From Gone with the Wind to The Da Vinci Code, a dozen mega-novels reveal their common story elements:
- The heroes are mavericks.
- Forget about characters’ interior dialogue.
- The novels all contain a secret society…
- And a clock ticking down to disaster.
- An extreme sexual act of some kind, etc., etc….
I’ve tacked the list to my wall. And as I begin my new blockbuster novel…something’s wrong. It’s false start after false start. These tips are short-circuiting the inspiration that normally gives my story its unique shape.
Writing manuals — do they really help?
When I published my own writing manifesto, Story Structure to Die for, I doubted its efficacy for the same reason. My super-simple story overview reduces the dramatic thrust to its most basic idea…and yet…
Writing to formula is no way to proceed.
James A. Hall agrees. In a “Bonus Chapter”, Hall warns writers against forgetting their “honest passion”. Knowing the rules of fiction is not enough. In Hall’s own experience…
“I had to figure out how each [rule] expressed a deeply rooted emotion of my own.” Hall quotes the American poet, Robert Frost:
“No tears for the writer, no tears for the reader.”
In other words, says Hall, “It had to matter to me before it could matter to anyone else.”
So, regarding all these “how-to” writing manuals, here’s MY ADVICE TO MYSELF:
- Read them.
- Forget them.
- Write a first draft.
Note to PJ!—revisit your own blog post of Sept. 10, 2010: “Don’t Get it Right, Get it Written”.
And re-visit Brenda Ueland’s If You Want to Write (it never leaves my bedside table):
“Everybody is original, if he tells the truth, if he speaks from himself. But it must be from his *true* self and not from the self he thinks he *should* be.”
All right. First draft written, now read Hit Lit again.