Friday, November 24, 2017

My One Rule for Writing a Novel

There are three rules for writing the novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are." --Somerset Maugham.


But today I think that there is only one rule for writing a novel. Fortunately, I know what it is.

In your face, Somerset.

Easy. Like looking at a mountain from a distance and imagining yourself climbing right up to the top, looking down on the world.

And hard as actually climbing up to the very top. 

Because once you get to the base of the mountain, the entrance to its wilderness,  in other words once you get up close, the landscape changes into something very different. And then the real effort sets in like cold weather, and the imagined stroll becomes a marathon in a maze on a mountain, a long-distance climb through all kinds of terrain, at least half of it in the dark.

Fucking hard, in other words. Sorry.

So here is the one rule. Keep going. Keep going. Keep going.

Each specific work will take a specific struggle to get to the top. Keep learning as much as you can about how you write and what you want to write and the many aspects of craft that can sometimes teach you short-cuts on your long climb.

And most likely you won't be entirely satisfied with your climb even once you're done. You'll have reservations; you'll wonder if you might have done better going left when you went right way back near the beginning of your ascent. Alas, it's the nature of writing fiction. We can never be perfect. 

But it's a lot of fun. The struggle gives me great satisfaction.

So you have to keep going and you have to finish and you have to rewrite and when you've rewritten and rewritten you have to start again on something new and it doesn't get easier and that's what is both good and bad about it. Keeps it interesting anyway. 

One rule.

Keep going.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Love me a two-word sentence

I like spare writing. I try to write spare. I love to read spare. For a while now, writers have been loading their sentences with clauses and long descriptions. That's the fashion. There seems to be this swing in fashion between minimalists and maximalists, so I suppose my preference will come back.

In celebration of the two word sentence--

Clowns scream.
Dogs shine.
Moon howls
Birds fall.
Shit happens.

Sharks come.
Diana watches.
Sharks come.
Robert swimming.
They fought
He admitted
Made mistake.
Night passed
He drank
Made foolish
Admitted fucking
Diana's sister.
Diana cried.
She screamed.
She howled.
He said
Shit happens.
She watches
Stone silent
Sharks come.
Sharks here.
Robert screams.
Red sea.
Shit happens.

OK--just playing--and some of these aren't true sentences, I know, I know;  but I'm serious about my love of sentences without the clutter of many clauses, lengthy diversions, and the twenty word descriptions where three might do. I prefer my sentences clear as a  mountain stream or the starry sky of a country night. I'm trying.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

How do you start a story?

There are many ways to start a story, of course. There are many ways to do all the things you have to do to write good fiction. But my way is I start with a character and situation. I try to make, inherent in that character and situation, a conflict and the kernel of what the story might be about. Then I build my story from there.

Alas, I think it's easy to confuse a cool setting or even an interesting character with a STORY. When one of my students says my story is about ancient Rome and there's this really cool dragon in it and some mythical creatures and I've got this character named Sid. He's funny. You'll really love it.

I think, I want to.

I say, Great. But what's it about?

I just told you.

Not really.

It's about ancient Rome.

You told me about setting and you mentioned character. What's it about?


This can go on for a long time. Sometimes the student gets it and sometimes they don't. A cool setting is not a story. That can be a great part of the story. The setting can be fertile ground for the conflict needed to build story. By itself though, not so much. Not at all, really.

Story is more than setting. It's more than a building a character. It's the movement, the progression of character and plot within a design. It's about making the right choices--which conflicts to focus on for example--because you have a clear sense of character and plot movement. Obviously there are many other aspects of writing that need to work, too--great language, dialogue, voice, as mentioned-setting, etc...but this idea of story and its development is crucial.Whether you're an outliner or discovery writer, working on this sense of progression and design can be crucial to finding your way in your novel.

For me, starting with a character and situation,  and building from it helps me find my way.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

How you begin & How you develop the Beginning--a strategy

•How to begin
Character in a situation…and the situation must have potential for CONFLICT
A boy and a girl from warring families fall in love. (this may have been done once or twice)
A boy’s father dies and he suspects it’s murder—worse that his uncle is involved and maybe his mother.
A policeman owns ten cats and comes home one night and they’re all gone.

A sea captain becomes obsessed with finding and killing a large sea mammal.
HOWEVER YOU SEE IT—the character’s conflict WITH self, another character, society, natural world, supernatural world, technology drives the story, develops characters, creates progression

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Conflict--an interview

Instructor Q&A: Brian Yansky

“We read fiction to see characters struggle and overcome or fail to overcome the conflict in their stories.”
-Brian Yanksy
Brian Yansky is teaching a class for the Writers’ League of Texas called “Developing Conflict in Fiction” on May 27 at St. Edward’s University in Austin, TX. The class will identify and discuss different kinds of conflict and how to use them in novels and stories. Read the interview below and visit the class page to learn more.
Brian Yansky
Scribe: First off, why is it important to develop conflict?
Brian Yansky: Conflict is at the heart of all fiction. It develops characters, propels plot, and makes setting relevant. We read fiction to see characters struggle and overcome or fail to overcome the conflict in their stories. From a writer’s POV, creating conflict within your characters and between your main character, other characters, or perhaps society or nature or any number of other possibilities builds narrative. You’ve got to have conflict.
Scribe: Do you find that characters are developed with a specific conflict in mind, or do conflicts form based on the characters?
BY: Both. For me, usually, I start with a character and a situation. The situation has to have the potential for conflict in it. The character wants/needs something, and something gets in the way of her want/need.  This is one way to build a central conflict for the character. However, as the character develops, other conflicts will occur to the writer. It’s a process. The character creates conflicts by her actions in trying to deal with problems and conflicts.
Scribe: Are there any specific tips you rely on to generate conflict within stories?
BY: The big tip is to start with a character in a situation that will create conflict from the inception of the story. But beyond that it depends on the story. A character in conflict with society—  for example, Hunger Games, 1984, To Kill a Mockingbird – will find conflict everywhere because they’re struggling against something large and powerful.  Just generally, I look for friction inside a character, between characters, or between a character and setting or a character and plot. Developing this friction will develop conflict, which will develop character and plot. That’s why conflict is so essential. It helps the writer build her story.
Scribe: Have you noticed any trends of less-common conflicts emerging in contemporary fiction?
BY: It should be pretty clear that I think conflict is in just about every story. Whatever the new trend is, it will have conflict and writers will find creative ways to make the conflict different and unique.
A trend that’s been done many different ways is “end of the world” stories. The setting creates immediate conflict in these stories. There’s conflict between survivors and other survivors, or those pesky walking dead or a world consumed by nuclear winter, or aliens, or gods.  One of my favorites in this kind of story in recent years is Station Eleven. If you’re looking for a good “end of the world” story, check that one out.