Search This Blog

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Art of War for Writers (SiWC 2010 Notes)

I didn't get a chance to post more notes before now, but I did have a darn good reason: I finished my rewrites to SIGN OF THE STAR! It is now in the hands of one last (but incredibly awesome) beta reader and then I'm going to start sending it out. And I'm feeling confident about it.

But if I had to choose just one more set of notes to share, it would have to be what I took away from James Scott Bell's class based on his book of the same title: The Art of War for Writers.

* * *

The Art of War for Writers
James Scott Bell

Sun Tsu: Chinese general abt. 2500 yrs ago
As writers, we often overthink things

Elevating everyone where they are to the next step

1. Know the battlefield.
What is the publishing business about?
- Money.
- Not a cynical view because the people in publishing care about writing and good writers, but ultimately it’s a business.
- To get published, you must offer value to the publisher.
- Think of yourself as a person who produces books.
- They’re interested in someone who can produce multiple books.
How to add value to the reader?
- Make them feel satisfied for buying the book.
- Inverse ratio between what’s in the market and what personally pleases
The fact that we are here increases the chances of getting published.

Pyramid (reverse):
People who think they want to write
People who have written a book
People who keep writing, keep trying
People who get published
Wheel of Fortune at the top

2. Career Novelist:
- Desire – really have to want it enough
- Discipline – self employed as a writer
- Knowledge of the craft
- Don’t just start writing, also know that you have to learn craft,
- So how to books help.
- You can learn how to be a writer. And you should.
- You should make it something that you do every day.
- You need to be honest, face your weaknesses
- A willingness to learn
- A buisness attitude – what people are looking for, how to present yourself
- Rhino skin – thick skin – criticism of your work is not criticism of you
- Take the long view: this is a lifelong thing
- Talent (least important) – there are highly talented people who never make it because they don’t keep trying (high expectations of self, fear, etc), but there are people who from hard work and dilligence do make it even though they’re not necessarily very talented
- Write to a quota
- It’s okay if it’s crap/drivel, you can edit it later
- Accept the quota for yourself
- Accept that real life intrudes – better to take one day off and set a weekly quota (take a break)
- Use an excel spreadsheet to keep track
- Only count new words when revising
- Finish the first draft as fast as possible
- Revise the previous day’s work then continue to write.
- Create new words every day
- Day by day dilligence
- “nobody knows anything” – William Goldman – Don’t stress about it or worry about adding value when you add the freshness of your voice
- No one knows anything about e-publishing and the future of that
- Job is to add value to the reader. If the book sucks, the reader will be disappointed
- If you really think you need to e-publish, you need a professionally edited manuscript, someone who really knows how to craft a novel
- Developmental edit (does the story work) plus copy edit
- Readers do reader reviews online
- Need a good cover
- Need a marketing plan
- – Joe Conrad

3. Systematic and never ending improvement model of business.
- Self study: Where can you improve? What are your weaknesses as a writer?
- Even if you only get one thing out of it, a writing book
- Think of all the novels with a great ___ (character, etc) and find out why you like it
- Make a copy of things you like and keep them in a writing notebook
- Keep outside commentary, read it
- Robert Heinlein: 1 you must write, 2 you must finish what you write.
- Don’t get it right, just get it written.
- Tactics to elevate your fiction:
- It’s crucial to bond your readers with the lead character.
- A great novel/plot is how a character deals with death (physical, professional, psychologically)
- E.g. romance writers have to create a psychological death
- The stakes are that high: death being that high enough
- Death to the lead character him/herself
- Can be a ghost from the past
- Make mistakes for your lead character
- Positive lead or hero – someone who represents community values
- Negative lead e.g. Scrooge or Scarlett O’hara – don’t represent the community (Power is important e.g. Hannibal)
- Antihero: has own code, doesn’t want to be concerned with the community but get drawn in, fights impulse from the start
- The community is sometimes us, the readers, not always the
- Grit, wit, and it
- Grit: Stakes aren’t always death: character needs to experience courage, trying to survive –Scarlett has
- Wit – If character can be self-deprecating
- Take a line of dialogue and freshen it up
- It – e.g. Clara Beau during the roaring twenties – Someone that people are drawn to, not because they’re trying hard, but because they are comfortable in their own skin –
- Pet the dog or save the cat – when the character takes care of someone weaker than themselves at the price of their own greater danger (esp. When they’re trying to save themselves)

4. Scene writing
- How can you increase the readability of your fiction – scenes need to be very readable
- Hook, intensity, and prompt
- Hook: Look at openings: Various ways to open a scene, depending on the pace
- Begin at a later point in the scene, with action (description can fit in)
- Intensity: Every scene should have a degree of intensity, or the reader is being let down
- Comes primarily from fear (worry to abject terror)
- Every scene should have a fear factor
- Prompt: What you can do to get the reader to keep reading
- Don’t write a lot of scenes to completion/logical end
- Try to find a good place to start (a line of dialogue may be intriguing)
- A question answered – try to keep it unanswered

5. Opening chapter, opening scenes
- Editors and agents read the first sentence rather than the proposal first because they want to know if you can write
- Avoid opening with the weather and place
- Avoid dreams
- Avoid opening with happy people in happy land
- “A great story is like life with doll parts taken out” Hitchcock
- Opening disturbance: something to disturb the character, something is out of the ordinary, amiss
- Anything that is interrupted
- Aim for a scene that is active – includes dialogue
- Don’t open with a character alone, merely thinking about the strong emotion s/he’s feeling – readers don’t care about them yet
- Show the main character in conflict (dialogue as a possibility is good)
- A good prologue is a full scene with high intensity that has a reason for being there
- Could call it Chapter 1
- Could open it with no heading (just don’t call it prologue)
- Don’t have backstory in the beginning: you can, but you need to marble it in with the action of the story: why the character is in this situation
- Reaers don’t need to know everything about the character

6. Dialogue
- Dialogue is the fastest way to improve a manuscript – gives the editor/agent confidence that you know what you’re doing
- A compression and extension of action
- Every character in every scene should have an agenda
- Dialogue is a weapon – an intense scene, becomes a weapon to fight (e.g. Now Voyager)
- Dialogue is one way you can let it flow
- Try writing the dialogue first, as improv
- Use it as a way to write the scene and figure out what a scene is about

7. Three great scenes and no weak ones.
- What is your weakest scene – least intensity, seems to drag – cut it
- If absolutely must keep, make it better
- Need a great scene to be memorable for the readers

8. To outline or not to outline – Yes, outline.
- But allow the story to breathe on its own. Change the outline.
- Have a log line: one line to summarize the script.
- Write back cover copy.
- Create an opening scene with disturbance
- Come up with twenty possible scenes after that.
- Then you will have a great understanding of what the story’s about.

* * *

Yes, this was an incredible class. Check back tomorrow for one last SiWC 2010 post. I'll be at the hotel, settling in and taking some pre-conference Master Classes!

No comments:

Post a Comment