I’m developing a course on how to write fiction, whether novels, novellas, theatrical plays, or screen plays.
There already exist a number of excellent books on how to write screenplays. Because screenplays are basically plays, they lend themselves easily to a three-part structure with a well-delineated beginning, middle, and end.
I’ve not found the like in general fiction writing. I’ve studied, practiced, and worked at this for decades, including earning an MFA degree from Sarah Lawrence College in fiction writing. Still, I found, most session consisted of writers reading their work, which was then critiqued by other students and the teacher. No overarching principals were taught. A hit or miss approach? I’m not sure. But what I’m sure of is this approach didn’t do a lot to teach people how to write compelling fiction.
It’s no doubt considered axiomatic that such a system cannot be developed; that the disciplined writer works every day, and after a number of years, though trial and error, unlocks the keys to writing good fiction. For myself, I’m coming more and more to not entirely buy into that philosophy.
In a movie or play not a drop of action or dialogue is used without careful planning. Dialogue and action carry the entire structure of the piece. Without them, the work is a mess. So I started studying books on how to write screenplays. There are many of these. What they taught had a great influence on my work.
One of the most important facts I learned was that a story has an arc, and definitely a beginning, middle, and end. That a story is based on conflict, and an ascending cascade of obstacles, which stand in the way of our hero or heroine achieving their goal.
The knowledge of these simple concepts allowed me to write about ten novels, myriad short stories, and some screen work. It gave me structure where none existed before. And within that structure I found I was able to thrive as a writer.
A few points: this is a general approach. I don’t even know if anyone else in the world uses it. What I do know is that it works for me.
Writing a novel, even a short one, is quite a daunting task. With the tools I borrowed from the playwright’s arsenal, my work became far more pleasurable and achievable. Also, I believe, a better experience for the reader. Instead of wandering off hither and yon from the basic story, I honed in on the truth I was trying to convey.
As a writer if you cannot state what your individual work is about in one or two sentences, you basically have no idea what you’re doing. Until you reach the point where you can actually articulate your subject in easily understandable language to a stranger, you are not a genuine writer. You are a beginner. And any ideas you have to the contrary are wishful illusions, which will only succeed in leading you further and further from you goal.
Turn on the Flash
Writing for the screen
Will benefit your Prose
by Lilith Moon
Black Lotus by Lita Lepie
"Possibly one of the most artful colloquial narratives of the past decade."
- E. Cohen
"My only criticism is that it wasn’t long enough..."
"...film noir in a book..."
"Awareness of race, gender and sexual orientation shades [Black Lotus] with great depth..."