Friday, September 30, 2011

What I Learned On My Summer Vacation

I am not a natural storyteller. I may have stengths as a writer, but spinning a good yarn is not one of them. Earlier this year, I finished a draft of a novel and much of the criticism I received was along these lines. The story didn't flow well.

I think, in part, this may have been because I was trying to do too much. I had multiple POV characters - one of which was a child - and was trying to tackle themes like faith vs. reason. I can also see now that I didn't clearly identify what was at stake for my characters.

In hopes of learning how to edit my novel, over the summer I read Scene & Structure by Jack Bickham. If you haven't read this book yet, I would highly recommend it. After reading it, I decided that if I am going to keep writing, I better learn how to tell a story. For now, I think this means putting that other story aside, and trying something simpler. I've started another story - one with just one POV character, and, as I write, I am trying to stick fairly closely to the principles I learned from Scene & Structure.

To summarize, Bickham states that there are essentially 2 components to a story - scene, or the part where something happens, and structure, the part where the character reflects on what has happened. According to Bickham, scene and structure usually play out in the following pattern:


-Statement of goal

-Introduction & development of conflict

-Failure of the character to reach goal, a tactical disaster


-Emotion: how the character emotionally responds to the disaster

-Thought- the character reviews the disaster that just happened, analyzes it, and considers a new course of action

-Decision - the character decides what course of action to take to correct the disaster

-Action - the character takes action to pursue the new course of action (goal) and is plunged into another scene

I am trying to implement these patterns in my new WIP. It is harder than I thought it would be, but I find that keeping these concepts in mind is helping me structure my story.

What about you? What have you found to help you master the art of storytelling?


  1. 'I am not a natural storyteller. I may have stengths as a writer, but spinning a good yarn is not one of them.'

    I'm reminded here of the scene in 'The Princess Bride' adaptation with Carol Kane.



    (IOW, I believe, based on the writing I've read on your blog, that you most certainly can spin a good yarn.)

  2. I love this information. This book is on my TBR list, now I for sure need to read it :) I agree with Suze. Sometimes we can't see our own strengths.

  3. Suze and Angie - in my defense, you didn't read my novel :) But thank you both for the kind words of encouragement ...

  4. Kim, I did, and I think you are both right. (I should be a politician)

    Your story needed to be tightened...
    But that doesn't mean that you don't tell a good story.

    You are a genius with the English language. I could read your stuff all day (so I hope to see a copy of this new one when your ready for me)

    I find this to be a struggle for me as well. Creating a tight, clean story with good pacing is not for the faint of heart. It takes practice. Lots of practice.

    Good luck! I'm excited for you.

    Suze- that totally made me LOL :D

  5. Shelly - I just love you. You definitely deserve a gold star for reading my ms : I'll take you up on your offer, as long as you let me read whatever fabulous story you're working on, too.

  6. I've heard this scene/sequel advice before! It was SO hard to implement at first... GAH! [pulls hair out!] But after I started getting the hang of it, I could see it drastically improving my writing!

    Yay for good advice!!

    P.s. New stalker alert ( ;

  7. I'm having a similar problem The book that was suggested to me and I found very useful is Larry King's Story Engineering.

    Good Luck with the story telling.