Sunday, October 16, 2011

My Story can beat up Your Story by Jeffrey Schechter

This book on the writing craft by Jeffrey Alan Schechter has countless reasons to recommend it. It's written for writers of screenplays, but I believe novelists can get a lot out of it as well. In ten lessons, he tells why screenplays, and I would add, probably novels, often fail to sell.

The book is entirely about structure. His beliefs about structure aren't so different from many of the books I've read on the subject, however his explanations are more succinct and understandable than most.

Take theme, for example. I've been reading about theme for years and have never fully understood it. Now, I think I just might. Here's a paraphrased sample, without his screenplay-specific examples, of what Jeffrey has to say about it:

Heroes ask questions. 
Villains make arguments. 
Ultimately, the hero and audience discover that, as compelling as the villain’s arguments may be, he’s not only wrong, but it’s his wrong thinking that leads to his downfall in act 3.

In Act 1: We see how broken the villain is because of his belief. This section is a full statement of the thematic argument, which is the exact opposite of the hero’s belief about a compelling issue in his life.

Act 2: Part 1: The thematic question in action. The hero will be propelled on a journey by trying to disprove the thematic argument. It’s a testing of the hero’s power of his convictions.

Act 2: Part 2: The thematic question versus thematic argument. The two worldviews to clash like never before. The hero is leading toward certainty about how far he is willing to go in order to gain the story goal. (Not the plot goal, which is the external goal, but the story goal, which is always about relationships.) 

Act 3: The thematic synthesis. It’s the equivalent of asking, “Why can’t we just all get along?” The hero learns we can, but only if he’s willing to synthesize the thematic question with the thematic argument and synthesize a new belief about the significant issue in his life. He’s become a better person because of it.  

In one sentence: A clean question (hero’s) with the counter argument (villain or antagonist’s) results in a synthesis of both, and a new belief about the world.   

Does theme stump you, as it has me, for many years? Or did you finally figure it out? If you did, what most helped you to understand? If you didn't, go buy, order, or download this book. For the value of this lesson and the rest, it's worth its weight in gold. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Jumping in With Both Feet

My boss wanted me to send her an evaluation of one of our new employees with regard to how well the employee is taking on the responsibilities of the youth services aspect of her job. It was a pleasure to write; I finished the evaluation by saying I thought the young woman was truly “jumping in with both feet.”

After reading the phrase (granted, a cliché), it struck me that in so many things in life, we are not fully committed. We want a writing career, and yet our doubts cause us to stand with one foot in, one foot out. We straddle the fence.

If fully committed, what latent greatness might bloom in us? What might we accomplish?

Since meeting with the new writing group last Monday evening, there’s been a flurry of emails between old group members and new. One of our long-time members has decided to commit to NaNo.

If you haven’t heard of NaNo, it’s the hugely popular NaNoWriMo—National Novel Writing Month, which runs through the month of November. Hundreds of thousands of people attempt to write a novel in November. The web is full of tips for NaNo.

There are also books on it. Back when it was first gaining traction, around 2004, I read: No Plot? No Problem, by Chris Baty. Baty’s book provides tips for writing a 50,000 word novel in a month. He covers challenges that range from how to find time to write; how to silence the internal editor; how to figure out a plot, and other issues. He even gives tips for writing on the job, however unless you work swing shift, in a cubicle, and alone, I cannot imagine writing a novel at work.

If you are interested, check Amazon for other books on NaNo.  

But my point for this post is to comment on the impact that one of our critique group member’s commitment to NaNo has had on the rest of us. It has resulted in us becoming more excited, and more committed, to our own writing than we were before.

I don’t think people appreciate how powerful they are in influencing others.

Jumping in with both feet … How cool is that?
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