Better Than What I Write Now

July 31, 2012

Camp NaNoWriMo Participant badge

Camp NaNoWriMo Participant badge

Advice for novices eager to write fiction

Getting going writing isn’t always a fun thing you’re doing. Sometimes there’re stuff that stops you.  Outward or inward things, either or, they create a halting place that seems likely to keep you at a stand-still.

Sometimes you can use a bit of help. When this problem comes up for me, I turn to folks who’ve already managed to get something down on the page that’s wonderful (in my eyes anyway).

I look to writers I admire, envy, and those I re-read, because I love their work.

So to get me going for the August Camp NaNoWriMo event, I took a great short story that I love and deconstructed it to see what it was made of.

It ended up that the story totaled 11 scenes. The longest scene was 51 lines long, the shortest– 5 lines.



The whole story was about 2,500 words in length, if we go by the idea that each line of text holds approximately 10 words when you average out the whole piece.

So that’s 11 full-on scenes crafted from 250 lines of text.

That’s some sharp, clean writing. The moment I read it, for me, it became the best story ever.

The type of things I made notes on where mostly questions like these five here:

  • What’s the difference from the beginning of the scene to the end of it?
  • What’s the emotion/motivation/ or reaction of this scene?
  • How did this scene lead to the next one?
  • How did this symbol work in telling the story here?
  • What wasn’t said here at all, but I got it anyway? How’d they do that?

Then I took my investigation on to a new round of deconstruction and I asked things a bit more concrete, having to do more with structure work, the mechanics of things. I moved though the story scene by scene:

Scene one: Does this scene intro the character alone, or the character and their problem? What else, (other element) is introduced here?

Scene two: How many lines are used for far backstory? How many lines for closer backstory?  Out of the full 51 lines what’s the ratio of the present/far backstory/ and closer backstory?

And for scene three I noted: What will I need to do to get a scene this powerful, with this much subtext, into 13 lines of prose?

I don’t make notes of what actually happened in the story – that stuff belongs to the author, not me. I’d be a thief taking that with me.

It’s the questions the story brings up, in my excavation of its secrets, that I want, Not the writer’s words or their plot, or character’s roles with each other. Taking any of that is outright plagiarism.

I continue on with my dissection of this great story, dismantling it and making notes of my discoveries, until I have a page or two about how to write better than I write now.

Then I turn to my own characters,  I sit down to write. I review my notes,  ask these folks who are living in my own mind some of my questions. And together we try writing something that’s better than what I write now.

That’s all mine.

Happy August Nano (and other) writers.

Happy Writing.



4 Responses to “Better Than What I Write Now”

  1. petermonaco Says:

    I would love to see those notes, your idea is brilliant. I think a lot of times writing seems so mystical but it can be broken down, in part, to a base formula.

  2. ejrunyon Says:

    The way I worked it was reading a scene at a time and noting what the author ‘did’ in each one.
    I look at the structure they used, what was conveyed (not the actual but the story element), what the progression point of plot was, things like that.

    If you ever want to try it, Let me know. I’ll Skype with you and work you through a first draft.

  3. […] One thing I found was this new way for attacking my writing: Deconstruction as a way in to you own work. […]

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