Anne Lamott, Kristen Lamb, NaNoWriMo, Shelly Lowenkopf, Storyfix, Writing

NaNoWriMo: Story Structure

To avoid a twelve car pile up, I am approaching my NNWM project with a semblance of organization.  Before I organize I need to review the fundamentals, stored away in a big purse somewhere, and see if I have most of the things I need to get my NNWM party started.

Okay, so in the giant purse I need to find the idea, the characters, the story/plot, setting, and theme. Right now I’m vague on the idea, but I have a couple of them germinating and I think I’ll have a female teenager as the main character. So I tossed those to the side and found “story/plot.” Now I’m waffling. I think I need to review those items.

For assistance I took a look at some of my favorite  blogs and found some good advice just in case someone out there in the blogasphere is going to the NNWM party.

Mark Twain said that the first rule of writing was “that a tale shall accomplish something and arrive somewhere.” Pretty loosey-goosey for the great American writer but the quote is indisputable. Between “accomplish something and arrive somewhere” can be a vast wasteland or a lush path of unforgettable story. To help us stay away from the wasteland and into the greenery I’ll share the following:

Kristen Lamb author and editor is sharing her wealth of knowledge about story structure. She reminds us that learning narrative structure is a basic building block to writing a good novel. And the most basic of the basics of the building blocks are cause and effect. We have a beginning, middle, and end of a novel and each has to have cause and effect, strung together to form scenes or chapters. Ms. Lamb has devoted several posts to structure.

Over at Larry Brooks‘s Storyfix (an award winning blog for writers), is his two minute exercise for understanding story structure. Pretty interesting way to learn especially if you are a visual learner. He says story structure is storytelling. No structure, no story, no sales. Pretty cut and dry.

 Shelly Lowenkopf says, in his book The Fiction Lovers Companion, that story is a bundle of information bits about characters, strategically deployed to produce a series of on-going emotional responses culminating in a emotional payoff. He also says a whole lot of other good stuff but I’ll end with a frequent comment of his: “no conflict, no story.”

And Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird, one of my favorite books on writing, created a mnemonic device to help writers remember how to write story/plots that work: Action, Background, Conflict, Development, and End.

But enough about story structure and plot. It’s time to relax and think about the idea some more before I grab my purse and head out to the party.

Anne Lamott, Books, El Leonard, Encouragement, Lopopolo Literary, Michele Serros, Natalie Goldberg, Sandra Cisneros, Sol Stein, Stephen King, Wisdom, Writing, writing tips

Bargain hunting for the writer who’s just starting out

“Just write,” is not the only advice a writer needs. In the two years I’ve been writing I think I’ve spent many pretty pennies on writing books, a couple of one day conferences, and a boot camp for writers.

Before I purchase any books I do the ‘look inside,’ preview of writing books listed on and then I review customer reviews. If I can’t find the book I want at the public library or there is so much good stuff in the book that I’d take notes for days, then it becomes a purchase.(I read Writer’s Digest and Writer at the library for four months in a row before I sprung for a subscription to one of them). I found a couple of the books I wanted at Borders and used a 30% discount coupon (Stephen King/Sol Stein) or found them at a used book store (Anne Lamott) or check this out, I found Elmore Leonard’s ’10 rules’ at the 99 cents store. I borrowed Natalie Goldberg’s “Getting Down the Bones.”

One day conferences are generally cheaper than 3 day ones and my rule is I don’t spend more than $75, lunch included. Santa Barbara has an annual Women’s Literary Festival and LA has quite a few similar type venues.I’ve been able to hear from author’s Lisa See, Reyna Grande, and Jennifer 8 Lee, among many others. Lucky for me I live within 45 minutes of LA and Santa Barbara so this expands my ability to attend book readings and presentations of other authors, usually free of charge. Two of my favorite writers, Sandra Cisneros, presented at UCSB and Michele Serros at a local community college.

Now for the expense, but remember it’s worth it. I enrolled in my first boot camp for writer’s in October of 2010. It is not for the faint of heart, but it’s a great smack in the butt if you want and need it. After that 3 day session I kicked my writing into gear and finished the manuscript I’d been working on for a year. Better than that I acquired a literary agent from the contacts I met at the camp. I have another boot camp next month, this time for ‘advanced writers.’ I’m taking my second partially completed MS to that one

Bottom line, it’s been worth it. I think of it as the tolls I pay on the road to becoming a better writer. I take as many free and low cost side highways as possible but I also shell out the bucks for classes that are recommended and I see as critical to moving my writing to the next step. Now if only all of these tolls were tax deductible.

Anne Lamott, Authors, Books, books on writing, fiction, Inspiration, Renni Brown, self editing, Sol Stein, Stephen King, Writing

Some Books on the Craft of Writing

Stephen King quote on writing
Stephen King, “On Writing.”
     On one of my early writer’s groups retreats, our group leader brought in the book “On Writing,” by Stephen King. I’m a horror wuss so I don’t read or watch horror material, the lasting effect of seeing “The Exorcist,”  when I was a teenager. My horror prejudice worked against me, I had never read King’s book, “On Writing,” published in 2000.
     During our free time at the retreat I picked up the book and skimmed through the first part which talked about his early attempts at writing, the rejection letters, and his problems with drugs and alcohol. I don’t believe the latter was the result of the former. 
     Section Two contains the practical advice on the craft of writing. He gives tips on idea development, characters, editing, and the use of adverbs (stay far away from them). Now this was helpful, he gives his original version of “The Hotel Story,” and then he shows his revisions. It’s a good book that gives an interesting story about a very interesting writer.
     King recommends “The Elements of Style” by Strunk and White. It’s been around so long that there is a 50th Edition; it’s sometimes called the bible for good writing and all things grammar. It’s written in a direct no holds barred style. If you were lucky enough to have a good English teacher then you probably used this book in high school or college. It’s a keeper. 
     Now, between the styles of King and S&W you’ll find Anne Lamott’s “Bird by Bird.” She starts giving you good advice right in the beginning. She quotes her father telling her 10 year old brother, who is lamenting about a project he procrastinated on, to take it “bird by bird.” Start small and take it one piece at a time. 
     Ms. Lamott has a sense of style and wit that makes for easy reading even though she does give you assignments in the book. A valuable contribution, that I often thought of when I worked on my first novel, is “Shitty First Drafts.” I read that chapter and thought ‘hot damn,’ she (a famous author) has given me permission to have a crummy first draft. I can write several pages (really only two-it’s the Virgo in me) before I felt the pull to self edit. Her perspective on character and plot are interesting and well worth reading.
     The last two books are what I should have purchased before I began writing. I could have saved time, stress,and premature, and embarrassing, submission to a writer’s class. The first book is “Sol Stein on Writing,”by who else but SS and “Self-Editing for Fiction Writers,” by Renni Brown and Dave King. There is just too much information to tell you about Stein’s book, it’s over 300 pages but oh so worth reading. Mine is dogeared, highlighted and sprouting pink and green Post-It Page Markers. “Self-Editing,” is valuable reading and re-reading. The chapter on Point of View, which I struggle with, is smudged with my fingerprints, and tears. 
     I’ve read a couple of more books on writing: James Frey’s (not the one that was on the big O) “How to Write a Damn Good Novel,” and one of my favorites (from the 99 cents store) “Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing.” It has great illustrations and was a fantastic buy. 
     Whatever you find on the craft of writing, the point is to read, read, and then read some more until you find a book that is understandable, memorable, and hopefully bargain priced. Or you can go to your next writing group and swap or trade books. Someone might have the 2000 Stephen King “Book on Writing,” and is willing to swap, after all the 10th Anniversary Edition just came out in July 2010. Or you can treat yourself and buy your own.