Essay writing skills

You might not know it, but essay skills are a core part of novel writing. No, really.

If I remember rightly, June and July is the first sitting Exam season. So it is probably no surprise that the topic of essays has come up on our Tumblr.

chimpanzee_seated_at_typewriter

Enough of this monkey business. You want to know what I mean about essay skills being vital story telling skills.

I am glad you were paying attention.

Saying what you mean

In an essay the thing that makes your essay an A+ rather than a D- is that you have something to say, know what you are talking about, and say it.

The same is true of a story.

If you waffle, go off on tangents, or include irrelevant material, then your reader will get bored. Am I talking about essays or stories, here? I’m talking about both, obviously.

In order to write a truly A+ essay, you need one thing – some fresh to say. That something fresh comes from asking interesting questions. Questions that no one else in your class has asked. Trust me, your teacher will love you for it.

If you are not addressing a question in your essay, you are wasting time. Know the topic and the questions. Then, write tightly to the questions and the essay will start to write itself.

With a novel the same is true. Know the characters, know the plot, and just sit there while everything unfolds for you.

Open with the premise

In an essay, you start by saying exactly what it is you want to talk about. It helps if you know what the essay topic is meant to be, and have gathered some relevant quotes, and lined up some relevant questions to answer.

Then you open up with a paragraph that tells the reader what you are going to talk about. Then you go on to your questions (or topic points) and you answer those questions. Finally, you conclude and wrap it all up by showing how you just talked about whatever it is you said you were going to talk about.

If the essay is about bee-keeping and there is an anecdote about your cat chasing a bumble bee, well, you probably need to cut that out. Why? Because it is off-topic and does not move any of the answers forward.

The same is true of a story. You open with a hook (or promise). Then you work through problems the characters must face (questions). Finally, you reach some sort of finish wherein the promise has been fulfilled and the character (and therefore the reader) have been on a journey.

In an action adventure where the characters spend six pages debating the relative merits of season three of Lost, well, you probably need to cut that out. Why? Because it is off-topic and does not move the plot forward.

Having a plan

Even discovery writers (pantsers) have some sort of plan. However, unless you are a genius at writing some sort of structure, some degree or direction or outline, will give your story shape. Discovery writers frequently have to cut large chunks out, rewrite other parts, and rearrange after the fact. Sometimes they realise that there is a missing scene and go back and add it.

Discovery writing is just as messy for essays.

Having a solid plan for your story or essay matters. At the very least each section should have a topic. That goes for both story and essay.

When I had to write essays of 500 words all I needed was three points, a quote and an introduction. The plan was always this:

  1. Introduction
  2. point 1
  3. point 2
  4. point 3
  5. Conclusion

Later, when there was no word limit I discovered that I could waffle like no one else and just grabbed quotes and talked until all points were covered. As expectations rose my grades did not.

It turns out that discovery writing essays only works at a low level. To get the top grades I needed a plan.

The same was true of novels. My best novel draft took 30 days and was 75,000 words long. This was because I had a plan. A long list of chapter titles. Each chapter had a sub list of things that needed to be covered. It was still sort of discovery writing but the plan gave me a shape and let me focus on the here and now.

Do you agree?

  • Do you agree with me?
  • Is story writing so similar to essay writing?
  • Can you think of more examples?

Post your thoughts and questions in the comments.

Advertisements

The 8-Point Story Arc

Steps

So, you want to write an amazing story? This is how to write amazing stories using the 8-Point Story Arc.

I have to warn you if you read this article it may spoil a lot of “fun” movies for you because you will realise that the movie industry (especially in America) follows this pattern slavishly.

The 8 steps of the 8-Point Story Arc

Unsurprisingly the 8-Point Story Arc has 8 steps. Before we look at the steps in more detail, let’s list them.

Here they are:

  1. Stasis
  2. Trigger
  3. The quest
  4. Surprise
  5. Critical choice
  6. Climax
  7. Reversal
  8. Resolution

A quite guide to the 8-Point Story Arc

The chances are you already follow a similar pattern when writing short stories, or even planning chapters. If you are familiar with “The Hero’s Journey” or the three (or five) act structure yu will see instantly how the 8-Point Story Arc fits almost exactly with these ideas.

Stasis

This is the initial setup. The “how things are” of the world. By the end of the story, this may well have changed, been threatened, or have been disrupted and then restored. Exactly what happens to the initial world setup depends on the type of story you want to tell.

Trigger

In other story theory, this is called the “inciting incident”. Really it is just the thing that causes the story to happen.

In my story, Legend, the trigger happens a few paragraphs in when Malial’s family are kidnapped. You should go read Legend, I think you would like it.

The quest

This is the thing the hero or protagonist needs to go and do to solve whatever the trigger caused to happen. In a romance, this is to win the affection of a love interest. In a classic fantasy, it might be to go and drop the magic doodah in the special fire, or something. You get the picture.

The quest embodies the thing that the characters int he story want or need to do. It is the both the goal and the journey towards that goal. Without a quest, the characters would just be sitting around drinking tea and saying mean things about each other. I actually wrote a story like that once and a quest still popped up anyway.

Surprise

Sometimes called “the twist”, the surprise is something that the character or characters of the story did not see coming. In a good story, the audience should be supprised too.

The surprise is, perhaps, the hardest bit to get right. Too unexpected and it just seems like a “hand of god” moment. Too well telegraphed and it is not at all surprising.

The website changingminds.org has a guide to the 8-Point Story Arc. It says this about the surprise:

To work within the story, it should be plausible and make sense to the reader, at least in retrospect. Surprises should add to the story, increasing the involvement and ultimate pleasure of the reader. A poor surprise makes them feel disappointed and disillusioned.

Critical choice

This often, but not always grows out of the surprise. The critical choice may be an opportunity to give up on the quest or some other profound decision that will forever change the landscape of the story.

The critical choice should lead, logically (in retrospect), to the next surprise. In this way, the story can move between surprise and choice as often as make sense to you, the writer.

Climax

The climax is where those critical choices are building. In a romantic

In a romantic comedy, this is often a sudden and quite expected argument between the lead character and their opposite number. In a buddy movie, this is where the characters finally, and quite formulaically fall out. As I said before, this pattern is slavishly followed by western movie makers.

This should, if nothing else, be the moment of high drama. Unlike movie land, this climax should have been building for a while and be a logical extension of the choices. It should not be an artificial argument between brothers for the purpose of setting up a reversal.

For a different take on what the climax is for, check out the dailywritingtips.com 8-point arc article.

Reversal

In badly written TV and movies, this is where the rather forced argument is resolved by the big gesture.

This is where everything the hero has learned is put to use. The hero integrates the changes that have been building up and undergoes their final transformation into the person they were becoming.

The bullied child stands up for themselves. The coward finally does something brave. The evil uncle embraces the power of good and does the right thing.

The reversal sets up…

Resolution

This is where the story ends. The new stasis is created, the hero can go home. The prince marries the princess. they live happily ever after, or whatever.

The tensions of the story are resolved and the quest is laid to rest.

You get to write “the end” and as a reader, you feel satisfied (assuming the writer did a good job).

How to write a great story

For those of you that like to watch videos, here is a video presentation of the 8-Point Story Arc.

Over to you

Did you find that useful? Had you heard of the 8-Point Story Arc before? Do you, perhaps, use it in your writing or do you disagree with it entirely?

Let us know your thoughts int he comments section or come and chat with me over at the Author Buzz forums.

The Final Contest: The Big Vote

Well, we are finally here. You have written, comments, and voted you way through twelve weeks of platform building themes designed to prompt you into establishing your authorial platform. Well done.

This week instead of writing an entry you will be picking a winner. Of course, I will be reading the last entries and picking winners. This last batch of winners will include three editor picks that did not win in their week but deserve a conceptual prize anyway.

chimpanzee_seated_at_typewriterThat (image to your right) is an artists impression of me trying to figure out which amazing post deserves to be a winner.

Before I get to giving you the details for the big vote, a few words about building on what you have created.

How to make the most of it

Over the last twelve weeks, you have written drawn an audience. Some blogs take months to get to that level of audience. Some of you seem to have a full year’s worth of audience building under your belt in just three months. That is very impressive and you should make the most of it.

For example, this blog took two months before anyone besides me even properly recognised its existence. We launched last year to no fan fair at all and came up the hard way. For those of you that took part in even some of the contest, you have a head start. A huge head start.

Make the most of it – keep writing posts. Build that platform and when your first book comes out enjoy being able to tell loyal readers all about it.

If you prefer to write to prompts we have two entire categories of prompts, which I try to put something out for each week.

  1. The Platform Builder Prompt
  2. The weekly story prompt

There might not be a winner announced each week for these but the prize was always the thing that you created not what I gave out.

You may also want to consider making a platform at Author Buzz UK. It is a website that I am helping to build (based on WordPress) specifically for authors to build a presence. It is based on a lot of the platform building theory that I have been talking about here. The forums will be a good place to chat with fellow writers once we start to pick up steam.

Whatever you do, keep writing. Make amazing art.

The big vote

The big vote has two parts to it.

  1. Sharing as many of your entries as you can
  2. Voting on the entries that have been shared

The big vote takes place at /r/ThanetWinners2017 and will run until at least one items gets a solid lead or we all get fed up with waiting. The deadline is, erm, sometime randomly decided after Monday the 5th of June so share soon, vote often and may the best post win.

Getting your fans to go vote for you is allowed. Anyone can vote for the grand winner. Anyone at all.

Also, any theme that you wrote for outside of the deadline time can be entered. So if you missed a week, you still get a chance to shine.

Best of luck to you all. You wonderful writers, you.

What is a blog train?

There are only a few weeks left in our 12-week competition and I would like to see our freshly blooming community grow after the competition ends. To that end, I would like to introduce you to the concept of a “blog train”.

Blog trains (sometimes called blog carnivals) are a pretty old school concept that I have fallen out of use in the last few years. However, they are an ideal way for a lively community to showcase the best of each other’s posts, to enable readers to discover new blogs, and to generally build a stronger platform.

What is a blog train?

blog-684748_1280

A blog train is a regular post made each week, often on the same day, but the twist is that each week, a different blogger makes the post. The post is often something like this one. Which just gives us an overview of good blog posts from the past week or so plus some exceptional ones that you might have missed and could be worth a read.

What blogs are included in the blog train post, how much is said about them, and anything else in the post is all down to who is hosting the train that week. The only requirement is to link the train up to keep the chain unbroken (in other words point back to the last one, and later update to point to the next one). The requirement to link up the train is pretty much the only difference between trains and carnivals.

Some blog trains and blog carnivals pose a series of questions or topics for the next blogger to write about. Some have a list of hosts that take it in turns on rotation while others leave it up to the host to nominate the next week’s host.

Whatever you call them, a good human edited list of great posts in your blogging community or subject area is a great resource for finding blogs to read and comment on but also for being found. Blog trains are made of win.

Our very own blog train

My proposal is that we start a train of our own. What I suggest is that very soon we write the first post here on Thanet Creative Writers and then set it free by nominating the next week’s train host.

We could, if you want, suggest a theme for the week to come and let the next host pick winners or list their favourites, or whatever. You might have guessed,t hat I’ve not thought exactly how that might work yet. Sometimes just running with an idea and seeing where it goes, is the best approach. Not always, but sometimes.

No crashes, please

train-crash-396263_640

There is a directory of Thanet based writers’ blogs to give you an idea of where to start. Also, I would suggest making sure that the person you nominate to take over the train for the next week is willing to be the host. Otherwise, we end up with a train crash and have to restart.

No one wants that.

Talking of crashes, it is worth noting that community building projects like blog trains and carnivals only work when the hosts really do take the time to check out what they are linking to and publish a truly human edited link of the best of the community. If the weekly posts become spammy, Google may remove everyone from their index. On the other hand, if the hosts do a  good job, everyone wins.

Consistency is good

When you host, and I hope that you do, it is worth making the effort to follow the pattern established by previosue posts. Similar headings and so forth. Don’t be a slave to it but it helps if we are reasonably consistent from one blog train post to the next.

All the images I’ve used in this post are from public domain sources so, if you want to use them, please feel free.

Generally though, the focus, I think, should be on the great blog posts that you, the host, think we should be looking at.

Who to include?

That is up to the hosts. You can include any blog posts that you feel fit the theme. As I said before, the directory might be a good place to start but the choice is yours. Show us what’s great around the Thanet and Writing world of blogging.

If your favourite local blogger did not post this week then it is up to you if you give them a mention or not (I’d probably not but as host, it is up to you). If there is a great author who you love and who blogs and you want to give them a mention, you could do that too. Or not. It is your call.

Who to nominate for the next host?

question-mark-1495858_1280

This is a trickier topic. The simple answer is you should probably nominate people who have been nominated before but that sort of stops great newer bloggers from joining in.

The only real answer is to engage in that old school thing of communicating with folks. That might be in our Facebook group, on Author Buzz (when it is up and running). Wherever you choose, it all pretty much boils down to communication.

If in doubt, nominate someone who has been actively participating and who has not hosted in a while.

Ending with a question

Talking of hosts, when we start our blog train, who wants to be nominated as a future host?

Shout now to give the first few hosts some ideas.

Thanet Creative Writers Tea and Chat

Hands and paper

Tea and Chat is a weekly event run by Thanet Creative Writers and hosted by yours truly.

Tea and chat is not the only writers’ group in Thanet but it is one that I have a particular fondness for. Not only because I host it but because of the wonderful people that make up the group. I don’t want to name names or embarrass anyone but we have some fantastic individuals with true talent and, most importantly, a very friendly community.

While most weeks we tend to share work and receive valuable feedback we have no fixed agenda and will talk about whatever the writers at the gathering wish to talk about.

One week, we helped an attendee revise her CV and since then she has had a lot of interviews whereas before she was getting very few. I love the fact that we were able to combine our skills as writers to truly help another person and make the world a little bit better.

We meet every Tuesday at 7.30pm. The address and phone number is at the bottom of every page. There will be tea (lots of types of tea), a cat, laughter, and a warm welcome.

Anyone is welcome to come along as we are a friendly bunch of assorted people from all sorts of walks of life.

TCW-leaflet-001-800w.png