22 August 2011

Just Keep Climbing

So I've been thinking a little about movies... and books... and a writing career... And I've noticed something... Done right, the plot of all of these has the same pattern... But this catches a lot of writers off guard, I think, so I am going to lay it out for you...

So you know how in... say a Thriller... best-selling genre... always dominates the top of the Best Sellers list... there is something you can count on...

The MC starts out with their mission... and they doubt they can do it, and then they begin collecting resources, and think they have it figured out and fight the good fight... they think they are there... the tension eases for thirty seconds... and then the stakes are increased... And then he keeps going, because heck, he's committed... and he faces obstacles and works hard and he thinks he's almost there, and then the stakes go up again... usually this time to put deathly consequences on failure for him or someone he loves... and then he feels he MUST, and he pulls out all stops to figure it out... and gets a brief break but realizes there is no turning back now... and FINALLY, there is a HUGE push!

So Let's Tell This Tale

In second person present, because there are only so many opportunities to use second person, eh?

Very Steep Hill Source
You are living your life. You dabble in writing and have very vague dreams to some day write novels. But it doesn't seem possible. A little poetry, sure, but you are an unassuming sort, and you really just don't think you have what it takes.

But one day an idea takes hold. It sinks its teeth in and refuses to NOT be written. You are embarrassed to say anything to anyone, and hide in a closet and write a first chapter. It's not bad. In fact, you think... maybe it's good... you have a friend who writes and so you timidly approach her and share your idea. She says 'You should write it!' (it crosses your mind she might be cruel, but it is, after all, what you wanted to hear). You write a little more and you show her... she encourages you, and you emotionally COMMIT... You have been called to action.

Your writer friend, as lovely mentor says things to you like 'write every day. If you show up regularly, your muse will too.' or 'you know, if you write just one page a day, in a year you've written a book.' You can't quite believe these things are true... except you want to, so you try to... and what do you know. You make progress.

You make GOOD progress! You're the little engine that could!

I think I can. I think I can. I think I can... And... there it is... the summit... you are almost there... YOU'VE WRITTEN A FREAKING BOOK!

But wait... NOW, lying, misleading mentor the traitor says you need to CELEBRATE (okay, well that part's okay). And commit to LEARNING HOW TO WRITE A BOOK. Say what? You just WROTE a freaking book!

“No,” she says. “You need to learn the technicalities—what a real book needs. Form. Structure. Rules. You need to read books and blogs... you have to suck people in the first page. You need to have a theme. You need to have a coherent HOOK."


Now you are sure your mentor must be really anal and clearly you don't need that much. Well, sure, you need to EDIT... you go through carefully correcting typos. There are some parts that aren't really necessary, but they're so GOOD... you know... just great writing... so they need to be there. You hear adverbs are unpopular and active verbs are best, so you go through and change all your dialog tags to screamed, chastised, sniped, oozed... Surely this is what's meant...

Your mentor suggests maybe it is time to find some peer readers—that feedback is good. But you don't know any writers, so you ask your mom and sister to read. They love it. You are validated.

You begin to search for agents. The ones who blog look good. You query Janet Reid and Kristin Nelson.

Form Refusals.

You meet another writer you really respect who reads a chapter and suggests a couple blogs with some really good advice.

Just 'said'? You're kidding. What about all those strong talking verbs?
Each scene has to move the story ahead? Really?
Can't start with a dream? Back story in tiny doses?


And so you coast half way back down and start the slow climb again... the rewrite...

And you work your tail off... this is hard... not as hard as WRITING the book, but much harder than what your idea of editing had been before your epiphany... but lo and behold... this time you get some nibbles... this time there is some evidence you might have reached...


Whitebird Battlefield, Idaho
GADS, why is this so hard!? But finally you get some specific advice from a real publishing professional... and you make THOSE changes... and you crest another rise.... The next rise you get an agent... and you feel like you've crested the biggest hill... but it's NOT the biggest... not by a long shot... it was just big enough you couldn't see the next one past it...

Now... with agent advice and help you go on to submission... Getting an editor to like your book is HUGE, but it is only the first of a double hurdle... Then there is the board... then the editor changes, and THEN... the release and marketing...

The point is, each rise has another after it, and each builds the stakes and... this is the hard piece... each rise is followed by another...

Best seller
Another book
Name bigger than the title

There is always something else to strive for.

I think we have a careful trick to both appreciate each rise we crest and not to let that be enough. We need to celebrate, then take the next step. Again and again.


Jan Morrison said...

That's all. I'm in the middle of a revision and now I've decided to change the whole thing from first to third and gacck.
And I'm not even close on the other stuff.
After my next comment, I'm getting on the writing horse and riding.

Adina West said...

Published writers do often talk about the fear of failure with second or subsequent books. You've done it once, sure, but can you ever do it again?

You're right though. The stakes keep on rising. The only way to keep us writers motivated and on our best game, right?

Michael Offutt, Phantom Reader said...

I expect to see your movie underneath James Cameron, Steven Spielberg, or other famous moniker one day Hart!

Hart Johnson said...

Jan-be very sure on that one--PoV is such a nitpicky change! You will get there, though!

Adina-I think it definitely keeps us motivated if we keep stepping up--it is the writers who keep doing the same thing without upping it who get stale.

Michael-oh, if only! Life could get so much easier with a couple movie sales! teehee