I’ll bet you can talk a good game about the basics of fiction writing.
By basics I mean character, plot, dialogue, description, and so on. The usual suspects!
The basics are out there, in craft books and workshops and classes. They’re not hard to find.
I’ve even sometimes had writers come to me for mentorship and and say, “I know the basics. I don’t need that kind of training. But....”
They’re looking for help.
But they already know the basics.
So what do they do now? What’s left?...
There are a lot of people out there who are going to tell you what they think of your book.
Critique groups. Beta readers. Agents. Editors. Reviewers.
And, of course, readers.
Sometimes we seek out this feedback. We hire a pro editor for a critique of our finished draft, for example.
Or perhaps we share our pages with a trusted circle of fellow writers, asking for their notes on how to improve.
What to do with these notes is a sticky question.
What if we don’t agree with them? Should we trust ourselves, or our note-givers?
Getting feedback is also emotionally difficult. Nobody likes to be told their work needs work!
This subject is top-of-mind for me today because I’m in the middle of revising my next book.
I have a detailed editorial letter in hand. I have a deadline, of course. So how do I approach this revision?
In this livestream we look at the best way to handle feedback. How do you sort through and...
The first page of your book or story has to get it right.
John Gardner, the great writing teacher, said it takes only five words of a really well-written novel to plunge the reader into the fictional world.
I absolutely agree with him.
Your readers will know from the first line whether they’re in good hands or not.
Agents and editors will know that quickly, too.
Most writers realize the importance of a strong opening. That’s why I see so many writers posting “first lines” and “first pages” in various online writing groups, hoping for feedback.
I have to tell you that woefully few are on the right track.
I see tons of description, plenty of overwrought emotion, streams of words, words, and more words.
You know what I don’t see?
The beginning of a story.
In this livestream I talk about first pages. What must we include? What should we leave out?
And what is it about a well-done opening that gives a reader (or an...
“Life changing” is a claim that gets thrown around a lot, especially online.
Breaking up with shampoo is “life changing.” So is discovering you can hard-boil eggs in a pressure cooker.
Call it hyperbole with a side of TikTok, but there’s a reason that “life-changing” seizes our attention.
People are riveted by transformation. The world is one way, and something happens, and then the world is different.
Which is a way of saying: People are riveted by story. Beginning. Middle. End. It’s a transformation sandwich.
I’m thinking about this because I’ve been sorting through recent Path of the Storyteller student testimonials, updating the website for next week’s enrollment. [cue anticipatory music!]
Life-changing. Life-changing. Life changing. The phrase came up again and again, as my students described the impact the program has had on them. My...
In case you’ve been cryogenically frozen during interstellar travel, let me catch you up: Back on earth in the year 2023, everyone I know is talking about Artificial Intelligence, or AI for short.
It’s here. It’s freaking some people out. It’s causing others to whoop for joy, as they figure out ever more ways to use it and profit from it.
Are we finally staring into the future long predicted by science fiction writers, where HAL won’t listen to Dave, where the Terminators take over, where androids dream of electric sheep?
Most immediately worrying for us ever-anxious storytellers: Is AI going to make writers obsolete?
It’s tempting to pooh-pooh this concern with a wave of a flesh-and-blood hand and a blithe “robots can’t make art,” but it’s a serious question.
We’re already seeing lawsuits...
Today I’m thinking about values—those core beliefs that guide us as we go through life.
Some people think a lot about their values; some people don’t give them much thought at all. When life goes according to plan, our values can run largely on instinct. Our sense of the right way to proceed seems instinctive.
It’s when things don't go according to plan—when we have really tough decisions to make, or are confronted with a situation for which we have no real preparation—that’s when our values come into the spotlight. How do we behave when there’s no clear script to follow?
And now you see why the idea of values matters so much when we write.
Hard choices and high-stakes, unprecedented situations are the stuff great stories are made of.
Writing good fiction requires us to grapple with the toughest kinds of values-based decisions, scene after scene after scene. How does our hero decide what to do...
Now, let me be clear: Writers need guidance. They really do. They need real training and mentorship.
I feel strongly about this! It’s why I started Path of the Storyteller to begin with.
What writers don’t need is uninformed advice that makes them doubt themselves needlessly, without giving them the tools they need truly improve.
You can get bad writing advice in so many places. Sometimes it comes from so-called experts. And a lot of the time it comes from people who don’t have much expertise at all.
Bad advice is everywhere, and writers can get so confused by it. In today’s livestream, I’ll talk about some of the most common types of bad writing advice out there, and what you should do about it if any of it comes your way.
I share why I think it’s so pervasive, and what some of this...
Writers are so brave.
Why do I think so? Humans dislike uncertainty. We tend to resist leaping into the void.
And for good reason. Our nervous systems are trying to keep us safe, and the unknown is just that—unknown.
Yet we writers must continually cross that scary border from knowing to not knowing, from certainty to uncertainty.
We’re always plunging into the blank page, the scene we haven’t written yet, the plot we’re still figuring out.
No wonder we resist writing! From the outside it looks like we’re safely at our desks, but inside, our nervous systems feel like we’re jumping out a plane every time we sit down to work.
I suspect this is why I get so many questions about process — what do we have to “know” to start writing, how much...
The award for “Sassiest Writing Advice” has got to go to the great English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who once described the secret to writing good poetry as simply putting “the best words in the best order.”
I mean, LOL. If only it were that easy, right?
We fiction writers have a similar problem, though. We know our books need great stories to succeed.
We need to write tight, forward-leaning plots that engage the reader and make them demand that all their friends read what they just read so they can talk about “what happened.”
That’s the key. Poetry may rely on the words, but stories are about what happens, scene after scene after scene.
To paraphrase Coleridge, the secret of writing great stories is simply putting “the right scenes in the right order.”
No sass intended here. This is practical, learnable stuff. In fact, learning to structure good stories is an essential part...
First impressions are so important. We all know that.
Likewise, the beginning of your book is where you set yourself up for success or failure.
I’m not just talking about your first line, or first page, or even your first ten pages—although these are all very important.
(I actually have a special one-on-one coaching offer where we go over your first ten pages to make sure you’re on the right track, and diagnose any writing craft issues that should be nipped in the bud early—you can learn more about that here.)
No, I’m talking about your first act. If you're new to story structure, what we call the first act is the first leg of that three-part storytelling journey commonly known as beginning, middle, end.
The first act is where all the rules of the game get set up. It's where your main character’s need for change is established. It’s where the central motivation, or mission, is identified.