Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Theme and Strategy: Part 1 - Pattern in Strategy

A few years ago, I was at a yard sale and I came across five books on writing. I spent less then $3 for the five and they turned out to be the best books on writing I have ever read. The first book is entitled: Theme and Strategy.

The author, Ronald Tobias, states: "The secret in writing isn't simply knowing what ingredients go into its making, but in knowing how to make those ingredients work together."

How much characterization is too much for your plot? How much action is too much? Too little?

He makes a good point when he says: "When you hear someone say, 'He'd never do that,' or 'That would never happen,' what that person is really saying is: You've disturbed the fiction by violating he patterns of character and plot."

Not that you need pages and pages of notes before you start. But, you should "design an overall strategy that allows you to be open-minded enough to allow the hidden to emerge on its own, unhampered by your ideas of what ought to happen."

So what should writers do?

1) Start with a beginning. Not THE beginning, but A beginning. It's where the story should start.

2) Pick an ending. 

3) Set short-term objectives. Dramatic structure is usually made up of connected series of mini-stories. Maybe, before you write a chapter, decide what your objective is for it.

4) Develop a working strategy. Don't decide on a strategy for a chapter before you've written the chapter before it. You may adapt or change your story while writing and need to readjust.

5) Don't ever look back.  The temptation to go back is sometimes very strong and you must resist it. Use the force, Luke, use the force! Don't waste precious time writing the beginning to perfection because, first, you'll never get there and second, if your strategy changes along the way, you may have to readjust the beginning in the second draft. Keep a notebook for things you may want to change in edits, but don't go back.


Kimberly Franklin said...

That's my main problem: always looking back. Actually, can you call it looking back when you're hung in one spot and don't move forward???

I have issues, clearly, but I'm setting a goal now. Hopefully that will motivate me to more forward and get finished with the first draft already!

Good luck to you and great advice!

J.L. Campbell said...

I agree with these points, but totally endorse 3 and 4 as that's where I'm at now.

Seems I'm just barely making it through each chapter, but it's working so far. I've figured out what needs to happen next and I'm working toward it.

I'll worry about the next chapter when I get there.

Ann Elle Altman said...

Kimberley and Jayda, I think all writers sometimes fall into these traps. I have to remind myself of these points often.


Anonymous said...

I am sooooo the perfector! Can't get past the first chapter. :)

Thanks for this great advice. I like the notion that you shouldn't decide a strategy for a chapter before you write the chapter preceding it.

Does that mean no outlines then?


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Good points here, Ann!

These days I've given up my Type A backward-looking writing style and throw it all on the paper as fast as I can. I'll get through the first draft at lightening speed, then slog through revisions afterwards. Otherwise I start running late and getting off schedule...

Mystery Writing is Murder
Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen

Ann Elle Altman said...

Corra, I think you need a bit of an outline, but I think you needed plan in too much detail until you start writing that chapter.

Elizabeth, I tell you, once I learned not to look back, I think that changed my writing completely. I improved from there.