The WHY of Your Story
by: A. Lee Martinez. DFWWW Member since 1995
The first thing you should ask yourself is why?
Writing isn’t as simple as putting down words on paper. If it was, everyone would be doing it, and at times, it feels like everyone thinks they can. If we’re talking about sitting in front of a keyboard and typing until you have a few pages, then, yes, everyone can do it. There’s a difference between doing it and doing it well.
Asking why is that difference.
Let’s stick with fiction for the moment. Much of this applies to non-fiction as well, but it’s easier to focus on one right now. Fiction is, generally, a series of scenes that string together to form an overarching story. All basic stuff, you might think, but you would be wrong.
The Why (capital W from this point on) is Why this scene must exist in the first place. Your initial answer will probably be wrong. You will no doubt think of story points and character motivations and getting the plot moving to its next stage. That’s important stuff, but it is NOT your Why.
The Why is all about what we’ll call emotional intention. I should be feeling something in your scene, and that feeling should be what you want me to feel. New writers (and even experienced writers) can be so invested in moving the pieces on the board and pushing the plot forward that they forget that writing fiction isn’t about conveying mere facts.
“John woke up in the morning. He went to the store. He bought some eggs. He came home and had breakfast.”
That’s a boring story. Not just because it’s a boring story but because there’s no emotional weight to it. Even if we change it up by adding a zombie apocalypse or messy divorce, it still doesn’t have any intention.
“John dragged himself out of bed. He trudged to the store and bought some damned eggs. He cooked them alone, in his kitchen, thinking about her.”
The Why here is obvious. John is having a bad day. He’s tired. He’s barely motivated. And I, as the reader, know that this isn’t a happy scene or funny or exciting. It’s sad. I may not know the details, but the weight is there. The intention isn’t screaming, but it is palpable.
“John jumped out of bed. He ran to the store, treated himself in some extra large eggs. Singing their song, he cooked the eggs in his kitchen, thinking about her.”
The Why is completely different here. It’s full of positivity and energy. John is still alone. We still don’t know anything about Her, but we don’t need to. We sense the emotional weight of this scene just by how we choose to tell it.
Nobody cares about the details. Characters are not playing pieces on a board, and stories are not a series of checklists. They are about emotional intention, and, yes, even ambiguity is a perfectly acceptable goal for a scene if done on purpose.
So don’t write what happened. Write Why it happened, and that Why should almost never be because John ran out of eggs.
Strange Afterlives Anthology is Now Available on Amazon!
Not every monster started as human.
In this anthology of eleven original tales - ten by DFW Writers' Workshop members - the undead are never quite expected. From sinister feline mummies to ravenous zombified cars and any and all things in-between, the living dead have returned from their graves, junkyards, and even the war torn skies to haunt the lands of the living. With stories horrific, funny, and weird, Strange Afterlives has a little something for everyone who has ever wondered what terrible secrets could be lurking in that rotting tree or broken toy.
Edited by former DFWWW board member and "a pretty cool guy (according to his mother)", A. Lee Martinez, STRANGE AFTERLIVES is available on Amazon for $0.99.
Buy it now see firsthand why you should join the workshop, if you haven't already.
Stories included in this anthology:
Mouse Trouble by A. Lee Martinez
After the Invasion by Russell C. Connor
Seated Woman with Child by Rosemary Clement-Moore
Roots by Brooke Fossey
The Late Mrs. Buttons by Sally Hamilton
An Undercover Haunting by Kristi Hutson
GImme Shelter by David C. Whiteman
01001110 by Nik Holman
The Runner by John Bartell
Night Witch by Shawn Scarber
The Scavenger Hunt by John Sanders Jr.
STRANGE AFTERLIVES will terrify and amuse. You may never look at a rusted automobile the same way again.
And be sure to join us any Wednesday night at 7:00 pm at The Simmons Center in Euless to see how DFWWW authors keep producing wonderful stories like the ones in this anthology.
Rosemary Clement Moore just arrived back from the Sirens Conference, where she was the keynote speaker. She had only good reviews about the attendees, the hosts, and the atmosphere. The conference focuses on women in fantasy literature, and is both an academic and networking retreat. She’ll be there next year too, so join her and enjoy the company along with the Pacific Northwest weather.
Meanwhile, member Harry Hall is gearing up for his November 13th book launch at the University of Dallas. Pedestriennes hit the shelves just this week, so grab your copy and catch him at his 7:00 pm reception and book signing in Haggar. An hour later, he’ll present in Lynch Auditorium and give away goodies from Luke’s Locker, Brooks, and Cassie’s Gourmet Popcorn. Details can be found here.
Finally, we will soon be waving our handkerchiefs at A. Lee Martinez as he departs on a quick trip to Chicago, where he’s the Guest of Honor at WindyCon. This conference, held November 14th-16th, is the oldest science fiction convention in the city and 1,200 attendees will pass through its doors to catch a glimpse of our very own.
So, there you have it…at least until Thanksgiving.
2014 DFW Teen Writers' Workshop
**UPDATE -- This workshop is FULL. We are no longer accepting applicants. Please email us at dfwwritersworkshop(at)hotmail to reserve your space for the next event.**
DFW Writers’ Workshop is very proud to announce the schedule for the 2014 Teen Writer’s Summer Workshop! The best part of this announcement is….the workshop is completely FREE.
The scheduled events will take place at The Egg & I on Hwy. 26, from 12:30 to 2:30. Below are the dates and the list of speakers, who are all DFWWW members and traditionally published authors. The sessions will include instruction and critique time.
With registration, teens will get a binder full of helpful advice. At the end of the workshop, an anthology will be created with their work. It will include a short story, excerpt, or poem that is polished during the six-week session. Each student will get a printed copy and may purchase as many additional copies as they’d like. AND there’s a t-shirt, designed by our very own Sally Hamilton.
In short: THIS IS GOING TO BE AMAZING.
To register you must meet these requirements:
- Be entering 9th-12th grade.
- Be able to commit to at least 3 of the 6 Saturday sessions.
- Email your name, age, the dates you expect to attend, and the type of writing you enjoy to the following address: dfwwritersworkshop(at)hotmail. Please make the subject: TEEN WORKSHOP
The schedule is as follows:
July 12 -- The Written World taught by Del Cain (a general overview of fiction, creative non-fiction, poetry, songwriting and screen/playwriting)
July 19 -- The Critique Process taught by Tex Thompson (beginning with her 11th grade first draft through production of her book, One Night in Sixes)
July 26 -- Story Structure taught by Kat Cook (using the hero's journey)
August 2 -- Voice taught by Jenny Martin.
August 9 -- Character Development taught by Rosemary Clement
August 16 -- Publishing taught by A. Lee Martinez (how the publishing world works, different avenues to publication)
The Writer's Watchword: Patience
photo credit: WasabiDoobie via photopin cc
An Epic Release
But everyone that knows A. Lee knows this book promises more than that. It has adventure, mystery, romance, and a life lesson to offer. And somehow, in his genius way, Martinez does it all with an odd cast of characters who owe their existence to his wicked imagination.
Happy summer reading, folks.
The Rocket Science of Writing
That’s writing in a nutshell. If you need a deeper analysis than that then you are probably trying too hard.
Writing is hard enough without putting undue pressure on yourself. Just sitting down and creating a single interesting character is hard enough. The notion that you have to come up with something complicated for them to do is something we’re taught because . . . well, I’m not sure why.
Maybe it’s because as simple and obvious as the idea of creating an engaging character sounds, it isn’t all that simple. It is where I feel most aspiring writers fail when writing their stories. Give me someone to care about, first and foremost. Without that, you’re almost always wasting my time.
The problem is that it’s very difficult to nail down what makes a character sympathetic or interesting. Plot is simple. Plot is a series of events that lead from the beginning to the end. Plot can be crafted with incredible care, charted out, mapped like a road leading us on a path we’ve traveled a thousand times, yet somehow still worth walking. Plot isn’t easy, but it is easier to understand, easier to nail down. Yet many a book completely neglects plot and somehow still works.
This is the truth I always share with aspiring writers. Stop worrying about your story. Start worrying about your characters. Give them life. Care about their future. Make them worth reading about, and the audience will be happy to travel with them. Neglect this, and it doesn’t matter how well-researched your story is or how elaborate your outline is.
It’s not the ride we care about. It’s the company.
Unless your story stinks, in which case you should probably fix that.
-- A. Lee Martinez, DFWWW Member since 1995
photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bk1bennett/2533718691/
Good in Any Language
A. Lee Martinez has a lot to celebrate overseas.
His book, Divine Misfortune , has recently hit #2 on the Kingstone Book Bestseller List.
Kingstone is one of the largest chain bookstores in Taiwan, and though we cannot make the trip to confirm it, it's safe to assume Divine Misfortune is resting comfortably on an end cap or its own table display.
Congrats to him, or rather, 祝贺您.
A Pipe-less Pipe Dream
This is where a good writer's group can be helpful. While not all groups are created equal, there's something comforting about meeting with a group of folks who are all trying for the same dream. It stops being weird. It starts seeming more plausible, stops being a pipe dream. Even if you're surrounded by nothing but aspiring writers, it still seems like something worth doing.
In my experience, most writers are scared of writer's groups. I know I was. They picture a room full of pipe-smoking mustachioed gents discussing metaphor and theme and other dry and dull topics. And I'm sure those groups exist. But there are also groups dedicated to making writing easier, to taking what is otherwise a lonely aspiration and making it appear not so mysterious.
Not everyone likes that. Some people want writing to be mysterious. They like it to be some magical artistic gift from the heavens and to wallow happily in their genius while dismissing the rest. They look at other writers as competition, not support. They love the idea of being a writer for what it says about them, not for what they have to say.
Real writers write. Real writers always want to learn how to write better. And a good writer's group can help us do that. If you want to write and you have the time, check one or two out. I know my group has been a tremendous support, even now as I make a living doing this. And I'm certain they're plenty of groups out there ready to help aspiring and established writers get better.
Writing is lonely. Don't make it lonelier just because you're frightened of men with pipes.
-- A. Lee Martinez, DFWWW Member since 1995
Jenny Martin is teaching Writing Young Adult Books: The Path to Publication this spring at the University of Texas at Arlington. Along with her agent and editor, she has many more established agents and editors that will share their expertise about the industry. https://www.uta.edu/wconnect/CourseStatus.awp?~~12CO1722001
Speaking of the 2012 DFW Writers Conference… did you know we already have 18 agents and 3 editors signed up? For a list of agents and editors already confirmed visit www.dfwcon.org
The conference is May 19th – May 20th featuring keynote speaker James Rollins. You can read more about James Rollins at http://dfwwritersconference.org/keynote/