steering the craft

don’t reinvent me

story structure Jul 19, 2021

Whenever someone joins my mailing list, I send them a brief survey so I can hear what their most burning questions about writing might be.

You’ve probably taken this survey yourself. (If you haven’t, please do! Here’s the link.)

Do you wonder what most writers say? Well, I’ll tell you. Overwhelmingly, writers want help with two things:

  • Discipline. They want to write but simply don’t. They give reasons, but the self-diagnosis is always this: A lack of discipline.
  • Story structure. Creative people are full of ideas. However, as most of us have discovered the hard way, an idea for a story is not the same thing as a fully developed plot with beginning, middle, and end. 

These are the top two, without question. And they may sound like two different problems, but they’re not.

How so? Consider that it takes zero discipline to do things that you A) know how to do and B) that you know when to do (in other words,...

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writing dialogue that works

dialogue Jul 13, 2021
 

I like to talk; I bet you like to talk, too. The dance of conversation is how we chatty humans connect with one another. 

When people speak, our ears perk up. We’re wired to listen. That’s why it’s so hard not to eavesdrop!

Our readers are just the same. When characters on the page start talking, readers lean in. Dialogue is like reader catnip. If their attention has strayed, dialogue wakes them up and pulls them right back into the story. 

Yet writers don’t always take full advantage of dialogue’s power to command the reader’s attention. Instead of using this precious narrative real estate strategically, we waste it on chitchat, or on rehashing stuff the reader already knows. 

In this week’s livestream I talk about the power of dialogue, and offer tips on how smart writers can use dialogue to turbocharge their storytelling and keep the reader hooked. 


My weekly...

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what hero really means

hero livestream replays Jul 06, 2021
 

Writers who are new to studying story structure often struggle with the idea of the hero. 

The term “hero” has connotations, after all. Does it mean someone strong? Someone male? Someone who can leap tall buildings in a single bound? Questions that come up include:

“But what if my story has two (or more) main characters?”

“What if my hero is afraid?"

“What if my hero is kind of a jerk?" 

“What if my story is about a community?”

In this week’s livestream, I dig into these questions about the many possible permutations of the hero.  What kind of hero does your story rise from?


My weekly livestream happens on Wednesdays at 1 PM Pacific. Come live and participate! Or catch the replays here on the blog. You can leave your questions and comments below.

To watch live and ask questions, subscribe to the YouTube channel here.  

And you can join the Path of the Storyteller...

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do you suffer from “page fright?”

 

Everyone’s heard of stage fright. Even Barbra Streisand has it! Imagine singing like Barbra and being afraid to perform! It’s not rational, but it’s real. 

Writers, too, can suffer from a bone-deep reluctance to share our work with the world. Call it “page fright.” And yet our readers are out there, waiting! What’s a nervous writer to do? 

In this livestream, I talk about why it’s so challenging to take that anxiety-ridden but necessary plunge and let others into our private writing worlds. 


My weekly livestream happens on Wednesdays at 1 PM Pacific. Come live and participate! Or catch the replays here on the blog. You can leave your questions and comments below.

To watch live and ask questions, subscribe to the YouTube channel here.  

And you can join the Path of the Storyteller Facebook group right here.

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when does your story begin?

 

Daybreak is a lovely thing to watch unfold, but the actual sunrise happens in the span of a single breath.

One moment the sun is beneath the horizon; the next, it’s above. If you’re the sort of early-bird person who likes to know what time the sunrise is slated to occur, you can look it up and get an answer that’s timed to the minute.

Your story, too, has a precise moment of beginning. The hijinks in your fictional world may have started eons ago; your hero may have been destined for glory since the fateful day she was born.

But there’s one particular moment in which you, the writer and decider of these things, choose to open the curtain. You choose the exact day, minute, and millisecond in which we readers get our first glimpse of your hero breaking over the horizon, so to speak. 

Often, writers struggle to know what that momentous first scene should be. There’s so much we want the reader to know! 

With the best...

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third acts that work

 

It’s the eleventh hour. The big finish. The grand finale.

In other words, it’s the third act!

We writers know that a lot is riding on the ending of our tales. It’s where all the threads we’ve woven into our story must coalesce into a coherent pattern of meaning and resolution. We want to give our reader the deep satisfaction of watching the puzzle pieces fall into place in a way that’s both surprising and inevitable. 

This is no mere solving-the-Rubik's-cube exercise. Great third acts satisfy emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually. The third act is where our hero demonstrates, through word and deed, that she is not the same person she was at the beginning of the tale. This story has meant something, not only for our fictional protagonist,  but for the reader who’s taken the long and difficult journey with her.

Sounds easy, no? I kid. Third acts are long in the making and...

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writing from the heart

 

That first tender urge to write stirs from something quite personal and private. We have an idea, a feeling, a desire to capture in words something that moved or mystified us. 

And yet, to write well means charting a path from that most private beginning to a more reader-centric focus. How exposed do we need to be in our work? How thick of a skin must we cultivate to actually publish? What about privacy? Is there stuff we shouldn't write about? 

Writing advice is plentiful, and writing craft matters (a lot) — but your writing comes from YOU. How do we writers balance the deeply personal impulse to write with the external concerns of putting our work into the world? That’s the topic of this week’s livestream. 


My weekly livestream happens on Wednesdays at 1 PM Pacific. Come live and participate! Or catch the replays here on the blog.

To watch live and ask questions, you can join the Path of the...

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what wags the world

careers change process May 25, 2021

I’m getting a wee jump on the holiday weekend. The first Wood family gathering in a long time has been planned in honor of my uncle’s 90th birthday. Flying on a plane will be involved! It’s all very exciting and heartfelt. 

So instead of my usual weekly livestream, I offer you a nice old-fashioned blog post. My inspiration? This quote, which I shared with the Storytellers’ Circle* membership last week. I think you’ll like it as much as they did:

“The best thing for disturbances of the spirit is to learn. That is the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love and lose your moneys to a monster, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honor trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then—to learn. Learn why the world wags and what...
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the last word about first person POV

 

I've heard it too many times from too many writers: Isn’t first person easier than writing in third? And isn't writing in the first person more intimate that writing in third? Doesn’t first person have more voice than writing in third?

Nope, no, and not so, my friends. And yet these notions persist. This week I want to put them to bed, once and for all. We’ll bust the myths and examine just how much complexity lurks in this deceptively simple way of telling a tale.

Lots to say about this topic! Expect some discussion of one of my favorite butlers in literature, too. 


My weekly livestream happens on Wednesdays at 1 PM Pacific. Come live and participate! Or catch the replays here on the blog.

To watch live and ask questions, you can join the Path of the Storyteller Facebook group right here.

And subscribe to the YouTube channel here. 

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hack your writing process

 

Writing happens inside the skull of the writer, which makes it hard to observe!

We can be inspired by the finished work of our idols, but we never get to actually watch them do the thing that we ourselves are so earnestly trying to learn to do.

The process remains a mystery, and so developing writers inevitably wonder: Am I doing this right? Is it supposed to take so long and be so hard? How much revision is “normal?” And so on.

This week I talk about the writing process: what’s realistic, common pitfalls, and how to make your process the best it can be. 


My weekly livestream happens on Wednesdays at 1 PM Pacific. Come live and participate! Or catch the replays here on the blog.

To watch live and ask questions, you can join the Path of the Storyteller Facebook group right here.

And subscribe to the YouTube channel here. 

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