Years ago, I came up with this presentation for a local writing group and blog. Since then, I’ve had tons of requests to share it again. So I’m posting it here for all of my K&T friends.
I love writing, but I hate plotting. I’m much more comfortable having no idea what’s going to happen, writing out of order, then putting all the pieces together like a puzzle. Of course this means tons of revisions and time. So, to increase my productivity, I’ve read every craft book ever written and taken online plotting classes. And while I’d still rather wing the writing, one of my favorite devices is Anne Lamott’s story structure mnemonic.
From A to E, it’s short and easy to remember. For those of you who don’t know it, I’ll give a short re-cap.
Action (which includes the inciting incident), Background (backstory, which is now woven throughout the story), Conflict (goals, motivations, and hindrances), Development (protagonist’s journey) and End–parts 1 & 2 (crisis and resolution). Since I’m also a strong visual learner, I’ve come up with a visual representation of Ms. Lamott’s device, with an added prologue (because I love prologues, especially in stories where the heroine is a four-year old with a vivid imagination).
And this is how Ms. Lamott’s Story Structure saved the Princess, the Knight, and the Lamb.
Once upon a time, there was a Princess who wanted to play “Save the Lamb from the Evil Witch.” Except she didn’t have anyone to play with. So, with a smile and a cookie, she asked her twin brother, the Knight, “Will you play with me?”
He responded with a mouth filled with chocolate chips, “Will there be fighting?”
“Yes,” she said. “With swords.”
He smiled. “I’m in!”
“We have to hurry,” the Princess said. “We must save the Lamb from the Evil Witch who lives on the other side of the dark mountain. But first we need to find the unicorn.”
“Do we kill the unicorn?” the Knight asked.
“No. We feed the unicorn some magic acorns. Then she will tell us how to defeat the witch.”
“Okay!” The Knight grabbed his sword. “Let’s go.”
Once the Princess and the Knight got to the magic forest, the Knight said, “It’s dark and scary. Let’s feed the unicorn and get out of here.”
“First we have to find the fairies who will give us the magic acorns.”
He raised his sword high. “Let’s do it.”
“We can’t just ask the fairies for the acorns.”
“Why not? And when do I use my sword?”
The Princess sighed. “The fairies will have three riddles for us to answer, then we have to attend the magical fairy feast where they will try to poison us. But we can get an antidote for the poison from a talking rabbit who will betray us, but then become our mentor and guide and be redeemed.”
“I don’t understand,” the Knight said. “How come there’s so much talking? Where’s the action? When do I get to fight something?”
“After we get away from the fairies and the rabbit and find the unicorn, you’ll have to slay the dragon.”
“Whoa!” he said with a huge grin. “There’s a dragon?”
“Yes,” she said. “But don’t touch his gold. It’s enchanted.”
“Just as long as I can use my sword. Now let’s go find those fairies, slay the dragon, feed the unicorn, and save the lamb from the evil queen!”
“I’m done.” The Knight leaned against the barn door. “There was no dragon, no fighting, and I have a headache from all this backstory.”
The Princess started to cry. “I thought you wanted to play with me?”
“I wanted to use my sword. Not talk for three hours.”
The Princess stomped her foot. “But you promised!”
“Whatever.” The Knight shrugged and walked away. “I’m leaving to find the Good Queen. Maybe she has more cookies.”
The Princess and the Knight just couldn’t agree on how to proceed. Should he go play with Legos and find more cookies? Could she fight the fairies, dragon, and evil witch on her own?
Seeing no end to the conflict, the Good Queen (mommy) showed up with homemade brownies and lemonade (deus ex machina) and said, “I slayed the dragon, sent the fairies out to the garden, fed the unicorn, put the lamb down for a nap, and the evil witch is doing laundry. So all is well!”
“Long live the Good Queen!” yelled the Princess and the Knight.
So the Princess and the Knight ate brownies, took baths, and read books. Then they went to bed and ended their day with a Happily Ever After.
Now I’d love to know–do you plan your stories or do the wait-and-see? And if you plot everything out first, do you have a favorite structure? Since I’m fascinated by writers who know where their stories are going, I’d love to hear how you do it!
All photos courtesy of Sharon Wray.
We have a special treat for the authors and aspiring authors among our followers today, a guest post by Jill Sorenson, who writes gritty, action packed, sexy romantic suspense. I love Jill’s books, so I’m thrilled to gain some insight into her process. She has some terrific tips here that I intend to try.
Dirty Drafting: 11 Quick Tips
Hello Kiss & Thrill! Thanks so much for having me back.
NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is just around the corner. I’ve never participated in this event because writing an entire novel in one month sounds like a nightmare to me. Drafting is my favorite part of the writing process. Why would I want to stress out and rush the most enjoyable step?
Writing fast is practically a requirement for romance authors, but the key for me is writing steady and delivering a quality manuscript. If you hammer out an incoherent mess in a month and it takes you six months to edit, you’re not getting to the finish line any faster than someone who works at a less frenetic pace.
I wrote my latest novel in three months, most of it while my kids were home on summer break. That’s pretty fast for me. Some authors write a lot faster. I follow people on twitter who do “1k in 1hr” sprints, 5k days, even 10k days. I don’t know how they do it, so I’ll just tell you how I do what I do. If drafting is painful for you and you can’t wait to tinker/revise, try NaNo. If you prefer editing as you go and writing a clean first draft, read on.
There is no one true way, just different ways that work better for different people. I’ve heard fast authors say that anyone can learn to be fast, and I don’t believe that. I believe that everyone can improve their speed, but we all have physical and mental limitations. If you’re a genius, your brain might be supersonic. Or you might be a slow genius. I’m not any type of genius. I’m more of an Emma Stone in Easy A than a Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting. I want to be a commercial success, not a critics’ darling. I don’t have the natural ability to write 5k every day or the luxury to write slow.
So here are my tips for steady drafting.
1. Edit as you go (if you prefer) but always keep moving. Your first paragraph or chapter might make no sense by the time you get to the end. Characters change and develop over the course of a novel. Do what feels right in order to move forward, but don’t get bogged down by small details. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It will never be perfect.
2. Outline before you start. This is an important one for me. I research and do a detailed outline several weeks in advance. I’m constantly plotting, reworking and looking things up as I go, too. Stay flexible, but have a plan. An outline is a solid foundation that you can build on. You can also throw it out if you have to. Having plan makes it easier to move full steam ahead and avoid painting yourself into a corner.
3. Write every day, or almost every day. Taking long breaks will steal your momentum. Steady, daily progress is good.
4. Know where you’re going. Even if you’re not a big plotter, you can jot down notes every day before you start. Just a few minutes of concentration can make the difference between flying over the keys and staring at a blank page.
5. Don’t stop for the day at the end of a scene or chapter. Some authors stop mid-sentence. It trains your brain to keep thinking about the next sentence/scene/chapter, rather than closing the mental doors when you close the screen.
6. Take notes after you’re “done” for the day. This is my favorite tip for increasing speed and productivity. I love writing freehand notes. I remember things I forgot to do, continually reassess plot points, and jot down ideas for the next scene.
7. Get enough sleep. This is a challenge for me. Sleep well and your brain will function better, faster.
8. Beware of children. They require a lot of attention and feeding. If a childless person tells me that anyone can write 5k per day if they just try hard, I will twist her nose off and feed it to my child.
9. Exercise! I run almost every day, and I believe this has helped my output tremendously. It also helps keep me sane. If you spend too much time indoors, living with the imaginary people inside your head, you might end up with cabin fever, wielding a rubber mallet. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.
10. Don’t force it. Sometimes you have to sit your ass in the chair and get it done. Sometimes you have to do the opposite. When you’re pulling your hair out, rewriting the same sentence fifty times, just leave it alone. Go do some laundry, get a snack. Switch to a notebook. Changing scenery can jog you in a new direction.
11. Keep a cuts file. I do this for every book, and it helps me when a scene isn’t working. I’ll save a copy of the problem section in my cuts file. Then I can delete and rearrange dialogue or paragraphs without worrying about losing any important bits. It’s a quick, efficient way to get unstuck and move forward.
So there you have it. 11 quick-n-dirty tips for those who prefer clean first drafts! As always, do what works for you, be passionate about your writing, and try to have fun. Remember that a writing career is a marathon, not a sprint. Find your own pace.
Are you a writer? Do you plan to attempt NaNoWriMo? Do you have any tips you’d like to share or thoughts on Jill’s tips? Share them. We haven’t had a craft conversation at K&T in a long time, and I LOVE talking craft.
Jill Sorenson is the RITA-nominated author of more than a dozen romantic suspense novels, including the Aftershock series by HQN. She lives in the San Diego area with her family. She’s a soccer mom who loves nature, coffee, reading, twitter and reality TV. Jogging keeps her sane. Riding Dirty is her first erotic suspense novel.
You can find her at www.jillsorenson.com.