- A Little Sisterly Advice
- Cheeky Reads
- DRD aka Donna's Blog
- Gunner Marnee's Blog
- J.K. Coi: Living with Immortals
- Just Janga
- Killer Fiction
- Kimberly Killion
- Maggie Robinson
- Maureen O. Betita
- Megan Kelly
- Pam Clare
- Renee Lynn Scott
- Romance Bandits
- Romance Dish
- Scapegoat's Blogspot
- Smartass Romance
- Terri Osburn Writes Romance
- Tessa Dare
- Vauxhall Vixens
- 2013 (161)
- 2012 (206)
- 2011 (237)
- 2010 (325)
- 2009 (307)
- 2008 (254)
- 2007 (66)
Hellie's Favorite Craft Book (Not Involving Food): Getting in Touch with Her "Non-Existent" Emotions
Emotional Structure: Creating Story Beneath the Plot (A Guide for Screenwriters), Peter Dunne
My first writing conference was a daylong workshop of Ms. Dixon’s Goal, Motivation, and Conflict, which I thoroughly enjoyed and which was thoroughly brilliant. If you ever get a chance to go, do so. You will not regret it. I remember how easy she made conflict—and the subsequent book writing—look. A + B = C. Logical, practical, and so straightforward, a child could have done it. I must have talked about that conference for a year after I went. I know I flipped through her book repeatedly as I tried to apply the A + B = C techniques to my own stories. But in the end, it was a lot like knitting. Anyone can cast on some stitches and do the careful rows, but when you’re a neophyte, your stitches always look like some shaky, lumpy mass and you flip through the pictures of the Handbook, marveling at how you knit one and purl two, but your scarf doesn’t look a thing like any of the examples in the book. Finally you end up burning the yarn because you’ve unraveled it so many times and recast, you can’t even recognize it came from a sheep anymore.
This is my fault though, and not at all Ms. Dixon’s. As I said, when I went to the workshop, it all made perfect sense. As the saying goes around the farm, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. I was—and still do—trying to fit my characters to molds that don’t really belong to them. Square pegs and round holes.
But what I identified most with Ms Dixon’s GMC is that the internal conflict was just as important—if not more important—than the external conflict. In fact, the external conflict derived from the internal conflict. She was more concerned about story than plot. It was that more than anything I took away from her workshop. If I figured out who my characters were and what their backstory was, the rest of the story would come about naturally, organically even. When talking about characters and plots, which came first—which should come first—the answer was definitely characters. People are more memorable than the events that surround them. (Not that you couldn’t start with plot, but having your characters first usually worked out better. Sort of like finding the corner and edge pieces of a puzzle. You can assemble a puzzle without doing that first, but it’s usually easier if you do.)
I myself have always been more concerned about story than plot. I loved history classes in college, much more than my literature classes, and I loved history because of the story. It was never the events, really, themselves that intrigued me. It was the people and why they were doing the things they were doing. Thousands and thousands of years we’ve been around; and nothing ever changes. We’re always doing something for love or power or both. Literature, like history, is similar in this regard. The themes of all literature ever written can be boiled down two themes: love and conflict. And isn’t that the best thing about romance novels? They have both. In fact, the most beloved stories of all time have both these themes.
Gwenivere and Lancelot…and well, King Arthur. (History loves a good love triangle.) Antony and Cleopatra. Helen and Paris. Romeo and Juliet. Tristam and Isolde. And in a bid to find a fictional couple who doesn’t die at the end, Mr. Darcy and Eliza Bennett.
Not only do I think these two themes make up all of literature, but I also think writers are writers because they’re trying to divine some truth about themselves. For some, it might be varied truths; and for others, we write the same theme over and over again, trying to make it stick in our own lives. Our characters are redeemed as we hope we can be someday; and our characters are loved just as they are, knowing they are enough—and we write it so that one day the Universe will make it true for us. Or for lucky ones, as homage that the Universe has made it true for us.
This is good, I think, because even if we’re writing the same truths over and over to expose ourselves, in truth we’re writing the emotional truths of everyone. You can’t have a great story worth reading without raw emotion.
When I poured over my bookcase to find THE book I wanted to blog about, I had a hard time narrowing it down. I had like five books. Go to books. Must haves. I wasn’t sure how I was going to pick only one, but after opening Dunne’s book, I knew his would be the book I picked. He’s all about story. And he’s all emotional truth.
He’s both your writing coach and your therapist—and let’s be honest, if you’re a writer, you’re probably in need of a good therapist as much as the writing coach. Like Ms. Dixon does in her book, Dunne pulls examples from well-known movies.
Dunne’s book is for screenwriters, but I don’t think that makes it less viable for a novelist to use. After all, movies are simply shorter versions of the best novels we’ve ever read: thrilling openings, tearful yet emotionally satisfying endings, middles full of revealing scenes of characters we’re rooting for, and brilliant dialogue. Nothing in movies is wasted. If something is shown in a fragment of celluloid, it reveals character or plot or backstory.
What I dig most out of this book is that basically to get over the roadblocks you run into defining your characters and creating sufficient conflict and background is that, well, you have to come to terms with the roadblocks in your own character. Writing books with such compelling and authentic emotion comes from having an understanding of yourself and your emotions. Now those of you who cry at Lifetime movies and weep at Hallmark commercials might not believe you need this book. You’re more than in touch with your emotions. Perhaps, but take a moment to unravel the theme of your novel, really pinpoint into one theme or phrase. It’s your core belief, isn’t it?
Of course, it is. And even though your character is as far removed from you as a fictional person can get, at their emotional core, they are you. They want the same thing as you; and until you have come to terms with that in your own life—or at least made aware you and your characters are after the same thing—you’re going to continue to struggle. So crack open Dunne’s book and start to figure out who you are. I find that the successful writers are the ones who know who they are and aren’t trying to be anyone else.
What do you think? Do you like your craft books more touchy-feely or more how-to practical? Has anyone used screenwriting books before for their writing? Do you find them useful or not? And has anyone attended a magnificent workshop, knowing that they’d be able to apply everything they learned, and gotten home to realize, “OMG, how do I make this applicable to my own novel?”