Getting Closer

I think I’m closer to starting a new story soon. I see things in my head, and that usually means there’s a story writhing around in my brain, looking for the birth canal.

I’ve done some major thinking and learning about things over the last few weeks, and maybe some of that stuff needs to settle, to hit the writing gullet as it were, so I can churn it up and use it.

What, ask you, have I been masticating during my down time this past (sickly) weekend?

Well, for one thing, I did some research on horror, and found a lot of horror writers giving advice about how to write scary things. But I think Stephen King still said it best when he said he writes what scares him.

That’s good advice, but like I’ve said before, I think what scares me isn’t as universal as what scares others. So finding out how to write horror is on my list of things to do this year. (Note to self: avoid overdone tropes like zombies and vampires.)

So anyway, I spent some quality time reading while the writer brain took it’s (six-month long) break from writing. And never more than in the last couple of weeks. I’ve devoured writing books, most of which I got as part of a NaNoWriMo craft bundle a couple months back. But the problem is, I never knew how to read them and get anything out of them.

Most people probably don’t have this problem. They read a book, get the information, use what they want, and move on. But I’m a…well, let’s just say I’m a little different. I either read the book and accept the entire thing as new truth and methodology, or I reject the entire contents as garbage. Then, and only then, do I move on.

Learning craft comes in tidbits. You read this book, that book, the other book, you glean this bit of info, that bit of info, another bit of info, and soon, you’re learning. And you go back to those books years from now and you scan them again, and get the good stuff out, and keep what’s awesome, and toss what doesn’t work for you at that time. And know, all the while, you’re growing, changing, becoming better (ideally).

Outlining didn’t make sense to me when I was in high school and beyond. Then I learned about story structure, specifically the four-part structure for screenwriters (which also works great for fiction writers, btw). Then I couldn’t stop preaching use of the story maps, creating the milestones and writing to them. Then I got deeper and deeper into outlining and found I couldn’t write anything else.

And the Hero’s Journey? Well, my wife and I spent an afternoon making one of my ideas fit onto that beautiful template and we fell in love with it. I ended up doing a fifteen-page mini-treatment of that book…but never wrote the book.

Then I learned about Writing into the Dark from Dean Wesley Smith, and I found it fit me perfectly. Perfectly. It makes everything about writing clear, trusting the creative mind to use all it’s learned over your life about story and how to tell them. Then, if there’s a problem, I can follow David Baboulene‘s advice and use structure and templates to diagnose the issues, if need be.

Well now, I’ve learned yet another method for getting a story off the ground. It’s so strong, so powerful a tool, my children – a fourteen year-old boy and ten year-old girl – used it to create new stories and swear by it. The method is beautiful because, when you provide what needs to go into the beginning, the story itself will tell you what you need to write next. It’s a basic seven-point plot structure, but man – it goes like gangbusters. At least, my kids say so. I haven’t tried using it yet.


But my trouble so far has been time. It takes me longer to learn things, adopt them, and trim them down to what I need for me, my style, my current state of skill and development as a writer. It’s taken me a long, long time to figure out outlining doesn’t work for me because I do it to a fine granular level, and that means, after all that work and effort and brainstorming, my creative mind believes the story’s been written. I can’t focus my creative power and energy on it. It’s…done.

Reading craft books was a digital process for me – either it’s in, or it’s out. I use it all, or none. If it jibes with what I already know and use, I adopt it. If it doesn’t and I don’t like what it’s saying, then I throw out all of it, every word, every jot and tittle. It’s all worthless.

But if it’s eye-opening and makes my spirit sing with the truth of it – even if I’m not currently using that method – I’ll abandon everything else I’m doing and throw myself full-force into the new thing, the new and better (in my eyes) method.

But this past week, I started learning that, like most other humans, I have to learn and grow in bits and pieces. I have to learn to scan books, find what interests me, go there and read what it says, and take tiny parts away. It’s not supposed to be, and never should be, an all-or-nothing proposition.

I can’t imagine how much more I’d have grown, how much more I’d have produced, if someone had taught me these things five years ago. Probably not at all, none, zero, because I needed to know the rest of it before I could come to this, I think. My path went just as it should, and now that I’m getting some additional pieces into my brain, things are shaking out better.

I saw a post over the weekend on DWS’s blog about this very topic and it really set me on a new path. Learning is lifelong, and never in big chunks. So we read craft books and take little bits away from it. Years later we might circle back and get more or different things out of it. We always learn, we always grow.

And when I reach the next juncture I’ll be, if God is willing and I do things right, a better storyteller, now that I know how to learn from books in smaller pieces.


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