I’m feeling daunted by the idea of writing this post. “500-1200 words on writing, blogging, publishing etc. Can’t be mainly promotional – must provide info and advice” says the brief. Ho, hum, what can I a relatively inexperienced writer bring to the Indie Exchange community? Well there is something. It doesn’t belong to me, it was a gift, one of the best I’ve ever received, and like all the best gifts it should be shared.
I was fortunate that when I started to write novels I had one of the best story editors in the business as a close friend. Hannah Kodicek was a story editor in the film industry – she was story editor on the Oscar-winning Counterfeiters and moreover lectured on story structure and other aspects of story-making to people in the business. She also occasionally helped out friends with their novels – one being Danny Scheinmann (Random Acts of Heroic Love) and of course me. So for this post I will tell you some of what I learnt from her.The starting point for any story-making is the relationship with the audience. Although we writers may be sitting alone in front of our computer in a garret somewhere, the story exists only in that relationship, otherwise you’re not telling anything.
We start by understanding what we all have in common (audience and writer):
- Curiosity – this is inherent to human nature, it’s the reason we do so many things, one being picking up a book.
- The need to find context – what is it like, how does it fit with what I know/feel, how does it feel like to be someone else
- Need for pattern – again part of our nature, we will look for patterns and order even if they are not there, and there are a load of patterns which we will expect in stories
- Need for balance (equilibrium) – we feel disturbed if things aren’t fair, we want to put it right.
- And conversely the need to upset equilibrium – the need for the unknown, the thrill of risk.
- The need to think ahead causally – this is an extension of our need for pattern,
- But there is also the thrill of the unknown.
- Common cultural context – myths, history, fairytales, belief-systems etc.
- Archetypes – which Hannah described as “deep subconscious forces shared by all” and which are the subjects of numerous books
- The need to relate to others, which for me is the most important.
These commonalities are what we as writers build our stories on, for example every story starts with an imbalance which propels the story forward. We may play with them e.g. encouraging the reader to detect a pattern that isn’t there and so think ahead incorrectly. But the single most important thing is to access people’s emotions. Everything we write will stir some sort of emotional response in the reader. They will be gratified if their curiosity is satisfied or they feel they see a pattern or context. They will be thrilled and scared when we take them to somewhere unknown. But they will be dissatisfied if we promise and do not deliver.
Which brings me to us the writers. There are a number of questions we need to ask ourselves as we approach a story:
- Why am I telling this story? – Why me? Why now? Why do I care? (If you don’t the reader certainly won’t).
- How does the story fit with or challenge the context familiar to my reader?
- What is the emotional key to the story? What touches me most deeply? How will it resonate with the reader?
- What will I and the reader take from the story?
- What tools do I have to do the job?
These then are the fundamentals from which all storytelling flows and I always go back to them when I am working on a story. I find them particularly useful when I am working on the second draft. Sadly Hannah died of cancer last year, but we talked about how we might continue her work as story-editor and talked of creating a website. There is a lot more that I learnt from Hannah: story structure, archetypes, the storytelling tools, so I’ve decided I will do a running feature about these on my blog. Thanks Indie Exchange for giving me the idea.
- From the Writer’s Desk: A before-and-after side-by-side look at how a story is made (blogs.scientificamerican.com)
- 5 Simple (But Surprisingly Effective) Ways To Research Your Story (ollinmorales.wordpress.com)
- What is Takeaway Value in Writing? (sellyournonfiction.wordpress.com)
**Please note that guest posts and columns reflect the opinions of the individual author and not The Indie Exchange as a whole. Also note, The Indie Exchange uses affiliate links to offset the costs of hosting etc.**
Latest posts by Zoe Brooks (see all)
- Notes from a Story Editor – The Importance of Home - March 20, 2013
- Writing for eReaders - February 20, 2013
- Genres and Readers’ Expectations - January 20, 2013