Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Gift of Great Advice

The Gift of Great Advice

I’ve been absent a while but I found my way back. The credit for that goes in good part to Marie Force and self-publishing@yahoogroups.com the loop she guides with grace and skill.
The loop is targeted to writers who are or wish to be independently published. I have discovered it applies to all of us who are or wish to be published in any manner anywhere.

This is particularly true of a recent loop thread beginning with the words “I am sooooooo discouraged.” That poignant phrase unleashed a flood of responses. Some were declarations of empathy. “I know just what you’re talking about,” they said and went on to share the source of their mutual experience in anecdotes ringing with authenticity.

Even more of the response was sympathy. “You can get through this,” they said and went on to share their own experience of overcoming in anecdotes ringing with resilience and the indomitably that gives me faith in and wonder at the human spirit.

I could feel each person taking up the gauntlet of grace under pressure and offering hope. Yet I heard no polyannas or platitudes. Only recognition of a sister struggler and the shared contention that this is a hard road we’ve chosen.

The just about universal conclusion was that the struggle and hard road are made worthwhile by satisfaction at soul level. Between the frustrations and inevitable low moments a writer keeps on writing for the love of it. Not a magic bullet or panacea or easy answer but to my way of empathizing and sympathizing at least – undeniably true.

The piece of advice that resonated with me personally came from Maggie Lynch. In a deeply honest response she told the story of her struggles and sources of sustenance. She spoke of the need on occasion to take a break. My psyche heard that and knew she was speaking to me.

The break I need to take is from the stress of expectations – my expectations of myself most of all but the expectations of others also. I need to find out what is right for me to do for my life as a productive person and for my life in general. This was what the loop thread wove in brightest color for me. I have no doubt the tapestry differed for each of us. The common pattern being gratitude that so many cared and spoke.

The lament of “I am sooooo discouraged” echoed in their hearts and they made the generous choice to open them. They signed their names too. They allowed themselves to be vulnerable – all out and all in for all of us to see.

I’m grateful for the great advice. I’ve even begun to follow it. But most of all I’m grateful for the wideness of spirit with which that advice was given. What could be more true to the soul of this season than that? Happy holidays.


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

There Are Times We Can't Write


Sometimes life sits on our bellies very hard. So much so that we can barely breathe much less write.

The prompts and prompters – including myself – tell us we must Do It Anyway. But let’s face it. Sometimes we can’t.

Crises and catastrophes. Tight spots and tense periods. They come to all of us. Life moments and episodes and sometimes longer periods that overwhelm us.

The priority here is to get through it one step at a time. Or if you can’t move yet – just hang on. That’s the true Do It Anyway in such times. Get Through & Hang On.

So what about the work? What about the writing that restores your soul?

There is the rub actually. If you could do the writing it would restore your soul. But sometimes you simply cannot write.

BUT – you can collect material.

In our writing no matter what the genre may be we seek to create intensity and drama and power. These gut-wrenching soul-crunching experiences are exactly that. Intense – Dramatic – Powerful.

So take notes.

Maybe you’re not up to transcribing full scenes but you can still grab the best goodies from your bad situation. Snatches of dialog. Flashes of description. And most of all the feelings. All captured on a page for future use.

This is a scavenging operation and a salvage project. This is making lemonade from lemons – though maybe not particularly sweet lemonade. This is also an antidote because the writing down can often be an airing out as well.

Life in its perverse generosity offers each of us many such intensity opportunities. Here’s what a writer can do about that. Get through. Hang on. Write it down.

When you finally drag your battered self back to your feet again there it will be. A heartload of paydirt material. Waiting for your creative touch to re-purpose it into what just might be some of the best work you’ve ever done.


Friday, October 4, 2013

How About Building a Series


Readers love novels written in a series. They offer an adventure through a world that you create as the author. You build that world detail by detail and record those details in your Series Bible.

I love series myself. I love to read them and I love to write them. In fact I’m writing one now. I’m creating my Series Bible the old fashioned way – handwritten in a black and white marbled notebook with pale blue lines in teeny tiny quad-ruled squares.

I do love notebooks. I know that at least some of you share this addiction to the feel of paper and the turn of pages and the world of ideas you record on those pages. This is what I call a positive addiction and it can work really well to make your series grow a life for you.

Okay – go ahead and do the same thing in a computer file if you prefer. But you’ll have to allow me and my Luddite companions to wallow in the wonder and romance of turning pages between notebook covers if that’s what we prefer.

The goal of the bible and the writing that goes with it is to draw readers into our series world and make them love it there so much that they’ll keep on loving it through one book then the next and the next. To do this we must create a world that resonates with fascinating reality. We must create a place our readers will yearn to re-enter again and again.

To do that we must master and practice the art of immersion. We must immerse our readers so completely in the story worlds we create that they are eager to remain there until we release them at The End.

When we do finally release these eager readers they will miss the world we’ve made so real for them. They will feel forced out into the cold and barely able to stand the wait until they can return to that story world and the characters that live there.

When this magic happens in your story world the narrative hook has been set. And it is a magical process indeed – storytelling magic with you as the magician. You set that story hook in your reader’s heart with the first foray into your story world in your first book. You set the hook even deeper with each series story that follows.

The key to immersing your reader in your story world is to immerse yourself there first. Begin by establishing the Rules of the world you are creating – the details that make this world come alive. It’s okay that you don’t know everything about this world just yet. You’ll learn more and the world of your series will become clearer as your story reveals itself to you.

This process of gradual revelation grows and deepens until you’re immersed in your story world – invaded by it – taken over by it – possessed by it. Until this world becomes as tangible and deeply experienced as the day-to-day world of what we call real life. When you write from this deep place your reader can’t help but go there with you. And what an adventure it is!


So how about building a series? What do you think about that possibility?

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Passionate Appreciation is Imperative


Rejection can be a soul killer. This is true everywhere in life. The opposite is also true. Appreciation sincerely expressed can restore our belief in ourselves & everything else.

For decades I avoided the label good cook. I knew that when you become identified with a skill folks may ask you to perform that skill to the exclusion of other activities & identities you might prefer. I made a point of never perfecting either my typing or my cooking.

A couple of years ago – inspired by several internet blogs – a point of light discovered the culinary corner of my spirit & I’ve been stretching toward that illumination ever since. But never as much as during the past few weeks.

My grandchildren are with me for the summer – Maya age 15 & Julian age 10 – & boy do they love to eat. Consequently I’ve cooked & cooked & cooked some more mostly in the morning before the heat & humidity take over my small red & white apartment kitchen.

I’d have thought I’d be dead sick of that routine by now but I’m not. The grands consume my food with gusto as soon as I can get it to the table. They appreciate what I create. And that makes all the difference.

Each of us longs for our creations to be appreciated – the more passionately the better. We yearn for the gifts we make with our hands & hearts & imaginations to be gobbled up by a world that is hungry for them & feels fulfilled & nourished as they push back from our table.

Unfortunately this is not always the response we receive. Unfortunately we often experience rejection instead. We feel the sting of our gifts flung back at us & not from the heart of the hurler.

We may even add salt to those wounds by agreeing that our gifts were unworthy or at least not worthy enough. There Be Dragons. The dragons of discouragement & self doubt & the defeat of forgetting to Fall down seven times get up eight as the wise ones advise.

Here’s the antidote to all of that. Find yourself a Plethora of Passionate Appreciators. Peer groups of like-minded folks are the way to go. Seek out those like you & me & all of us who need what Karl Jung said we most crave – to be heard & understood.

The internet is an abundant resource. One perfect example is www.laundrylinedivine.com from  Suzi Banks Baum. Writer mothers write & share & are heard & understood.

Another is selfpublishing@yahoo.com – an absolute cornucopia of information for those of us braving or attempting to be brave enough to brave the world of independent publishing.

There are more resources like these for whatever your priorities may be. I urge you to seek them out & to share them. In fact you can share them with me at aliceorrseminars@gmail.com & I will pass that bounty along to others of us in search of a simpatico tribe. I look forward to hearing from you.

By the way the main dish for tonight is my version of Uncooked Pasta Sauce over Whole Wheat Spirals. Feel free to ask for the recipe. I love to share.


Thursday, July 25, 2013

Retreat -- Meet -- Make Magic


There are writers’ conferences and there are writers’ retreats and barely the twain shall meet.

Writers’ conferences are about craft and career – the business of being a writer. Writers’ retreats are about craft and contemplation – the soul of being a writer.

Both happen all seasons of the year but I love best the retreats of summer. When the dog days crawl in it’s a blessing and a relief to have a place to be apart with members of one’s tribe.

I found that place in the late seventies when I was done with feminist journalism or it was done with me and my writer self was adrift in a sea of uncertainty.

I wanted to write fiction but was convinced I had no imagination – not enough anyway to be a true storyteller like Mary Higgins Clark or my grandmother Alice Jane Rowland Boudiette. All of those names were a lot to live up to and I deeply doubted I had the stuff to meet that mark.

Then I heard about a writers’ conference retreat being held at a college about a half hour’s drive from where I lived. I signed up on impulse but only for the weekend.

I was wild in those days. Definitely not known for caution. But I was cautious about this. Because it involved coming out in front of God and everybody and admitting I wanted to be a writer.

I could hear the sniggers of the naysayers back in my hometown. “Who does she think she is? She thinks she can be a writer. She was always too big for her britches.”

By the end of that first summer weekend those voices were fading and I was hooked. I wheedled my way into the week-long retreat that followed and by Friday the old voices had been supplanted by new ones and my future of ever-since had begun.

I count three events in my personal life as profound – my seven years with my grandmother – meeting my husband – the births of my grandchildren. Profound because they redirected my life. They lifted me from where I was and set me down in a very different place.

There have been profound events in my professional life also – the day I stood up in a classroom and found my teacher voice – the day I walked into a publishing house as a manuscript reader on my way to becoming an editor and then a literary agent – and that first summer writers’ retreat.

August is just around the corner. We’ve been crawling through the dog days for some time now. And that means summer retreat time is almost here. The same retreat I happened upon in the late seventies so that ever-since could happen in my writing life and my writer’s soul.

It’s interesting that this particular conference retreat always has something about magic in the title because magic is exactly what it has been for me. Magic and fabulous friendships and a few days away from my real life world. I’ve been told you can still sign up on impulse or otherwise at www.iwwg.org.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Writer's Summer Camp


Every summer I could manage to do so over the past 35 years I have given myself the gift of the International Women’s Writing Guild summer conference.

Through many phases of my life both professional and personal the magic of this gathering has been there for me. I call it my Writer’s Summer Camp.

Whatever may be happening in my psyche or my circumstances I go there and I am embraced – by colleagues – by old friends and new – by fresh learning about my craft and myself.

Amidst campus green in the warmth and sultriness of summer I release the fullest exhale of my writing year and feel grateful just to be there.

We are all women. We are taught and we teach. We talk and laugh and tell our stories. We write and share our stories. It is absolutely wonderful.

This year this wonder happens from August 8th through August 12th. The 36th Annual ReImagine the Magic Conference on the lovely campus of Drew University near Madison, New Jersey just 45 minutes by train from Manhattan.

You are invited – all of you women writers and aspiring writers – and I could not possibly encourage you more strongly to accept this invitation.

Come and be surrounded as I will be by a circle of amazing women with amazing hearts and minds and souls and spirits kindred to your own.

You will listen and learn and live your writer’s life more fully because of the experience. I personally guarantee it.

And – if you are so inclined – join me in my class Loss, Lies and Characters We Love: How to Write a Novel with Agent-Editor-Reader Appeal. I’ll welcome you with open arms.

To find out more and to register go to www.iwwg.org.



Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Publishing Worm Has Turned


I go into BEA – Book Expo America – knowing this. The publishing world is not what it has been throughout my three decades there. And it looks like it never will be again. The publishing worm has turned.

I was careful not to leap to this conclusion. I spent most of my adult professional life working in traditional publishing first as a book editor and then as a literary agent. I needed to be fair to that rich and rewarding history.

So did my research. First I read months of posts at Jane Friedman: Writing Reading and Publishing in the Digital Age. Jane speaks with a wise voice informed by long hands-on experience of publishing. You can check her out yourself at www.janefriedman.com.

I did the same with another eminently credible voice – Bob Mayer at Write on the River. Bob speaks in a different tone from Jane as he covers the same ground. You can check him out at http://writeitforward.wordpress.com

Those two highly contemporary sages are pretty much of one mind when it comes to the subject of publishing past and present and future. Still I had more exploring to do. I needed to hear what writers have to say.

I don’t mean to suggest that Bob Mayer isn’t a writer but he has several other irons in his fire too. I wanted the author-only point of view. The Romantic Times Convention in Kansas City gave me the perfect opportunity for listening to that point of view firsthand.

Those writer stories began being told in the van on the way from the airport to the hotel and continued throughout the entire five days that followed. On panels – in the hallway – in the bar – at events – everywhere – authors talked and I listened.

They said the same things I’d read from Jane Friedman and Bob Mayer. Traditional publishing is no longer providing the most satisfying experience out there for a lot of writers. Happy alternatives abound – from traditional to digital to hybrids of both and permutations in between.

Even more telling than this message was the joy with which it was delivered – author joy to be exact. Writers have choices now and with choice comes power. The age-old power pyramid of publishing has tipped and is on its way to going topsy turvy altogether.

If I had a town square and a bell tower close at hand I’d be ringing out my own joy big time. Instead tomorrow morning I’ll be at BEA Booth 966 where a host of successful Indie Authors – some with combo traditional/independent careers – are taking their rightful place at last.

The Javits Center may not be a town square but you can bet I’ll be there with bells on anyway.



Monday, May 20, 2013

The Painless Synopsis Exercise


I am repeating this step-by-step guide because when I posted the above writer witticism on Facebook recently I discovered that authors I care about are still having trouble composing the synopis.

I urge you to try this technique because it works. It seems simple and it is. Please don't hold that against the method. Here is my remedy for the torment of synopsis writing (previously published by me in Writers Digest Magazine). I know it will help because it has helped me immensely.

The 7 Phases of Writing the Painless Synopsis

Phase One – A Recorder, A Jug of Wine and Thou
Gather these materials in a cozy spot. “Thou” is someone who appreciates the kind of story you write. Relax, take a sip, turn on the recorder. Tell your story aloud, in whatever order it occurs to you. Include all the elements of the story and each character from beginning to end. [Thou can also be another aspect of you.]

Phase Two – Stacking the Deck
When alone, play back the recording.  Use 5x8”index cards, one scene idea per card, as you hear a scene mentioned, identify that scene in one sentence at top of the card.  When finished, you should have 45-60 cards, depending on the length of your novel.

Phase Three – Floor Play
Sit on the floor. Spread the cards out in the order they occur in the story. Look for places in the story line where there is too little action or too much for purposes of pacing and clarity. Add or subtract cards as needed. If you don’t yet know what scene to add at a specific story gap, place a blank card there so you know you need to come up with a scene. Your cards for the conclusion of your story must convince the editor you have a story ending that will satisfy a reader.

Phase 4 – Cutting the Cards and the Task Down to Size
One card at a time, write 2-3 well-crafted sentences presenting the scene at its most intense, moving and conflict-ridden. Brainstorm any scenes you may need to add.

Phase Five – Don’t Forget the Players
When a character is introduced in the story, at that point in your card pile add another card with a description of that character in a single tightly written sentence.  Craft that description with careful attention to the closely observed detail, the perfect detail that resonates with the essence of that particular character.

Phase Six – For Openers
On its own card, write an opening sentence – concise, straightforward and startling. Polish this sentence into a true gem to open your synopsis in sparkling fashion.
 
Phase Seven – There You Have It
Type your synopsis directly from your card pile, turning over one card at a time and typing what you’ve written there. Throw in a transitional sentence or two where needed to make the telling run smoothly. The Winning Result: A brief of your story without dialogue or much description and a synopsis that could sell your book.

The 2 Secrets here are #1 Demythologize the Activity & #2 Make It Play. Nothing demythologizes better than hunkering the butt down onto the floor. Fooling around with cards is the play part. Trust me. It works.

Find many more very practical writing exercises in No More Rejections: 50 Secrets to Writing a Manuscript that Sells. Reviews posted at www.aliceorrseminars.net. For an autographed copy send $10 (postage & handling) to Alice Orr Seminars, P.O. Box 6224, Long Island City NY 11106.



Tuesday, May 7, 2013

My Only Memoir Writing Workshop This Year




Memoir Writing Workshop with Alice Orr



Women’s Voices for (a) Change Conference
June 20-23 at Skidmore College
Saratoga Springs NY

MAZES MENTORS & MIRACLES
Bring Your Real Life Story to Life on the Page

In this workshop you will tell your personal story. You will Re-member the pieces of that story, Dis-cover those powerful chapters at the center of your heart, Ex-cavate your truths from that deep place and give them voice. Your real life story is a joy and a revelation. Alice guides and inspires you toward that story. She teaches you to tell your story as it deserves to be told.

Alice Orr is a former book editor and literary agent, published in fiction and nonfiction including No More Rejections: 50 Secrets to Writing A Manuscript That Sells. Alice lectures nationally on storytelling & memoir – how to write and market both. Here is what her memoir workshop students have to say.

From Alice’s West Coast Memoir Writing Workshops
“Alice is a fabulous presenter and brings to the table a rich array of knowledge. 5-Star!’
“You opened me up to me and to my story.”
“This has been transforming.”

From Alice’s East Coast Memoir Writing Workshops
“I learned how to pressure the coal of my life to find the diamond.”
“I felt I didn’t have the courage to write my story. Today I discovered I do.”
“This will impact my writing life profoundly!!! The level of deep emotional content was awesome. Thank you.”



We are each of us butterflies with a single wing
until we become whole by embracing ourselves.

Or call (206) 714-2843 to find out more.

Go to www.LivingKindness.org to register ASAP.
Registration Closes May 15th

Sunday, April 21, 2013

My Brother Michael

Please excuse that I use this space for a personal purpose today. My brother Michael Harron passed on to another consciousness two years ago. This is how I remember him.  

                                                                                                                            

Michael was complications
with a bald spot
and side hair fringing down
like bed skirt tassles.

Michael was talent in a
toothpick body
especially at the last
when he was wasted
though he never wasted anything

Michael tracked trash nights
on Park Avenue
and hurried there to
trundle treasures in a
wheelbarrow or borrowed pickup
to his realm of rescued things.

Michael fabricated Christmas
at the final moment
huddled in a corner
sketching tuning penning lyrics
for a gift you’d never give away
and soon forgot was so last minute
because it came from him.

Michael had a smile that
glittered from his
curling lashes to his
grinning chin
and may have been
a turn he played on stage
like Shakespeare and the rest
he’d given life you only could believe.

Michael trailed a train of
enemies behind him
dazzled then discarded
but always fewer far
than those still
thriving in his thrall
when his dramatic exit
left us less enlivened
and he was finally forever gone.

By Alice Orr

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Plotting the Story They Tell About You


“Your ability to get a job could turn on the stories they tell about you.” So says film director Steven Soderbergh in the February 4th issue of New York magazine.

He’s talking about getting a gig in movies. I’m talking about getting a gig as published author. He goes on to say “If I’m an a-hole I don’t get the job.” I say “He’s got that right.

Authors way too often sabotage their chances with their behavior. At the beginning of your career especially the story publishing professionals tell about you among themselves is crucial.

That is why I am sharing with you Alice’s 10 Commandments for Making Agents and Editors and All Manner of Publishing Types Love You for Life.

Commandment # 1: Thou shalt be reasonable. Think before you make a demand. Ask yourself – Is this absolutely necessary to my career at this moment?

Commandment # 2: Thou shalt be revisable. Choose carefully which revision suggestions you challenge. Ask yourself – Is this the hill I’m willing to die for OR strain this relationship for?

Commandment # 3: Thou shalt be realistic. Maintain perspective on your power position – especially at the start of your career when you have little or no clout.

Commandment # 4: Thou shalt be impressive. In person or by phone or email – sound and look like a serious savvy business person. Never whine or beg. Never let them see you sweat.

Commandment # 5: Thou shalt be retiring though not shy. Modesty – not to be confused with self-deprecation – is attractive. Boasting is unattractive.
 
Commandment # 6: Thou shalt keep it professional. Personal references – to your life or to theirs – are less than appropriate.

Commandment # 7: Thou shalt keep your cool. Display of temper is counterproductive. Stick with cooperation rather than confrontation. No prima donnas need apply.

Commandment # 8: Thou shalt keep your mouth shut. Do not complain out loud about the pub business in general and this pro in particular. Gossip spreads and this business loves it.

Commandment # 9: Thou shalt – and this is crucial – come across as an ally. Human beings respond best to appreciation and helpfulness and publishing pros are definitely human.

Commandment # 10: Remember the good sense Grandma gave you. You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

That is spoken like the proud grandma I am and this grandma says that if you follow these good sense guidelines the story told will be that you are not an a-hole – You are A-Number-One.

Meanwhile you may feel free to find out more about Alice the commandment-giver at my website www.aliceorrseminars.net.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Blog or Bore?


Mary’s Q: Many writers blog about writing – things like character and grammar – boring topics for nonwriters. Wouldn’t it be far more interesting to blog about your novels?

My A: First I must say EEK! I blog about writing. Here is my defense for doing that.

Writers are our readers. They are our core community. And community is our key – the key to effective communication and also to effective marketing.

To market anything – your work or your opinion or yourself – start by walking out your front door and looking up and down the street. Your neighbors are your best first audience.

They share your interests. They care about much of what you care about because you occupy common ground. They will be most receptive to your message because they are your tribe.

So give yourself a break. Begin your blog conversation where folks are interested in what you have to say. A writer’s common tribal ground is the community of writers.

Check out Elizabeth Craig at Mystery Writing is Murder. She covers that ground quite nimbly as she blogs about the mystery of writing across all categories.

Blogging about your novel may be fascinating to you. But are you sure it is fascinating to others? How many people will care when you talk about your story? How many will mind glaze?

Unless you get creative the way Lois Winston does in her blog Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers. Her character Anastasia Pollock narrates and has interesting opinions about everything.

The ABC of blogging is Always Be Communicating. It is not Always Be Carrying-On-About-You or about your project. Otherwise your D could be Delete keys clicking on every side.

We all want the world to be our caring community. The challenge is to build that broader community block by block and plank by plank into a sturdy platform.

Still I would advise against blogging about grammar. In my corner of the community at least – that usually is a bore.

And to find out what I do when I’m not communicating with you – click these keys please – www.aliceorrseminars.net.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

World Building - Romance Novel Series Style


In response to my post on World Building in Series Fiction a reader asked this question. How can the principles of series world building be applied to a series of romance novels?

Rules are the foundation of any world you build as the setting for any series in any genre. Those rules differ from genre to genre according to the conventions of each of those genres.

The conventions of a genre can be most easily defined in terms of reader expectations of that genre. When a reader buys a book in that genre what does he or she expect to find in the story?

Identifying these expectations is essential to success in writing any genre novel. Violating reader expectations can thwart that success big time. Thou shalt not disappoint reader expectations.

The first among reader expectations of a romance novel is that it be pretty much all about the romantic relationship at the center of the story – the relationship between the lovers.

This convention or rule carries over big time to the romance novel series and it starts with the most basic unit of each novel in that series. That most basic unit is the scene.

Each individual scene must focus somehow on the romantic relationship. The story of that relationship as it progresses toward the inevitable happy ending is the plot of the book.

The world of each book and of the entire series radiates out from that focus. The family and the community you create exist only to provide a context for the romance at the center of each story.

When you digress from the romantic relationship focus in any romance novel scene or book or series you violate the first rule of the genre and of your series world. All other rules evolve from this basic principle.

Beyond that I have one more piece of advice. Study the champion series world builders of your genre. As always in all writing the successful authors themselves are your best teachers.

In romance I suggest Sherryl Woods and Susan Wiggs and the matriarch of them all Debbie Macomber. Deduce the rules that define their series worlds. The details that give each world its beating heart.

Ask yourself how each of these details might be adapted to the world of your series. Then go deep down to the soul of that world and with each vibrant detail make it come alive on the page.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Build a Series - Build a World


Novels in a series are a road to success for an author. They are also an adventure that takes place in a world. You build that world detail by detail and scene by scene.

Your goal is to draw readers into the world you build and make them want to stay there through one book then the next and the next. To do this you must create a world that has reality and resonance.

At Liberty State Fiction Writers Conference I learned that you must also create a world that has Rules. Following these rules makes your world consistent and adds to its reality and resonance.

Conference panelists Caridad Pineiro and Elisabeth Staab and Stephanie Julian talked about rules and world building in the genre of paranormal romance. They also got me thinking.

They got me thinking about fiction world building in general. They got me thinking about how establishing rules applies to all series writing in all genres – and even to all storytelling.

To hook a reader you must master the art of immersion. You immerse your reader so completely in the story world you create that she is eager to remain there until you release her at The End.

Your reader will miss that world when she is forced to leave. She will be equally eager to return there again and again. Thus you have set the hook for a series as well.

One way to sabotage that good effort is to slip an inconsistency into the mix. An off-key note that disturbs the reader and awakens her from what John Gardner calls the dream of the book.

To prevent this you establish and follow the rules of your story or series world. Some of these rules you figure out in advance. Others arise as the story grows and reveals more of itself to you.

A bonus of this exercise is that it immerses you as author deeper and deeper into the world you are creating. From this deep place you are better able to bring your story to real and resonant life.

In this respect story rules are anything but limiting. They liberate your writer’s imagination into the flowing ocean of the story and its world. Like your reader you never want to leave.

Write a series and you don’t have to leave. You dive back into that immersing current with each new story you create. You have built a world where you can thrive all the way along your road to success.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Something's Rotten in Storytown


Shakespeare is the inspiration for that title and it applies to the max to storytelling today. Actor/director/smart guy Jon Favreau calls this the heart of every strong story. I heartily agree.

“The world is broken,” he says. From this seed at the start springs the plot which proceeds apace until the break is mended – or not. Favreau uses his own life as example.

He was a kid in Queens NY growing up in a relatively ordinary life. Then his mom died. “She was suddenly just gone.”

With no warning he was plucked out of the life he had known. That was where everything began. The struggle to survive a broken world. The struggle to regain a semblance of wholeness.

Unfortunately a version of this scenario happens to most of us in our lives. The struggle follows. If we are blessed that struggle does not destroy us.

Fortunately for us as storytellers this scenario is also the template for strong storytelling. Stories we know in our bones because our bones have been shattered by the likes of them at one time or another.

We set our main character onto the earth of her story at the moment when the scent of something rotten has just wafted into sniffing range.

The struggle then commences. The object of that struggle is to banish the stink. The outcome will be that our character either succeeds or goes down gasping.

The disgust level of the stench varies according to story type or genre. Softened in a romance by tincture of roses. Heightened in a thriller to send the reader strangling for cover.

Still the eau de essence remains the same. Something’s rotten. The world of the story is broken. The struggle toward wholeness proceeds. The outcome happens.

Meanwhile all of it – as my friend Herma once said – is for the porpoises of the plot.