Sunday, October 28, 2012

Advice to a Beginning Writer

By Dean Croke

"Get into the flow," as Mihaly Csikszenthmihalyi, author of  Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, would say. Put aside your hyper-rational mind. There'll be room for that later come time to polish your work.

That said, if you're seeing the movie play out in your head vividly, and it's so real and captivating, this doesn't mean it's ready to go. Just that these scenes will likely make it into the book. They feel right on some level to you. Now it's a matter of making them make sense to the reader.

Now's a good time to pick up a book on narrative structure and see how the pieces you put down on paper fit together, how to glue the scenes together, and what missing pieces need filling in.

When you move from that "flow state", which is very right-brained incidentally, in which patterns are entirely clear to you, into "editing state", which is more left-brained, you begin to see how the reader might need more hand-holds, and suddenly how what was so obvious to you leaves the reader entirely lost.

Without three-act structure your reader is lost. But three acts is a lot more than beginning, middle and end. Did you know there are 15 chief beats that a good story must have according the Save the Cat by Blake Snyder? That's not a typo, the number really is 15. Now how many of those are in your story? If any of them is missing, your story won't feel right on some level. Your reader won't feel entirely satisfied, even if he can't articulate why.

You can read a million books on narrative structure and learn something from each of them, but not everything you need. Or you could read one very terse book, and even just a small section of that, and get what you need. Total investment of your time: 20 minutes. It's worth it. I strongly recommend you pick up a copy of Save the Cat. So next time I ask you, where is your "all is lost" moment, you'll understand what I'm asking.

When I mention that your mid-point is a "false high" and so is your "act two climax", you'll understand why that's a problem.

And if I appear flummoxed by why you didn't start your story with a "hook scene", you'll go, "Oh, my God, you're right!"

Or if I say I can't tell the difference between your "fun and games" section and your "the bad guys close in" section in Act Two, you'll know right away what I mean and how to fix it.

Did you know that Act Two is an upside down universe relative to Act One? That the general three act structure follows this pattern: 1) thesis, 2) antithesis, 3) synthesis. So if I can't tell much difference from your act two world and your act one world, you already know that's a big problem.

Did you know that before your hero can enter Act Three, he has to make a decision on a strategic approach to winning the day? And that decision is based on lessons learned from the B-story? Not only does the theme usually come out in your B-story, that's where your hero gains a lot of the strength to overcome increasing obstacles throughout your story.

But again, I'm not telling you anything you don't already know if you've read Save the Cat.

1 comment:

WritePersona said...

This is crammed with information - enough to keep a workshop busy. Thanks, Dean.