steering the craft

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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cheese is in the details

details writing craft Nov 26, 2020

Today I had an adventure, and it was all about cheese. (I promise this will end up being about writing, so just bear with me for a minute.)

Call me the hero of the tale. My mission was to grocery shop for Thanksgiving. My partner and I are safely COVID-bubbled, and my son and his partner will be coming for an outdoor meal, to be served at opposite ends of my ample-sized terrace. As far as I was concerned, I was cooking for a regiment.

Now, I grew up in an Italian family, and I spent the first 53 years of my existence as a New Yorker. On holidays, I want Italian specialty items — I’m talking prosciutto, olives, really good imported cheese — and I was not raised to purchase them from a supermarket, uninterestingly wrapped in plastic!

No! You go to Little Italy! You head to the Italian market and elbow your way to the counter and you get the good stuff. (Here’s where I used to shop, in case you’re curious.)...

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dirty dishes

Writing is a paradoxical pursuit. It requires us to be wildly, freely imaginative, and meticulously disciplined about how we express those imaginings.

It sounds like the old rubbing-your-tummy-while-patting-your-head-trick. Luckily, we don’t have to do those jobs at same time. There is the drafting hat, and there is the revising hat.

When we’ve got the drafting hat on, we must (must!) drop our attachment to writing drafts that are "good.” We must suspend judgment and be willing to spew raw matter onto the page. We must do quite a bit of this, to sniff out the character and her need, and unearth the shape of the  story we want to tell. Much of our drafting will take place in this freewheeling mode of discovery.

I call it the messy mudpie stage. A writer should stay in this mode for as long as she needs to be there. But at some point during the first draft, or perhaps after it’s complete, it’s time to take off the mud-splattered...

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back to work

When I was eighteen years old, I had a truly extraordinary stroke of luck  

It was 1980 and I was an acting student at NYU, in the fall of my sophomore year. I was not a great student, honestly. To succeed in the New York theatre was my dream, but there was much about it that flew way over my naïve suburban head. 

But luck found me nevertheless. After attending an open audition for a new musical with a score written by Stephen Sondheim, one of my idols, I was cast in a Broadway show.

Recall that I was eighteen. I was a student. My resume was a list of all the school plays I'd been in during high school. How could this happen?

Nevertheless, it happened. That show was called MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG, and it was directed by Broadway legend Harold Prince.

There are so many great Hal stories. Many have been told and retold, but one that sticks with me was his career-long practice every time he opened a new show. Whenever...

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