Story vs Craft

Plot, pacing, dialog, voice, and sentence structure are just a few of the aspects of craft we writers are supposed to be aware of. Not bad advice, overall, especially when submitting to an editor or publishing house, but readers may have different priorities.

In the July issue of The Writer, Jack Hamman’s article about his Men Only book club says that members spend little, if any, time on those things. They concentrate on the story or subject. Was it compelling? Did it challenge their beliefs? Could they relate to it?

Something to think about, especially for self-publishers. I’m not suggesting that you throw anything together and self-publish it. Story is still the number one priority. If the subject fails to grab a reader or an editor, they will not keep reading.

The Wind Is Not a River

Just finished reading The Wind Is Not a River by Brian Payton. It’s a book that will stay with me.

A journalist and a young American soldier survive a WWII plane crash and end up on an Aleutian island occupied by the Japanese and with few resources. No one knows they are there. The stronger part of the story is about what these two do to survive. Everything felt real and believable to me. Less strong is that of the journalist’s wife who decides to leave Seattle and try to find her husband. She certainly has less to contend with than her husband, but the main thing is the author does not get inside her head as completely as he does with the two men. I cannot imagine anyone predicting how this book ends.

I knew nothing about the war in the Aleutians before reading this book so that was a bonus. The history is woven into the plot well so it never feels like a lesson. Unlike some other historical fiction, this book does not distort. It is a fictional story placed in time.

Two scenes disturbed me: what happens to the American soldier and what happens to one of the Japanese. Disturbing = not sure I wanted that to happen plus makes me think about what I would have done in that situation. Not a bad thing – makes the book stick with me after reading it.

WWI: To End All Wars

HochschildMy novel in progress, American Gold, is based on the lives of my Czech immigrant grandparents and takes place in the 1911-1913 timeframe. As part of my research, I recently read To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918 because it includes the period leading up to that war. (Plus, you never know, I might write a sequel.) I ended up reading the whole book.

I don’t normally read history, but I enjoyed this WWI book because it wasn’t page after page of dates and dry history. Like other good nonfiction, it told about the war through the experience and motivation of people involved- the soldiers, the generals, the politicians, the protestors, the victims. It’s written from a British perspective and wraps up the war quickly after Americans get involved. Because 2014 is the 100th anniversary of the start of  WWI, you’ve probably seen a lot of WWI books and articles about it. This book was released in 2012, not a come-lately entry. I highly recommend it. You’ll learn things you never learned in school.

Getting from Character to Story

Let’s face it, writers are always looking for story ideas. For me, fiction stories start with a character, but I sometimes struggle developing good stories around those characters. The character sheets we’re told to fill out strike me as sterile and stifle creativity more than aid it. Sure, it’s important to remember what eye or hair color different characters have, but that’s not what bring them to life.

Thanks to Hope Clark and Dicy McCullough, here’s a method I recently found that helps enliven my character and story ideas. And it’s so much more fun than a plain old character sheet! Maybe it will work for you, too.

What’s Hot: YA and Diversity

I’ve posted before about the hot YA market, but the latest newsletter from Kristin at the Nelson Literary Agency really drives the point home home. Agent Sara Megibow at that agency is targeting diversity: authors with a diverse background and/or books starring characters of a diverse background.

Why not combine the two?



Plan and Track Blog Posts with Scrivener

For anyone who uses Scrivener, you can use it to plan and track blog posts. Just create a project called “Blog” or whatever you like.  Within that, your top level folder is the year, next level below is each month. Each blog post within a month corresponds to the “scene” level. Here’s a link that gives you a visual:

Entries on the corkboard screen give you an overview of a month and can show when a post is scheduled or if already posted. Here’s a visual on that:  This author got pretty fancy with Scrivener, using color codes and such, but you don’t need to do that.

I just read about this last week and plan to start using it this weekend. It’s so much easier than keeping a list in Word or Excel!


Not Knowing Is Good for Creativity

According to Donald Barthelme, “A writer is someone who, embarking upon a task, does not know what to do.” In fact, Barthelme thinks that not knowing is essential to the creation of art.

Think about it. If you know exactly what to do, you simply do it. You don’t consider alternatives, you don’t ponder “what if,” you don’t look for a better way. Out of the meanderings of the mind, creativity is born. That is where uniqueness lies, where your voice is waiting to be found, where the spark that inspires and fires up a piece comes to light. Not knowing is good when it leads you down a new path.

Ignorance may or may not be bliss, but it can definitely be opportunity.