QUOTES from DEAD PEOPLE
(to make this seem official)
“Form follows function” ~Louis Sullivan
“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” ~Antoine de Saint-Exupery
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” ~Will Durant
THE STORY AS A MACHINE
it’s true because it’s got 3 A’s)
A. Because you are a human being, you will write a human story about something that is important to human beings. You are no more at liberty to avoid this any than you are at liberty to “break” gravity. Even if you write a story that’s completely devoid of plot, characters, and action it would at minimum still be a story about wanting to avoid plots, characters and the necessity of action.
B. Because a story is about things that are important to people, it is helpful to figure out what the important thing was that you were trying to say. This is in no way restricted to politics, or dogma, or other narrow thoughts. A story can be about what it’s like to feel a certain feeling, or how you met your best friend, or literally any other interaction you could ever have in your entire life. Sometimes, the goal is a question your story is trying to answer.
C. Once you have figured out what you are trying to talk about, you can look back on your story in terms of goals. You will find that your story works like a machine, and that you can tinker around with the parts of that machine to maximize its function. There is no “right” way to do this, only the best way YOU can find to express what YOU in particular are trying to express.
D. People are reading your story so it will light up different parts of their brain and move feelings and thoughts around. The actual product you’re making is the pattern of feelings and thoughts you’re putting into another person’s head. Catharsis is too simple a word, because sometimes people want to hold onto an emotion instead of release it, but catharsis is the right basic concept. Write for catharsis. Always err to the side of maximizing impact. People want to FEEL and they want to THINK. Don’t be afraid to give them those gifts.
9 CHECK POINTS
(9 is a perfect square, and so is 4.
I used 3 Dead People Quotes,
because 3 is magic)
Here are some questions to ask yourself AFTER you get done writing a first draft. I do not recommend you ask yourself these questions until you have finished your first draft. The first draft is where you mine the raw materials and let your story come out of you, as it exists solely for you. It’s kinetic, emotional and loose. The second draft is where you refine those materials into a machine that will “work” for anyone. You need that raw first draft to figure out your honest feelings, so you know what goal to maximize in your edits.
1. What is your story trying to accomplish? Write your goal in one sentence. The goal is almost the same as the theme, but the theme is the effect of the goal, not the cause. The theme is the pattern that emerges when you have a clear principle of organization. The goal is the organizing principle.
2. What in your characters reflects the goal? Write one sentence down for each character.
3. What in your conflict reflects the goal? Write one sentence down for the story-level conflict, and one sentence for each smaller plot-point conflict.
4. What in your setting reflects the goal? Write one sentence for the world-goal relationship and then another sentence for every specific setting-goal relationship.
5. What change does your character have to make in themselves, or in the world, to reflect the goal? Write a broad story level sentence that applies to every character. Write a character level sentence that applies specifically to each character. Your main character should have the same sentence for their personal change as for the world-level change, or at least a very close sentence. The symmetry between the main character’s personal change and the world change is what makes that character the main character.
6. Is there a symmetry between the elements (characters, setting, plot) and the conflict so that a change in the conflict changes the elements? i.e. When your characters makes an internal change does that change the world they inhabit? When the world makes an external change does that change something internal to your characters? If not, you may have misidentified your story goal or you may be using the wrong elements.
7. Look at the major plot points of your story and ask yourself: How do these help accomplish my goal? Describe the goal of each plot point in one sentence. Now look at each sentence in the plot point or scene and see if you can change it to get a bigger impact. When you’re done, you should have something that looks like an argument in favor of your goal.
8. Look at the whole story and ask: Does it work? Will a random, average person who usually doesn’t read, look at the first page of your story and keep reading it until they get to the end? They don’t have to like it, but they have to want to finish. If a random, average person stops then find the stopping points and fix them. For your story to “work” it needs to get an average person from beginning to end. Ask your reader “Were you ever bored? Were you ever confused?” and then clarify why and fix those parts. If you can get the majority of random, average people from start to finish your story “works.” Success is completion of upload of the pattern of feelings and thoughts you wanted to share.
9. Repeat until you have exhausted your ability to see anything else to fix. The story is done when YOU are done with it and have maximized YOUR expression. If someone doesn’t personally like it, that’s fine unless they can point to something specific that YOU think is a flaw. You are writing YOUR story for a person who needs YOUR story. Not everyone has the same needs so your story won’t work for everyone. Your job is to upload the pattern not ensure that it is the pattern everyone needs. Your story CAN’T work for everyone. When it works best for YOU, so that you can find nothing else to improve, then YOU are done and have learned everything that story had to teach you.