Wow! Joanne and Anne, you have raised the bar on blogging! Do I dare to dare?
Think about you wip for a moment. What would happen if you turned your premise around?
Write down some of the ideas for stories you have tucked away. What if you turned them around? What would happen if Cinderella didn’t go to the ball?
One of my ideas, as many of you know, is to write a series of stories, set in various historical periods which are somehow affected by the Second Century BC ring I have. The ring has started its journey with a young soldier in the army of Alexander the Great, right after a battle. He has the ring and is moving forward in his story. At the end of his story, the ring will (somehow) move ahead centuries and be the chief character in another story. That’s pretty straightforward and not nearly as brilliant an idea as I thought it was. It is pretty ordinary really.
What if he and the ring time travel to be in each story? What if every story’s characters were running away from the ring rather than fulfill their destiny through it? What if the ring is evil? What if the soldier is evil and uses the ring to do bad stuff? That’s better. It is original.
My questions above are ‘brainstorming’. In 99.9 per cent of romances, the first round of plot conjuring is pretty predictable. Protaganist has problem, solves problem, gets the girl and you turn the page to read about the author or his/her next book. Brainstorming, alone or in a group, is an eye- widener and a brain strain to do, but this is where novels, that are unusual twists on the same old theme, become novels that break out.
Donald Maass, highly successful author and agent, urges, “Whatever you do, push your premise and plot lines further. Don’t be satisfied with just a good story. Be satisfied only with a story that is original, gut-grabbing, unexpected, layered and complex. In other words, stop working only when your story is great....It will take a lot longer than you think. Keep pushing.”
I wish those were my thoughts, but the fact is, I bought Donald Maas’ Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook and I am sharing with you some ideas he is urging us to do. It is all to help us break in by breaking out as it were. It is one of those I-can’t-put-it-down books with a strong streak of I-gotta-try but boy, Maass is asking a lot. Brainstorming is but one chapter and look at the change in your thoughts he has brung about already.
His chapter on pitching makes it go from a monumental dragon of a task to a easily manageable kitten of a task. A 450 word novel into a 50 word pitch? Of course. He even does it off the top of his head. See how he does it and you do it too.
In the workbook, he is predictable. (Uh oh. He’s going to get me for that!) in that each chapter has a few pages of commentary, followed by several tasks per chapter. Some chapters have one task; others as many as 48. Anyone who has ever heard him speak knows that he demands tension on every page. That chapter runs to 350 tasks. After you have done that 350 task marathon (putting tension on every page) there are 241 tasks that will make your books unique. Wait until you see the tasks!
Where is your back story? Maass says to look over the first 50 pages of our work and find a scene that describes setting, brings in characters, sets up a situation or is otherwise back history. Take it and put it into your chapter 15. Of course it isn’t apt to fit in your chapter 15. So cut it and paste it wherever you think best, but it MUST be after the middle of the book. Maass thinks back history is unnecessary, but if you must use it, put it where it answers a longstanding question. For instance, my soldier is rebelling against the killing and destroying going on around him. Why? Because he is from a genteel upperclass family and he thought the whole army experience would be a great adventure. He now knows it is a season in Hell. One small incident is the straw that breaks the camel’s back. He snaps and walks away. But I won’t tell you that back story unless I have to and it will be a long way into the book.
Maass is a master writer and he makes it plain that unless we present a story that is original, strong and very well written, we haven’t a chance in the publishing (shark pool) world. His goal isn’t to make us good writers or even better writers. His goal is to make us great writers, and that takes work - lots of very hard work. Is it worth it to you or are you happy as you are?
I like this book - a lot. It is tough. It takes one to a new level of effort. It is impossible not to be changed by it - dramatically - as a writer.
How would your wip work if you turned your premise to the opposite direction? Can you think of three different directions your plot could go? Does easily making pitches come ‘out of their den of iniquity’ and be excellent 50 word pitches appeal to you? Does your wip actually need back story? What does your wip need to ‘break out’ of the humdrum and be one heck of a story?
And what if Cinderella didn’t go to the ball?