Out of Town

Hi guys!

I’m out of town again from this week through next week.   I thought I might have some time to write a post, but it’s not turning out that way.  So, in two weeks I plan to dive into deep story structure.  Hope to see you then!

Happy Writing!

-Courtney

Top 10 Books I Recommend

Top 10 Books I Recommend

The title of this post is really self-explanatory.  I’ve picked 10 books/series that I think are not only interesting to read, but are good examples of story structure, and organized them into a list for you.  I will include a very brief description for most of the books, tell you why I chose them, and paste the link off Amazon.  The number doesn’t really matter; these books are roughly on the same level to me.  Let’s start!

#1. The Hobbit

This is just a great book (only one book, unlike the movies) of adventure, peril, and charming beauty.  I would highly recommend it for all ages.  It is a good example of a journey book (a book describing a physical journey), with good structure and unforgettable characters.  For me, this, and The Lord of the Rings, are my classic favorites.

https://www.amazon.com/Hobbit-J-R-Tolkien/dp/054792822X/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1466734345&sr=8-2&keywords=hobbit

#2. The Hunger Games Series

This is just such an obvious choice when I’m faced with coming up with a list of representative books for good structure.  Absolutely brilliant series.  One of the best endings I’ve ever read, if not the best.  Highly recommend.  Great example of trilogy structure.

https://www.amazon.com/Hunger-Games-Trilogy-3-Book/dp/B00PMGUR7S/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1466734389&sr=8-4&keywords=hunger+games+trilogy

#3. Quest for Celestia

This is another great book, though not so widely read.  Quest for Celestia is also a journey book, a re-imagining of Pilgrim’s Progress.  Don’t be put-off by that, though; it is full of new twists and unexpected encounters that left me hanging on the edge of my seat.  Great structure.

https://www.amazon.com/Quest-Celestia-Reimagining-Pilgrims-Progress/dp/0899578861/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1466734418&sr=8-1&keywords=quest+for+celestia

#4. Pride and Prejudice

If you’re looking for a good example of romance fiction structure, this book is it.  It’s the story of five sisters in 19th century England, and it’s full of warmth, love, and surprise.  This book really surprised me by being absolutely great.

https://www.amazon.com/Pride-Prejudice-Jane-Austen-ebook/dp/B008476HBM/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1466734442&sr=8-3&keywords=pride+and+prejudice

#5. Watership Down

This is one of my all time favorite books.  It’s a story about a group of rabbits, which sounds lame, but it really isn’t.  Upon first read, the plot seems divided into two parts with two separate goals, but actually there’s a great general goal of survival, and so I hold this book up as a truly great example of story structure and intrigue.

https://www.amazon.com/Watership-Down-Novel-Richard-Adams/dp/0743277708/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1466734496&sr=8-1&keywords=watership+down

#6. A Wrinkle in Time

To me, this is a very good example of what sci-fi should be.  A very clever book, with warmth, beauty, and adventure.  It’s the story of Meg Murry and how she rescues her father from off another planet.  I remember thinking that the climax was just slightly cheesy, but this is still well worth the read and a great example of story structure.

https://www.amazon.com/Wrinkle-Time-Quintet/dp/0312367546/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1466734518&sr=8-1&keywords=a+wrinkle+in+time

#7. Flowers for Algernon

This is actually a short story (haven’t read the novel, so I can’t recommend it), but this list simply would not be complete without it.  It’s so heartbreakingly innocent and beautiful.  To give away it’s genre would be a spoiler, but this is a great example of a specific kind of story structure.  If you read it, you’ll understand.  I’ll say no more about it; here’s the link if you’d like to read it online.  Yes, it’s free!

http://www.sdfo.org/gj/stories/flowersforalgernon.pdf

#8. The Hound of the Baskervilles

In case you don’t know, this is a Sherlock Holmes novel.  In my opinion, one of the best Sherlock Holmes novels.  Great example of a mystery story structure.  In fact, I’d recommend every single Sherlock Holmes piece ever written, both the novels and short stories.  Brilliant work.

https://www.amazon.com/Hound-Baskervilles-Dover-Thrift-Editions/dp/0486282147/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1466734608&sr=8-1&keywords=the+hound+of+baskervilles

#9. The Maze Runner Series

Yet another example of stellar YA trilogy structure.  Very interesting read as well, full of action, danger, and mystery.  Well worth reading.  Here’s the link to the first book, but I recommend the series as a whole.

https://www.amazon.com/Maze-Runner/dp/0385388896/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1466734648&sr=8-1&keywords=maze+runner+series

#10. To Kill a Mockingbird

A very, very good classic.  One of those books you’re forced to read in school, but end up liking a lot anyway.  Great coming-of-age type structure.  There isn’t so much a character goal as there is a general book goal, and the end can seem a little detached if you don’t read it carefully.  But under structural scrutiny, I think it holds up very well.

https://www.amazon.com/Kill-Mockingbird-Harper-Lee/dp/0446310786/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1466734716&sr=8-1&keywords=to+kill+a+mockingbird

I hope you agree with the books I’ve held up as structural examples, and that you go beg, borrow, or steal any of them you haven’t read.  Or, just buy them.  🙂

After the Progress Update next week, I plan to dive into General Story Structure, where I’ll discuss the elements that I judged these books by structurally.  I’m very excited to do that, and hopefully you (and I!) will learn lots along the way.

Happy Writing and remember to comment!

-Courtney

Story Premise—What is it and Why Does it Demand its Own Writing Classification?

This post is intended to be the sequel to Story Concept—What is it and Why is it Important?  If you haven’t read that yet, you can find it at https://hineswriter.wordpress.com/2016/05/13/story-concept-what-is-it-and-why-is-it-important/.

This will be the conclusion of my tiny series (Two posts) on what I like to call “pre-story structure.”  I call it that simply because it is such a pain to fix after your story is written, or even while your story is in the works.  This is the stuff that should come first.

So what is story premise?  According to Larry Brooks, whose book, Story Fix: Transform Your Novel from Broken to Brilliant, I will continue to use in this post, story premise is, “The vision for the story, without which you end up in chaos, hosting a wrestling match between your ideas and inspiration.”

So it’s important.  But what is it?

If you’ve read my post on Story Concept, you’ll know that concept is the platform from which your story is built.  Think of premise as the structural beams on top of the platform from which your story is then constructed.  It includes main characters, general story arc, and dramatic tension.  It’s your story in “preview format,” as Brooks says.  It’s what’s written on the back cover.  So yes, it’s very similar to concept in that your story is built directly off of it.  This leads me into my second question.

Why does premise demand its own writing classification?

The reason that premise demands its own writing classification is because it is so important for your story to be compelling, both in simple format and in more detailed format.  Defining your concept is how you discover whether your story idea has worth by itself on its most simple level—basically, whether your story is worth telling.  Once you’ve done that, defining your premise is how you decide whether your story is compelling—or intriguing—enough to snag a reader who reads the summary on the back of the book.

It is important that these two things are separate.  Because without a good concept, your premise will sag, and lumping the two together may create an average synopsis, stuffed with interesting trivia that make it seem better than it is.

The only way to really effectively evaluate your story idea is to strip it down to its bones, categorize it into concept and premise.  That’s the closest you can get to assurance of a good story as a writer.  Because if your concept and premise are compelling to you, they will be to someone else too.

So take some time, and write out your story premise!  In order to craft a premise, simply take your concept and add your main character, their goal, the conflict, and the stakes.  Next week I plan to begin my series on general story structure, and in that series, I will discuss good characters and conflict, including a whole bunch of other things such as story beginning, climax, result, and resolution.  All the elements of great writing, fiction in particular.

For now, I hope this was helpful.  For more information on concept and premise, check out Story Fix, by Larry Brooks, at http://www.amazon.com/Story-Fix-Transform-Broken-Brilliant/dp/1599639114.  Where I’ve written two 600-word summaries, he’s written chapters on the subject.

As always, be sure to let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Happy Writing and Happy Father’s Day for all you dads out there!

-Courtney

An Unfortunate Truth About Life

I am very sorry it has been so long since I’ve posted.  I’ve been in Europe these last few weeks and intended to still write posts while I was there, but it didn’t work out.  I had almost no spare time.  I’m very sorry for that.

I had a whirlwind trip across Europe, “hotel-hopping” as I like to call it, from London (England), to Krakow (Poland), Murren (Switzerland), Lucerne (Switzerland), Salzburg (Austria), Vienna (Austria), back to London, Amsterdam (Netherlands), and Reykjavik (Iceland).  I also had a brief layover in Berlin, Germany.  It was an amazing trip.  I took lots of pictures, went paragliding in Switzerland, climbed the tower of St. Stephan’s Cathedral in Vienna, rode on the steepest railway in Europe (48% incline!), visited a few Doctor Who shooting locations, and just had a great, although exhausting, time.  But this all leads me into one of the unfortunate truths about life.

Life is distracting.

Had I stayed home I could’ve blogged, worked on my book, and spent time making money instead of spending it.  But I still went.

So where should you and I, as writers, draw the line between life’s distractions and our work?  When does our lonely craft justify some time off?

Obviously, there’s no cut and dried, one size fits all answer.  But it reminds me of a quote by Ernest Hemingway, “In order to write about life, first you must live it.”  Now this quote is only good to the extent that it doesn’t become an excuse.  It’d be easy to sit back and live life and never pick up a pen or place your hands on a computer keyboard.

But this quote does stop the opposite train of thinking.  Militaristic writing, holed up in your closet, forcing out an extreme word count, that doesn’t work either.  You need time like that, certainly, but you also need life experience and interaction with people, the basis for your characters.  So I urge you to stay healthy as a writer.  Go to that reunion, hotel-hop across Europe, experience all the joys, sorrows, and situations that life can throw at you.  And then, when it’s time to write, hole yourself up and don’t let the distractions distract.  Stay disciplined.

So I encourage you to find that balance for yourself.  Spend time writing, and then go out and find life inspiration, and then write some more.  Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Happy Writing!

-Courtney

Story Concept—What is it and Why is it Important?

Note: When I read back over my last post, I realized that it may have been a little misleading.  When I said “Every month I plan to write a Progress Update…” I did not intend that to mean I was planning to post only once a month.  My goal is to post every Friday morning on various writing topics, and once a month, that weekly post will be a Progress Update.

A few months back, I read a book called Story Fix: Transform your Novel from Broken to Brilliant by Larry Brooks.  In the fourth chapter, he discusses the idea of story concept.  I found it extremely interesting, and it greatly influenced how I planned my third book.

Now I know what you’re thinking.  Concept?  Why is that worthy of discussion?  Isn’t that just the idea behind the story?

And yes, it is.  But in a larger sense, it’s the ground on which a writer stands or falls.  For it’s the concept, as well as the premise, that you pitch to prospective agents and readers.

Before I define concept, let me define what concept is not.  It is not plot, emotion, or even characters.  Concept is your story in its “abstract idea” form, before plot, emotion, and characters.  For example, the concept of The Hunger Games: Boys and girls are reaped and forced to kill each other in an arena.  It’s simple, it doesn’t include any details—including specific characters—and it’s conceptual by definition.

Now, why did this influence my writing so much?  Because Brooks encouraged me, his reader, to define my own concept.  It sounds easy, but most of the time, it isn’t.  It forced me to strip away my characters and plot and look at what was left.  Analyze it.  Weigh it on an unforgiving scale.  Was my concept good enough to stand on its own?  Was it still compelling by itself?

I had the good fortune to read this book during the very beginning of the planning phase for my third book.  And honestly, stripping away the meat from the many plot ideas swirling through my head changed the direction of the entire book.  I realized that my initial concept was weak without the details to support it, and so I changed it.

It’s amazing how overlooked and yet how crucial defining story concept is.  According to Larry Brooks, “A great concept is your best defense against rejection.”  And his concluding advice, “Take your concept to a higher level, and your story is already a step ahead of the many others in the agent’s in-box.  You now have a live wire to power the story that follows.”

So I encourage you all to spend a few minutes defining your story concept.  Even if you’ve already written your story, this is a worthwhile exercise that could potentially save you from future rejection.  To define it, “Focus on the core idea, cull its conceptual essence, and state it in context to the story arena, proposition, landscape, or framework you are putting into play as the basis for your premise.”  This is a little bit confusing.  What Brooks is saying is to determine the core idea of the story in its most basic form, and then state it alongside what you base your premise on, be it a setting, a question, or a structure.

These are only the very basics of story concept.  If you are still struggling to define your concept or just want more information, check out Larry Brook’s book at http://www.amazon.com/Story-Fix-Transform-Broken-Brilliant/dp/1599639114.

I’d love to hear your own experience with story concept and whether the exercise of defining it has influenced your writing.  Let me know in the comments!

Happy Writing!

-Courtney

The Beginning

This is the start of something I hope will become great.  I plan to write about my journey with writing books, as well as the many lessons I learn from my struggles.  Building a community is incredibly important in writing; hopefully this blog will act as a portal through which we, fellow writers, can communicate with and support each other through the difficult process of writing.  My goal is to publish a new post every Friday morning around 6 am ET.