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Roland's Creative Writing Blog
Inspiration, tools and techniques to develop your creative writing.
Keys to Writing your Novel or Screenplay
Writing a well-structured novel or screenplay doesn’t happen by accident
As Dwight Swain wrote in his book, Techniques of the Selling Writer.
“Four boys in Fred Friggenhelmer's town last night stole a chalice from a church. Caught, they reveal they'd been reading up on Satan and wanted to evoke Satan. Fred reads about the incident in his morning paper. It intrigues him.
"Here," he tells himself excitedly, "is a story!"
Fred is wrong. The theft is an incident. With skilled handling and the development of point of view and dynamic character and complications, climax and resolution, it may quite possibly build into a story. But for now it remains an incident and nothing more. A story is a complex thing. Its material demands skill in their manipulation.”
Coming up with the idea or feeling for a story is really only the starting point. Writing a novel or screenplay is an art and a craft that takes time to master.
"As Pasteur once observed," Swain said, "chance favours the trained mind. Feelings tell you what to say. Technique gives you the tools with which to say it.
Faculty lies in knowing what to do next. To know what to do next, you must master process ...an ordered step-by-step presentation of materials that presses emotional buttons in your reader, so he feels the way you want him to feel."
To write the best story you are capable of writing, you need a step-by-step process that guides your story and keeps you accountable.
By following the process, you set up a dance between the left and right sides of your brain, enabling you to access the power of your imagination while grounding your novel or screenplay in solid story structure.
If you plan rigidly, your story will go dry and flat. If you just fly by the seat of your pants without a process or an understanding of story structure, your novel or screenplay will wander all over the place and have no meaningful shape or direction.
Good structure stimulates your imagination and produces magical results if you are open enough and have the courage to complete the journey.
“When forced to work within a strict framework," said T.S. Elliot, "the imagination is taxed to its utmost – and will produce its richest ideas. Given total freedom, the work is likely to sprawl.”
Your imagination informs the structure of your story and vice versa. This back and forth between the two produces magical results, enabling you to come up with story ideas that you never would have thought possible.
For most writers, the story doesn't just appear fully formed as if channelled from the gods. This is a common misconception. The story emerges as the writer moves through the steps of the process. It becomes an act of discovery.
You cannot judge the quality of your story until you have followed the process through to the end.
According to Anne Lamott, “People tend to look at successful writers, writers who are getting their books published and maybe even doing well financially, and think that they sit down at their desks every morning feeling like a million dollars, feeling great about who they are and how much talent they have and what a great story they have to tell; that they take in a few deep breaths, push back their sleeves, roll their necks a few times to get all the cricks out, and dive in, typing fully formed passages as fast as a court reporter. But this is just the fantasy of the uninitiated.
I know some very great writers, writers you love who write beautifully and have made a great deal of money and not one of them sits down routinely feeling wildly enthusiastic and confident. Not one of them writes elegant first drafts. All right, one of them does, but we don’t like her very much. Very few writers know what they’re saying until they’ve done it."
Here are some experiences from people following the Writers’ Studio process, which illustrate the above:
“The process of writing a first draft has been a revelation to me, full of many "aha" moments. While I am still sometimes too self-critical and hard on myself, I and my character have both learned to let go and trust.” Clare
"To allow the story to emerge with creativity, spontaneity and "juice" you have to surrender to the process. Creativity walks through the doorway of the formal story step process." Gilbert
“I've spent a very enjoyable 10 months exploring the importance of structure in the creative process. What at first sounded like a total contradiction actually made complete sense by the end; it made everything fall into place.” Rachael
“The joy of not knowing what will appear next in the story and seeing new characters reveal themselves makes facing that blank page worth it.” Satyam
"The process and the structure we're being encouraged to write to is allowing me to push my character more than I ever thought possible. I don't know how I could write this without that guidance." Katherine
"I've had a ton of new ideas, both from myself and others. I've learnt more and more about structure and I'm not freaking out about it anymore. I've also gotten more in depth with my characters, their flaws, their motivations, their hopes and dreams. They have ceased being names on a page or thoughts in my head, instead becoming real flesh and blood people in a real, moving, living world. It's been almost been like magic, which I find ironic since I'm writing fantasy." Kelly
A note about our courses
The importance of imagination and intuition in the storytelling process is why we make the Four Week Unlocking Creativity Course a prerequisite for our 10 Month Novel and Script First Draft Course. (If you book straight into the longer course, Unlocking Creativity is included in the price.)
Unlocking Creativity enables writers to experience the power of their imagination, which we believe is the true source of creative power, an essential ingredient of the first draft course.
For more information about our courses please go to our website.