Writing update: BlogHer Writers’ Conference, wordy posts, learning how to write

On October 21, I’ll be speaking on a panel for the BlogHer Writers’ Conference in New York City. That’s right, I’m heading back to New York just a month after my trip. But of course I couldn’t pass up this opportunity.

The panel I’ll be participating on is called Alternative Publishing Models: It’s Not Only about the Printed Hardback, and I’ll be talking about my experiences self-publishing my book, as well as other ways besides print of getting published (eg, one’s own blog, guest blogging, online magazines, sites like The Nervous Breakdown, etc.).

If you’re going to the conference, let me know! I’d love to meet up.

In terms of actual writing, for the past month or so I’ve mostly been writing for work.

For Labor Day, I wrote about work words, and for Fashion Week, fashion words. For Talk Like a Pirate Day, I wrote about  yo-ho-ho words, and for National Punctuation Day, I wrote about how punctuation rules. We declared the last week of September “Drinks Weeks” – because of National Coffee Day on 9/29 and the end of National Bourbon Heritage Month and Oktoberfest – and I wrote all about different kinds of beverages: wine, tea, funny drink names, coffee, and beer. This week we kicked off Halloween with some werewolf words.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve been reading, at MB’s suggestion, John Truby’s The Anatomy of a Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller. It’s been very helpful and has made me realize that all this time, I’ve had no idea how to structure a story, whether a novel, memoir, or short story, and that I’ve been winging it my entire writing career. As a result, sometimes I write good stuff, and sometimes I write crap, which is true for anyone, but I’ve had no idea why. If something is shitty, I just rewrite and rewrite it till it gets good, without taking concrete steps.

More cases in point: besides my Young Adult novel, I’ve never successfully finished a novel. I’ve completed two novels, in that there was a beginning, middle, and end, but they didn’t quite work. I’ve done three NaNoWriMo’s, and while I wrote 50,000 words for each, none of those novels were successful. Recently, I started a new novel but got stuck at 30 pages.

That’s because I’ve been doing it wrong all this time.

John Truby (who I keep wanting to call “John Storey”) basically says that a mistake a lot of writers make is that they have a vague premise, a hero, and then without much else planning, they just start writing. I’m guilty of this. The most I do is make a character list with general descriptions, and map out the story events. That’s it. According to Truby’s book, I’ve left out about a billion other things, such as:

The Seven Key Steps of Story Structure, which consists of the hero’s:

  1. Weakness and need (both psychological – only hurting the hero – and moral, hurting others)
  2. Desire (differs from the “need,” which the hero usually doesn’t know till after their revelation)
  3. Opponent
  4. Plan
  5. Battle

Character Web, basically how the different characters relate to the hero, and their desires, weaknesses, etc. I’ve been guilty of creating characters willy nilly without thinking much about how they relate to the hero.

Moral Argument. All the characters, not just the hero, act upon this moral argument.

Story World. This could be in nature (a mountain, a river, the ocean, space) or manmade (the warm house, the terrifying house, a city, a building). The point is the events should occur within that story world. If you have more than one, you most likely have a “fish out of water” scenario (which my book will have) and you don’t want to spend too much time in the first world. There’s more about the story world being a manifestation of the hero’s needs, weaknesses, and desires.

Last night I watched American Horror Story for the first time. In between having the shit scared out of me, I kept thinking about how the house is a “terrifying house,” using Truby’s vernacular, and how it’s manifesting the family’s fears and troubles in a cool and disturbing way. Then the other night, I tried watching Terra Nova (emphasis on tried), and I kept rolling my eyes when each character just happened upon a love interest.

“It’s dumb because it’s random,” I told MB, “and not organic to the story.”

The love interests in, say, Buffy the Vampire Slayer arose organically from the story. Buffy doesn’t fall in love with some random guy but Angel, a vampire with a soul who later tragically loses his soul.

Anyway, I’m only about halfway through the book, and what I wrote about is just the tip of the iceberg. What I’m sort of ticked off about is that I didn’t learn this stuff in writing school. Sure, people would talk vaguely about the “dramatic arc” and being “organic” to the story, but they didn’t say how to do it. It was implied that either you knew how or you didn’t, and the only way to learn was to read “great” books and stories, and keep writing. Of course you should do both those things, but I would have loved to have had a class on purely story structure too.


  1. My copy of “The Anatomy of a Story” arrived today. Guess what I’m doing tonight?

  2. […] of a Story, by John Truby. I’ve written about this book a lot already (here, here, here, and here), and in case you couldn’t tell, I’m really into it. It’s […]

  3. […] of TV!). I got invited to speak at the BlogHer Writers’ Conference and had a great time. I finished reading John Truby’s Anatomy of a Story, went through all the exercises, and planned my novel. I […]