by S. E. White Everyone has heard of the Plotters vs. Pantsers camps for authors. Plotters take their story and attack it with outlines, guidelines, plotlines, and beat sheets. Pansters take it in a more relaxed way, writing as the story flows with plenty of detours as needed. Most writers take elements from each side and […]
by Libby Sommer
It is essential to separate the creator and the editor, or inner critic when you practice writing, so that the creator has plenty of room to breathe, experiment, and tell it like it really is. If the inner critic is being too much of a problem and you can’t distinguish it from your authentic writing voice, sit down whenever you find it necessary to have some distance from it and put down on paper what the critic is saying, put a spotlight on the words—“You have nothing original to say, what made you think you could write anything anyone would want to read, your writing is crap, you’re a loser, I’m humiliated, you write a load of rubbish, your work is pathetic, and your grammar stinks …” On and on it goes!
Say to yourself, It’s OK to feel this. It’s OK to be open to this.
You can learn to cultivate compassion for yourself during this internal process by practicing Mindfulness Meditation. Sit up straight, close your eyes, bring your awareness to your inner experience. Now, redirect your attention to the physical sensations of the breath in the abdomen … expanding as the breath comes in … and falling back as the breath goes out. Use each breath to anchor yourself in the present. Continue, concentrating on the breath for several minutes. Now, expand your field of awareness to include the words of the inner critic. Turn your attention to where in your body you feel the unpleasant thoughts, so you can attend, moment by moment, to the physical reactions to your thoughts.
“Stay with the bodily sensations, accepting them, letting them be, exploring them without judgment as best you can.”—Mindfulness, Mark Williams and Danny Penman.
Every time you realise that you’re judging yourself, that realisation in itself is an indicator that you’re becoming more aware.
The more clearly you know yourself, the more you can accept the critic in you and use it. If the voice says, “You have nothing interesting to say,” hear the words as white noise, like the churning of a washing machine. It will change to another cycle and eventually end, just like your thoughts and just like the sounds around you that come and go. But, in the meantime, you return to your notebook and practice your writing. You put the fear and the resistance down on the page.
Do you have any insights for those of us who struggle with a loud inner critic?
Excellent writing insights from Vincent Mars:
Not writing tips – nobody needs any more writing tips – but things sieved from my experience with this blog and my other writing endeavors. Things from the heart.
Three weeks till launch of my second novel ‘The Crystal Ballroom’, a novel-in-stories.
So what is a novel-in-stories? One famous example is Elizabeth Strout’s Pullitzer Prize-winning ‘Olive Kitteridge’.
‘A penetrating, vibrant exploration of the human soul, the story of Olive Kitteridge will make you laugh, nod in recognition, wince in pain, and shed a tear or two.’ – Goodreads
‘In a voice more powerful and compassionate than ever before, New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth Strout binds together thirteen rich, luminous narratives into a book with the heft of a novel, through the presence of one larger-than-life, unforgettable character: Olive Kitteridge.’
A novel-in-stories, or connected short stories that together become more than the sum of their parts, is also known as a short story cycle.
‘A short story cycle (sometimes referred to as a story sequence or compositenovel) is a collection of short stories in which the narratives are specifically composed and arranged with the goal of creating an enhanced or different experience when reading the group as a whole as opposed to its individual parts.’ – Wikipedia
‘A novel-in-stories is a book-length collection of short stories that are interconnected. (One of the very first examples of this genre is The Canterbury Tales; a more recent example is The Girl’s Guide to Hunting and Fishing, by Melissa Bank.) A novel-in-stories overcomes two key challenges for writers: the challenge of writing a novel-length work, and the challenge of publishing a book-length work of unrelated short stories. (Few publishers are willing to publish a short-story collection from an unknown writer.) So, the novel-in-stories helps you sell a story collection like you would a novel—as long as the interconnected nature of the stories is strong and acts as a compelling hook. Another advantage to novels-in-stories is that they afford you the opportunity to publish pieces of your novel in a variety of literary magazines, which might attract the attention of an editor or agent.’ – Writer’s Digest
‘The Crystal Ballroom’ is connected by place and by a first person narrator and her friend who exchange stories about the characters they meet at the singles dances as they search for a regular dance partner.
The book will be launched by Stephen Matthews on 1 July in downtown Melbourne at Collected Works Bookshop at an afternoon of launches and book reading to celebrate Ginninderra Press’s 21 years of independent publishing.
Counting down. Can hardly wait.
Excellent writing tips from Don Massenzio.
- Write every chance you get. Write every day if you can. You should be thinking about writing or actually writing whenever you can.
- Reading is so important. You should read every chance you get as well. Read good writing and read about writing. Balance fiction and non-fiction to help you improve your own writing.
- Use your everyday observations to help you with coming up with surroundings, characters and situations for your stories. You can do this by keeping notebook with you, or if you’re not afraid of being stared at, use your phone and a recording app and pretend your on a call while you make note of what you see.
- Check your writing for repetitive words and phrasing. If you find yourself using the same words repeatedly, refer to a thesaurus (Shift-F7 in Word) but don’t confound your reader with extravagant utterances and locutions that will flummox them. (Fancy…
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Do you plot your stories, or fly by the seat of your pants?
Plot means the story line. When people talk about plotting, they mostly mean how to set up the situation, where to put the turning points, and what the characters will be doing in the end. What happens.
Some fiction writers write organically, not knowing where the story they are writing is going. These writers say it would be boring to know what’s going to happen next and they lose their enthusiasm to tell the story because they know the outcome already. They prefer throwing themselves over the edge and into the void. This method can be very anxiety-producing. It means you need a lot of faith in your process.
Other writers plan the story before they begin. In detective fiction the story definitely needs to be worked out beforehand so information can be drip-fed to the reader.
In the past, when creating my short stories, I have worked organically and not known where my stories were headed as I wrote them. The shorter the piece of fiction, the less need for plot. You can write an interesting story in which not very much happens. A woman fights with her neighbour, a man quits his job, or an unhappy family goes out for a pizza. Simple structures work better than something too complicated when the story is short.
Now that I’m working on a new novel, I feel the need to plot.
“A plot can, like a journey, begin with a single step. A woman making up her mind to recover her father’s oil paintings may be enough to start. The journey begins there, as it did for Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment when he decided to commit his crime,” Jerome Stern Making Shapely Fiction
The plot grows and develops out of what helps and what hinders the characters’ progress toward their goals.
The Writers’ Workshop http://www.writersworkshop.co.uk/plot2.html ask:
- But how do you know if your draft plot has the right amount of weight to carry an entire novel?
- What kind of structures work?
- Is there a quick way to design your own plot template?
- And how do you handle a book with multiple points of view?
“A good plot has a clear motivation. It has a clear structure. It has an outcome. It has subplots. A good plot looks something like the plot structure template below,” The Writers’ Workshop.
|Motivation||Lizzie Bennett wants to marry for love|
|Plot structure||She meets Darcy & Wickham. She dislikes Darcy, and starts to fall for Wickham. Wickham turns out to be a bad guy; Darcy turns out to be a good guy. She now loves Darcy.|
|Outcome||She marries Darcy|
|Subplot 1||Jane Bennett (Lizzie’s nice sister) loves Bingley. Bingley vanishes. He reappears. They get hitched.|
|Subplot 2||Lydia Bennett (Lizzie’s idiot sister) elopes with Wickham. She’s recovered.|
|Subplot 3||An idiot, Mr Collins, proposes marriage to Lizzie. She says no. Her friend, Charlotte, says yes.|
Of course, there are a lot of things that the above plot template doesn’t tell you. It doesn’t say where the novel is set, it doesn’t tell you anything about plot mechanics – it doesn’t say why Lizzie dislikes Mr Darcy, or how Lydia is recovered from her elopement. It doesn’t have anything to say about character.
The Writers’ Workshop strongly advises us to build a template much like the one above before starting to write. “If you’ve already started your MS then, for heaven’s sake, get to that template right away.”
So I’ve decided to put myself out of my misery and create a Plot Template for my new novel. I already had my characters in place and knew what each character wanted. But now I’m forced into planning an ending, which isn’t a bad thing. Some writers don’t find the real beginning to their stories until they’ve written the ending.
So that’s all we need: a beginning, a middle and an end. Aristotle defined it like this: a beginning is what requires nothing to precede it, an end is what requires nothing to follow it, and a middle needs something both before and after it.
Easy peasy. Not.
What about you? Do you plot or write organically? What works and what sends you straight to the Writers Block Corner?
Header image: Creative Commons
Save the date! Help me celebrate the launch of my new book on Saturday 1 July. My second novel The Crystal Ballroom – stories of love and loss in the singles dance scene – will be launched by Stephen Matthews at Collected Works Bookshop, Level 1, Nicholas Building, 37 Swanston Street, Melbourne at an afternoon of book launches and readings to celebrate award-winning Ginninderra Press’s 21 years of independent publishing.
Hope to see you then 🙂