Authors, Inspiration, Shelly Lowenkopf, storytelling, Toni Lopopolo, Writing, Writing classes, writing tips

Some Things You Should Know about Story (Six, to Be Precise)

The Storyteller-Michael Shaheen, Flickr
The Storyteller-Michael Shaheen, Flickr


Writers want to write the best possible stories they can. Often, like me, writers have the best of intentions but fall short on delivery.

There is an art to storytelling, in the written form, and we writers flock to find out just what makes up this art.

One of the best teachers I’ve come across is Shelly Lowenkopf, a USC professor, who has a Lifetime Achievement Award, and is a consultant and author.

I’d like to share a recent post he wrote on his agent’s blog

Toni Lopopolo Literary Management

By Shelly Lowenkopf

(1) Whose story is it?

A dramatic work has only one central character. There may be secondary characters of equal importance to the overall narrative, but in the vast majority of literary accomplishments from Dracula to Candide, Tootsie to RichardIII,Madame Bovary to Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, there is only one central character. This character’s motive—what he/she wants in terms of a goal or objective–drives the story. This is the engine, the seminal force of the action. Action is the operant word in story, fluid and unrelenting, not to be confused with activity, which is often casual and directionless. The central character’s determination to follow what is often an obsessive course propels the action. This energy connects us to the central character. This dominant skein in a story commands our attention.

This imperative may also be subtle. Take Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet;

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Books, France,, Renni Brown, self editing, Shelly Lowenkopf, Toni Lopopolo, writer routines, Writing, Writing Resources, writing tips

Tips for an Incredible Writing Weekend

It is the evening of my departure for my month long adventure to France. Some anticipatory butterflies are fluttering through my stomach. 

My bags and travel apps are packed. (And yes, I do need to recharge the battery). 

The kids have heard the Riot Act in a couple of different versions. Everything seems like a go, but I’m sure once I’m on the airplane I’ll remember one or two things that are sitting on my dresser at home and not in my suitcase. 

I know I’ll miss my family, my boyfriend, my dog Chip, (but not KiKi the cat- the feeling is mutual). What I didn’t expect was something that crossed my mind a few minutes ago. 

I’m really going to miss my writing ritual. 

The one where I roll out of bed, stretch, push the power button on my laptop,before I go into the kitchen to make a pot of coffee and return to my swivel chair with a big mug of steaming coffee, a dash of half and half, and my peanut butter toast. For two hours, sometimes more, I type, refill the coffee cup, and blow crumbs off my desk.

When my friend Amada and I arrive in Upper Normandy on the 1st of September we will have to  establish new writing routines. Luckily both of us are early morning writers and both of us like quiet. 

During this Labor Day weekend, I’m sure you will want to squeeze in some time to put pen to paper or fingers to the keyboard. With that thought I’d like to share some tips for your writing weekend. 

1-These 10 gems for first time novelists to think about are from former St. Martin’s Press editor Toni Lopopolo, Agent in her “Bare Knuckle Writing Workshops.” One of the most important tip is: 

Mistake # 9: Poor Self Editing Skills: FTNs haven’t learned to self edit by editing other writers’ fiction, or by reading the recommended books

Sure, you can pay for a professional edit (anywhere from $4 a page to a flat rate of $ 2000) or you can learn how to self edit, make your story stronger, and save the $$$ for a trip abroad or a new roof.

2-A terrific book, Self Editing for Fiction Writers (How to Edit Yourself into Print) by Renni Browne and Dave King (Editors at William Morrow and Writer’s Digest) is a must for a writer. I belong to a writing group, a writing club, and recently the Goodreads pick for our online writer’s group, Wordsmith Studio. This book has been a must read for all three groups. 

The topics which first time novelists find hard to grasp and usually lack in their stories are:

  •  three dimensional characters, 
  • maintaining point of view, 
  • interior monologue, and 
  • voice

This handy reference book delves into subjects such as showing and telling in a way as to engage the readers’ emotionsEach of the 12 Chapters has a checklist so that you can apply the concepts to your work. 

If you’re not at the self editing stage yet, here are some amazing questions and tips about story, from an instructor I’ve had the privilege to meet. 

3-Shelley Lowenkopf is an editor, writer, and Professor Emeritus at USC. In his Seven Things You Write A Story to Discover you are asked to consider the who, what, where, why and more of story. The question, “Why should we care?” is most important.

We tend to care about stories dramatizing experiences that squeeze characters in ways similar to the squeezes and pressures we have experienced.  We care if someone we identify with is vulnerable.” 

 If the reader doesn’t care, they will stop reading. End of story. 

4-For those of you who are in the throes of revision here’s a handy guide that explains editing marks-you know those scribbles all over your work in progress or manuscript.  

Author’s Success Platform

I’m going to skip tip # 5 for another day, another post, because this one is longer than I anticipated. IF you have a 5th tip let us know in the comment section. We really want to know.

Now, I must get back to the suitcase on the floor and cast out some unlucky clothes. 

And remember, before you start your Writer’s Weekend please:

 Au Revoir Mon Ami’s.

Dennis Mathis, Shelly Lowenkopf, Talking Heads, Ten Ways Writers Confuse Readers, TFS, Writing

Ten Ways Writers Confuse Their Readers-Part II

How many ways are there to confuse a reader? I don’t know because the reader will throw the book down when the writing bores or frustrates them to death.

A couple of days ago I posted how writers confuse their readers. Here are five more, three from Dennis Mathis-Editor and two from my writing instructor Shelly Lowenkopf.

6. Negative Description- “He was not an aggressive driver. He didn’t speed or switch lanes or use his horn. She showed no hint of anxiety.” We don’t want to know what’s not there, we want to know what is there.

7. Commas- “I assumed his death would be reported by the press and the police checkpoint came as no surprise.” Self-explanatory.

8. Map-Making- “He climbed ten steps, walked twenty feet down the hall, turned left, walked east halfway down the corridor and knocked on the third door on the right.” It’s supposed to be a story, not a Thomas Guide.

9. Talking Heads-A long string of dialogue with no action, conflict, description, or dialogue tags (‘he said’). “A lamentable condition arising when two or more characters in a scene exchange dialogue with only minimal accompanying gestures. Individuals converse in real life. (They) use dialogue and agenda as though each were a volleyball being batted back and forth over a net.” From Lowenkopf’s “The Fiction Lover’s Companion (TFLC).”

10. TFS- Writers who are overly given to descriptions and explanations. The reader wonders where he/she is going.  The story should begin in the opening chapter, even the first page, not buried in chapter three. Tell the Freaking Story. (Also in TFLC).

Avoid these 10 pitfalls and you’ll be on your way to taking a reader along with you on your storytelling journey. Commit these errors and very possibly lose current and future readers.

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.