Showing posts with label what makes a great story. Show all posts
Showing posts with label what makes a great story. Show all posts

Friday, June 7

The Basics of Good Storycraft: 5 Tips

The Basics of Good Storycraft: 5 Tips

In How to Publish Your Book and Sell Your First 1,000 Copies Joe Bunting lays out the basics of good storycraft. He writes:

1. Your Protagonist Must Choose

A protagonist who doesn’t make important choices that determine his or her fate isn’t a protagonist at all. He or she is a background character.
Have you heard of Dan Wells? Although he's a well known author, to me Dan Wells will forever be the fellow who explains the seven point plot system for short fiction.

Today I read an article by him, The Superman Problem, and my bet with my brother, where he talks about the Superman problem, and the importance of making your character make difficult choices. He writes:
[The Superman Problem:] If your main character will always make the right decision and can always defeat any bad guy, your story is boring because it has no tension.  (The Superman Problem, and ...)
Not so, Dan Wells says:
Here’s the thing about The Superman Problem: it’s a complete and utter fallacy. No character actually has this problem unless they’re being written poorly. The best writers will always find ways to put their characters into situations where there is no clear “right” choice, and will strive to pit their characters against conflicts and obstacles they can’t easily overcome; this applies to Superman just as much as it applies to anyone else. Yes, Superman can beat up any villain–so what? Is every good story in the world solved by the main character physically dominating everyone else? If we truly believe what our mothers tell us about violence never solving anything, Superman’s ability to punch bad guys is arguably the most useless super ability ever; a good Superman story, like a good anyone story, will test his wits, his judgment, his will, his emotions, and so on.
Great stuff. Makes me want to see the new Superman movie.

2. These Choices Must Be Hard

The most important decisions we make, such as who to marry, whether to change careers, when to have children, are difficult, and we rarely make them in a moment’s notice. Your protagonist shouldn’t either.

3. Cut Superfluous Characters

Stephen Koch says, “The warning sign of a story that is growing disorganized is likely to be too many characters.” It’s difficult to cut characters or merge two together—these are your creations, your friends, after all—but it will tighten your story and add drama.
Just today I read Janice Hardy's wonderful blog post, Does Your Novel Have Too Many Characters?, which steps you through an exercise to help you determine just this. Well worth the read.

4. Set the Scene

Readers shouldn’t be confused about where or when your scenes are taking place. Unless it’s already clear, make sure you describe the setting and time at the start of every scene.

5. Three Drafts

Most professional writers write in three drafts. The first is for figuring out what your story is about, the second, for major structural changes, and the third is for polishing. One draft is rarely enough.
Yesterday I set up my writing schedule (using Excel and Google Calendar) for the next month or so and noticed that's what I've started to do: three drafts, just like Joe says.

That's not written in stone, I could see longer projects taking four or so drafts, and shorter projects perhaps only requiring two--or even one! But if it seems a story is going to take more than, say, five drafts I need to think about either doing a rewrite or putting the story away for a bit to get some distance.

But part of the beauty of writing is that it's not the same for everyone. What works brilliantly for me may not for you. What are your basics of good storycraft? Please share. :-)

Photo credit: "Berry Hard Work" by JD Hancock under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Thursday, May 2

Donald Maass On Why Books Don't Sell

Donald Maass On Why Books Don't Sell
If you ever have the opportunity to hear Donald Maass speak I urge you to take it. Which isn't to say I agree with everything he says, but I've found that whatever he says is worth pondering.

(See: Donald Maass Talks About How To Make Your Readers CARE About Your Characters On The First Page and Donald Maass: Your Writing Matters, Dig Deep And Change The World)

Today Denise Covey asks: "Why do some books not sell?" She writes:
... there are lots of reasons a book sells or doesn't sell, but it is universally agreed (and Maass makes this point) that 'Great novels not only draw us in immediately but command our attention. They not only hold our interest but hold us rapt.'
Yes, generating narrative drive is the key. It's just doing it that's the problem. (grin)

(See: Using Pinch Points To Increase Narrative Drive)

Here are three things Donald Maass warns will prevent a reader from being pulled into a story:
Timid Voice - this DOES NOT command attention.

Untested Characters - Make sure your characters show spine, take courage, have high principles or face their deepest fears.

Overly Interior or Exterior Stories - Be the god of your story world. Interior stories need dramatic outward events. Dramatic outward events need to create a devastating interior impact.
I'll leave you with this promise:
Runaway success comes from great fiction, period. The publishing industry may help or hinder but cannot stop a powerful story from being powerful. -- Donald Maass

Other articles you might like: 

- Creating The Perfect Ending
- 7 Basic Plot Types
- Creating The Perfect Murderer

Photo link: "Its All About Pelicans!" by VinothChandar under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.