I spend a lot of time thinking about writing. It’s one of those things that seems to increase in intensity every year. Being a part of this community helps to keep my meditations on writing constructive and focused on improvement. I don’t yet feel as though my writing is ready for the world, but instead of giving up I find myself seeking tools and advice to keep improving until I get it right.
This past weekend, I browsed the selection of books available on Kindle for writing advice. I bought a handful of them (the average price is $2.99) and started making notes of things that would help me dive into structural work on my novel. Then I spent several contented hours thinking, fiddling, and what if-ing with components. While not exactly writing, it is important stuff.
For example, a small detail in this particular project has been bugging me for years. There is a group of people in the story, a community of individuals who are key to 50% of the novel, and I have never settled on a name for them. Since one of my tasks this weekend was to write a premise for my story, it became imperative that I name them. After googling through several thoughts on purpose, origins, and symbolism of the group I finally came up with something that felt more right than the acronyms and names I’d used in the past. That one decision has led me to a few other proper nouns for story use and a possible logo or symbol for the community. Though I wouldn’t recommend dedicating many man hours to this kind of pursuit [instead of writing content], it is quite satisfying to have that detail nailed down. Now when I refer to them during my story telling, I won’t pause and internally bemoan the name.
Moving on, the book I have found myself referring back to the most this week is a workbook on how to outline your writing project called, Outlining Your Writing Workbook: Step-by-Step Exercises for Planning Your Best Book by K.M. Weiland.
There is a textbook you can buy to go with the workbook, but I’m not much for reading about how to do things cover to cover. I am a person who learns by doing, so workbooks are ideal.
One of the first things Weiland advises the writer to do is write a premise for their story. One or two lines that convey the characters, the plot, and the theme. I scoffed loudly at this and mentally informed the author that I do NOTHING in one or two sentences. Have we met?!?! Then I realized they, of course, have never met me and I should be a better student so I tried. I am still trying but have moved on to other lessons in the meantime.
Next up – some of my favorite things – “What If”questions.
ALL STORIES BEGIN with a concept (a battle in space, two people falling in love, a dog getting lost), and most concepts begin with a “what if” question. Even when the question isn’t articulated, every novel, every story, and every article is ultimately inspired by those words.
Excercise #1 instructs the writer to ask herself every “what if” question that pops to mind. “Ha-haaaa! We’re going to be here a while,” thinks I. “That is like telling a six-year-old, ‘Ask me anything’.”
I wrote some stuff down relevant to my story and moved on to Exercise #2 which is looking for tangents for the what ifs. I bet Mr. Rahn never considered I’d be using Geometry like this.
Weiland also suggests that you segregate the “what if” questions by what a reader would expect to happen and what could be an unexpected turn of events. Should we meet their expectations or strive to shake them up? This is when knowing your audience and/or market really come into play. If you write a story like you are Aphex Twin and throw out every convention that makes a story flow in a logical progression, your avant-guarde-iness might put the bulk of readers off. Though, by giving readers everything they expect you may find yourself with limited readership in the opposite direction. Predictability is not a good thing.
Balance, is therefore called for. You need an equal number of Jedi and Sith. [breathes loudly into a can.]
Speaking of The Force, following is one of Weiland’s examples of writing a two sentence premise:
Restless farm boy (situation) Luke Skywalker (protagonist) wants nothing more than to leave home and become a starfighter pilot, so he can live up to his mysterious father (objective). But when his aunt and uncle are murdered (disaster) after purchasing renegade droids, Luke must free the droids’ beautiful owner and discover a way to stop (conflict) the evil Empire (opponent) and its apocalyptic Death Star. (Star Wars: A New Hope directed by George Lucas)
See…Weiland makes that whole two sentence thing work.
Where I am right now (in the workbook) is answering Weiland’s suggested questions about the protagonist in my story so I can nail down the facts for my premise. It’s a lot of work for two sentences, but it’s all value-added stuff. The better I know the characters, the plot, and my own mind, the more organized I can be going in to make the word count count. After the premise, I’ll begin the outline structure then fill in the segments with relevant prose.
I will be using this method and two of my pre-existing characters to compete in this month’s story prompt. We’ll see if it makes a notable difference. Check out Weiland’s workbook and see if there’s advice you can use to get you writing that better book.
If you signed up for Shane’s September contest then you should be writing. The deets are here and the deadline is September 27th before the bell tolls midnight (2345 EDT to be precise).
Footnote the quote 1: Weiland, K.M. (2014-11-15). Outlining Your Novel Workbook: Step-by-Step Exercises for Planning Your Best Book (Kindle Locations 110-112). PenForASword Publisher. Kindle Edition.
Footnote the quote 2: Weiland, K.M. (2014-11-15). Outlining Your Novel Workbook: Step-by-Step Exercises for Planning Your Best Book (Kindle Locations 154-158). PenForASword Publisher. Kindle Edition.