This brings us to the end of the Storymakers Conference notes. I hope you’ve found something helpful from reading these. Polish up those manuscripts, peeps, cuz I wanna read about how you landed agents or sold a bajillion copies on Amazon in the near future.
I’ve mentioned Clint Johnson before, who any of you can hire to critique your stuff via his site. He really knows his stuff and his forum was no exception to helpful tips. I give you last NOTES of the conference:
What is actually happening or going on in a story? There are three actions that generate what happens in a story.
- Advance Plot
- Setting Scene
- Revealing Character
Learn how to do all three of those motions simultaneously on the same page, in the same paragraph. Plot is not just a chronological unveiling of the events in your story. You can change the chronology to change the revealing of your story.
Setting limits within the scene dictates what can happen there. When you pick a place, remember that different places have different characters, your establishment of setting is going to affect those.
Revealed character is what makes your story matter. You can have set scene and have a plot that is completely advanced, and your story may still not matter. Characterization is the meaning..
Sometimes writers feel like they need to give us a block of backstory or a block of internalization. But anytime you have a block of anything, it’s a speed bump. The bigger the block, the bigger the bump, the more inertia you’re going to take away from your reader. Doing any one narrative action is bad.
Even if you know something that invests you, you’re using your previous knowledge to wade through the block. If you’re only using two of the three actions (from above), it’ll feel disembodied, or it’ll feel like nothing is happening or readers just won’t care. (And because I thought this next bit was especially good, I’m putting it in a block quote.)
Your story is not what happens. Your story is how your point of view character reacts to what happens.
Action only reveals so much meaning. Reaction is where the greatest amount of meaning comes from—especially in prose. Different mediums have different strengths, and what written prose does better than any other medium is it gives you access to the mind. We can slip into the mind any time we want. And we can’t escape the mind.
Your use of point of view is the key to being able to make everything you ever write matter.
It’s personalities that move an age, not politics – Oscar Wilde
If you begin with an individual you will find you have created a type (I think what he means by this is create an individual and let that individual reveal themselves to you and use what you have learned about the individual to create legitimate reactions within your writing). Begin with a type and you will find you have created nothing. (If you start with a characterization and don’t delve into what makes that character who he/she is, you will have a cliché and a flat character.)
The more we create an authentic individual we’ll find we’ve created a type. (And to go further into this, types in this sense are the Jack Bauers, Darth Vaders, Sarah Conners, i.e. the memorable characters).
In setting, you only record something important to the POV. Use POV to help it mean something. Two people can witness the exact same thing and have a completely different understanding of it. What you choose to describe tells you about the character.
At this point he had us do some exercises. He had us look at the room we were in and pick out a detail about it to describe in prose. So, if you want to play along, look at the area where you’re seated and pick out a detail or two to describe that area to readers. Why did you choose the details that you chose?
Now imagine an old woman were to come into your area. What would she notice that would reveal to us something about her? Modern, uncomfortable furniture. Loud, obnoxious music? Etc? What about the main character of your novel? What would they immediately notice about your space? Use their reactions to what they see to tell your readers something about them without actually “telling” them.
After a little discussion on our choices, we moved to another writing exercise. He split us into groups and gave us a specific topic to write about. For our group the set up was this: a reporter at the beach discovers a dead body. We had to describe the scene pulling out details that would tell us our character was a reporter and also show our reporter’s reaction to finding the dead body.
Once we had written and discussed this, he had us switch the POV to a homeless man finding the body on the beach and his reaction. Then to compare and contrast the differences between the POVs encountering the same exact beach and the same exact situation. If you do this exercise, you’ll be surprised with how the story reads (or at least should) very differently for two different characters walking into the exact same scene.
If you liked the sample of what you read here, you should really check out Clint’s site, especially for those of you thinking of self-publishing in the near future. I worked with him on the first 2 pages of my manuscript and found his insights to be extremely helpful and was astounded at how much he was able to read into the story with only 2 pages.
What do you think of Clint’s advice? Are you going to try the writing exercises? Have you considered approaching your writing in the way of your character’s reactions?