steering the craft

What’s driving the plot?

character plot process Mar 10, 2022
 

I sometimes stumble upon conversations between writers that make me scratch my head a bit. There’s a lot of terminology about writing craft floating around out there, that’s for sure!  And writers don’t always agree upon what even familiar terms mean.

One recent example was a debate about character-driven stories versus plot-driven stories. Talk about confusing!

Do character-driven stories have plots? Do plot-driven stories have characters? The answer to both questions has got to be yes, so what exactly do these terms signify? 

And if neither character nor plot can unequivocally be said to be “driving” the story, what is?

In this livestream, we talk about what character-driven and plot-driven might really mean. 


My weekly livestream about story structure, writing craft, and the mindset of the working writer happens on Wednesdays at 1 PM Pacific on YouTube. Come live and participate! Or...

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When heroes need help...

hero third acts Mar 08, 2022
 

My dear storytellers, I hope you’re staying grounded during this tumultuous time.

As I write this, we’re a week in to a frightening ground war in Europe, prompted by Russia’s invasion of its neighbor Ukraine. The rest of the world has been rapidly swept in, moved to react both by the sudden, senseless brutality of the invasion, and the astonishing principled bravery of the Ukrainian people and their President, Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

As someone who’s thought long and hard about the transformative energetic qualities of the hero’s journey, watching the real-world manifestation of these foundational human patterns play out on a global stage is deeply emotional and deeply fascinating. 

In this week’s livestream, I’d like to talk about the power of the hero archetype in a particular context: We all know the hero should be actively driving the story forward, but won’t there be times in our story that the...

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The secret of comedy

comedy Feb 25, 2022
 

Hey, did you hear the one about the writer who was going to reveal the secret of comedy on a YouTube livestream? 

No? Well, have I got news for you! Comedy is what this week’s talk is all about. The sheer chutzpah of trying to answer the question of what makes something funny is pretty hilarious on the face of it. But the question was asked by one of you delightful storytellers, and who am I to refuse the call? 

I can’t promise that I’ll fully succeed in revealing the secret of comedy, but I intend to have a good time trying! Far more than mere entertainment, comedy creates space to look at hard things. Let's take a serious look at the art form that serves as the “conscience of the king.”


My weekly livestream about story structure, writing craft, and the mindset of the working writer happens on Wednesdays at 1 PM Pacific on YouTube. Come live and participate! Or catch the replays on...

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The hierarchy of needs

motivation Feb 17, 2022
 

Writers are (or should be) obsessive students of human motivation. When we craft a tale, we’re always looking at our characters’ conscious and unconscious motives. We devise whole plots out of the reasons our characters do or fail to do things (I’m looking at you, Hamlet). And we draw powerful forces of opposition from the characters whose motives collide with our hero’s.

Which brings us to the the topic of this week’s livestream: Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, a useful and enduring psychological theory about what motivates humans to do the things we do, value the things we value, choose our priorities, and define our vision of “success.”

What’s at the pinnacle of our personal hierarchy? Is it relationships? Self-fulfillment? Prestige and achievement? Or are we mostly just trying to survive?

Abraham Maslow’s model of human motivation is a fascinating topic in its own right, but for us storytellers it’s pure gold. This...

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World-building: It’s not just for fantasy

 

This week’s talk is in response to a question that came up during a previous livestream that went something like this:

Yes, research is a useful tool for brainstorming new books, but how do we do “research” if we’re writing fantasy?

I love this question, as it gives us a lot to think about. What is fantasy, really? Isn't all fiction “made up?” Is there any such thing as truly “realistic” fiction, when you think about it?

Practically speaking, world-building for a fantasy realm involves a lot more than drawing maps and making lists of slang words in Elvish. The world of your story is nothing less than the crucible of transformation of your hero, the arena of combat, the rules of the game.

In other words, the world-building is storytelling, too. 

Let’s go through the phantom tollbooth, hop on the transporter and take a fantastic journey to the world of world-building. We’ll explore the...

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Is writing ”by ear” holding you back?

 

The phrase “by ear” comes to us from the context of music. As in: "I don’t read music, but I can play by ear." 

A musician who plays by ear doesn't rely on formal training or music that’s been written down, but on some innate or acquired ability to pick up an instrument and play, or to recreate what they’ve heard. 

In this context, the ability to “play be ear” seems like a good thing, a special talent. A person who can play music with no formal training! Impressive, right? 

Writers do the same thing, of course. We write and revise “by ear.” When our prose "sounds good" to us, we say it’s done. 

There’s nothing wrong with this, to a point. Immersion and imitation are a natural kind of learning. We learn to talk by immersion in people talking—by ear—and we learn to write by immersion in what we read. It’s how we all begin.

It's when...

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What’s your success story?

 

Who doesn’t love a good success story? Underdog team prevails, small town kid gets cast in a Spielberg movie, scrappy entrepreneur starts in her garage and ends up a billionaire?

Above all, a success story is a story—it shows a hero overcoming obstacles en route to a big transformation.

Success stories appeal precisely because we love stories, and because we want to mine these tales for clues about how we, too, might achieve “success.”

I’d argue that we’re always mining stories for clues about how to live and find meaning in our lives, but today I want to talk particularly about how we writers relate to this idea of success. 

Success is good, right? But scratch the surface and things get complicated fast. As writers, how do we define success, and how does that definition impact our creative work?

Do we feel worthy of success? Does it trigger fears of exposure? Of losing our identity? Of disrupting...

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Here’s how to get back in the flow

process Jan 08, 2022
 

New year, new you—new book?

I have a successful writer friend (think NY Times bestseller) who says, “Every time I start a new book, it’s like I’ve forgotten how to do it.” 

She hasn’t, of course, but that new book feeling of starting over from absolute zero is a familiar one to writers who’ve been doing this a while.

It can be daunting. We look at the blank page and think: How did I forget how to do my job? When I was revising my last book, it felt like it was all going so well!

This is like comparing an intimate conversation with the person you know best in the world with walking into a vast, loud party where you know absolutely no one.

They feel different because they are different. 

In this livestream I talk about that scary, new-book feeling. How can we make friends quickly at this intimidating new gathering, and get ourselves back in the flow?  


My weekly livestream about story structure, writing...

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The twelve days of story structure: a holiday lesson for you to unwrap

story structure Dec 20, 2021

To watch this special presentation, go to www.pathofthestoryteller.com/scrooge


Warmest wishes of the season to you, my dear storyteller!

This week I’m pulling out all the jingle bells to bring you a livestream of unprecedented festivity!

Because, let’s face it: Holiday-themed stories are irresistible. My personal bucket list includes writing a Christmas movie (Hallmark, are you listening?).

We all have our favorites, from the sublime (Amahl and the Night Visitors gets my vote here) to the sublimely ridiculous (bring on the Snow Miser and the Heat Miser!).

From O. Henry to It’s a Wonderful Life to good ol’ Charlie Brown, there are countless books, poems, movies, and TV specials that fill the season with storytelling—and I'm not even going to mention the vast song catalogue, but songs are a kind of storytelling, too.

These are the tales that satisfy and keep satisfying, year after year after year.

In this week’s...

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How much is too much? Compress your prose for maximum impact!

 

This time of year, even the most disciplined among us can become prone to excess.

We do too much, we plan too much, we eat too much, we spend too much.

In our writing, too, we want to make sure we give our readers “enough.” As we revise our drafts to increase reader satisfaction, is it any wonder we’re inclined to add more stuff? More vivid description, more witty banter, more plot twists, more character development?

But does this actually make things better?

In a word, nope!

One of the most important things we do in revision is to compress the prose. We pare things down so the glitter of story energy can shine brightly, instead of being buried under a heap of crumpled wrapping paper we don’t want or need.

How to pare down our prose during revision is the topic of this week’s livestream. Practical decluttering tips in store!

I hope you find the perfect sweet spot for finding peace and joy this holiday season. Not too much, not too little, but...

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