want me to sign in a local bookshop to you, run any workshops — please do get in touch! I will be on tour! I have already been booked for Bath in November (date to be arranged) to run a workshop on writing with a slant towards psychological thrillers. So happy to do more!

Also those that follow me on Twitter (@DebzHobbsWyatt) and my Facebook Page (now stuck it seems at 140 likes) you will know I have been keeping my eye on the news and all things Kennedy as media interest begins to pick up. There was an interesting discussion on BBC Radio 4 last week about the portrayal of Kennedy in fiction so I posted on Michael Carlson’s blog and told him about my book! Cheeky! Great blog by the way and interesting interview — links below.  But really I find many of the people who are tweeting about the #JFK50 thing are following me back and a few American followers have expressed a real interest in the novel! So this time as we head towards release in October is the perfect time to get chatting to these like-minded people and raise some expectations about While No One Was Watching! Exciting in it?!!! Even if I am now treading further into that field of glorious self-promo. I would rather be on blogs and sites and radio (booked on BBC Radio Wales later this year too!) talking about writing fiction and about Kennedy than just waving my hand in the air saying “Buy this book!” — and I hope that comes across! So again if you know of any radio stations, shops, events, sites — keep me posted! And it was thanks to a Twitter follower, one of our lovely CaféLit writers I even knew about the Radio 4 thing — so if you hear of anything, let me know — please!

Blog: http://irresistibletargets.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/open-book-literature-of-jfk.html

Radio link (listen from 09.18, only short, although the bit before it with Evie Wyld is good too! )

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b0367c3d/Open_Book_Evie_Wyld_on_her_latest_novel_All_the_Birds_Singing/

Now I am back working on I Am Wolf and such a task-master questioning how much I like it and what to do to make it better. I have changed my narrator to the first person voice she has been crying out to be but I had resisted. Then I need to think about the story arc more. You see, even with an award under my belt and a novel out later this year, I still fret it’s no good! Welcome to the life of the writer. But know what? I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Writing 1

Or you can make anything happen by writing?

Have a great day whatever you do!

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On Writing Groups …

Good or bad?

How much do you get out of yours?

I hear mixed things about writing groups and I know why. We met last night and we have a smashing group that appears to work — it gets people writing, entering competitions, sharing work and a large number of the group are published, competition winners or at least enjoying writing — and when it started in 2006 no one was — and a good number of these founder members remain.

I think the success of a group depends a lot on who’s running it and what the writers themselves want from it — being allowed to make suggestions and move it in the right direction. Feedback needs to be constructive, well given and all members need to know something about the others so when feedback is offered you know if it’s based on something solid — i.e. can you trust their opinion? Yes all opinion counts but it’s a bit like X factor — seeking the opinion most of Simon Cowell because he knows the business. ‘Oh I liked that’ is not enough.’ Don’t get me wrong, all opinion counts of course it does, but the really pull it apart, how to change it needs a little more! But as you work together you do refine this ability. And I should know! I now do it as a living!

What our writing group did, as it grew, now boasting close to 40 members, although we expect about 15 per meeting, was form satellite  critique groups so that those wanting it, could offer much more one to one, share work in advance type of feedback. My novel group closed at our faithful 4 members  and is amazing. It’s not about genre, we all write different things, so never think it has to be all the same genre — good writing is good writing, but the members need to be a similar standard if possible — that might be the hardest part to get right. I say this because otherwise you spend far too long on one person who gets the fundamentals wrong.  But there is a dichotomy there because you need someone with more experience to guide the group and learn from. But groups find their feet! Our group knows its stuff and that’s important to me. I need to know I really trust the opinion of the writers teasing my work apart. They are all published, one had an agent, 2 of us have MAs and all have attended numerous courses and know what we want. Others have joined and come and gone. But that’s because you must have the staying power and a novel, for its crit group to really work, needs people who come all the time otherwise you lose the continuity you need for critiquing a novel. How can you look at arc for example if you flit in and out. We’ve been going for a few years and several novels and when I move I will miss it.

The  main writing group is forming another novel group now as we had to close ours to new members.  I think you need to have about 4 members for it to work at its best or less as too many and you have issues with time, getting through them and the larger the group the more  likelihood that someone will be missing and if you haven’t looked at someone’s chapter for 2 months it’s hard to follow properly, so my feeling, or at least what worked for us, was small group, regular meetings, all similar ability (forget genre). And I’m sure the new group will find their feet — so long as they know something about novel-writing — this is the danger with anything of mixed ability — making sure the advice is solid. But we did okay and we learned a lot as we went along. And so will they, I’m sure.

We also have a great short story group I dip into once in a while, but I have to say not for a while but I tend to work Sundays when they meet — and a poetry group that does struggle for attendees and now tries to do it online.

We charge an annual sub of £10 which allows you access to the crit groups, pays for speakers etc and then £2 per night for the use of the room — a café that stays open for us. We meet in the evenings (which means we get people who work, day time groups tend to attract more of the retired folk — we get both!) and we meet once a month for the main meeting.

There, like any group, have been differences of opinion but as a rule it’s a great group and open to all suggestions and we often have guests or at least run little exercises or discussions — always trying to be flexible to meet members’ requests. And anyone is encouraged to run one of these ‘open forum’ sessions.

But I know of some groups you have to produce work and pass a test to belong to — er — how do beginners ever learn that way? Surely they need to work alongside the more experienced — at least in the main meetings anyway?

I guess for me what I get the most out of the group, since I don’t really need it to inspire me — because I will write, is the crit group for helping see what I can’t in my novel and the social aspect. The people in my group are my best friends — truly and the group rescued me at a tine when I needed someone. I was writing and needed feedback — sure, but I was also grieving after Lee died and suddenly this group became my life line — friendships that I know will last forever — beyond the writing meetings — so much more. Writing doesn’t need to be isolating is my message — loud and clear!  So if you can get the group dynamics right it will grow like a big pulsating mass spinning off the talent its nurtured! Now it sounds like a tumour — but you know what I mean, it’s something great and buzzy and happening — if you get it right!

If your group doesn’t work and there’s no flexibility then — join another.

We have structure to the meeting because you have to, but we are sometimes accused of a little too much chit chat. but I say this — since writing is something we do alone, then the meeting is more than a place to share ideas and work, it’s also a place to chit chat about writing too. The real work is what the meeting inspired you to go home and do — right? I can’t say that enough!

So what about you? What are your experiences?

Mary Ward, wonderful friend founded it in October 2006. I joined in April 2007 and then took over the chair in October 2007 until October 2010, now still Vice chair, but we have Daniel Dowsing  in the seat (following a year with writer Phil Thomas) and that’s about it. New leaders is essential for innovation or it stays in the same place. I hadn’t intended to be there 3 years but was voted in again but did decide 3 years was enough. Don’t want it to get stale.

I hope, when I move back to Canvey Island to start a writing group to meet like-minded people as they don’t seem to have one!

Thanks to Daniel our rather antiquated blog is now a proper website — take a look: http://www.bangorcellarwritinggroup.co.uk and we’re now a member of the National Association of Writing Groups so people can find us on their website too!

That’s all for today! Have a truly wonderful day! And remember to dance!

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