Stepping into the forest of my mind

Stepping into the forest of my mind
Just as every journey begins with a first step, every story begins with the first word.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Story Genius Course: Starting with Backstory
The Story Genius course started
as a book. Lisa Cron uses concrete
methods to guide story creation.
That’s right, fellow writers!  Before you begin to write forward in your story, you need to understand who your protagonist is and why she acts the way she does.  What happened in her life before the story opens that makes her think and act this way?  Just like real people, characters are molded by prior life experience. 

Understanding the backstory of the protagonist [as well as secondary characters] is vital for fiction writers to create believable characters for their stories.  And that helps readers to connect with the characters and care about them.

Lisa Cron of Story Genius believes that writers must understand their characters before they can even begin to write the story present.  Cron believes stories are character driven as opposed to plot driven.

Cron’s concept of a character-driven story helps me to see that a particular story can only happen to this character because of how the character was raised or because of specific events that have happened to this character in her life before the present story action occurs.     

It’s a concept of specifics:  this particular story can only happen to this particular character because of her past and how she interpreted it.  It’s the character’s beliefs that drive the story forward and help the reader to connect to her.   

A particular character with her own beliefs and specific backstory works in memoir as well, although I must admit that I feel like I’ve been on a therapist’s couch for weeks now.  Looking for the “why” of my insecurity in college is giving me a complex—now, in my life’s present story. 

I need to discover why I didn’t attend college right after high school and how and where my insecurities developed. 

Oooo!  I thought.  I can tell you why I didn’t go to college right out of high school.  We didn’t have any money for college.  And my family didn’t believe in loans for college.  We went to work after high school. 

My editor writes back:  “Think deeper.  Why?”

My response:  I was signing up for high school courses at the time I found out there was no money for college.  It was the early 1970’s.  I grew up in a blue-collar neighborhood.  This was the norm—especially for females.  

The editor wrote again:  “A deeper why?”

Me:  Dad said you only go to college if you want to be a doctor or a lawyer.  [But we still didn’t have any money for it.]

Editor:  “Why did he think that?  How did this make you feel?”

…Do you see why I’m developing a complex over this? 

“Dig deeper into your feelings and memories,” the editor said.  “Pull out how you developed your insecurities.”

I wanted to write back:  Stop picking on me!  You and Story Genius are adding to my insecurities.  I might require a real therapist couch at this rate.

But I didn’t. 

Thanks so much for stopping by.  Feel free to visit Adventures in Writing again to learn how I make out with all these questions that are invading my dreams right now.  Please leave any insight you may have.  It is always greatly appreciated.  

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Insecure Writers Want to Know: When do you know your story is ready?

That’s a question every writer deals with constantly. Okay, okay.  Maybe it’s just me.  I confess. I’m a fusser and worrywart. I write YA adventure short stories mostly, and after fussing with the plot and characters for a while, I will tweak placement of actions and feelings.  Then I turn to the biggest stall of all: words.  Man!  Can I waste days, if not weeks, on this.

             In reality, a writer should have a logical routine to work through story or essay.  Start with an idea or situation.  For me, many times I begin with a poor unfortunate soul saddled with troubles.  I’ve got to have that internal problem for my character to overcome.  Many times it’s familial or deals with friends because it’s YA.

But then because I need excitement in my story, I look for danger lurking on the horizon of my character’s immediate future [because it’s short story].  That translates into location and, sometimes, a wild animal or two.  A plot forms and I need to work through the logic of the story. 

This is short story, so word count is important. Therefore, I trim and tuck telling details into action. I monkey with explanation and sense of what’s happening.  Then I live in the fussing with crisp word choice: how to find one word to state the same action, thought, or feeling as several.

This is what hangs me up for weeks, sometimes, because in order to tuck in a clearer description or feeling or action in one place, I may need to trim words in another.  Words are precious in short story, especially YA where the count is usually 1800 words.  And the younger the story, the shorter the word count.  Flash fiction works the same way.

So when do you know your story is ready to send out?  You don’t.  But if you follow through your own logical method and include critique, I always do, you can feel a teeny bit better about letting go.  You need to send the story out to move on in life.  And then pray.  Or take a walk and try not to obsess over it.  At least this is what I do.  Do you have any suggestions or tips on when to send out your work to publishers?

This post was written for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group.  We post on the first Wednesday of every month.  To join us, or learn more about the group, click HERE.