The Three-Part Writing System

Wednesday, November 30

Photography by Alex Mazurov

In returning to my blog, after a six-month limbo, I'd like to introduce The Three Part Writing System, something I've been perfecting during hiatus.

It is simply this. There are three parts to writing: Plot, Story, and Craft.

What's the difference between Plot and Story? The Plot is composed of the events, by themselves, with no added decoration. The Story is made up of the color and emotion of things. If you took out a piece of the Story, it might not affect the events, but it might damage the atmosphere you're trying to create.

Let's see if I can make it simpler.

Let's say your protagonist is a young soldier in the trenches of WWI. He has crucial information that he must deliver to his commanding officer, but to do that he must cross enemy lines. He decides to bribe an enemy soldier into stealing him an extra uniform.
Those are the events. That's your plot.  That is the logical sequence of events.

But let's add a little flair. Your protag has been wrestling with his conscience throughout his enlistment. He believes the war is futile, and even considers that by not delivering the information, the war would be shortened. As he walks through the trenches, he sees the men around him, singing songs half-heartedly and clutching letters from home, photographs of wives and children.
There. That's your story. It doesn't affect the fact he has crucial information to deliver. It doesn't affect the Plot. But it does add some delightful drama and conflict.

And, finally, Craft. These are the words that you, as an artist, choose to weave together. It's all good and fine if your plot and story are amazing, but if you write in a jerky "See Spot run. Spot runs fast" prose, the book will fail. Craft is how you write it. Don't we all love those writers who write cleanly, whose words flow along, who make us not want to put the book down?

Take Frances Hardinge; "By day the villagers fought a losing battle against the damp. By night they slept and dreamed sodden, unimaginative dreams. On this particular night their dreams were a little ruffled by the unusual excitement of the day, but already the water that seeped into every soul was smoothing their minds back to placidity, like a duck's bill glossing its plumage." Mmmm. She has a way with words.

And there it is, ladies and gents. The three things that make up a book. The three things to focus on, to improve, to hone to perfection. Learning how to write won't be instantaneous. But nothing that ever came easily was ever worth it.


29 Ways To Stay Creative

Friday, June 10


And if Vimeo hates you at the moment, you can always use this picture for reference, or print it out and add some lovely color to your wall.

Much thanks to the creative efforts of Paulzii of Tumblr and TO-FU of Vimeo.



Friday, May 27

I have returned my fellow co-patriots!
I'm so giddy with being back and all the writing I've been fiddling with that I'm about to burst with joy. Firstly, a big thanks to all you lovely people who didn't abandon me. :)
Secondly, a promise to be much more steadfast in my posting. I've learned so much from the writing books I've been perusing that I want to share it with the world! (The Art of War for Writers and Save the Cat to name just a few.) But I've also learned some stuff on my own--the hard way.
I know I haven't posted since...what, February? Yikes.
I've been attempting to balance my writing with a few realities (Like staying up to 1 in the morning plodding through an essay you don't care about or getting back in touch with family you haven't seen in years.)

But that's all over and done with, for now. I'm marvelously impressed with some of you guys's blogs and how regularly you post. I'll follow your shining example.

See you soon! (figuratively speaking)


Guest Post: Maria Rainier on Reading Poetry to Improve Your Fiction

Wednesday, February 23

In my first year of college, my idea of a poem was a Mother Goose rhyme.

In my second year of college, I studied abroad in Italy under the tutelage of modern (dead) poet Ezra Pound’s daughter. I grew so frustrated with Pound’s style that I could often be found talking into his huge volume of poems, The Cantos, in the library. No, Ez, I don’t care about or even know that random guy you met on a train to Venice, and why are you talking to me like I should? and Sorry, Ez, could you write in English? Or, maybe Italian or Spanish? I don’t know seventeen dead languages like you do.

In my third year of college, I took only fiction and creative nonfiction classes.

In my fourth year of college, I resignedly signed up for all 5 poetry classes my Creative Writing major called for that I’d skirted for three years. I learned more in that year about writing than I had in all of my previous education.

Poets Don't Waste Words
Well, the great ones don’t. Even back in the days of Alfred, Lord Tennyson and others known for their lengthy works, poets still made their words count. This is doubly true today; modern poetry like modern writing in general must appease the stunted attention spans of recent generations. Certainly, writers like Gregory Maguire with enormous vocabularies and wandering imaginations write successfully at length—even if some might call it “purple prose”—but you can be sure that poetry helped them, too.

Poets don’t have whole books to express a point (unless his name is Ezra Pound). They must choose just the right word. You will find few mundane terms like “got,” “good,” and “sleepy” in accomplished poetry. Take, for example, an excerpt from one of my favorite poems, “Dulce et Decorum Est” by Wilfred Owens.

If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,--
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Can you think of a word more vile, horrifying, and bone-chilling than cancer? The word stands out from this stanza, chocked full of Owens’ memories from WWI.

Poets are Painters
They paint with words. Not only are the words themselves the most evocative they can muster from their vocabularies, they paint pictures of them through uncommon turns of phrase, similes, and metaphors. Take Langston Hughes’ “Suicide’s Note”:

The calm,
Cool face of the river
Asked me for a kiss

You don’t even need to read the title to know what Hughes is talking about. This is the essence of showing, not telling, since poets don’t have time to tell us every minute detail. To this end, a fiction writer who has studied poetry exercises restraint. He or she allows the reader to assume certain things or use his or her own imagination. A good writer cannot be a control freak.

Maria Rainier is a freelance writer and blog junkie. She is currently a resident blogger at First in Education and performs research surrounding online degrees. In her spare time, she enjoys square-foot gardening, swimming, and avoiding her laptop. Read more of Maria's work at the Online Degrees site.


Writer's Life

Saturday, January 15

Writing is an agonizing life. You love your family and your characters pretty much the same (although I don't stay awake at night thinking how best to torture my family). You pace in your bedroom/office, despairing over your sloppy writing and eating Lindor Truffles like popcorn.

You can't afford to sit around and wait for inspiration, which is about half as reliable as weed killer. And when inspiration does hit, you're in a darkened movie theater with no access to paper, and all you can do is whip out your cell phone and jot notes while people behind you kick your seat and tell you to stop texting.

If writing is such a miserable life, why do so many people do it?
We're writers. We crave misery. It gives us good ideas for our books.
I will always be a writer. I couldn't change that now, not even if I tried. You might as well suck the soul out of my body.

But that's just me. Why do you write?

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