steering the craft

Are you in, or are you out?

writing craft Mar 31, 2022
 

One of the tricky tasks we take on when writing fiction is finding the just-right balance between depicting our viewpoint character's inner life versus the external events of the scene. 

By inner life, I mean what your character is feeling and thinking, including the sensations in their body. This is the stuff other characters cant see, but your reader can, if you choose to share it.

External events are just that—what are characters actually saying and doing in the world of the story that’s perceptible to others? 

Finding the perfect balance can be elusive. Too much inner life, and we get bogged down in an endlessly ruminating protagonist. Not enough inner life severs the connection with the very character our readers are supposed to be rooting for. 

In this livestream I talk about this concept of inner life versus external events, and offer some tips on how to find the...

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Lights, camera...fiction!

writing craft Mar 24, 2022
 

As the movie buffs among you know the Academy Awards are this weekend. As ever, the categories featuring celebrities and jokes and musical numbers will be featured in the television broadcast, while the “technical” categories—in other words, the actual movie-making part—will be rushed through or skipped altogether. 

Film is a storytelling art form just as fiction is, but it sure takes a village to accomplish! It's so different from the solitary work of the novelist. From cinematography to production design to musical scores, movies rely on a collaboration of elements that we novelists can only dream of—or can we?

Words can accomplish a lot, you know! I'd argue that we fiction writers have our own way of making use of these same elements, if we know how and take the time to do it. It's all part of giving our readers that vivid, "lived experience" feeling. And there's stuff we can do that movies can't, too.

Today, let's grab...

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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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fix the flatness

writing craft Nov 16, 2021
 

In last week’s livestream, I mentioned the concept of writing with dimension. Here’s what I mean by that:

Some writing feels flat on the page. It’s two-dimensional. There are words aplenty and characters who talk about this and that. Events are alleged to happen and feelings are alleged to result.

It’s not that the words don’t make sense. From a grammatical standpoint, it’s all perfectly correct. But the writing is bland, voiceless, and the reader’s engagement is hard-won, if it’s won at all.

Really skillful writing has the opposite effect. It seems to have a life of its own. Even as you read the first sentence, it feels like some living consciousness is sweeping you into a fully dimensional world. 

You feel more a participant than an observer. And the characters? Realer than the people you know in real life. You find...

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what holds writers back: my top ten

 

It’s NaNoWriMo time, again!

I started this blog (and soon afterward, my weekly YouTube livestream) last year right around this time, as it seemed like there was an extra need for writing mentorship out there.

So many blog posts and livestreams later, I am amazed at how this ongoing exploration of writing good fiction continues to deepen. It’s a lifetime practice for sure.

And how has your writing grown this year?

While you you formulate your answer, I want to give a shout-out to all the Path of the Storyteller alums who finished a draft in 2021.

TRUMPETS OF VICTORY SOUND! Some have never finished a book before. Revisions are now in progress, and I am so very proud of each and every one of these awesome and dedicated writers! 

Accomplishment feels good. Setting goals and moving steadily toward them feels fantastic.

But being stuck, thwarted, or in despair because all your efforts seem to be going in circles does not feel so good, am...

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revising like a pro

 

I’m in a cheery writing mood this week. It’s because I'm putting the finishing touches on a new manuscript. Huzzah!  

Revision is something I truly enjoy. It’s when we writers finally get the satisfaction of seeing the book work! Sentence by sentence, chapter by chapter, revision is when we sharpen the storytelling, tighten the screws, and make sure every syllable is earning its place on the page. 

Productive revision gives us the pleasure of finishing a puzzle. Things fall into place. The vessel becomes watertight, ship-shape.  

Drafting is our messy mudpie process. It’s for us. Revision is when we make it work for the reader. 

Which leads me to share this hard truth about revision: Revision is when your level of mastery is revealed.

Why? Because you cannot revise by ear.  

To revise, you need technique. You need a way of knowing with certainty whether the storytelling is crystal clear and...

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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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writing for the reader

 

I do get a little cranky sometimes about all the ADVICE out there that’s aimed at writers. 

I say that as someone who gives a lot of advice to writers myself. I take this role seriously because I take good writing seriously, just as I take the courage and vulnerability of those who feel called to write seriously. 

No one falls into the profound work of storytelling at the level of mastery by accident. Instruction and mentorship are invaluable. The giving and taking of advice is a necessary thing.

But that said: Who are we trying to please when we write? Agents? Editors? Random advice-givers on social media, or pros sitting on panels at writing conferences?

Are we writing to please ourselves only? Or is there someone else out there whom we ought to be keeping in mind? That’s the topic of today’s discussion. 


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

To...

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crafting the multi-POV tale

 

By now you know the drill: A great story is a journey of meaningful change. Whose change? The hero’s! And, by extension, the larger world of the story.

But what about all those books that use multiple points of view?

Or that (gasp!) employ a true omniscient narrator that dives into the experience of many characters?

Who’s the hero now? Whose journey of change is it? What holds a tale like this together?

Many writers are drawn to these complex structures, but they’re not easy to pull off. This week I look at what makes them work—and what happens when they don’t.


My weekly livestream is 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.

Or subscribe to the YouTube channel here. 

Continue Reading...

keep your distance

Like the dead mouse your cat proudly drops at your feet, 2020 has offered a number of unasked-for gifts. Fashion masks. The return of the shag haircut. Zoom school. And a new phrase: Social distancing.

Did you ever hear it or say it before this year? Me neither. Ever curious, I looked it up. It turns out “social distancing” was first used back in 2003 at the time of the SARS epidemic, although no one in particular is credited as the author of the term.

The World Health Organization apparently finds the phrase regrettable, and would like us to think of physical distancing instead, since that’s the real message. To prevent the spread of COVID-19, you can socialize all you want; just not in person.

In our writing, narrative distance is one of those writing craft topics too often overlooked. Here’s the question to ask, and you have to answer it sentence by sentence: What distance have you put between your...

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