What do readers get from your book? How do you reward them for spending their time in your fictional world?
I read this book more than once
over the years, and as always, I keep forgetting the lessons inside. This is one of those how-to books that writers should revisit often.
Story Structure: The Key to Successful Fiction - Red Sneaker Writers Series #1 by William Bernhardt
“Writing is structure,” William Goldman said, but too often aspiring writers plunge into their work without grasping this fundamental principle. Story structure is one of the most important concepts for a writer to understand—and ironically, one of the least frequently taught. In this book, New York Times-bestselling author William Bernhardt explains the elements that make stories work...in a direct and easily comprehended manner.
I know. There are SO MANY books on the craft of writing, and maybe most writers can read them once and internalize the message and remember what they've learned. I'm not one of those gifted writers. I keep forgetting stuff like this:
Structure is the selection of events from characters’ lives strategically arranged to serve the writer’s purpose.
I love disclaimers like this:
Please. Why would you believe anything a fiction writer says anyway? These are people who make stuff up for a living.
Structure, pace, tension, conflict,
and this business of throwing obstacles at our characters is a tricky business. I read books. Lots of 'em. Most come from the same cookie-cutter. Even a fresh premise, a 30-something civilian who trains service dogs for veterans with PTSD, turns stale when the usual tropes of the genre provide the conflict. She leaves her cell phone on the countertop if she's even remembered to keep it charged. She confronts suspects all by herself. She's had no training as a private eye or as a detective or as a cop. No matter. She solves a murder that the local police department never would have solved without her. The author is on Book Four of her series. Tropes and cliches sell well, it seems. The structure of the novel is as predictable as the stubborn, unreasonable, reckless heroine; chances are, the author has read all those books on how to create tension and conflict. Except this Bernhardt Book One of a series. Or she missed this part:
I always tell my students to discard the first thing that pops into their heads. There’s a reason why it came to you so quickly—it’s not original. You’ve read it before, heard it before, or God forbid seen it on television. It’s old hat. Cliché. Throw it out and come up with something better.
Plot concerns the specific events you concoct to keep your characters moving on their journey. Structure is about design. When you create your plot, you are the construction worker building the building. When you think about structure, you are the architect.
Story is complex. Characters can be elusive. Plot and presentation can be daunting. Style can be frustrating. So you should welcome any tools that aid you in this challenging but eminently worthwhile quest. And structure, once you understand it, is a tool that will make your work....
I'm not allergic to structure,
not really, not entirely, and I recognize all the good advice in this book. Luckily, my Kindle Highlights are still visible at Goodreads. Here is a brief summary:
Structure is one of the most important concepts for a writer to understand—and ironically, one of the least frequently taught.
Most professional writers engage in some form of preplanning. They may or may not call it outlining, but for all intents and purposes, that’s what it is. It may not involve the use of Roman numerals or indented subheadings, but that’s still what it is.
86 Kindle Notes
from this book, and that is only a fraction of the good advice for writers to "use or lose," as we'd say in that online fiction workshop years ago. (Ask @rhondak.) So I'll just wrap this up with a few more excerpts and my endorsement:
This is a great book
for writers trying to make their manuscript a winner. But don't take my word for it. Here are a few more excerpts:
"Too much information" vs judicious editing
... your tale may be better told with some events than others. Much of my revision usually revolves around deciding what to leave in and what to take out. My first drafts are typically all-inclusive, everything I can think of that might possibly be good. In later drafts, I try to be more judicious.
Hold out on the reader - keep them wondering, wanting to know more
reader interest can be intensified by not answering all the questions right from the start. Let them wonder. Delay explanations. Mystery is good (though confusion is not).
... the placement of the key events in your story can have a huge impact. That’s why you plan. What does the reader need to know when? What character clues need to be planted so the reader will grasp the inner conflict without being told? How do I surprise without resorting to coincidence?
Most messages are best delivered with just enough to allow the reader to get there themselves, rather than cramming it down their throats.
Less is More
I’ve always disliked the expression, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Bit of a slam at writers, isn’t it? I can think of many situations in which a word was worth a thousand pictures.
source: William Bernhardt's website
William Bernhardt is the author of more than thirty books, including the blockbuster Ben Kincaid series of legal thrillers. Bernhardt is also one of the most sought-after writing instructors in the nation. His programs have educated many authors now published by major houses.
The Red Sneaker Writing Center is dedicated to helping writers achieve their literary goals. What is a red sneaker writer? A committed writer seeking useful instruction and guidance rather than obfuscation and attitude. Red sneakers get the job done, and so do red sneaker writers, by paying close attention to their art and craft, committing to hard work, and never quitting. Are you a red sneaker writer? If so, this book is for you.
these book reviews are for you - sometimes volunteer editors and beta-readers can only offer you so much, and we all need to read a few "How To" books to get all the explanations and examples from an experienced teacher who can articulate it better than I can.