What’s Your Novel About?

What’s Your Novel About?

This might seem an easy question to answer because you’ve been thinking about your story quite a bit and know the essence of what you want it to be pretty well.

Yet if a friend asks you, “What’s your novel about?” it can often be difficult to give them a short answer that does justice to all you have in mind. You might start by explaining about all the key elements of your story – the character and their problems and their quests. Or, you might relate a sequential timeline of all the major things that happen, essentially telling them the plot.

At some point, their eyes begin to glaze over and you know that not only have they lost interest, but you never actually explained the core of your story so that they really know what your novel is about.

This is a symptom of a larger problem for novelists: If you can’t describe the essence of your story in a single sentence, your story really has no core.

Sure, you may have done all kinds of work, have scores of compelling ideas, and a real sense of how it is shaping up. But without identifying the central spine of your story, your tale is likely to meander around aimlessly without a central spine to give it purpose and structure.

To solve this problem, both for you and your friend, you should create a log line for your story. A log line is a short (preferably one-sentence) description of what it’s all about.

The remainder of this article will provide some examples of log lines, methods for creating your own, and a discussion of how to use it, once you’ve got it

From our StoryWeaver story development system:

A log line sums up the essence of what your story is about in a concise little nugget.

For example, a log line for Hamlet might read:

A prince of Denmark seeks revenge against his uncle for murdering his father and feigns insanity to buy time to plan the best method, but ultimately fails to achieve his goal.

Now clearly everything that makes Hamlet amazing is missing from the log line. But it does serve to capture the gist of what is going on and most important answers the question “What’s Hamlet about?”

For a longer example, here’s a log line for Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol:

At Christmas time, an unhappy and miserly man has isolated himself from emotional attachments as a shield against his own childhood pain of loss and rejections, but through the intervention of three ghosts who force him to confront his past, present and future, he ultimately sees how he has victimized both himself and others, repents, seeks to make amends and rediscovers the joy of Christmas.

Though this log line meets the requirement of being a single sentence, it’s a run-on sentence. That defeats the purpose of refining your story concept until it’s sharp as a tack.

A better attempt would be:

A wealthy but stingy businessman who has become bitter due to great personal losses in his youth learns the value of giving after being visited by three ghosts on Christmas eve.

In this shorter version there’s a lot of important and meaningful material that wasn’t covered, but the longer the log line, the less focused your story concept becomes. Of course, the Log Line Police are not going to bust down your door and confiscate your keyboard if you exceed one tight sentence, but the point here is to boil down the heart of your story to its essence in the least number of words you can manage.

Now it’s your turn to write a log line. After you do, make sure it is only one sentence. And no cheating by trying to cram more information into it by writing a big long convoluted James Joyce sentence. Seriously – you’d be surprised how many writers hate leaving anything out. They hate it so much they would rather bloat their log line to the point it is unusable rather than lose a single thing, which completely defeats the purpose!

Don’t do this! The whole point of this exercise is to get your wonderful, passionate, inventive, compelling story boiled down to one dull, boring (but informative) line.

An example from StoryWeaver:

The example log line we’ll be using for the next few steps is:

“A sheriff is trying to stop a gang of cutthroats from repeatedly robbing his town.”

Sound like dozens of cliché stories you’ve read or seen before, right? Your story’s log line might seem the same way at this stage. Not to worry… As we progress through the next few steps, you’ll see this simple example expand and refine until it becomes a truly rich story world, just as yours will.

And finally, some additional information from StoryWeaver about the log line concept:

Creating a log line centers your story, provides it with an identity, and ensures that all your story development work will be guided by this beacon so your story becomes sharply focused and every element is clearly connected to the hub. It is like when a huge cloud of dust and gas condenses into a solar system and ignites into a sun around which all your story concepts orbit.

Without a log line, a story often remains just a cloud and the telling of such a story tends to meander aimlessly. Rather than forging ahead with a clear direction, it stumbles forward, tripping over its own unfocused feet and landing in the lap of your readers or audience with a dull thud as an amorphous lump with no form, no purpose, and no meaning. Now isn’t that sad, perhaps even pathetic? So let’s avoid that.

As you write your log line, think about the story notes and any initial material you may have written into the Notes and Story windows. Think about the reason you want to write this particular story in the first place, and then enter your log line in the Story Development box below.

Once you have your log line, it becomes the seed from which your story can grow with focus and purpose. In the steps that follow we’ll draw on your Notes and also develop new material to expand your log line into a full-blown story concept called a synopsis that includes all your major plot events, your principal characters, your thematic topic and message, and the elements of genre that give your story its personality.

In future steps we’ll explore how you can pull loose threads on your log line to weave a detailed synopsis that will provide a solid foundation for your novel, but you can keep going right now with the interactive online StoryWeaver App.  Check out the 14 day free trial at Storymind.com/free-trial.htm

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Character Development Tricks!

From our YouTube channel:

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How Did Structure End Up In Stories?

Story Structure | How Did Structure End Up In Stories?

In previous installments of this series, we’ve looked into where story structure came from and what it really represents.  In this segment we’ll explore how structure ended up in stories in the first place.

To begin, consider an old Gary Larson cartoon that showed open pasture land with a number of blobs with beaks scattered on the ground.  The caption was “Boneless Chicken Ranch.”

That’s pretty much why stories have structure.  Without a framework or some kind of scaffolding, stories would be no more than amorphous lumps of passionate wordplay that make no sense and hold no meaning.

We know stories are more organized than that.  We can see it in characters that interact in essential but predictable ways.  We can sense it when we intuitively know an act is coming to an end and a new phase of the story’s journey is about to begin.  And we can feel it when a story comes to a conclusion and we find ourselves satisfied that everything is all wrapped up with no loose ends.

Story structure, then, is a pretty sophisticated enchilada, which begs the question, how did it worm its way into storytelling.

For the answer, let’s travel back in time before there were any storytellers at all – back to the beginning of communication itself.

Let’s consider a fundamental issue: how is communication even possible?  Here’s why…

Scientists tell us that the first thing a baby learns is that there are things that are part of it (its fingers and toes, for example) and things that are not part of it (such as a bottle or toy).  That’s a pretty big leap, actually: “Not everything I perceive is part of me.”

The next step is to recognize that one is not alone; “There are others like me who are not me.”  And finally, we come to realize that we have physical attributes in common with those others – we also have eyes, hands, feet, etc.

For a baby, it cries when it is hungry or when it needs to be changed, or when it accidentally slams its arm onto the hard posts of its cradle.  And then another epiphany happens: the baby makes the connection that when one of the others does something like bump their arm on the cradle, they exclaim an audible pain sound as well.

Soon the baby begins to realize that these others react the same way it does to the same stimuli (not in those words of course).  And from this, the final step of connection is that if the others respond the same way to the same things, they  must be having the same experience (pain in this example) as the baby experiences.

This is the fundamental human connection and the foundation of communication: You look like me and feel like me, so I can  understand what is going on with  you by considering what would make me act that way.

From there, it is a pretty small step for a child to understand what’s going on when an adult steps on a toy, for example, and this leads to the ability to anticipate the reactions of others by knowing how one would react oneself to the same situation.

What’s more, the child can now learn by seeing an adult or other child do something that has never happened to it before and watch how the other person responds.  All these things we do in common because our brains, and therefore the seat of our minds, is the same.  Where we differ are in the unique experiences we have.

Now all this happens without any intent to communicate.  But what if we want to get some help from others with a problem?  For example, we’re hungry and we would like someone to give us some food.

We might approach this by trying present some physical actions that we anticipate the other person would understand because if they did those actions it would have a certain meaning.

So, we rub our belly with a pained expression on our face and point plaintively at our open mouth.  Most anybody on the planet is going to see that and understand we wand to eat.  That’s because underneath it all we’re really all the same.

In this manner, sign language develops, and at its most basic level, it conveys meaning across cultures and time.  Even complex descriptions of a journey and what was found can be transmitted and received.

For example,  you point in a particular direction and use your finger to indicate walking, then walking up and down a series of hills, then being surprised by something.  You reach out and start pulling small items off the thing you found, putting them in your mouth, chewing, swallowing, and rubbing your belly with a satisfied smile on your face.

It’s really just charades, and a lot of communication can be sent using nothing more than this.  You can even move beyond simply reporting  your condition or something you did and begin to warn folks off from things you’ve seen turn bad the same way over and over again.

For example, you discover a certain kind of berry bush and, through personal experience, have come to know that such a bush often has a bear nearby because they lover this particular kind of fruit.

So, you train your children to avoid those kinds of bushes, and tell them why – all using sign language and example, perhaps by showing them such a bush and using charades to illustrate a bear attacking, then pointing at the bush and illustrating, “No!” non-verbally.

Now we’ve moved into a new kind of communication.  We are no longer trying to relate an actual event or a current condition, but are trying to convince others to act in a certain manner based on summing up our personal experience.  We might do this out of compassion or altruism, or for some self-serving reason, ranging from giving folks bad directions to keep them away from something you want for yourself, or even to increase your power or hold over them, or to target an enemy.

Next, we bring language online.  Now we have words for things like hills, and walking, and berries, and bears.  And we also have words for complex concepts such as love, hate, jealousy, and selflessness.

And this is where stories really begin.  And, honestly, they really haven’t changed all that much since then, save for being a bit more sophisticated and detailed.

But here’s the crux.  When you are telling a story to manipulate people’s hearts and minds, no matter why you are doing it, you take on a burden of proof if you are to convince them to accept your point of view and adopt it as their own.

Prior to this, simply describing a series of events or a quest or journey (whether true to life or a made up fiction) only required that it made sense and felt right.  Simply put, there are no holes or missteps in the logic of it and the emotional path of the people you are talking about follows a believable flow from one feeling to the next – no gaps, no unmotivated changes.  This mirrors real life and your audience will think, “Sure, that could happen.”

In short, just conveying information is a simple statement that this leads to that and ends up here.

But now that you are trying to manipulate your audience by telling them they should never take a particular path or always so something particular in a given situation – well you’ve moved beyond a simple statement to a blanket statement.  There will be some who say, “Well what wouldn’t happened if the fella in your story tried this” or “What if he had done that instead?”

If you are an early storyteller and your audience is right there, you can counter that rebuttal to your blanket statement by adding additional information by explaining how your character would have ended up worse off if he had done as the audience member suggested, and therefore your proposed approach is still best.

If you could counter any rebuttals that come up while you are telling the story, you’ve made your case and your audience will likely buy into it.  So, if your point is strong, you’re likely to prevail in  your efforts to convince your audience.

But a problem arises when the story is repeated by others who haven’t thought it through and can’t counter those rebuttals.  And, if it become a ballad, or is published in written form, there’s no countering argument at all, so the blanket statement is rejected.

The solution, of course, is to include in the story all the counter-arguments necessary to counter any reasonable rebuttal.  In this way, the story become pre-loaded with a complete supporting argument for the author’s point of view, rather than just a blanket statement born of experience.

Such a beast is a much more powerful kind of story and has much more impact on an audience than the unsupported blanket statement.

Problem is, how can you anticipate all the exceptions an audience might take to your story so you can incorporate counter arguments?  Well it turns out, the same kinds of rebuttals keep coming up over and over again, regardless of the story.

For example, audiences want to see what happens if you try to figure things out and also what happens if you just charge on ahead driven by passion.  Eventually, this leads to the creation of a couple of archetypal characters who represent these two approaches: the Reason archetype and the Emotion archetype.

You see these two characters (and a lot of other archetypes) in every single story that feels complete.  And you see these characters in every day life as well.  We all know someone who always tries to figure things out and someone who just follows their heart.

We all have a sense of logic and a passionate heart, but we tend to favor one over the other.  So, in an audience, we’re likely to see a hole in a story if we don’t see our favored approach taken.  And those are just the kinds of holes the author needs to fill if they are to have an airtight argument that their blanket statement is sound.

And so, in our characters, our plot, our theme, and our genre, storytellers began to see what dramatic elements were always necessary to include to make a sound argument to make their point.

Very gradually, these elements became the conventions of storytelling – to have a protagonist driven by a personal issue, to have a goal with specific requirements to be met and a consequence to face if they aren’t – these and scores of other items became nuts and bolts that form the framework of story structure – the scaffolding that holds the story up so it doesn’t suffer the same fate as the boneless chicken ranch.

In other installments, we’ll see how these essential dramatic items fall into families of similar traits, and can actually be accessed through something of a Periodic Table of Story Elements, providing a really clear look at story structure and a really useful way of accessing it.

This entire series is drawn from our book on the subject that we published way back in 1991, Dramatica: A New Theory Of Story.  Just click on the link to read it for free in a downloadable PDF.

Until next time, May the Muse be with you!

Melanie Anne Phillips
Co-creator, Dramatica

Posted in Story Structure | Comments Off on How Did Structure End Up In Stories?

The Sunday Section

The Sunday section, in which I take a break each week from teaching creative writing to share some of my own work.

“Verbatim”

Have you ever wished
you had something to say
to open the heart
or capture the day.

To dissect the mind
or rally the cause,
but your words come up empty,
like stasis on pause.

So you put up your web site
and type in your Word:
a mouthpiece for Gurus
who want to be herd.

You stamp out a template
and auction your ware
that builds them a stairway
for climbing up air.

You translate their yearnings,
transfigure their Muse,
with a medium message
divine in its use.

Yet a lukewarm reception
devours your spiel,
consumed and digested
by The Zombies of Zeal.

For years you persist
in your nebulous quest
toward a furious sound
of infinite jest.

And you never look back
as your life passes by
to present as reflections
not seen through your eye.

But one day you wake
with a pain in your gut
that your fame is a fake
and your mountain, a rut.

So you fall from the sky
’til your life’s on the level
to lie in your bed
while embracing the Devil.

And you sing with the sirens
a glorious wail,
obscuring the site
of the Visioner’s Grail.

And the auctioneer’s gavel
indentures the Muse
and takes a percentage
of all whom she screws.

But one day She dies,
consumed with the clap,
and Her audience cries
as it lays in your lap.

So you cradle its head,
as it cradles yours,
and you wish you were dead
(save the proceeds from tours.)

But it isn’t the money,
nor is it the fame,
and it never was simply
the name of the game.

And it isn’t the insight
of getting there first,
nor the common law marriage
of better and worst.

You keep scratching your head
’til it coughs up a thought
in the hope it tastes better
than those that you bought.

You savor the flavor
that burns through your tongue,
for Truth leaves you speechless
and breathless and young.

And the answers you sought
with obtuse nomenclature
turn out to be more
of a personal nature.

So the final few words
of the self-focused work
provide answers for me.

*****

Melanie Anne Phillips
Creator, StoryWeaver
Co-creator, Dramatica

Posted in Story Structure and Storytelling | Comments Off on The Sunday Section

The Sunday Section

In this week’s Sunday section, I share a poem born of the frustrations from thirty years of teaching creative writing while trying to give due to my own efforts as well…

“Verbatim”

Have you ever wished
you had something to say
to open the heart
or capture the day.

To dissect the mind
or rally the cause,
but your words come up empty,
like stasis on pause.

So you put up your web site
and type in your Word:
a mouthpiece for Gurus
who want to be herd.

You stamp out a template
and auction your ware
that builds them a stairway
for climbing up air.

You translate their yearnings,
transfigure their Muse,
with a medium message
divine in its use.

Yet a lukewarm reception
devours your spiel,
consumed and digested
by The Zombies of Zeal.

For years you persist
in your nebulous quest
toward a furious sound
of infinite jest.

And you never look back
as your life passes by
to present as reflections
not seen through your eye.

But one day you wake
with a pain in your gut
that your fame is a fake
and your mountain, a rut.

So you fall from the sky
’til your life’s on the level
to lie in your bed
while embracing the Devil.

And you sing with the sirens
a glorious wail,
obscuring the site
of the Visioner’s Grail.

And the auctioneer’s gavel
indentures the Muse
and takes a percentage
of all whom she screws.

But one day She dies,
consumed with the clap,
and Her audience cries
as it lays in your lap.

So you cradle its head,
as it cradles yours,
and you wish you were dead
(save the proceeds from tours.)

But it isn’t the money,
nor is it the fame,
and it never was simply
the name of the game.

And it isn’t the insight
of getting there first,
nor the common law marriage
of better and worst.

You keep scratching your head
’til it coughs up a thought
in the hope it tastes better
than those that you bought.

You savor the flavor
that burns through your tongue,
for Truth leaves you speechless
and breathless and young.

And the answers you sought
with obtuse nomenclature
turn out to be more
of a personal nature.

So the final few words
of the self-focused work
provide answers for me.

*****

Melanie Anne Phillips
Creator, StoryWeaver
Co-creator, Dramatica

Posted in zzzzzzzzzzzz..... (snore) | Comments Off on The Sunday Section

Where Does Story Structure Come From?

Story Structure | Where Does Story Structure Come From?

In previous installments of this series, we’ve determined that stories do, in fact have structure.  And, we explored how each story’s structure is something of a map that shows us how to go about solving a particular kind of problem or how to improve something our lives.  This could be by achieving a goal, learning how to cope, learning a new way of looking at life, etc.

But that’s all pretty nebulous.  So, if stories have structure, it has to be something more tangible.  And yet, it also has to be flexible enough to account for all the different kinds of stories that have been told.

That’s a pretty tall order!  And yet, here we are: with an innate sense that some sort of structure does exist, yet a frustrating inability to see it clearly, though we can almost make it out, moving around in the dark waters beneath our subject matter and storytelling style.

In this installment, we’re going to strip all that away and take a good look at the beast.  And to do that, we’re going to explore where story structure comes from in the first place.

Story structure begins with us.  Not surprising since stories are about people, after all.  But more specifically, story structure begins with how each of us, as individuals, go about solving problems and trying to improve our lives.

When confronted by something we’d like to change or something new we’d like to attain, we look at from all sides: with our logic, how we feel about, or with a skeptical eye, for example.

We consider the issue through each of these perspectives (or filters) and see how things look.  Do any of these suggest a course of action? Which ones look promising, and which ones set up a red flag: “Best to not do anything at all!”

Then, our mind takes over and collates all those assessments, “This feels right, but it makes not sense at all,” or, “I know it’s the right thing to do, but I just can’t tolerate it.”

At some point, we’ve thought about it enough, and we determine our plan for what we’re going to do and/or how we are going to respond.

That’s pretty much how problem solving works for you (at a greatly simplified level) and for your main character too!

Story structure for your main character (excluding the rest of the story) boils down to this: It shows the timeline of how your main character examines the central issue at the heart of their personal journey and then makes a decision about the best path to take.

But what about the rest of the story?  What about all those other characters beside the main character – the ones who are in all kinds of relationships struggling with each other over the goal at the center of the plot?  Where does that story structure come from?

Actually, the same place – just bigger.

Here’s how it works…

When people get together around a common issue (like a goal or a cause), after a while that group begins to self-organize.  One person will emerge as the Voice Of Reason for the group, another as Passionate Heart, and yet another as the Resident Skeptic.

You see, when we work together to resolve something of common interest, we still use the same tools and perspectives we do as individuals.  The difference is, that for ourselves we do all of those jobs like general practitioners because there’s just us to do them.

But in a group, if each individual tried to do all the jobs, it would be a mess!  Everyone would be overlapping their effort, and since each one would be doing many jobs, they couldn’t devote all their time to any one job.

So socially, we understand that intuitively.  And that’s why in a group, people begin to specialize.  One looks at the issue solely through the eyes of Reason.  Another is the Skeptic who questions everything.  Both are essential perspectives to take, but by specializing, each one can devote all their time to a single perspective and go for a deep dive.  They can work their way down into the details that no one person could do if they were trying to do a lot of other jobs too.

In this way, by specializing, the group can see deeper into every issue it encounters, and that serves every member of the group.

But here’s the cool thing…  Because all those jobs in the group are the same ones we use as individuals, the structure of the group is nearly identical to the structure we use in our own minds.  In a sense, it becomes a map of our own minds’ problem solving processes, but something external to ourselves – visible in the way the group is organized.  In short, we can see the workings of our own minds in the workings of any organized group. Whoa…

Just as the structure of the main character is based on the structure of our own internal problem solving processes, the structure of the overall story is based on the structure of how a group goes about solving problems.

So you have two identical maps of the problem solving process in a story:  1.  The individual trying to work out what’s best for him or her.  2.  The group trying to figure what’s best for it (and all its members).

But here’s the clincher:

What’s best for an individual is not always what’s best for the group he belongs in.  In other words, the needs of the one are often in conflict with the needs of the many.  And the truth of the matter is, all dramatic tension is created by that conflict between what the individual wants to achieve for himself or herself and what their group’s agenda demands of them as a member of the group.  Again, whoa.

Think about that.  Story structure is like a wheel within a wheel.  The individual is struggling to navigate their life to resolve their issues, all the why trying to negotiate their participation the the group effort.

Kinda feels like everything from A Christmas Carol to Hamlet and touches on genres from Romance to Action to Buddy Stories, Comedies, Westerns, Spy Thrillers, you name it.

And that is why story structure was so hard to see:  Since stories unfold over time, everyone was looking for a timeline kind of structure.  But the truth is, stories are only timelines from the perspective of the reader or audience, because that is how they are exposed to it.

From an author’s point of view, the story is a done deal.  They see it complete – beginning, middle, and end all at once.  An author stands outside of time and works out his or her structure as if it were a framework for the story – scaffolding that supports their message or intent.

A tweak here, and adjustment there, and the dramatic forces that represent the kinds of things we encounter in everyday life are fine-tuned to provide just the point of view the author wants the reader or audience to arrive at, once the storytelling is over and they look back at everything they experienced to understand what it meant.

Well that’s quite a journey we’ve taken here ourselves.  But it led to a new way of looking at story structure that brings brings it into greater focus by seeing where it came from in the first place.

In other installments in this series we’ll talk about the specific dramatic elements and components that make up structure, and how you can use them together to create just the impact you want to have.

This entire series is drawn from our book on the subject that we published way back in 1991, Dramatica: A New Theory Of Story.  Just click on the link to read it for free in a downloadable PDF.

Until next time, May the Muse be with you!

Melanie Anne Phillips
Co-creator, Dramatica

Posted in Story Structure | Comments Off on Where Does Story Structure Come From?

Writing from the Subconscious

If you know how to tap into it,  your subconscious mind can infuse your story with more depth and meaning than you are consciously aware.

As an example, here is a short poem I recently completed, followed by a creative analysis of how my own subconscious mind elevated the piece far beyond my intent.

Glacier

Can I find some peace of mind,
to dull the horrid daily grind,
or should I taste the bitter rind,
whose poison quells all pain?

Will I fight another day,
am I the one my Id will slay,
and what will be the price to pay,
to end this sad refrain.

From time to time I am compelled,
to neuter what I cannot geld,
that which never can be held,
melting in the rain.

Driven by the summer breeze,
to dash against the leafless trees,
then thrust to ground on brittle knees,
and never walk again.

Lifeless dreams through sightless eyes,
dance across the heartless skies,
and sing a ghastly last reprise,
that burns into my brain.

Empty husk of parasites,
humbled by a thousand bites,
drained of self and filled with mites,
resistance is in vain.

Flaccid with my stuffing gone,
darkness now defies the dawn,
time stands still, then marches on,
a pointless trackless train.

Into earth my substance crumbles,
while the time train clacks and rumbles,
all I was is lost to mumbles,
neither sharp nor sane.

Now as if I wasn’t there,
self is shadow, breath is air,
nothing left to be aware,
a terminal moraine.

CREATIVE ANALYSIS:

So, you see, it is about the death of a glacier. But the weird part is, I didn’t know that until after I wrote it.

All through the creative process I thought I was describing a despondent burned-out person, though I, myself, am in quite a positive mood of late.

It felt strange writing this – different than usual. Each stanza came together organically, and though each was about the same issue of loss of self, each was also centered around a completely different kind of imagery.

The stanzas really didn’t seem connected by a central spine or theme, just that sense of loss of self. In fact, taken together, I felt they were just chaotic glimpses into the storyteller’s psyche.

In terms of the creative process, all went smoothly until I arrived at the very last line. After every previous rhyme falling easily into place, I couldn’t (for the life of me) figure out how I wanted it to end.

So, for the first time on this project, I opened the rhyming dictionary and scanned through hundreds of multi-syllable words that rhymed with “pain.”

Nothing jumped out at me until I stumbled across “terminal moraine.” That was it! Perfect ending – terminal having the double meaning of mortality, which seemed to fit with this poor narrator’s description of his or her life experiences.

So, I plopped in that last line, re-read it a few times and published it on my blog under the title “A Way Out,” still believing it to be about this person.

Didn’t like the title though. Seemed mamby pamby. I decided to re-read the poem a few more times and after perhaps half a dozen readings, going from the end back to the beginning, I read “terminal moraine” immediately followed by “daily grind.” And that’s when it hit me – those two phrases sound like they are describing a glacier!

“No….” I thought. “It can’t be….” So I read it once more with “death of a glacier” in mind and holy crap! Every stanza – every WORD rang true to that theme, as if it had been intentionally written all along to describe the last days of a glacier’s life.

Now that has never happened to me before, and I’m kind of blown away by it. The poem is good and the imagery works with any title, but “Glacier” is that missing thread that elevates the poem from a collection of images to a single topic, explored.

I’d say at least half of the artistic impact of the poem derives from seeing it as the end of a glacier. And so, I really don’t feel right taking credit for that since that didn’t happen until the poem was already completed. Hence, this “apology” for the quality of the work.

Still, this brings up an interesting aspect of the writing craft. I’ pretty sure my subconscious knew full well what it was writing about from the get-go. It just didn’t fill me in on it until the end.

I’e read many accounts where readers find so much meaning in a poem, a story, or a song that was never intended by the author, who denies that meaning intently.

And yet, as creators, we all know we have over-active imaginations, and a lot of what goes on with that comes from the subconscious. That’s where inspirations come from and it is the source of those moments of epiphany that pop up in “Eureka!” shouted out loud, even when writing in the house alone.

It is my belief that the truly great writers are those whose subconscious works to instill far more meaning in their stories than that of which the author is ever consciously aware. THAT is the quality that infuses depth and complexity into the piece and draws the readers into a multi-level multi-faceted experience.

This latest effort has driven that home to me yet again – that the best way to construct a story is to let your mind set the destination and your heart chart the course.

Melanie Anne Phillips
Creator, StoryWeaver

Posted in Creative Writing, zzzzzzzzzzzz..... (snore) | Comments Off on Writing from the Subconscious

Does Story Structure Exist?

Story Structure | Part of an ongoing series

Welcome to our new series that explores the elements of story structure and describes how they work together to form a framework for your story.

We begin with a fundamental question:

Does Story Structure Exist?

It might seem a silly question on its face, but dig a little deeper and it is worthy of an answer – especially if you want to justify putting time into studying it!

Some folks feel stories are so organic and fluid that they can’t possibly described by a fixed and restrictive structure.

Other folks note that the same elements and forms keep showing up such as protagonist, goal, and acts, and figure there must be some Great Wheel that drives a story forward.

Over the years theorists like Joseph Campbell championed the concept of the mythic Hero and his relationships with other archetypes who helped or hindered him along the way (based on archetypes of the Collective Unconscious originally outlined by Jung).

Other theorists, such as Chris Vogler in his book, The Writer’s Journey, adapted and extended Campbell into a practical guide for story development.

Many have found these perspectives useful forming and refining stories, but many others have found them limiting and incomplete. Still, the bottom line is that most writers sense there is some underlying mechanism that gives stories their spines, but they also tend to feel that the truth of it is foggy at best and obscure at worst.

And that is where we will leave things (until next time) with this conclusion: Story structure probably exists, but no one has ever gotten a really good look at it nor laid out a complete explanation for it much less a practical guide for employing it.

In our next installment, we’ll take our first step into a new way of looking at story structure that incorporates but also transcends the other theories mentioned here so far.

Until then, May the Muse be with you!

Melanie Anne Phillips
Co-creator, Dramatica

Posted in Story Structure | Comments Off on Does Story Structure Exist?

Write Your Novel Step By Step

Step 1 | Introducing a new approach to story development

For most authors, the hardest part of writing is the raw invention needed to come up with an intriguing plot, compelling characters, a meaningful theme, and an involving genre. Once you have that all worked out, the actual writing is the fun part.

In this weekly series we’ll be using a new approach to story development called StoryWeaver.  StoryWeaver is so named because it employs a technique for drawing story threads from your original concept much as a weaver might draw threads from wool.  Step by step you grow and clarify your story as you twist your threads into yarn, spin that yarn, and eventually weave it into the tapestry of your story.

There are four stages in StoryWeaver’s story creation path, and you can see them as the top-level categories in the navigation menu to the right (or just below this text on smaller screens). They are:

  1. Inspiration
  2. Development
  3. Exposition
  4. Storytelling

The Inspiration Stage helps you draw new story threads for your plot, characters, theme and genre from your original concept. The Development Stage twists those threads to deepen and expand your ideas into greater detail. The Exposition Stage helps you spin your ideas together into a full bodied yarn. The Storytelling Stage weaves everything that happens in your story as it unfolds over time.

By the end of the path, you’ll have a completed story, fully developed and expertly told.

Step two will be coming next week but you can keep going right now with the interactive online StoryWeaver App.  Check out the 14 day free trial at Storymind.com/free-trial.htm

Posted in Story Development | Comments Off on Write Your Novel Step By Step

Welcome to StoryWeaver

Welcome to StoryWeaver – your step by step path to a completed novel, screenplay, or other narrative manuscript.

StoryWeaver is so named because it employs a technique for drawing story threads from your original concept much as a weaver might draw thread from wool. Step by step you grow and clarify your story as you twist the threads into a yarn, spin that yarn, and eventually weave it into the tapestry of your story.

Whether you already have a story you wish to improve or are just starting out with no more than a concept, StoryWeaver will help you grow your story, adding power to your plot, passion to your characters, humanity to your theme and richness to your genre.

StoryWeaver isn’t a web site, an organizational tool, or a series of fill-in-the-blank questions, but a sophisticated story development program. It runs on our servers and is accessed through your web browser, so you can use it on any internet connected device. As you work with your story, you can move seamlessly from laptop, to tablet, to smart phone, and from Windows to Mac, iOS, Android, or Chrome so you can follow your Muse wherever she leads.

NEXT WEEK’S STEP: Overview of the StoryWeaver Process

Want to get started right now? Try our free 14 day trial at Storymind.com/free-trial.htm

Posted in StoryWeaver Software | Comments Off on Welcome to StoryWeaver