Tag Archives: writing and reading
We’ve added the guidelines that we use to run our writing circle meetings. Click here to see them.
I used to write stories. Now I write jokes.
I’ve been doing stand-up comedy for almost a year and a half. When people ask if I enjoy it, I respond enthusiastically. I tell them that I’m happier now than I’ve ever been, though I wonder sometimes if that’s true.
There is an addictive vice like nature to this new path of mine. I am always looking forward to the feeling of being on stage. My nights are spent in bars. I drink too much and don’t sleep enough. There are days when my head hurts and I don’t want to get out of bed.
So maybe I’m not happier than ever.
But I do love it.
There is something wonderful about writing a new joke. Coming up with an idea, crafting it into a bit, and seeing how an audience reacts is thrilling. It’s never close to perfect on the first try, or even the second, and sometimes it takes well over a dozen attempts, with varying edits along the way, before it’s polished and ready.
Still, I miss writing stories.
Every scene, every plot, every novel that is to be successful follows an arc of some kind. A work of fiction typically unfolds with scene setting exposition, followed by a rising action, a climax, and brief falling action to wrap up the plot. Although not all successful pieces of literature have followed this formula, it is one that has proven potent for as long as stories have been told. Each scene of your work should follow a similar pattern, echoing the rising and falling actions of the larger body. Below is a summary of six cyclical points necessary to intensify your plot, engage your reader, and hold their attention through each scene and chapter.
The Set Up
- Goal––Begin with a specific/definable goal your POV character wants.
- Obstacles ––Set up obstacles or conflict your character must face before reaching their goal.
- Disaster––Don’t let them have their goal right away. Let the reader see them struggle.
4. Reaction––Show your characters emotions and actions as a result of the Disaster.
5. Dilemma––Force your character to wrestle with his next move. There will be no good options to choose from. Let them deliberate.
6. Decision––The decision should involve risk and a slim chance for success. This decision leads into the character’s next goal, conflict, disaster, and so on.
These six steps produce the foundation for realistic and psychologically viable responses from your character. When one fails, one doesn’t just jump on the next bus. We stew, we agonize, and then we plot anew. These struggles and successive approximations toward the characters goals are captivating because they are human; they inspire empathy and hope within the reader. For optimal results use these steps in a cyclical fashion, increasing the risk and dilemma as you rise to meet the climax of the broader arc of your main plot.
I started this post over several times. On each occasion, after mulling over the first few lines, I feverishly hit the delete button. I know, it didn’t have to be perfect. But, I just couldn’t help myself.
Here’s my brain firing (or misfiring) away…
Does it sound right? Yes, it does.
Well, I think it does.
Hmm, maybe not. No, definitely not.
DELETE! DELETE! DELETE!
There, a blank screen. So much better!
This experience has been typical of my writing lately. And it is something that I need to overcome. Instead of just letting the words flow, and worrying about editing after I’ve got a good chunk of words down on the page, I tend to edit as I go. That slows everything down, and when the process becomes a crawl, it doesn’t feel all that creative.
What to do about this?
For starters, finish this post!
But for the long-term, I think I need to just get the words on the page. It doesn’t matter if it’s not perfect the first time. Just start writing and keep writing.
There’s always time to edit later.
“The greatest part of a writer’s time is spent in reading, in order to write; a man will turn over half a library to make one book.”
So says Samuel Johnson.
The best possible writing lesson can thus be expressed in these steps:
- Read a lot
- Write a lot
- Repeats steps 1-2 ad infinitum.
There is no better tool to write than to read. Any writing advice, any manual on writing fiction (or anything else) will leave you with one central lesson repeated so often as to be a cliche: To be a writer you must be a constant reader.