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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 novel or screenplay doesn’t happen by accident.
Just because you are fluent in English doesn’t mean you can just lock yourself in a cabin in the woods for a couple of months, sit down to write and bang out a good story.
As author Anne Lamott says, “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."
Writing a compelling story that has readers wanting to know what happens next while taking a main character on an emotional and spiritual journey of change is far from easy.
To create such a work requires an understanding of the art and craft of storytelling and a step-by-step process.
What is good story structure and why is it important?
A story based on classic story structure is one where the plot comes from character and character development comes from plot.
The plot both drives and serves the character. The two exist to reveal each other.
Good structure is what will give your readers an entertaining, moving and meaningful experience.
Academy Award wining screenwriter, Michael Arndt, who wrote Little Miss Sunshine and Toy Story 3, refers to screenplays as machines designed to produce meaningful emotion.
And according to Robert McKee, who wrote the book Story, "The function of structure is to provide progressively building pressure that forces characters into more and more difficult dilemmas where they must make more and more difficult risk-taking choices and actions, gradually revealing their true natures, even down to their unconscious self."
Stories, at their deepest level, explore the human spirit, communicate the truth regarding what it is to be human and provide a blueprint for how we should deal with challenges and live in the world.
As author Alice Walker (author of The Color Purple) said, “I’m not sure a bad person can write a good book. If art doesn’t make us better, then what an earth is it for?”
We believe this is the highest purpose of fiction.
Why do writers need a step-by-step process?
If you are just starting out as a writer, you need to find a process.
Writing a novel or screenplay requires many different skills that include – planning, writing, re-writing and editing. Each of which are separate tasks and require different skills and mindsets.
Coming up with a good story idea is just the beginning.
Dwight Swain, author of Techniques of the Selling Writer, says.
“Four boys in Fred Friggenhelmer's town last night stole a chalice from a church. Caught, they reveal they've been reading up on Satan and want 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 and 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.”
A writer starts with a story idea, but to make a story work on the page, they need a practical understanding of the craft.
"As Pasteur once observed,” Swain writes, “chance favours the trained mind. Feelings tell you what to say. Technique gives you 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."
Having a process helps you connect with the power of your imagination while writing fiction that takes you, your characters and ultimately your readers on a profound journey.
What is the dance between structure and imagination?
When you write a novel or screenplay, you need to use both sides of the brain, the rational and the intuitive.
It is a dance between the two.
The structure informs your imagination. Your imagination informs the structure of your story.
This back and forth produces magical results, enabling you to come up with ideas that you never would have thought possible.
If you try to plan and structure everything, your story will be dry and flat. If you just fly by the seat of your pants, your story has no meaningful shape or direction.
This is why having a step-by-step process that combines both sides of the brain is so important.
You want your writing to take you and your readers to that place over the rainbow, beyond your rational mind.
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.
Someone once asked Thomas Keneally where his stories came from.
His response, "somewhere over the rainbow."
This is where a strong story-writing process should take you, your characters and ultimately your readers.
Here are some experiences from people following the Writers’ Studio process:
“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
For more information about our courses please go to our website.