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A Fledgling Author’s Lessons Learned

This post will name names. Specifically, it will name two authors who wrote wonderful things about the craft of writing. As I move along the path from writer to publisher and make tentative sorties into the rarified air of marketing, I’m discovering many things. One of those joyous discoveries is that I have a lot to learn. The authors I will talk about here taught me a great deal in a very short time.

When I say that I have “a lot” to learn, I’m really committing felony understatement. My first lesson came in the form of the stinging failure that was my first published novel. After that knock-down, I picked myself up and sought help from successful authors who have positive and informative messages. These authors share their knowledge and experience so that others might have a chance to share their success.

My second novel benefitted greatly from what I learned and is earning a greater measure of success. I also like it a lot more.

Now that I have teased you enough, here are their names: Libbie Hawker and John Truby. This post paraphrases and references the ideas and techniques I found in their books “Take off your pants…” (Hawker) and “The Anatomy of Story” (Truby)

Here are the lessons gleaned from these works:

Have a plan, Stan! Libbie’s work distils John Truby’s “Anatomy of Story” ideas and puts them into a very simple and concise outlining process. The outline can be as minimal or as detailed as you wish, but it must provide a logical structure. As long as that structure aligns with the universal elements of the human story, (yes, there are constants in every character’s story) the basic requirement of the outline is satisfied. These story elements correspond to outline headings. The elements can repeat and interlink. As long as you stick to the headings, the story will engage the reader and progress in sensible fashion.

If you are an author who does not like to outline (formerly me), do it anyway. You might feel that an outline is stifling. I once felt that way. After trying outlining techniques, I made the pleasant discovery that restricting the story at certain points before I wrote created freedom in other areas. Because I knew where the story was going, I was free to create engaging devices that linked the plot points. I quickly discovered the writing was faster and better. I hope the readers agree.

Play! John Truby talks about creating documents that form a sort of “wish list.” It’s a great way to get the creative energy fired up.

Make a list with story ideas:

“What if a man woke up with superpowers but was a misanthropic jackass? Would he use his powers for good or ill?”

“What if a woman with low self -esteem turns the tables on a man who took advantage of her and he falls in love with her? Would she abuse him the way she was abused or would she reciprocate?”

You can just flow with these ideas. When you have many on a page, you can read them over again and pick one. From there, you can select one that strikes your fancy and write a sort of tag line:

“A misanthropic man wakes up with superpowers and must decide whether he really does hate humanity or whether he should learn to to good in the world.”

“A woman with low self-esteem discovers she can turn the tables on a man who took advantage of her and her abuser falls in love with her in the process.”

Start asking questions! Namely; how can these ideas fit into your outline? From these ideas, you can decide on the plot points. You might even work back from the ending.

The woman with low-self esteem might find herself and realize that, while she now has the advantage, she should not sink to the level of her abuser. She caught a taste of revenge, but it didn’t satisfy her. She forgives the man and says goodbye.

How would she arrive there? She must want something to get to that point. She has goals that may or may not work out. Writing between those goals and setting up events for her to struggle through becomes your story.

Start writing! For me, I found that some elements come early and easy. I might already know how the woman gets the upper hand with the mean SOB who used her. I might not know the inner motivations of the “villain.” Whether he is pure evil or if he is another hurt person hurting people who needs to go away sad at the end of the book. Or does he change his ways, make amends and redeem himself through love?

I write what I have until the returns start to fall off then return to the outline. Working the outline helps me see how I can connect what I’ve written to where the story needs to go.

So for now, I do what I’d consider a “hybrid” outline. Sometimes I’ll have a completely fleshed out story ready to be written. Other times, the outline will have just a few main points filled in and the rest will emerge as I write.

The key for me is always to work that outline. Step outside the work and see how it relates to the universal human story elements.

The hard part is recognizing all of this and working it into my process. I don’t feel I’m expert at it, but I one day hope to be.

So to that I say; destination, journey, cliche yada yada, yeah, whatever. If you want to be an author, get writing. If you want to read great stories, study writing.

My aim is to work the craft, have fun doing it and make a living to boot. Should be easy, right?

Think again.

Onward and upward.


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