I’ve been reading some books on writing, classics in the field, and I want to share a couple of ideas gleaned from the masters:
Lawrence Block Writing the Novel
I’m implementing Block’s exercise of reducing stories to their basic plot. When reading a novel, jot down on the margins things that happen, just the events in broad strokes — the beats. Once done reading, write out these beats into an outline. This exercise, Block says, is a way of learning how novels work. By outlining the stories that you read, you master a technique that will be helpful when you’re writing your own story.
Another of Block’s advice is one I’m sure Dorothea Brande would agree with: keep a notebook where you write down ideas that pop into your head throughout the day and, that’s the important part, make a habit of glancing through the notebook before going to bed at night — that way your unconscious mind (or your genius, as Dorothea might say) can ruminate on these ideas and hopefully produce useful connections when you sit down to work.
Robert McKee Story
This one is primarily intended for screenwriters but a lot of McKee’s advice will be useful to any and all story-tellers. One of the suggestions I’m keen to try out is to write backwards, from the Story Climax to the Inciting Incident.
I liked this idea because what often happens to me is that I come up with a great premise, and then I spend hours upon hours trying to decide what happens next and how it all ends. More often than not I get stuck and never find out. McKee suggests to look for great endings rather than intriguing beginnings. Once you have a vision of such a great ending, the Climax, try to figure out what has to have happened to lead to it in a meaningful and satisfying way.
Seems worth trying.