Sunday, February 22, 2009

Alex's Writing Lessons

Each time Alex posts a new lesson or discussion, I'll repost the whole series I'm keeping track of.

Many of the writers who pass by here are looking at commencing a novel this year for the very first time, or looking at revamping a manuscript which has been sitting around for a while. The advice contained here after should be very beneficial for all concerned. Over at The Dark Salon, Alexandra Sokolff's blog, she has been doing a huge series on writing tips. Enjoy.

  • Sage Agent Advice
    Why Do I Need An Agent - This is in reverse order than shown on Alex's blog but then I think this needs to be answered first. Once convinced - and you will be - then you can find out how to get an agent.
  • How Do I Get A Literary Agent - A frank discussion on getting an agent and some tools to help you in your search.
Writing Tips

  • Screenwriting Part 2: Craft - This is just for the screenwriters out there and for me as I know I have a screenwriting module within my diploma and I'll need this resource later. The link for Part 1 is at the bottom of this post if you want to start from the beginning. There's a Part 3 as well.

  • Whats Your Premise - Excellent advise on the creation of the single sentence premise you'll need to sell your story to others. When someone asks you what your book is about, this will give you the structure you need to provide a killer answer.
  • Story Structure 101: The Index Card Method - Alex teaches screenwriting workshops but the formula discussed fits into writing a book. If you're like me and prefer a structured, methodical format to outline your writing - this could be for you. I'm definitely going to give this one a go.
    Personal note: When I outline, I do it in a word document but it is similar to the index cards - just on smaller scale. It works. Alex now gives me the vital information of what I need to put into those scenes.
  • Fairy Tale Structure & Your List (08-01-09) Late on adding this one. Alex originally posted it back in Nov 08. I remember reading it but just never linked it to this series of posts. I'm putting this up front because creating your list is important. Thinking about the types of movies, settings, scares, love scenes, etc which you have found appealing in movies is central to writing the type of story you - and other movie lovers - would want to read. It also helps you break down what's important and when to place those important pieces. Learn this list - it helps.
  • The First Act - (Get the Hero Up A Tree) After learning about the index card method, now you can learn what to put on the cards in greater detail. There are great examples to help clarify things. And there are a lot of things you need to squeeze in here. While reading the second act, you see that some of these things can drift over, but there are still a lot of things to get done.

  • Elements of Act One - Breaking Down the Harry Potter story (Added 04-03-09) As if in a classroom environment, Alex now goes into detail on how to recognise different elements within each section. This first example breaks down the famous first film in the Harry Potter series. Alex intends to provide more examples from different genres in the near future (which I'll link to from here). A very detailed post full of great examples of what the tyoes of things you need to put into your manuscript.
  • The Second Act - (Throw Rocks At The Tree Bound Hero) The big theme here according to Alex: "[The] continual opposition of the protagonist’s and antagonist’s plans is the main underlying structure of the second act." Alex also discusses 'Plants & Payoff'. I've recently started to invest more revision time in this and include comments about it in my critiques, pointing out when things first need to be mentioned (planted) so they come into play later (the payoff). This is also referred to as shadowing , but I differentiate between the two. Shadowing is all about the premise from my POV where as plant's and payoffs are more about making the story move along seamlessly. Shadowing has a bigger importance in my book, the little clues which foretell things to come. Same thing but different.
  • Creating Suspense - Good suggestions on recognising the type of suspense you want to create and how to go about deconstructing it into a formula you can then use to build it into your own writing. This post also looks at "the STAKES" within a story and how telling the reader straight out what the big stakes are, will help create suspense. So in Act One, tell the reader what the stakes are while introducing the scene, characters and premise, and then begin to create a scenario where those stakes are at risk. Hopefully you've also allowed your reader to begin caring about your main character. In Act Two you put all the obstacles in the way of your character and ramp up the threats to the major stakes. This can also include the introduction of the ticking clock. This post also makes the point between suspense at the overall level and at a scene level - two very different things which need to be succeeded at.
  • Creating Suspense Part 2 (Added 06-01-09) this post lit a light bulb for me on more than just suspense creation (although it's great information on that as well). Writing your WIP in layers, specific layers. You write out the story in the first draft, get it out of your system. You know all the bits you want to include, the emotions you want to provoke, but don't worry about that on the first pass. You can come back and ensure you get what you want on subsequent dedicated passes. Need more suspense? Do a dedicated pass over your story with suspense in mind. Need more warmth from your main character's second sister? Do a dedicated pass through your WIP concentrating on her and her interactions with others. Need more information provided to the reader on the setting? Do a... you get the picture. For people like me who are very methodical after the first draft, I found this idea to be brilliant.
  • The Second Act: Part Two - The Midpoint! Part two, of part two, goes into great detail about this very important event with great examples. With all the hints dropped to this point about the different posts still to come, and all the books and movies given as examples so far, I could be reading or watching TV for a long time to come.
  • Visual Storytelling - I've seen writers (okay, one writer) develop this technique as they evolved from unpublished to aspiring professional. It makes a huge difference in story telling. Alex again goes into great detail and provides good examples to help make this clearer. Using the visual aspect to mirror the theme, or the characters state of mind within a scene makes good story telling sense.
  • Visual Storytelling Part 2 (added 13-11-08) Alex continues her discussion on writing imagery. This post is a little different from the rest of the series being more a discussion of where you can see thematic imagery used rather than how to build it into a story. If you've read the other posts then it'll become self apparent. Still worth the time to peruse.
  • What Makes A Great Climax (added 18-11-08) Alex skips to the creation of the end, but it's something we need to think about way before we get there. The details may evolve a little differently as we write and revise our story, but how we come to the climax and what that climax is, will be the last thing your reader/audience remembers. And if it's a let down, you may flush away your chances of landing that agent/editor/future longtime reader.
  • Elements Of Act Three - Part 1 (added 2-12-08) The first installment on crafting a great third act, particularly the parts which go into making a memorable, impact full final quarter of your story.
  • Elements Of Act Three - Continued or Part 2 (added 15-12-08) And the good advice keeps on coming in Alex's continuing series of brilliant writing tips. Much of this post is confirming things we have already read; things Alex has already touched on but with new examples to drive home the previous lessons. Oh, and if you haven't already made your list of the ten best films, 10 best midpoints, 10 best endings, etc - then you had better get stuck into your homework otherwise you won't gain full benefit from this series.
  • What Makes A Great Villain? (AKA Villains part 1) (added 20-01-09) This lesson is the opening gambit on creating a believable counterpart to your story's hero/ine. Rather than specifically telling you how to do it, Alex uses the make your own list method to get to the bottom of what you enjoy in a good villain and how to use that in making a great villain for your own story. It also leads into a great article by Allison Brennan with some gems of advice on the topic.
  • Forces of antagonism (AKA Villains part 2) (added 20-01-09) Carrying on from the first villain lesson, this post continues a good grounding on how to create the antagonist including some great examples.
  • Plants & Payoffs (added 04-02-09) extremely important tool all writers need to become adept at when writing and revising. Alex gives great and in depth examples. You'll also find a long comment from yours truly which provides additional examples.
  • What is "High Concept" (added 04-02-09) This is an important topic. If you can't define this about a piece you're trying to sell, whether in the long of short version of writing, then chances are your readers aren't going to get the gist of your story either.
  • Meta-structure (22-02-09) It had to happen eventually. Alex touches on a technique which completely baffled me in the beginning. I had to go away and have a look at many of the suggestions and examples she puts forward to get a grasp on it. I thing I understand what she is trying to convey now, but I don't agree with it. Little old barely published me, not agreeing with a published author who's books I really like. Well, on this occasion I simply have a different opinion on what she is trying to define. However, I think if a story can be fitted into the definition Alex proposes, then I believe the chances of the story being exceptional are high. If the story resonates with a large percentage of people as being - 'Hey, I think that's the only way that type of story, and that story in particular, should be, or could have been told', then I think you are definitely on the way to a comfortable life as a writer. Personally, i think if you write a great story which resonates, then you haven't set out to fit into this category, but you could be slotted into it. Which comes first: The chicken or the egg? Go have a read and decide for yourself.

Other Useful Stuff

  • Internet Resources For Writers - Lots of information about lots of different things - includes a lot of stuff I've already told you to go look at, but if you don't believe me, maybe you'll believe Alex.

If you haven't bookmarked this lady's blog yet, do yourself a favour.

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