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Posts tagged ‘William Goldman’

First Monday Mentoring for July – why do we tell stories? Why do they work?

Welcome to First Monday Mentoring when this blog looks at the realities of the writing craft – the fear of the blank screen that never goes away, the sensation of being an observer in life and wondering if you’re missing the sensitivity gene. Truth is, you’re not insensitive – you’re a writer. Observing life at its most extreme: births, weddings, funerals, is what writers do. Then we translate the experience onto the screen or page and make sense of it for the non writers.

Into the Woods
Recently I read a fascinating book called Into the Woods: how stories work and why we tell them. The author, John Yorke, created the BBC Writers’ Academy and brought a vast array of dramas to British screens.
His book explores the unifying shape of narrative forms, from the archetypal fairy tale journeys “into the woods” to today’s blockbuster movies. Yorke says that stories are all rooted in the same ancient structures.
While he explores these structures in detail and shows them at work in everything from Star Wars to “kitchen sink” dramas, he doesn’t recommend that writers follow structure as a blueprint, but rather as a template to check your writing against after your first drafts are done.

Stories are not paint-by-numbers exercises.

You can follow every writing guru slavishly step by step and still not make a story that speaks to your readers. Writing is similar to baking a cake. We all use the same mix of flour, eggs, butter and flavouring – in our case, plot, characters and setting – but the results depend on how well you do the baking.
Yorke references a lot of writers I’m fond of, from Dr. Who’s Russell T Davies to William Goldman’s iconic Adventures in the Screen Trade, books I have on my shelves and refer to often. I’ve lost count of the number of copies of the Goldman book I’ve given away.
Interestingly, many of these books were written for screenwriters, before novelists discovered them. Many, like Linda Seger have adapted their books for narrative writers, but the originals – for me anyway – are hard to beat.
As Yorke contends, it’s all about structure and in this, readers raised on YouTube and Netflix increasingly expect novels to echo screenwriting principles. Get into a scene as late as possible, and out as early as possible. Keep the story moving regardless of genre. Let the readers do a lot of the work, don’t force feed them. Let them reach their own conclusions. Let them think.

If, like me, you enjoy revisiting classic TV from the 1960s to the 80s, you’ll notice marked differences between then and now. Today there’s far more showing than telling with fewer round-up scenes at the end where characters tell each other what happened and why, as if the reader hasn’t worked it out long before. Like dialogue, character actions are more natural, instead of moving around the page/set like chess pieces.

In the romance genre at least, storytelling was more fun before you could track people by their phones, or build suspense with a “secret baby” – a child the hero didn’t know he’d fathered. These days DNA testing leaves little doubt. Although a full test takes a bit longer than most TV shows and some books would have us believe.
But while limiting some story options, technology can open up new possibilities. In my Beacons sci-fi series, I used modern technology to hijack the space shuttle, and a private jet to launch it, supported by input from the jet’s brilliant designers. Google “Mandelbugs” for another topic I play with in the series.

Recently on ABC Statewide I had a fun discussion about the role of technology in modern relationships – using emojis in place of body language, for example.

Curiously, however far writers go out into space or how deeply into human psychology, as John Yorke points out, the basic story structure remains largely unchanged. The why of storytelling also remains fixed – to explain the world to us, and us to ourselves.

Why do you enjoy telling stories? Have you ever considered structure as a factor and how do you use it? Please share your experiences here. The blog is moderated to avoid spam but your comments can appear right away if you click “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone. Happy writing!

Valerie
on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook
Valerie’s latest book, Outback Code, is out now
3 books complete in one volume
For international orders, print & ebook formats,
Booktopia http://tinyurl.com/hj3477e
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First Monday Mentoring for August – why writing “as soon as…” won’t get your work done

Welcome to the first Monday in August when I open this blog to your questions about writing. They can be on creative issues or business, such as dealing with agents, editors and publishers, or anything to do with the writing life.

Next week I’m presenting a workshop at the Romance Writers of Australia annual conference in Sydney, and I’m bound to come across one or more writers who intend to start writing “as soon as…” I don’t expect to be reading their books any time soon if at all, and here are three reasons why.

1. “As soon as…” never comes

What these writers mean is they will write as soon as everything in their life is under control. And guess what? Life is never that co-operative. If you truly want to write, you need to start now, no matter what state your life may be in.

Writers are good at what Oscar-winning screenwriter, William Goldman, calls, “putting off doomsday.” Yes, writing is hard. But it will never get any easier while you tap dance around the process.

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2. You will always have an excuse not to write
Do you recognise any of these? I’ll write when:
I have more time
I know what I want to write about (you find out by writing)
The weather is not so hot/cold.
Christmas/New Year/School holidays are over
I finish my research
I’ve defrosted the fridge
The world becomes perfect

Nobody ever has all the time, money or clear head space to start writing. Some of the most successful books were written under the most difficult conditions. I’ve written while moving house, when family members were sick, and when writing was the last thing I wanted to do. Writers write.

3. Writing is like housework. It expands to fit the time you have.
A meme going around the internet says that we get the most housework done in the five minutes before unexpected guests drop in. The same can be said of writing. Have you noticed how you can fiddle around all day trying to get something written. Then as soon as you know you have to be somewhere else at a set time, the words seem to flow?

If only you didn’t have to leave now.

This is your creative brain tricking you into thinking the writing is suddenly easier, knowing perfectly well that you have no choice but to leave it soon.

One solution is to pretend you have to leave the desk an hour or more before you actually do. If this spurs your writing brain, you’ll get as much done as if you’d been there all day.

Another trick is to set a kitchen timer. Tell yourself you’ll write for the next thirty minutes then you can stop. But don’t stare at the blank screen. Write something. Write garbage. But write words. This act of starting is almost magical, making it easier to keep going. You may not even notice when the timer goes off because you’re already caught up. And if you are ready to stop by then, at least you’ve put in a solid thirty minutes at your chosen task.

Remember, the world doesn’t care whether or not you write. You are the one who’ll feel you’ve let yourself down by not writing the project burning inside you. And unless the words are burning inside you, you may never write at all.

Set deadlines for yourself. Even writing one page a day (about 250 words) every day for five days a week will give you a 65,000 word manuscript – the length of a genre novel – by the end of a year. And that’s with weekends off.

How do you get past the “as soon as…” challenge? Comment using the box below. I moderate posts to avoid spam. If you want your comment to appear right away, sign up using the button at lower right. I don’t share your email addresses with anyone. Happy writing.

Valerie

http://www.valerieparv.com
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on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook
Read some reviews of Valerie’s first Beacons novel, Birthright, at http://www.valerieparv.com/birthright.html

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