Saturday, February 16, 2013


I think I’m studying this thing too much. When I first began writing, I wrote carefree, jotting down events as they came to mind. Then I was introduced to WIFYR and became aware that there are formats and procedures and formulae to follow. More and more, I began to research what the experts were saying on writing. Now I’ve got so many “do this, don’t do that” things going on in my head, I’m bound to go against some expert’s opinion with every sentence I write.

Cheryl Klein, Martine Leavitt, Alane Ferguson, Ann Dee Ellis, Mathew Kirby, Kathleen Duey; these are some of the gurus to whose savvy advice I try to adhere. The latest is John Truby. I recently caught up on some back copies of the SCBWI journal when I ran across an article in the November/December issue. It talked about Truby’s book, The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller. Silly me. I went out and purchased it.

I’m not sure which of the 22 steps I’m on, as they are not readily laid out in the table of contents. Truby addresses story anatomy from a screenwriter’s perspective but his concepts can be adapted to any fiction writing. I’m on the chapter about story structure. Truby says story structure is how a story develops over time.

He says your MC must have a weakness and a need. The weakness could be the character is arrogant or selfish or a liar and the need is to overcome the weakness. Then there must be desire, which is not the same as need. Desire is what the character wants. It is the driving force in the story and something the reader hopes he attains. Need has to do with a weakness within the character and desire is a goal outside of the character. The hero must, of course meet an opponent. Truby says the opponent does not try to prevent the MC from accomplishing their goal as much as they are in competition for the same thing. In a mystery story, it would seem the protagonist is opposed to the perpetrator of the crime. Under the surface, however, they are both competing for their version of the truth to be believed.

This is where the conflict is with my work-in-progress (my incredibly slow work-in-progress). It’s a middle grade book, so the story is not as intricate. Do kid characters need the complexity of adult characters? I get it that you can’t make them too sterile, too one-sided. Should a middle grade MC be arrogant or a liar?

Likewise, I’m having trouble with the opponent aspect. In my story, there is no real antagonist. There is a mystery the MC is trying to solve, but no person is preventing him.

The experts say do this or do that. My gut tells me different. What’s a poor writer to do?


Scott said...

The experts are guides. They are experts for a reason, and it's wise to heed their advice. In the end, though, you are writing YOUR story, and need to do what feels best for the story.

Julie Daines said...

Ditto what Scott said. He's a pretty smart guy!