Author Topic: Stories Are Like Houses  (Read 72 times)

Offline JR

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Stories Are Like Houses
« on: Wednesday 03, 2018, 01: am »
Stories are like houses. They are built, from the ground up. Just as you wouldn't put up the walls without first having a foundation, so too should you build your stories in the proper order.

Lest you think I am advocating outlines, I am not. Those who create as they go can use the advice here just as well as those who snowflake. Because the best stories need a good foundation, and that has nothing whatsoever to do with the plot.

The characters are the foundation of any story. When you have a good understanding of people in the real world, you will be able to create believable characters. Spend time observing those around you. Get to know their hopes, dreams, fears and quirks. When you can guess a person's motives with a fair amount of accuracy, then you will have enough of an understanding of that type of person to use him or her as a well of character traits. So deep understanding of others is probably the most useful tool for aspiring writers. With realistic and believable characters, especially if they are interesting or engaging, you can probably hook readers regardless of the actual plot. But how to keep them reading?

The plot is the framework. Who does what, when, where and why. An interesting plot, or collection of short stories in something like All Creatures Great and Small, will keep readers turning the pages. This is where those who plan, sometimes called planners, and those who make it up as they go along, sometimes called pantsers, usually part company. But what is a planner except a pantser who writes first in outline form? I see no need for arguing for or against either method. Choose what works for you. Just remember that a weak wall may cause the roof to collapse the structure, so make sure to look for plot holes. If you're a planner, you can check for plot holes in the outline before fleshing out the work, but the rough draft should also be checked. Then have the work beta read so you get an outsider's view of plot holes. These should be fixed before moving on.

Next is the roof. When building a house, the roof is built and shingled before the plumbing or wiring is added, which is done before the inside walls are covered with plaster or wallboard. Be considerate of your beta reader(s) and run a spelling and grammar check to catch typos, etc before handing it over. It's rude to ask someone to wade through an error ridden rough draft.

If your beta reader, and especially if more than one, has questions, you need to explain things better in the manuscript. Resist the urge to simply tell the beta reader directly! You can do it! Resist! Save the explanation(s) for making the draft better.

Questions, or discovering the beta reader has put down the book and not gotten back to it, are generally the best forms of feedback. They are specific things that need to be addressed in specific locations. There's no doubt about the beta reader's motives. No question of a difference of personal preferences. In the absence of questions or boring spot, examine all feedback carefully. Give it consideration, but don't automatically make changes to suit that reader. You have a larger group to keep in mind, and no one person will be able to tell you exactly what all readers will think of your work. This is kind of like putting in the plumbing and wiring. You're making the story function as it was intended.

Once the plot holes have been fixed, the questions answered, and the dull spots livened up, it's time for the finishing touches. The world, whether real or fantasy, is part of the aesthetics. So, too, is the language used. That's like the windows, siding, shingles, paint, etc of a house. This may be the most fun, or the least, depending on your preference.

Does the rough and tough guy speak like an English professor? You should probably change that. Or does the doctor talk like a gang member? Not very believable, so you should address it. Some of this may naturally be taken care of during the writing of the rough draft. But now is the time to make sure there's consistency.

Does the narrative writing have to be pompous or ornate? No. Your style is uniquely your own. It should be natural. If you like sounding impressive, that's fine. If you don't, that's fine, too. Some, especially other writers, may tell you how to word things in ways that don't match your style. This kind of well intentioned advice should be ignored.

This is a good time to look for repeated words or phrases used close together. Or too many -ly adverbs. There are plenty of "rules" and lists of things to avoid in writing, so there's no need to mention them here.

Another round of spelling and grammar checking, then beta reading. This is like the painting and papering the walls of the rooms. If you're weak in the areas of spelling, grammar and punctuation, and you can't find a beta reader who is strong in those areas, you may need to hire a proofreader. Be honest about your strengths and weaknesses. Now is not the time for false pride. You only get one chance to make a first impression, and correcting a poor image is even harder than establishing a good one.

So now your book is ready. Like a house built by a developer, it needs to be put on the market. Once that meant getting an agent, but now there's the option of self publishing. Whichever you choose, may good fortune be yours.

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Offline The Fantastical

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Re: Stories Are Like Houses
« Reply #1 on: Wednesday 03, 2018, 09: am »
This is great! Thank you for posting!
“Commander, I always used to consider that you had a definite anti-authoritarian streak in you.”

“It seems that you have managed to retain this even though you are authority.”


“That’s practically zen.” ― Terry Pratchett, Feet of Clay