Get Over Yourself (Please): Letter from a Writing Teacher

Dear Class,

Thank you for the last ten weeks. You have all worked hard writing and rewriting and editing your own work and your fellow writers’ works, all the while growing in knowledge and experience, which was evidenced in your writing, which has been better and better every week.

I look forward to publishing our Let’s Write! class anthology, our collection of this class’s unique and original memoirs of which I am very proud.

Since I’ve already extensively shared with you my gratitude and appreciation for your patience with me for the duration of our longer-than-usual class due to my inopportune accident, let me jump right in here with what’s rambling through my mind.

Sometimes I think people take themselves a little too seriously (or a lot). “Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth?” (from the Holy Bible, Galatians 4:16)

Yes. If you want to clear a room or empty your life, tell the truth. And you could say this is the story of my life, both personal and professional. People say, “Val, you’re so real,” but then when I am “real” (in other words, honest), they hate me for it and call me names and run away.

But here’s the thing of which I’m really guilty. I’m going to really clear the room, now, maybe empty myself of all students/clients, present and prospective, “because I tell you the truth.” Here goes: It’s not my clients/students for whom I work (they just pay the bill), it’s their writing.

My concern is not for the poet, it’s for her poetry and its effect on those for whom it’s meant. And therein lies the problem. God gives us a gift with which He expects to use us to reach others, whether that gift be music, public speaking, sewing, writing, carpentry, or any other number of specialties.

So when all the while, a writer is concerned more about him- or herself than the writing, all I’m thinking about is will anyone ever read this out there somewhere? Paperback? eBook? blog post?  Will any of those ever happen so the memoirs, stories, essays, poetry so full of wisdom and experience ever be allowed to live? I try.

Writers Who Got Over Themselves for the Sake of the Writing:

I practically begged student Gayle Peebles to write a book because the potential from an essay she’d tentatively started in class was overwhelming. She fortunately took the bait, and I got to help her give life to the story wanting to be told and appreciated by all who read it. The result, Best Friends Worlds Apart is a real classic book, receiving high accolades from the judges at Writers Digest in 2017 when Gayle entered it in an eBook contest, and enjoyed by many here in the United States and in Russia.

I cajoled Lily Allyson Liu, a lovely Taiwanese-American lady who was afraid her English wasn’t good enough (It was, with a bit of editing.) into writing her memoir about falling in love with a man involved at the time in a regrettable gay relationship. The result, a touching little 60-page paperback and eBook Lily called A Rhythmic and Melodious Friendship: A Memoir because one thing they had in common was a strong love and knowledge of classical music. It was a true story being written even as it was being lived by her (and him). 

It wasn’t easy, but I coerced Shirley Ann Moore into writing the family story of her mother, a Wiyot Indian, after she had submitted a three-page essay about herself growing up with her mom. Then I convinced Shirley into including a brief history of the Wiyot tribe, complete with a map of the tribe’s home of northern California. Shirley named the memoir A Lick and A Promise: Remembering Mom, Descendant of a Wiyot Tribe. The title came from Shirley’s mom’s favorite line about how she’d clean the kitchen when in a hurry, with “a lick and a promise”. Shirley included a family recipe at the end of each chapter of her book, a delightful aspect readers appreciated.

Like Gayle, Shirley, after the classes ended, began to come weekly to my studio for private sessions with me. Also like Gayle, Shirley would bring family photographs she’d collected which we painstakingly labeled and scanned into my computer to be part of the history her characters were unraveling for her, little by little, in the book Shirley never believed could happen.

Shirley’s favorite line was, “Do you really think I have a book here?” (Gayle had asked the same question early on.) “Of course, you do,” I’d say. “How can you not see it?” I’m truly shocked and often frustrated when students seem blind and deaf to their own stories trying to be told.

Alix had already written about three hundred poems and had posted them online to a poetry website when he saw a Let’s Write! ad in a local paper. He asked if I could help him put his poems together into a book, editing if and when necessary. It took time collecting, reading, and editing, and it’s a book of which I’m very proud and honored to have been a part of getting into publication. Alix called the collection Transcendental Highway after the title of one of the poems contained therein. As we put it together, we would both cry as we read through some of the 150 poems he’d chosen to include in this volume. Then he cried when the book was finished and the published paperback (with a beautiful photo of his son on the cover) was in his hand.

These are everyday people who show up in my classes and private sessions and are open to their own writing (and my suggestions), and with some egging on and a lot of encouragement, come to realize their story has to be shared, has to see light, and that it is very doable. The stories want to be told. These authors come to realize they don’t own their words. They have to be put together and allowed to express the life they already have, for the sake of others.

It’s That One.

Will it be a best seller read by millions? Probably not, but then it’s well known that many best sellers are such because their rich authors purchase copies of their own books in the thousands and millions thereby pushing their book into best-seller status based on the number of books sold. There are all kinds of tricks in this trade.

But that’s not the point. Maybe ten people will read the story, poem, essay. Maybe fifty, maybe a hundred. But it’s just that one in whom I’m interested. It’s that one who is really touched by what they read, what you wrote, that story that brought them to tears or made them laugh out loud. It’s for that one potential reader that the writing had to see daylight. It’s what writing is for, to be read, the way art has to be seen.

Parents, Let Your Children Go!

Dear Writer, Let your children (writings) go free so they can be read by others. If not a book, learn how to do a blog. Sometimes you will get feedback of readers’ appreciation of your writing. But lots of time you won’t, but that doesn’t mean somebody didn’t read it and it was just what he or she needed just when it showed up.

Don’t be a helicopter parent. Like our real children, we don’t own our works of art or creations of craft; we just bring them into the world. As they mature and become complete (ready for publication) we can’t hold on to them but must send them out into the world so to affect those they touch. That’s what writing is for.

I always pray that those who’ve been given a gift by God, will not only use it, but let others benefit by it as well. The writer’s gift of writing is what I work for. The writer is just the venue (and the one paying the bill). The writer is the vehicle through which the writing (story, memoir, poem—in other words, the message) is passed on to those who read it. That’s why writers need to put their fragile egos aside so others can read what God has given them to say, to write.

And if I can help you write, edit, publish it, I’m thrilled and honored. That’s what I do. I help give life to stories that need to be shared. We do it together. And how delighted I am when one of you decides it’s worth the work, and you’re all in, for working on your writing so it can be at its best (the way we clean and dress up our children before we present them to others), with the goal of letting them go out into the world to be appreciated for their gifts by others.

As I’ve said, but can’t say enough, it’s frustrating when people of true talent lock away their art and craft (manuscripts, artwork, whatever they create) and stubbornly fight this kind of encouragement, even seem to resent it.

So There You Have It.

Here’s the point: I’m delighted with students invested in their writing wholeheartedly (like the no-fear, non-ego writers listed above did) because that makes my job of helping clients bring their writing to professional publication standard so much easier and more enjoyable. It can get old to constantly try to convince writers their stories, memoirs, essays, poems are worth publishing, whether as a book or blog posts (or both) when I know from years of professional experience and education that it’s true.

When writers don’t want to do the work and prefer, instead, to argue in defense of their egos (fears) constantly (though they don’t seem to realize that that’s what they’re doing), these fears and unteachable egos get in the way. Then I get the extra job of wasting time and energy (and Writer’s money) placating Writer, so Writing can continue in its best direction in order to come alive on the page. Therefore, the essence of my message to you today, Dear Writer, is as follows:

Dear Writers,

  • Get out of your writing’s way!
  • Stop placating your egos (fears) and feelings.
  • Go ahead and cry if you have to.
  • Stop trying to own the story/poem/essay/memoir; stop trying to keep it locked away, in a drawer, digital file, or inside yourself—What are you afraid of?
  • Realize the writing has a life of its own.
  • It doesn’t belong to you.
  • Its life is not your life.
  • Let it live its own life.
  • Let it go free.
  • Don’t be a helicopter parent to your writing.
  • It will do just fine out there.
  • Trust God.
  • He’s the one who gave you the gift in the first place, for the purpose of your giving it away.
  • Give your gift away.

Thank you for listening. Warm wishes for your writing life ahead.

Your caring teacher,

Valerie Serrano

Everyone has a story. (link to My Spirals)

Everyone has a story. A deceptively simple title, but don’t let that fool you. Utsav Raj of My Spirals,  has written a short-short story which I read to my creative writing class as an excellent example of the use of fine, original detail which brings our writing to life on the page (or screen).

With phrases like he decided to use photo frames to hold musical notes” Utsav keeps us paying attention because we can’t help it. The language is simple, yet when put together in sentences and paragraphs it paints pictures which tell a story much broader than can be contained within it.

Please read not only this post of Utsav Raj’s but the rest of his writings on his blog My Spirals, such as A Letter to Music. His voice is unique yet we understand him perfectly. Utsav’s writings are beautiful examples of how Specific expresses Universal.

~ Val

“You’ll Get An F.”

“What?” I said out loud to nobody, then laughed. “An F? Moi? Can’t be. She must have me mixed up with one of her students who can’t write.”

“I’m your straight-A, remember?” I said to the email, which I had finally received (years ago) from my undergraduate writing teacher on my essay proposal. (We had to send in a proposal of the topic about which we intended to write, before starting our term paper for the class.)

For the perfectionist that I have been since kindergarten, to be threatened with an F was a blow to the chest that took my breath away. She must have made a mistake (though I took an F years later in graduate school for refusing to edit pornography…but that’s another story).

I sat down, ready to write the teacher back and complain that she had the wrong student, but then took a moment to read further into her email, and that’s when I saw the reason for her indictment.

Her reason for giving a straight-A writing student an F for a term-paper topic was explainable in one word. You might say she gave me the F for Focus (or the lack thereof).

Keep Your Eye on the Ball

What was the topic I proposed that she said would bring me an F? Introversion—being an introvert in an extraverted world. She said it was too broad.

She said if I were planning a book-length work on the topic, it might have been acceptable because each chapter could address a different aspect of the issue, but for an article it was much too broad.

Getting Warmer

So after hours of deliberation I came up with a subject more specific: Being an introvert in the typically extravert world of the workplace. I sent it back to her, confident, even smug, satisfied that I’d given her what she wanted, and ready to start on my term paper – until I received her prompt reply: “You’ll still get an F.”

“What? Are you kidding me!” I yelled at the computer. As I read through her email I saw that word again: “Focus. Bring it down to something much more specific,” she wrote. “A specific problem with at least one specific solution.”

I had thought being an introvert in an extraverted world was specific. In my mind, I was zooming in on introverts versus the rest of the world of categories out there into which you can slip almost all the people you encounter, such as being short in a world of tall people, being blond, being overweight, being a vegetarian among carnivores (or vice versa). The list is endless.

Just a Little Bit Closer

So I wrote down my key word: Introverts. Okay, so what’s their problem? Being one myself, I had no shortage of a list of problems, such as: malls, busy restaurants or other public places; parties; networking events; the workplace!

And that’s where I landed. For me, the workplace has always been an office of one type or another or a classroom, with coworkers, office politics, fellow teachers and admin with whom to mix in the break and conference rooms, whether one wanted to or not.

But the more I looked at it, the more I saw that others will have workplaces such as various outdoor settings, factories, and so many other different kinds of backdrops. Widening my thinking and realizing this fact showed me why “introverts in the workplace” was still too general.

After going over the initial research I had done for my introvert proposal, and writing different versions of topics in order to find one that clicked, the title at which I arrived and that she accepted as being focused enough was “How Introverts Can Survive and Thrive in the Office”.

V Is for Vortex

When I think about it now, I view it as an upside-down triangle, an inverted vortex or V, to represent the situation.

At the top of the vortex is the topic at its most general, introversion versus extraversion.

At the bottom is the specific application on which I finally landed, the introvert surviving and thriving the extravert office.

In the middle somewhere is the introvert in the more generalized “workplace”, and so many other aspects of introversion.

In Summary

1. Introvert versus extravert world: Too broad.

2. Introvert in workplace: Still too broad.

3. How an introvert not only gets by, but thrives, in what is considered to be a hostile environment to most introverts—the office, with all its implications: Specific.

Not to Put Too Fine a Point on It…

Other similar approaches might have been: How an introvert spouse survives and thrives an extravert husband or wife, or the best ways to nurture your introverted child in an extraverted school environment.

There are many possibilities along the spectrum, but the narrow point of focus at the bottom of the vortex is the goal. However it gets narrowed on the way down, in the end it reaches as fine an application as possible.

It should be obvious that this idea of focus and the inverted vortex is not just for college papers or grades. This should guide all writers whenever we sit down to approach any given topic.

The Enemy: Generalization

Beware generalization in all its manifestations in writing—not just regarding subject but with every word you commit to paper or screen, within any sentence, paragraph, chapter, book—generalization is always a danger by which to be enticed. I say enticed, because to generalize is to take the easy route.

I will say, I do disagree with my undergrad writing instructor back then on her comment that my general topic might have been okay for a book-length work, though she could have been saying that to lessen the blow of pointing out my bad choice for the proposal. But, depending on the kind of book a writer was proposing, I’d normally tell a student the same thing she told me: Book-length or not, it’s too broad.

One More Thing

In case you were wondering, I wrote the paper using citations from articles and books on the subject, and she must have been happy with my approach and conclusions, because when it was all over, I got an A on the finished paper. (I also learned a few things from my research, being an introvert myself.)

And I thanked the nice lady for her guidance and warnings, instead of just letting me go ahead with my too-general topic and getting the F, breaking my (almost) perfect record.

My Two Cents on a Stephen King Quote

“Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s.” 

~Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, Pocket Books, 2000.  (Quote taken from Goodreads.)

Let me say up front that aside from a scary movie now and then in the past, before I got squeamish about such things, I am not a fan of the horror-writing  man, or I should say I’m not a fan of the horrors about which he writes; but the man himself, I don’t know well enough to have anything against.

Can I Get A Kickback?

All that aside, unbeknownst to Mr. King (is that his real name?) as a writing instructor, recommended this book to so many of my Let’s Write! students, who actually went out and bought it, that I should rightly get some kind of kickback.  Though I’m nerdy enough that all the kickback I need is my students buying a book I recommended to them (which means they actually listened to me), their reading it (no way!), and then (what?) they actually applied it to their writing?  That’s all more than enough kickback for a weary writing teacher to recommend it all over again to the next class.

Under “I” For Index

This isn’t a book review for On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, but I just want to say the book is excellent in its reflections on writing and its teachings, except for the missing index at the back of the book which I keep complaining about, hoping against hope that King might come across one of my posts somewhere and get the idea to put out a new edition with an index, though I know indexes (indices?) are a lot of work, but oh so worthwhile to the writing student or teacher, so couldn’t he have hired someone to do the grunt work?

For example, if I had an index in my copy of the aforementioned book I could look up the aforementioned quote and give you the page number on which it can be found, but no, not even a Table of Contents, much less a index, and flipping and flapping through the pages, I’m sorry, but I haven’t found the page number.  Sheesh!

The Craft of Writing?

 King’s On Writing is a unique combination of important writing “tools” (his metaphor in the book, which he takes one by one from his “toolbox”) and of his own story (the memoir part).  He reveals both the man as writer and the points he’s learned along the way.  (I just wish he could find something on the lighter side to write his novels about, but….)

So today I’m here to talk about the above quote taken from On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.  Nice title but considering King’s stories, I can’t help but wonder if the title would refer to the craft of writing or (hopefully, not) witchcraft.

“Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s.”   

                                                                 ~ Stephen King

Simply put, Mr. King is reminding us not to list everything the narrator sees in our descriptions, but, to, instead, choose a few key details and let the reader’s mind fill in the blanks.

And along these lines, my two cents’ worth is this and King agrees:  What you leave in, as well as what you leave out of your descriptions should characterize a person (a man, a woman, a child), a place (a room, the inside of a car, a city), or a thing (the outside of a house, a computer, a dress).  “Characterize” meaning it tells us something about the person, place or thing which allows the reader to read between the lines, so to speak.

So This Hippie Was Building This Robot….

This idea of drawing pictures with just enough words applies to both fiction and nonfiction and is one I cover in my writing classes often, because how we handle details (or the lack thereof) affects the depth and richness of our writing.

In a book about artificial intelligence you might not think what we’ll call “strategic description” would apply.  Au contraire, the more technical the writing the more important not to bore your reader.  In Our Final Invention: Artificial Intelligence and the End of the Human Era (by James Barrat, 2013, St. Martin’s Press), the author, Mr. Barrat, does a beautiful job of exactly what Mr. King (and I) recommend:  Give readers enough to go on based on what the narrator sees, and make what you tell readers count, so they can picture the rest.  After all, isn’t that the beauty of reading versus video?

Here’s an excerpt from Our Final Invention where Mr. Barrat, an investigative journalist, is visiting an artificial intelligence expert in order to conduct an interview for the book.  As the writer arrives at the scientist’s house, Barrat says this:

“On a spring morning I found in his yard a weathered trampoline and a Honda minivan so abused it looked as if it had flown through an asteroid belt to get there. It bore the bumper sticker, ‘My child was inmate of the month at County Jail’.” (p.168)

What a perfect example of exactly what Stephen King advises us to do!  Has not Mr. Barrat told us just what we need in order to fill in the  blanks about what kind of scientist it is who works actively every day to create substitutes for human beings?  Barrat then goes on in the paragraph to list a slew of animals that live in the house with the scientist and his daughter (some rabbits, a parrot, and two dogs).

Are we getting a picture of what this robotics guy is like?  Barrat goes on:

“The professor met me at the door, having climbed out of bed at 11 a.m. after spending the night programming.”  Barrat then proceeds to say the artificial intelligence expert looks like “the consummate hippie”. (p.168)

So a few lines and we know not only what the guy looks like, more or less, but we know a lot more about him, and a little about his family and his surroundings—and all in one paragraph.  This is what I mean (and King agrees) by characterizing with your description without going on with long, boring laundry lists of every detail, in an attempt for your readers to get the point.

There Are Angels In The Details.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m crazy about Detail (capitalized because I love it so much)!  Detail is my middle name when it comes to writing of any kind.  But we have to make it work and not let it just sit there being cute.   Description is not an ornament, otherwise known as filler; it should serve a purpose, justify its place in your writing, where every space a word takes up is valuable real estate.

In the above sample by James Barrat, he has started the description of the man he’s about to interview, but we readers will fill in the rest, using our own experiences and points of view as to whether or not we’ll like this guy.

That’s one thing Barrat didn’t tell us.  He didn’t tell us how he feels about hippies or all those animals or Honda minivans or this man who may well be contributing to the destruction of all of us, directly or indirectly, as the title of Barrat’s book suggests (our Last Invention, get it?).  As a reporter, Barrat’s just telling it as he (the narrator) sees it” and leaving it to us readers to make up our minds about the rest of it.

Now in fiction if you’re writing from a character’s point of view it tends to matter more how the character feels about what’s being described.  If the narrator is a part of the story, his or her descriptions of people and things serve to characterize him or her as much as who or what is being described, because readers are seeing through the lens of the character’s own experience and point of view.

And speaking of that, here’s another example of description through narration and the lens of the character’s viewpoint, this time in fiction.  Please pardon me if I use my own writing.

“Read My Book.”

In my novel Two Shores (in the process of being re-titled back to its original of The Archangel of Hamilton Beach), I practiced what I (and Stephen King) preach.  Here are a few lines from the first paragraph of Chapter 2 of my novel, narrated by the main character at age six, just returning from his first day of kindergarten.  The chapter is entitled “Escape to Hamilton Beach”:

“When Michael disappeared from my view, I sat down and ate part of the sandwich he’d made for me and drank some of the milk. The kitchen smelled like cigarettes. The garbage in the pail leaned against the wall and trailed up it. Some flies buzzed around. I wondered if they thought the yellow daisies in the faded wallpaper were real. I also wondered where Teresa—my mother—was, probably asleep in her bedroom, or drunk, or both.”

Now, if I do say so myself, I think Stephen King would be proud of me for my use of just enough detail to describe not only the kitchen through the eyes of this troubled six-year-old boy, but also just enough to tell my readers something of Danny, his life, his brother, his mother—in other words, to characterize all of it without giving every detail of what’s in front of Danny in this scene.  Even if you hadn’t read Chapter 1 before Chapter 2, you’d have some idea of his family situation and his surroundings, and surroundings are important to ground your reader, so to speak (but that’s another post).

Get a Job!

I tell my Let’s Write! students, whatever you put down on the page, tell it to get a job!  What kind of job, you ask?  Well, for one is this characterization I’ve been going on about—using description to help the reader know more about and understand in more depth what you’re looking to convey with your writing.

Moving the story forward is another job of describing people, places, and things in ways that tell readers more than just what they look like.  The above paragraph from my novel moves the story forward in that readers see this boy’s home is unkempt, his brother made him a sandwich and is gone, and mom lurks somewhere nearby, probably not in the best of moods.

And speaking of moods, another  job which description should perform includes setting the mood (the above kitchen?) of the scene or even of the whole story.  I’ll save more talk on the various jobs description should accomplish for another post.

A Dark And Lonely Night

Well, I’ve already gone on too long here or I’d go into the various ways of approaching description to suit Mr. King’s admonition, such as the use of simile, metaphor, dialogue, and others, but I don’t want to lose you (or put you to sleep).

But if you happen to run into Stephen King on a dark and lonely night, please tell him I said to give us a new edition of On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, this time with an index? So instead of wasting time searching his book for what we know he said in there somewhere, we writers can use our time more productively searching our imaginations for just the right words to use in our beguiling descriptions, which the readers will then finish in their own  minds.

Link to Guest Post I Did on “Who am I to write a book?” and 9 other creativity-crushing questions!

Vikas Singh who owns the blog Next Is Best where he discusses writing and SEO and other interesting topics, was kind enough to invite me to write a guest post.

Here’s the link to my article entitled, “10 Questions You Might Have if You’re Thinking of Writing a Book”.

As I mention at the beginning of it, I wrote with the focus on nonfiction, but most of it can easily apply to all writing. (At some point I hope to write a similar article focused on fiction or memoir.)

Read my post and get that extra boost you need to start your book!

(PS – I mentioned Vikas of Next Is Best  in my recent post “The KDP Previewer Hates My Paperback” for his review of Sweek, a book publishing/selling alternative to KDP).

 

Blueprint for a Chapter

Hi.  I hope you’ve read my previous post about using a Blueprint for your memoir or fiction story.  (If not, you might click on the link.)

Bones of the Blueprint in Review:

  1. Character’s status quo.
  2. What happens to change or destroy that?
  3. How does the character (you in a memoir) try to fix the new challenge?

(Note:  For this post, I’ll call our sample main character “Jimmy”)

Okay, so now let’s take this Blueprint concept and apply it on a smaller scale.  Instead of the whole story, let’s talk about a blueprint for each chapter within your book-length novel or memoir.

Pull Them In and Don’t Let Them Go!

Let’s say you’ve completed Chapter 1 (rough draft, I presume) where you’ve set up a beginning to your story:  Let’s say Jimmy’s camping (status quo).  He falls over a steep cliff and is hanging on knowing if he falls he could end up in the ICU at best.  This is Jimmy’s status quo: an event that changes Jimmy’s life in some important way which happens immediately—soon enough in Chapter 1 to pull in your readers and keep them interested enough to stick around to find out what happens next.  And Jimmy spends the rest of Chapter 1 trying to figure out how to save himself.

A Real Cliffhanger!

Now you’re on to Chapter 2, which begins with a new status quo inherited from Chapter 1.  Chapter 2 picks up with the new state of things (new status quo), resulting from the cliffhanger (in Jimmy’s case, literal) events with which Chapter 1 ended. 

Now, something else must happen to change that new status quo. (while he’s hanging off the cliff, trying not to let go, an aggressive bird comes by?)

Then, for the rest of Chapter 2 your readers are with your character, chewing their fingernails, wondering how Jimmy will work through this new challenge (that bird, that cliff).  (You could also have a subplot running, such as: he just quit smoking and needs a cigarette, but that’s fodder for another blog post.)

Readers will cringe as they picture Jimmy swinging helplessly while his problem gets worse and worse, the harder he tries to solve it (in trying to dissuade the bird, Jimmy manages to attract the aggressive bird’s larger friends?) before Chapter 2 ends with a new cliffhanger.

Compounded Interest (Your Readers’)

And just as Jimmy thought he had Chapter 2’s problem figured out (while dangling by one hand and fishing in his pocket with the other for a cigarette, he finds that easy-open can of tuna he’d brought along and attempts to throw it to the birds?) here comes a new problem, giving Jimmy something new to figure out, only to become even more perplexed and endangered by Chapter 3’s end, thereby further compounding his problem(s).  

And from there to Chapter 4, which starts with a new status quo, his now compounded problem (the birds are vegetarians?) brought on from Jimmy’s (failed) attempts in Chapter 3, and on from there.  Get the idea?  And yes, I feel sorry for your character, which is the whole point, and your readers will, too. 

Let Their Dinner Burn!

As each new problem leads to another, with each new status quo being changed or destroyed right before the next chapter, your readers can’t wait to see what’s going to happen next, and will therefore burn their dinners because they couldn’t put your book down.  And this is the whole purpose of writing your book—to get otherwise normal, organized people to burn their dinners because they couldn’t put your book down.

Holograms R Us        

Each word, sentence, paragraph, and chapter feeds the larger work.  As you write each chapter of your book, the blueprint for the larger story of your novel or memoir will begin to take shape—the blueprint for each chapter a microcosm of the macrocosm of the whole book. 

Using your blueprint within your chapters, each one will be complete in and of itself with a beginning, middle, and an end.  Like holograms, they are perfect reflections of the larger story as a whole, except that at the end of the last chapter of the book your cliffhanger will finally be resolved…

o

r

n

o

t.

(We’ll miss you, Jimmy).      The End.

Blueprint for Memoir or Fiction (and even some Poetry)

  1. What was the status quo?
  2. What happened to change, or destroy that?
  3. How did your main character (you, in a memoir) attempt to resolve it?
  4. How did his or her trials turn out?
  5. What do you hope the reader will walk away with?

In a book-length work, the same blueprint should also be the backbone of each chapter, which begins with a new status quo, a new problem for the character (you in a memoir) to get through, and a new ending—a cliffhanger to take the reader to the next chapter.

Even some poetry can fit into this blueprint.

Don’t see it as a template or outline, because it’s not.  But if you can’t answer the above questions, either before or after you’ve written the piece, something’s missing.  (Unless it’s “stream of consciousness”, which is just journal writing and not what I’m addressing here).

Beginning, middle, and end.  It’s the first lesson in the most basic writing class.  Even the story of how your day went today would be told as beginning, middle, and how it all ended. Hopefully, with your having gifted the world with one of your stories!