Monday, March 18, 2013

Another Addiction, Another Craft Book

I stumbled upon BLUEPRINT YOUR BESTSELLER on Amazon and was quite grateful for my public library for having a copy. (One of those rent it before you buy it things--oh, how I wish I had done that with several of the DVDs on my shelves, but no matter.) It's a book about a different way of looking at the revision process. He doesn't care if you plot or pants--it matters you have a substantial amount of your book written before you try his process because essentially his process is looking at the book as a whole and tightening the strings until you have it in tune. After all, the real writing comes in revision.

What I liked about this book was how it didn't seem to concentrate on character or plot or the individual mechanics of a story, but seemed instead to focus on the innocuous. And he seemed to have some interesting math. Like every story has 99 scenes...and about 10-15 series...and 1 (only one) theme.

Now I know we all know what scenes are; and we know how important scenes are. You know when you're keeping a scene in your novel, it must be a scene that advances the story in some way, either through plot or character or well, hopefully, both. We've been writing about theme since Second Grade when we had to write about our summer vacations. No anxiety there, but the series was a bit confusing at first, at least for me. Fortunately though, the more I read about it, the more I realized I (and other writers) already seem to do this, even if we don't necessarily call it this. Or we might mislabel it because I would be tempted to call it theme. (However, he was very adamant there is only one theme in a novel.)

A series is a iteration, something that is repeated (or re-emphasized) at various points of the book, usually creating a pattern of some kind that advances the character arc in one way or another. These iterations are generally "one-word" descriptors, like ACCEPTANCE or IDENTITY or DEATH or whathaveyou, that somehow tie back to your theme but are not the entire theme. The theme instead is a one-line summary of what your message in your novel is about. If I was talking about my current WIP, I'd say it's "What are our roles in marriage and the Happily Ever After?"--and the series, I believe, are things like HAPPINESS and LOVE and MARRIAGE and RESPONSIBILITY. My characters have different values when it comes to happiness and love and marriage; and they have different values of who is responsible for these things.

It was just a very interesting way to look at your story, identify these key elements so you could strengthen the story as a whole and tighten everything, as if you had done all this on purpose. (Maybe you did, but for me, a lot of writing is letting my Muse know everything and she just tells me what I need to know. Frequently it isn't until the revision I realize just what a damned genius I really was--only it wasn't me, it was clearly my Muse. You'd understand if you saw the TED talk.)

Anyway, if you were on a mission for another writing craft book...or you wanted to think about revision in a different way, this was also an approachable way to look at your writing. I think I may include it on my writing craft bookshelf for future reference.

Have you ever thought about revision in this way? Do you know what the theme of your story is and some of the series/iterations that occur in your book? And have you seen this TED talk? Isn't that a funny way to think of a Muse and a good reason to believe in one?

14 comments:

Maureen said...

Oh, god...this sounds way too organized for me. Granted, I tend to view revision as so organic that the idea of slotting things into a pattern... *run away! *run away!

But that is probably just me. I understand how these things work and think with enough distance from a particular story I could work this.

And what is this TED talk?

Marnee Bailey said...

I deleted the last two comments. Spammy, McSpam.

This book sounds great. And I could always use a new perspective on revisions. I'm trying to figure out the ending of this story and a new perspective would sure be nice.

I haven't read any craft books in a year or so and maybe I should. Maybe it'd jar something loose for me.

This sounds great though! Thanks for the heads-up!

MsHellion said...

If you click on "TED talk" above when I say "You'd understand if you saw the TED talk" it will take you to the presentation. It's Elizabeth Gilbert talking about creativity. VERY funny. References Tom Waits and Leonard Cohen....

Terri Osburn said...

I had the opposite response Chance did. This doesn't sound overly organized at all. How does the author suggest applying these "novel facts" to revision? If you have 95 scenes you should add 4? If you don't have enough series you should add more? I'm a little confused in the application here.

I work really hard in the writing of the rough draft so there isn't a ginormous amount to do in revision. For me, revision has been about adding the descriptions/setting details and bringing out the emotion. I think I must take the show don't tell thing too far and assume I'm showing enough. But I always have to beef up the emotion.

I have not seen that TED Talk, but I'll watch it tonight. I don't ever think of myself as having a muse. I just rely on the characters to tell me the story, but like your muse, they often withhold important information.

Terri Osburn said...

I didn't know you meant THAT TED Talk. LOL! I just watched that a few days ago.

MsHellion said...

Marn, he also uses the example of the story of the Ugly Duckling and uses it to "prove" his revision technique--so you can see how it works in action. It's cool.

I was so excited I was getting "so many" comments this morning...should have known it was spam. *LOL*

MsHellion said...

I don't think he's precise about the numbers except where it comes to theme ("There can be only one.")

I agree that craft books--and "how to revision" things aren't for everyone. I just like to read craft books to see what sticks when I go about my revising later. :)

You'd have a heart attack though. He wants you to cut up your scenes PHYSICALLY and rearrange them to a better order. That's like the first step. (I am not exactly on board with this. *LOL* I like the series thing and thinking about that within story, but cutting up my scenes and rearranging? Ha!)

I love that TED Talk. I've watched it several times. *LOL*

P. Kirby said...

Because my optimum writing style is full steam ahead, no planning, let the muse/characters lead the way, revision is an essential part of my process. And often it’s bloody.

But my immediate visceral reaction to the idea that there is only one theme (There can only be one, like Highlander), is, “NO!” Different strokes, ya know? But I see my stories often having more than one theme. One might hold preeminence over the others, but still “themes,” not series.

Of course, this is totally semantics, (and me being prickly over something that obviously works for other people), but it’s why craft books don’t work for me anymore. I learn more just shooting the breeze with other writers than from someone’s big book on writing.

Maureen said...

Gods, Pat. We're both revision vampires. We listen to what others are saying and if it makes sense we use it. We mine the minds of others.

Though I do, on occassion, read the list of chapter topics of craft books. But that's about as far as I go. (You can get a lot of help from doing that!)

I do wish our blog would highlight better when we have a link...going to check out the TED talk...

Oh, btw, I'm a guest at http://star-crossedromance.blogspot.com/2013/03/guest-maureen-o-betita.html today...

Maureen said...

Okay, that TED talk was bril. And Ole'! Good handle on the whole fear of failure/success thing.

quantum said...

I reckon writing books is like having babies. There's lots of ways to do it and any craft book is just going to give you one personal opinion.

If floating in water does it for you (giving birth that is!) then go for it.

Think I'd better stop before I put my foot in it big time!

MsHellion said...

Pat, I hear you. Believe me when I was yelling at the book, "There is MORE THAN ONE THEME IN A BOOK or there can be!"--so I had to like meditate to continue on in the book, just to see if his point did have anything I could use in my writing. :)

MsHellion said...

Mo, I think that's what writers do with most any writing advice, isn't it? If it fits your style, you go with it; if it doesn't, it's crap. *LOL* Nothing wrong with that. It'd be like being forced to write right-handed if you were actually left-handed...perhaps you could do it, but you'd hate it and it would never come out as beautifully as if you could do it your natural way.

MsHellion said...

Q, you're the bravest man I know. *LOL* But yes, craft books are just giving personal opinions of what worked for them. Doesn't necessarily work for everyone...or even anybody else. And yes, if you labor long enough, you'll eventually come out with a baby under your own devices...which is the only way you can come out with a baby...or a book.