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!

Perfectionism Can Kill…A Blogger

Blogging is to writing as digital photography is to a Brownie camera.  One fast, the other slow(er).   With blogging there’s a great deficit of time in which to ponder the better way to say a thing, much less the best way.  Blogging is the fast(er) way to write many things.

Perfectionism we already know can be a killer, and is.  To start blogging I had to (and still have to daily—I’m working on it) put aside my Perfectionism; otherwise there was no way it could happen.  And being an editor, I can be annoying, including to myself, doing things like editing birthday cards (“Shouldn’t birthday be capitalized?”).  Even my lists of things to do are not safe—vacuum, dust…should it be and/or dust?

So when it comes to writing blogs which by definition should be posted in a timely manner on a regular basis, I freeze.  I can’t possibly write something perfect so fast or so regularly! (should that be and/or regularly?)  Yes, Hemingway said, “The only real writing is rewriting.”  Bless his heart.  I use that particular quote of his in almost every one of my writing classes and my students hate me for it.  But I suppose anything can be overdone. 

(I hope there won’t be any typos in this post).  Any writing teacher or editor knows the fear of typos in everyday correspondence, whether email, text, or social media, especially with students or clients (Should that be and/or clients? Or students/clients.)

Then there’s consistency.  Should I do one or two spaces after each period or question mark?  And whichever I chose, have I done the same for the duration of the article?  Does anybody care?  And isn’t that the real question?  (I went with two spaces.  I hope to be consistent throughout this post.) 

Now, I admit I abhor sloppy work, whether it’s my own or someone else’s.  And everybody knows there’s too much of that around.  In these days of knocking out a few paragraphs and sending it out into the ether without looking back, there can be frightening results which make us would-be-bloggers-if-we-weren’t-perfectionists glad we’re not out there in the arena.

Now, I have relaxed my attitude about it a bit, and my standards.  For example, I don’t ignore everything a blogger (or anyone else) writes because he or she wrote “their tired” anymore.  And no longer will I jump away from a post until I come across at least, say, five or so misspelled words.  But I do maintain some limits.

My greatest fear though, as a perfectionist, even as I write this, is that after I finish this post and proofread it several times, I’ll still miss something that will be caught by someone out there who will say, “See!  Hypocrite!  Your just as sloppy as we are!”  (yes, that typo is intentional, before you get ready to leave me a mean comment).

I remember a student in one of my classes actually squealed and jumped with joy when she apparently caught me in a mistake.  Did I ever say I was perfect?  Feel sorry for editors.  And isn’t that the whole kick of Perfectionism?  I mean, isn’t the meaning of Perfectionism that perfectionists know they’re not perfect (of course, nobody is), but they keep trying to be.  And when it keeps becoming evident that they’re not perfect, and can’t be, they want to quit, or they skip the want-to part, and just quit.  Or worse, they never start.

Of course, Perfectionism can kill all writing, not just blog writing, and all writers, not just bloggers.  And for that reason it’s important to face the beast and scare it off by continuing to write and blog till the cows come home.  We have to learn to appreciate the value and beauty of a rough draft, knowing it won’t stay rough and shouldn’t (most of the time, unless you’re one of those who does polished work the first time around—or one of those who thinks he or she does polished work the first time around.  I’ve known a few of the latter, none of the former).

So here I sit, facing off the beast of Perfectionism and writing anyway, daring to make a fool of myself in the public arena, telling myself it’s more important to write and possibly benefit even one individual out there than it is to stay safe while I cower in the shadow of possible ridicule.

So I blog on, hopeful that all you perfectionists out there don’t proofread this post.  And I haven’t even gotten to Content! (should I have capitalized that?)  

Quick Tips on Memoir, off the top of my head

Definition:  Memoir is about an incident in my life, not my whole life which is an autobiography.  Also, memoir is “softer” than autobiography in that it tends to be more about impressions regarding events than hardcore reportage of the details of the events themselves.

Educate your reader:  Don’t assume, if you’re writing about some legal matter, for example, that your readers will find it boring if you divulge enough to let us in on it, but not too much that it turns into a college course.

Don’t depress your reader:  Even the saddest story has its bright spots.  Write with some lighthearted relief among the heavier moments and even some humor if and when appropriate, remembering that often the best humor is directed at yourself.

Tell me a story:  Memoir is nonfiction; but always remember you’re still telling a story, with a beginning, middle, and an end. How were things to begin with? Then what happened to change them? Then what did you do, and how did it go? How did it all turn out? Did you learn anything?

Not therapy:  Even if it feels like therapy to write about a tough time in your life, don’t let that come through to your reader. This is a memoir not a psychiatrist’s couch.  Hold back raw anger.  Work that out in a journal before you start writing your memoir. Just tell us what happened and allow us the intelligence to figure things out.

Not me against them:  It’s easy to think back on an event and see ourselves as the only reasonable ones present at the time (me good, them bad), but be realistic and honest (dare I say, mature?) in your telling of the story, including those times you wish you’d acted differently. This adds depth not only to the story but also to you, the main character in it.

Be factually correct:  This is true with all writing.  Don’t insult your reader by not checking factual info before publishing.  Was that town, where my car skidded on the ice and I broke my leg and the orthopedist turned out to be my future husband, in California or Nevada?  Use the internet to look it up if you are not sure.

Be tough:  It’s not easy to go back over past events that were anything less than joyful in the experience.  Be sure you’re willing to do so, or the story may come out stilted.  I think it was Mark Twain who said if you’re not crying while you’re writing, your reader won’t cry when he reads it (he said the same about laughing, too).

Hugo & Hemingway (not a law firm)

Two Quotes I used in class today [8-28-18]:

“The only kind of writing is rewriting.”-  Ernest Hemingway

This has got to be my all-time favorite writing quote, especially since most writers don’t want to hear about it, as I mentioned in my previous quote of today.  To write something and move on, without ever going back to edit, rewrite, revise, is not true writing.  It’s journal-keeping, or stories/poetry on the run.

Now are there those few gifted ones who can write something and have it be perfect with not an edit needed? Sure, just as there are 4 year olds who can knock out Mozart on the piano. But for the rest of us, listen to Hemingway. While I don’t say he’s the greatest writer who ever lived, it doesn’t matter.  The truth stated in this particular line holds solid and has been, and continues to be, proved over and over again.

“Adversity makes men, and prosperity makes monsters.”  — Victor Hugo

Again I’m not in love with Hugo, but he also got it right with this one.  For a simplified proof, just look at children who are spoiled and those who aren’t, and note the difference in their upbringings—for the most part, again I know there are always exceptions.

How does this quote apply to writing? you ask.

Well, if you write something and the writing instructor edits it for you or points out changes that should be made, and you ignore them and, instead, move on to another piece, and continue to do that, (“prosperity”, i.e., ease, no struggles) you’ll always have a very rough draft of everything you’ve written, but never anything quite finished as if for publication.

In order for a piece of writing to be finished, it must be complete, and to be complete is to be perfect—i.e., nothing more necessary.  It’s as good as it can be.  To reach that achievement takes the “adversity” in the quote—hard work, struggle, challenge, discomfort, even suffering, but the end result will be something produced by a true writer.  Adversity makes men (and women—not boys or girls).  True Grit, if you will. Professionals.

But it takes work, adversity, not the prosperity of just putting words down and moving on to the next piece—that’s playtime.

These two quotes cover well my intentions with this particular writing/editing class.

Day One of Writing/Editing Class

8-28-18– Well, everything went smoothly for Day One of our writing/editing class.

We have a nice group and I’m hoping I didn’t scare anyone away!

Three keywords from the two hours of discussions today:

1 ** FOCUS. Necessary if you have a lot you want to write about and feel frozen, overwhelmed, and don’t know where to start.  Don’t give up.  Choose one particular element of your story and start with that, then relax and give the writing room. It will flow out from there, and your direction will start to present itself.

Focus is also important if you have several stories which you’ve already finished (though still rough drafts) or almost finished.  For the purpose of this class, I’d recommend you choose the one you prefer and begin to read it through, looking for places that need strengthening in one way or another.

2** CHALLENGE. We talked about what a challenge it is, and hard work, to do true writing and rewriting which includes self-editing, which can be painful.  As you read through your own work, the parts that need editing will start to jump out.  And when you’ve read it through, read it through again…and again. :- )  People hate when I say that.

It reminds me of when my mother Libby was teaching sewing or crocheting. She told me, “The thing they hate me for the most is when I say, ‘Rip it out.’”   Right.  Well, I’m not trying to be popular (good thing, you say), but try not to hate me.  I’m just passing on what I’ve learned from lots of other writers before me.

3** MEMOIR A poem a student (Adrienne) wrote for her mother will fit well as part of a memoir anthology because it reflects the writer’s feelings for her mother at the time she wrote it.  Memoir is “softer” than autobiography in that it doesn’t need dates or exact anything.  It can be about impressions, feelings, and outcomes with regard to the events being described.

Memoir is not your life story, though it can be part of someone else’s through your eyes. Memoir is about an event (remember Focus) that changed you and/or your life somehow—you’ll tell us how.

With memoir you should use your own name, though you can change the names of others who appear, if you wish.  If you do, you’d want to note that in an introduction at the beginning of the piece (or book if book-length).

(We’ll be discussing memoir at length next Tuesday)

Well, I’ll leave it at that for now. We talked about lots of other things, too, but these are some of the notable points to remember.

Take care and happy writing! :- )