The Intentional Arc: Fearless Writing

It’s a frigid January day in Ohio.

The temperatures are dipping below zero and ice is coating roads, homes, and vehicles. It’s one of those days when my soul craves a book, blanket, and coffee. Here’s to hoping that the mom life will give me a chance to do all of those things today. But if not, I’m going to reflect on the latest chapter I read in Fearless Writing by William Kenower.

img_3586

Have you ever thought about the fact that every act of communication is also the act of story telling?

A phone call home. A status update. A text to your spouse. A smile.

All of these tell a story.

And every story is told from a specific point-of-view. It is our interpretation of facts. For that reason a story is never completely factual. There’s a little bit of fiction in every thing we do. Our minds work to fill in blank pieces or perspectives that we can never know.

Writing is a lot like telling a story. No matter what kind of writing you do there are three arcs that lurk below the surface of every tale:

  1. The Physical Arc– this is the what of the story. The events, characters, setting and plot all comprise the physical arc.
  2. The Emotional Arc– this is the element of the story that traces a character’s motivations and desires. The how of the story is formed by the emotional arc.
  3. The Intentional Arc– this is the why of the story. Every decision you make as the author of a story comes back to this arc. What is the take away you hope to accomplish? What greater truth do you hope to point to? How do you want your reader to be changed after having read your story?

If you keep the intentional arc of your story at the forefront of your mind nothing else matters. You filter every decision through the sieve of your intentions. There are organic ways to carry this out in your writing. It should never seem forced. But returning to this arc again and again will help you to write fearlessly.

The Ameri Brit Mom

Read Everything: The Irresistible Novel

Here we are eighteen weeks into examining The Irresistible Novel by Jeff Gerke. So far, we have examined rules for fiction writing from various perspectives in order to help each of us to develop our fiction voice. This week, Gerke is stepping away from traditional writing rules to investigate a reading rule. The focus of this chapter is that in order to write fiction one must also widely read fiction.

IMG_2368

Read Everything

Most novelists decide to become novelists because they love to read novels. However, there are writers out there who don’t actually read as often as one would think. There are many reasons why an author of fiction may choose not to read fiction often. For some, they may choose not to read because they don’t want the work of others to influence their own writing. They fear that subconsciously the voice of the author they are reading may come out in their own writing. For others, reading fiction is too much like work for them to choose to read as an act of leisure. And still others struggle to find the time to read and write so they choose to spend their time on the latter.

I relate with the other group of writers. I write because I love to read. My first love was reading and I’ve vowed to never let my writing overshadow my love for a good book. Yes, sometimes I’m hard pressed for time to read. Oftentimes I find myself having to choose how to spend my free time. I try my best to split that time between reading and writing, because I know that the more I read the stronger my writing will be. Because of this, I keep a book on my nightstand and at the very least I try to read for a few minutes before bed each night. I go through seasons where I read more than others, but to me to read is to strengthen my writing so I cannot imagine not being a wide reader.

My Current Project…

Instead of focusing on my current writing project today I want to look at my reading. I’m in the middle of a 24 Book Challenge. This was developed to help me read lots of different genres and to keep me consistently reading all year. In the process, I have fallen in love with The Selection series by Keira Cass and so have decided that every other book I read for the next couple of months will be one from that series. Currently, I am finishing up The Heir which is the fourth book in the series.

The Ameri Brit Mom

 

Outlining: The Irresistible Novel

Chapter eleven of Gerke’s book, The Irresistible Novel, is a little different than the previous ten. Up to this point each chapter has focused on a principle of writing (like POV, setting, characters, etc.) but chapter eleven is centered more on the discipline of writing. The main statement of debate being, “You must always outline your novel, or it will be doomed.” (Gerke 78)

IMG_2368

Outlining

As always, the statement above has no absolute answer. Each writer has their own style, discipline, and preference. In Gerke’s book he is aiming at helping writers to find their voice by causing them to evaluate important arguments in the art of writing. When it comes to outlining there are those wh0 do (plotters) and those who do not (pantsers.)

A plotter begins the writing process by first planning out major plot points. They may have a detailed outline completed before they ever start page one. They may also choose to outline in a less specific manner using working outlines that change throughout the writing process. A benefit to being a plotter is that the writer has a clear direction to their writing which helps them stay focused throughout the construction of their novel. A drawback to being a plotter is that some writers feel confined to their outline so much that it stifles their creativity. Those who over plan often feel that by the time they sit down to write their book that they have already done so. Many a book has died due to over planning and lack of interest.

A pantser sits down to write page one with no prior outline. Those who prefer this method enjoy following the characters and letting the characters rather than the plot take the lead as they write. They sit down to craft their novel with little to no planning, but the freedom of creativity guides them through the pages. A benefit to being a pantser is that the story truly speaks for itself and there is no need to feel suffocated by plot points drawn up on a map or word document. A drawback to being a pantser is that oftentimes starting a story without a clear direction can make such action obvious to your readers as they sense that the characters are just meandering through the plot.

My Current Project…

I’m sure this is no shocker, but when I sat down to write my first book I had a plan.

I had written a short story that I had fallen in love with. I had a main character, a problem, and somewhat of a solution. I read the short story to my husband and he enjoyed it as well. And from there I decided to expand the tale into novel form. (Little did I know just how long of a process that would be!)

I drafted a working outline on Google Docs. I knew fairly early in the process that I wanted my book to have alternating POV so I planned out the number and organization of chapters accordingly. I didn’t go too in depth because I wanted the book to write itself as much as possible. My first outline was half a page. It included major plot points for each chapter and highlighted the climax and possible resolutions.

The good thing about this being a working outline was that I never felt tied to what I had planned. Countless times throughout the process I added and subtracted from that original plan. I even got halfway through and decided I wanted another character to be more important than I had allowed them to be. All it took was about five minutes reworking the outline to give myself permission to go more in depth with that character.

I liked this process because it kept me focused on the direction of my story. It also kept me from forgetting to tie up loose ends. I was able to embrace creative liberties each time I sat down to write.

I know outlining isn’t for everybody, but if you are anything like me then it will save your sanity and possibly your story if you create at least a bare minimum plan.

Speech Attributions: The Irresistible Novel

Today’s topic from the tenth chapter of The Irresistible Novel by Jeff Gerke is one that goes undetected by many readers. In this chapter Gerke takes a look at the arguments for and against the use of speech attributions.

“Speech attributions are the ‘he said’ parts of a dialogue scene.” (Gerke 72)

Keep in mind that the purpose of this book is not to lay down a list of writing rules. Instead, Gerke is challenging his readers to take a closer look at their own writing in order to create a solid writing voice. Each chapter provides an in-depth description about a particular idea from fiction and explains why some favor or oppose that particular thing. This week the argument is, “You should avoid using said and asked too much and should instead find alternatives as often as possible.” (Gerke 72)

IMG_2368

Speech Attributions

When it comes to the use of common speech attributions there are two camps. There are those who believe that you should absolutely avoid repeating the same words over and over again in your story. Others believe that the average reader does not detect the continual use of the common attributions and they should be kept simple to avoid impeding on the story. The middle ground between these two camps would say that it is okay to occasionally use words like said or asked, but whenever possible a writer should try to shake things up by either using other attributions or beats. The danger of using other attributions is that if you try too hard to avoid the common terms you run the risk of distracting your reader. A better alternative would be the use of beats.

A beat is an easy replacement for a speech attribution for a few reasons:

  1. A beat replaces a speech attribution while more or less performing the same function.
  2. A beat ties the reader to the setting.
  3. A beat is a primary tool for managing rhythm and pace of a dialogue scene.

Here is an example of a beat from the book:

“That’s terrific!” Julia sat on the ottoman. “When do you start?”

Not only does the beat highlighted above convey a natural pause in the speech, but it also ties the speaker to the setting. Beats make it clear who is speaking and how they do so. It becomes easier to hear Julia’s tone as we see where she is as opposed to being left to guess with the use of an unoriginal or overly painted speech attribution.

My Current Project…

I will be honest with you: I don’t see a problem with using the words said and asked. I do think that these words can easily be overdone, but there is an appropriate time and place to use them in writing.

Below is a short dialogue scene that happens about 3/4 of the way through my book. Michael has just experienced a tragedy and his intern (and crush) shows up at his front door. I blurred out some things that give away major plot points. Let me know what you think about the pacing of this scene based on the speech attributions and beats.

The next morning the doorbell to the Berry home brought life back into the house. Each member of the family stirred from their spot in the living room. Raymond threw back a blanket that had kept him warm overnight and swung his legs toward the floor. His bare toes shuddered at the coolness of the hardwood beneath them. Michael and the kids all began to untangle on the recliner. Raymond ran a hand through his hair as he placed his opposite hand on the door handle.

“Hello, can I help you?” He asked the apparent stranger on the front porch.

“Yes, I was wondering if Mr. Walker was in?” Immediately Michael stood up. His heart raced at the recognition of the voice on the other side of the door. He straightened his shirt and brushed his hair with his fingertips. Evelyn looked up at him and smiled. She had seen enough movies to know that the woman at the door was someone her older brother fancied.

“Come in.” Raymond spoke to the young woman. And as her black heels touched the wood floor inside the entryway her small voice could be heard.

“Thank you.”

Michael made his way over to the entryway. Rebekah quickly made her way across the entry and threw her arms around him.

“I’m so sorry, Mr. Walker.” Rebekah said with tears on the brim of each eye.

“Thank you, Rebekah.” Michael said with gratitude and a blushing face.

Raymond ushered the younger siblings out of the entry and toward the kitchen to fix breakfast. Michael was appreciative of the privacy.

“What are you doing here?” Michael questioned his intern.

“I knew it wasn’t like you to take a week off. So I went to Galik and asked him where you had gone. Don’t be mad, because I know he probably broke a HIPPA law or something, but he told me about—-. I figured out how to find you. Why didn’t you tell me ——?” Rebekah spoke quickly as though she had rehearsed this dialogue on her journey.

“I didn’t know for very long.” Michael admitted.

“You should have told me.” Rebekah sounded hurt.

“I didn’t want to trouble you.” Michael sounded jaded in his response.

“Well, I’m troubled now. I don’t like that you didn’t tell me.”

“I’m sorry.” He apologized.

“Well, that’s it. I traveled all this way on a weekend to hear you say that.” She flirted.

“Guess I’ll see you next week then.” Michael was unsure of himself. Conversation and flirtation were a foreign language to him.

“Invite me on a walk? This end of town is so charming.” She smiled again showing off her beautifully straight teeth.

“Sure, do you mind if I change my clothes really quick?” He asked.

“Not at all.” Michael bounded up the staircase toward his old bedroom. He felt like he was in high school again. Jitters filled his stomach as he raced to change and brush his teeth. The last thing he wanted to do was keep the beautiful girl downstairs waiting.