Rethinking Process

by RS on February 20, 2017

Since I began reading Lisa Cron’s Story Genius, I’ve been rethinking how I approach writing my stories. Usually, I get this random scene in my head and from there it branches out, but what always made storytelling interesting to me is a character’s backstory. Why is it the protagonist does what he or she does? What makes her tick and what caused it to think in a certain manner?

Suffice it to say that I was happy to read that Lisa is an advocate of backstory and to delicately embroider the story with flashbacks of the character’s past experiences.

I know that some readers will groan and say that agents dislike backstory because it pulls the reader out of the current plot line, but story, as Lisa points out over and over in Story Genius, is not about the external happenings (plot) but the protagonist’s internal struggle and how she changes by the external forces.

When I started the exercises in the book, I struggled because you do a lot of rehashing of the idea over and over again. This was even harder for me because I’ve been working on Julius for so long and I’ve been so attached to what I wrote. The exercises seemed more like drudgery, but I came to the realization that I had to do them so I could finally type a definitive “The End”  and move on to the next story idea using Lisa’s blue print method.

Is her method the final word on craft? No. More writers will write  about process and what makes an intriguing story. I know that I’ve taken the best from everyone I’ve read and have come up with my own system that works.

What is it?

It’s similar to Lisa’s premise with lots of backstory on the character that includes her parents, their world view and how that has perceived by the main character as a child. I’m a believer that history is what shapes our political, religious, social perspectives on the macro level and our parent’s personal history on a micro level. I know that’s a not an astute observation, but you’d be surprised when you talk to someone who has no concept of the past and how that has affected their world view.

Lisa, though, goes deeper. She wants us to explore the protagonist’s subconscious and that’s the misbelief that occurs at a very young age. For example, I discovered that Corinne’s biggest fear is lack of respect and acceptance by her peers (Marxist and non-Marxist). To nail down that misbelief, Lisa assigns us to write three different scenes where each time that misbelief reappears: when she’s ten and the librarian disapproves of her research on Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. When she’s sixteen her classmates mock her progressive outlook. And when she’s in her early twenties, she is denied an important grant to complete her graduate studies, shattering her self-esteem and interpreting her failure as non-acceptance and disrespect from her academic elders.

Once I discovered this about Corinne making her suffer as she tries her hand at a comeback of sorts into the Marxist arena, it opened my eyes to her internal self-doubt battling that external show of self-assurance. There’s only one entity, who knows of her suffering and that’s her guardian angel, Alvah Bessie.

It’s been a revelation and I am sure I’ll have more because Lisa recommends we do this with our antagonist(s) and secondary characters. It’s quite a bit of writing, but it’s all these discoveries that will improve the story and get readers turning the pages and talking about your book.

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A Week Later…

by RS on January 27, 2017

January 27, 2017

Dear President Trump,

Congratulations for a full week of your presidency. It’s been a bumpy road for you and for those of us who are watching your every move.

I planned to comment about your inauguration speech, but decided against it because it’s been analyzed and annotated by several media outlets such as The New York Times, NPR, Time, Vox, Politico, The Guardian…shall I continue listing the publications?

Saturday, your first full day in office, you went to the CIA and mischaracterized the media as dishonest. The reality is that you don’t like the media because they have pointed to your inconsistencies, inaccuracies, and more recently your deliberate attempts to mislead. In other words, sir, and in plain English, you are a liar.

What unnerves me is your staff has the effrontery to further disguise your lies by spinning it as “alternative facts”. No matter how you spin it, a lie is a lie. And no matter how many times you repeat it, a lie is a lie. But you know that because you’ve lied your entire life. Some of the lies were exaggerations like how many floors exist in Trump Tower or the size of your winery or how wonderful Trump magazine is (we know it folded). Honestly, most of us don’t care about these tall tales.

However, that’s not to say that we shouldn’t be concerned when they turn into delusions that are becoming vendettas. What I mean by that is the delusion you have about illegal voters and losing the popular vote. Of course, given your modus operandi to distract, this could easily be a ruse to create voter suppression laws state by state and eventually to the federal level.

Oh and getting back to numbers, please no more about the crowds who attended the inauguration. There’s proof that it wasn’t as vast, grand, tremendous, huge and so on. And again: WE. DON’T. CARE.

What we care about is the breakdown of diplomatic ties with Mexico. What we care about are the enforcement of gag orders at the EPA, the Interior Department, and the Department of Health and Human Services. What we care about are the highly unqualified people whose credentials make them more likely to dismantle these agencies rather than be caretakers. They have no business running the State Department, the Department of Education, the Treasury, HUD, and on and on and on.

One week after your inauguration, our Democracy is looking bleak, sir. In fact, the Economist Intelligence Unit downgraded it to a “flawed” democracy akin to that of Poland, Mongolia, and Italy. The report predates the election, and you benefitted from it, but you are not improving the situation, and during these past seven days you have made it worse.

I implore you, sir, cast aside your Twitter account, turn off the TV, read books, become more humble, and remember its not all about you and your cronies, but the people of this country who depend on you to wisely govern.

Sincerely,

Rebeca Schiller

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Story Genius

by RS on January 19, 2017

I’m happy to note I am pleased I’ve prolonged (procrastinated) this revision process. I believe (hope?) I have a pretty good story with conflict, tension, fully developed characters and a story that moves forward at a good clip. In other words, a page turner.

I mentioned back in September I would be attending the Writer Unboxed Unconference and I did. It was a great week with sessions with Lisa Cron, Don Maass and other writers.

Lisa’s sessions were based on her new book Story Genius, which basically tells writers that the way we’ve been approaching story is wrong. During the workshop, she explained that story is internal, not external. It’s the internal change within the character. And before we can actually start writing our story, we need to know what’s going on with our protagonist and get inside her head. Not one of those surveys with 100 questions, but an incident in her early childhood that shaped her thinking. This is what Lisa calls a misbelief. To figure out what this defining moment or misbelief is, Lisa asks us a number of questions that lead to this crucial crux in the character’s life, and that’s when we start writing. Not prewriting, but full fledged, concrete, specic answers to the questions followed by scenes that build the character’s backstory.

I’m about half way through the book and it took me a long time to figure out Corinne’s misbelief. During the exercise, I came to realize that I didn’t know my protagonist as well as I thought especially after all these years of writing. So it came as a surprise that she yearns for acceptance and respect after being told at a young age that if she follows her grandparent’s footsteps she’ll never have any friends.  The next step is to write an origin story of when that misbelief occured. I’ve written four scenes to see how Corinne grows from the age of four and to when she’s 24. The last scene ultimately shatters her confidence.

The writing exercises are tough because you’re being asked to upend the story you’ve written. If you’re married to your current version and reluctant to kill a good chunk of what you’ve written, you might be hesitant to even read the book. However, I recommend that you put aside any reservations and shoulder on. After planting your butt in the chair and completing the writing exercises, you’ll begin to see major shifts in your protagonist and a better story.

You can learn more about Story Genius  on YouTube, and if the video intrigues here’s the link to purchase it on Amazon

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