My Cheat Sheet For Writing

There’s no other way to say it.  Writing a book is complicated.  The further into the process I go, the more complex it becomes.  My saving grace is I love word puzzles, and this is a word puzzle in the extreme.

I’ve discovered there are parts of the writing which don’t come naturally to me, probably because this is my first book.  Until I worked my way through Lisa Cron’s Story Genius process, I didn’t consciously know these bits existed.

Yesterday, I decided I needed a cheat sheet to help me along.

My book is a memoir of healing, and I am the protagonist.  Under my cheat sheet header, the first note talks of the two things driving me all through the story—what I most desire, and the core misbelief that shapes my world view.

I most desire love.  Being loved, giving love, having and doing what I love—all the things my illness makes difficult, if not impossible. I have a core misbelief, formed in childhood, which says love can’t keep me safe from the bad things in life. Every day I am ill, and my misbelief is made stronger.  My desire and misbelief are in constant opposition.  My emotions fly between love and fear, with fear in the ascendant. 

The second note is something Lisa repeats throughout Story Genius—the answer to why always lies in the past.  I spent much of last year writing backstory.  The time spent was worth it.  I found the answers to most of my why’s, and the story is so much richer as a result.

Two questions make up my third note.  As the protagonist, what am I most worried about?  How will it affect my judgment and reaction throughout the story?

The fourth note is another set of questions, under a heading “as I write ask why of everything”.  For every scene I ask:

  • Why does the plot need this to happen?
  • Can it happen?  Is it logistically possible?
  • Given my inner struggle (desire vs. misbelief), why would it happen?  (Here is the scene’s true meaning.)
  • Ask “and so . . . .” Why does my reader need to know this?  How does this move the story forward?  What will happen as a result?  Aka what is the point of including this in the story?

Asking ‘why’ is so crazily key to everything.  I feel like a toddler who has discovered her new favourite word. Sometimes I feel like the mom who is really tired of answering.

Finally, the fifth note is all about building the emotional connection with my reader.  The connection exists because I make both thought and emotion visible in the writing.  I do three things:

  • The protagonist (me, in the story) draws a conclusion from all she notices.  Think ‘survival’.
  • Emotion shows on every page, and it is complicated, layered, nuanced, and conflicted.  For example, grief is a constantly shifting mix of anger, pain, guilt, regret, confusion, numbness, denial, and more.
  • I stay in the protagonist’s (me, in the story) subjective mind set, and filter everything I write through it.  This means I consider how my world view, core desire, and core misbelief are running me, and I need to track how these things shift as my healing experiences change me.

Yes, just a little complicated.

At the very top of my cheat sheet is the header.  From page 267, I copied the third to last sentence of Lisa’s book.  “…the only way to change how someone thinks about something, is to first change how they feel about it.”

This quote captures the essence of the book I am writing, and it shows me, in a few words, how to tell the story. 

In truth, it is what I experienced as I healed a chronic illness.  My feelings changed, and as they changed, my thoughts changed.  As my feelings and thoughts changed, my body healed.  It was a long miracle.

I love my new cheat sheet.  It’s helping me write the best book I can.

I’ve said this before.  Thank you, Lisa Cron, for creating Story Genius.

_________________

In this post:

Lisa Cron, Story Genius, Ten Speed Press, 2016.  http://wiredforstory.com/story-genius-1

The page references are:  first note from chapter 5; second note from page 210; third note from page 265; fourth note from pages 210 through 215, plus page 266; fifth note from pages 256 through 266; header from page 267.

Asking The Right Question

Cat Fink 'What Gives Me Joy Nov 9 2016 (books)'I discovered, at six years old, that words and books were magic.  I read a story and became a different person in a world and experience new to me.  I saw and felt the story like a movie in my body.  I became the characters.  Total magic.

That first magic of reading stayed with me, and out of it grew a second magic, writing.  I love the magic of writing, how it leads me to discovery and understanding.  The magic was busy this week as I worked on the backstory of my book, and something new came home to me about creating the truest story I can.

Here is what I realized.

As I write, I ask myself questions about the story being created.  I do this each time I write, but what I came to this week is beyond asking questions.  It is about asking the right question.

I write intuitively, so while I always ask who, where, what, how, and when, I don’t need to ask why.  In writing intuitively, the why is already present for me.  It drives the initial idea, the writing, and the story, even though I do not consciously articulate it to myself.

The problem with not consciously asking why is that the answer remains silent.  The information stays in my unconscious.  I might get close to expressing it, but much of the information is running underneath the surface of the words.

I know, as a reader, I don’t need why spelled out for me all the time.  I see it in the experiences, beliefs, needs, and wants of the characters.  The choices they make come out of that, and the story shows this to me.

As a writer, I’ve discovered I can’t leave the why sitting in my intuition.  I need to consciously lay it out for myself as part of the backstory.  My readers may not need it spelled out, but I do.  Specifically answering why gives me knowledge that informs my writing, and provides me clues as to what needs to be written into the story.  Once I’ve done the writing, this knowledge forms a base to measure against as I review what I have written.

Lisa Cron’s book Story Genius has walked me into this deeper understanding of my story-creating process.  I am working my way through the questions she asks, forming the backstory so I have a clear picture of my protagonist when the story opens.  All of who this character is, is her why.  All of who she is informs and drives the choices she makes as the story progresses.  I know what is pushing her, even when she doesn’t, and the knowledge helps me shape how I show and tell, shapes the words I choose, shapes what I choose to both offer and hold back from the reader.

I will continue to write intuitively but now, after the first draft is on the page, I will go back and consciously, deliberately ask myself the question that needs asking—why.

Thank you, Lisa, for showing me how to ask the right question.

_______________________

In this post,

Book Story Genius by Lisa Cron, Ten Speed Press, 2016.  http://wiredforstory.com/