Inside the mind of a writer www.scskillman.co.uk

Posts tagged ‘story structure’

How To Start a Novel

When I was signing books at the Leamington Peace Festival on Saturday 18th June,  a young man came up to my book stall and started chatting to me about writing books; it turned out he was writing a book himself and wanted any advice I could give on the best way to start a book. 20160618_105109-1

My advice was particularly tailored to writing a novel but of course it’s relevant to any book targeted at a commercial audience.

The beginning of a book must have some kind of emotional charge. It has to hook the reader in the first paragraph or first page.  In the case of a novel the best way to start is with a scene of conflict in the life of your main protagonist. This scene needs to show where your MP currently is, in their life, and what the tensions are in their situation.

One of the courses I took a few years ago covered story structure in terms of the 7 point arc.  I remember it mentioned that you begin a story with Stasis – in other words, where the MP is right now.  Then there is an Inciting Event –  in classic story structure of myth and legend, the MP receives a call, which will move him or her out of the ordinary world, into a new world. The MP can either accept this call or reject it. Either way it is the invitation to a quest. There are many ways of illustrating story structure, using different metaphors but The Hero’s Journey is the best to my eyes. It sets out the structure of a story in terms of classic myth or fairy tale format.  And it makes big sense to me.

Many novelists find one of the trickiest things is to know Where to Start Your Story. Finding out that key moment is a great challenge. You may not discover it until you’ve written the whole book. I advised the young man not to worry about it too much but to write the book all the way through first, because inevitably he will go back to the beginning and probably rewrite it several times.  You can often only find out where your story starts, that moment of tension, after you have written the story.

Sometimes the story may start three chapters later than you through it did, and you will need to cut out your first chapters entirely.  Or maybe it starts further back.  Either way, it can be very exciting and revealing, when you find that perfect point where your story starts.

If you’re writing a novel, I welcome any thoughts you would like to add to this subject, in the comments.

 

Novelists and Screenwriters – Where To Find All You Need To Know About Story Structure

Several years ago, I nearly signed on for Robert McKee’s “Story Structure” workshop in London – tempted by the testimonial from John Cleese, who attributed his success in creating the Fawlty Towers scripts to what he learned from this workshop. But I saw it was essentially for screenwriters, and chose to pass on it.  I have since recognised that story structure  is universal, and applies not only to screenwriters, but also novelists. When I recently found this book in Waterstones Piccadilly, the inner voice said “Buy it!” And I obeyed.  Now I’ve absorbed all that McKee has to say about story, it will transform the way I work on the second draft of my new novel.

Story saturates our lives, through books, plays, the theatre, TV and radio drama, and movies; and we all respond to story instinctively. And yet if we were asked to explain why we respond as we do, and why something works or not, many of us would fall silent. But Robert McKee does explain. One thing that has long mystified me is: “How is it that we are satisfied by a story where the protagonist does not achieve his desire?”  McKee replies that “the flood of insight that pours from the gap delivers the hoped-for emotion, but in a way we could never have foreseen.”  He illustrates his points with many references to famous movies. “Story” is a huge challenge; dense and even overwhelming, its author acknowledges this at the end: “You have pursued “Story” to its final chapter and, with this step, taken your career in a direction many writers fear… I know that when confronted with a rush of insights even the most experienced writer can be knocked off stride.” I hope that, having studied thoughtfully, as I “follow the quest for stories told with meaning and beauty,” I too may “write boldly” and produce stories that “will dazzle the world.”

SC Skillman

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