“I’ve often thought that the oldest thing we have is the story: people gathering around the fire…eventually these turned into myths and legends. To me all of this comes out of the most human of activities: sharing our experiences with others.”
“The main thing is to do whatever works for you.”
Meredith Sue Willis
Storyteller, teacher, and author of 18 books of fiction and nonfiction, including Ten Strategies to Write Your Novel, Meredith Sue Willis cast a wide net when she explored key aspects of craft development in a lively Write Group session. Valuable pointers:
Create momentum: “Most writing is about big picture and little picture” (how the book is crafted). The larger picture is about momentum: what pulls us through a story and keeps us reading. In some stories, for example, a writer’s “voice” creates momentum; in others, it’s based on the “Hero’s Journey” — the stages a character must go through. “The greatest novels are both wonderfully written and have a big picture.”
Separate process and product: “I think it is essential to separate the process of writing and the product” — what you show to editors and readers. “The beginning of a story: what gets me rolling is not the same as the beginning I end up with.” Creating a book is, in part, about creating a product. “Process” is whatever gets you started on a story and keeps you going. The “product” you emerge with is the result of crafting: creating an opening hook and making other intentional decisions in order to draw readers in and keep them engaged in your story.
Think in scenes: “The scene is the building block of a novel.” If you look back at a novel you’ve read, most of what you’ll remember will be scenes from the story. “Scenes are where the drama is.” One of Meredith’s methods for outlining a story is to list and then draft 21 scenes. At the end of this process, she’ll have 50 to 100 pages to workwith. This is one “process” technique she uses to launch into her writing.
Dialogue is the building block of a scene: Dialogue is an essential tool for creating drama — it’s what comes closest to reality in a story. Meredith offered a simple, but powerful, 3-step technique for creating dialogue: 1) write a scene in which your characters talk without using any dialogue tags or description — just let the dialogue flow from one character to another without interruption. 2) Next enrich the scene by adding gestures, descriptive information, and tags (“he said,” or “she protested”). Use as few tags as possible — just as many as you need to identify the characters. 3) Now that you have your dialogue core, write more — make the scene even stronger. If you’ve used a real conversation, you may want to fictionalize it.
You’ll find many resources on writing, a newsletter, and other helpful advice on Meredith’s website:http://www.meredithsuewillis.com. Bravo, Meredith — write on!