Tag Archives: story

Writer vs. Storyteller

photo-on-18-10-2016-at-11-02-amI’m stuck in the middle of my WIP (that’s why I’m writing this post instead of writing-writing) because the Writer and Storyteller in my head are fighting. I’m just under 50K words into what I think is a complex, layered, deeply nuanced character study, which the Writer is totally in love with. But now the Storyteller is trying to crash the party with questions like: Is the storyline strong enough to pull the reader along?

Writer: I don’t care what the reader thinks. I just care about my character.
Storyteller: I’m sorry, did you just say you don’t care about the reader?
Writer: I didn’t mean it. Of course I care about the reader. I’ve worked so hard on this characterisation — won’t it be enough to pull them along?
Storyteller: I don’t think so.
Writer: Then how about elegant sentences, and beautiful punctuation?
Storyteller: How about a plot twist in act three?
Writer: That would make it contrived.
Storyteller: That would make it a story.
Writer: It would cheapen the whole thing.
Storyteller: No it wouldn’t.
Writer: Yes, it would.
Storyteller: No.
Writer: Yes.
Storyteller: What about Peter Temple?
Writer: What about Peter Temple?
Storyteller: You’re always going on about how much you like him, and he does both.
Writer: I like — believe in, care about, fall in love with — his characters (and his stylish prose). I couldn’t care less about his plots. In fact I think they interfere with the characterisation.
Storyteller: That’s ridiculous.
Writer: And I still don’t get why there were chocolate wrappers in the bin at the end of The Broken Shore.
Storyteller: *Sigh* How many times do I have to tell you — I think it’s an implication of how Cashin will eventually, sometime in a future book, solve the mystery of what happened to the missing boys who made the ceramic pots back in 1988.
Writer: You have no idea either.
Storyteller: Margaret Atwood is good at both too.
Writer: I love Margaret Atwood.
Storyteller: David Mitchell.
Writer: I didn’t love Cloud Atlas.
Storyteller: I did.
Writer: You would. How about The Bell Jar?
Storyteller: Let’s not have that argument again. So what are we going to do?
Writer: About what?
Storyteller: Our story, for fucks sake!
Writer: Sorry, I was just thinking about the way the green light from the motel’s ‘Vacancy’ sign shimmers in a rain river along the ground to Dean Cola’s feet, just before Sidney leaves town with him.
Storyteller: Oh my God, you’ve just given away the ending!
Writer: That bit won’t be there if you get your way with the plot twist.
Storyteller: So you do want to give it a try?
Writer: I didn’t say that.
Storyteller: We’ll foreshadow it right from the start.
Writer: And if I don’t like it, I could take it out?
Storyteller: Of course.
Writer: I could do it with TrackChanges turned on — like a safety net, just in case.
Storyteller: You know we stopped using TrackChanges long ago. And you’re too stubborn to try Scrivener.
Writer: If it’s wrong, changing it back would be so much work, when I could be polishing prose instead.
Storyteller: You’ve done it before. Remember how many times you rewrote Please Don’t Leave Me Here?
Writer: *Curls up in corner and starts to cry*
Storyteller: You’ve learnt a lot since then.
Writer: No, I haven’t.
Storyteller: You — I mean I know what I’m doing now.
Writer: I’m not so sure.
Storyteller: Stop being a baby! It’ll be fine.
Writer: It might not be.
Storyteller: Then rewrite it again. And again, until it is fine.
Writer: But …
Storyteller: You know I’m right. Trust me.
Storyteller: Trust me.
Writer: OK.

The P word

I confess to being a pantser who really wants to be a plotter. There are terrific books around about plotting — mostly written by screen writers — including Screenplay by Syd Field, Story by Robert McKee and Save The Cat by Blake Snyder. I really want to read them, and one day I will get around to it.

In the meantime, I follow a very simple, foolproof 🙂 method for planning my stories. [Just in case you’re somewhere out there reading this, Graeme Simsion, look away now!] It’s pretty much the same thing they’re teaching my daughter in grade Prep-2: you’ve got to have a beginning, a middle and an ending. Act one, act two and act three. Syd Field says: set-up, confrontation and resolution.

Close to the start of your beginning (set-up) you need to have an inciting incident — the event that kicks off the whole story (Cinderella’s invitation to the ball; the three little pigs refuse to give in to the wolf’s demands; a giant shark kills a swimmer on Amity beach). Towards the end of your beginning you need to have a plot point — another incident, which changes the direction of the story and propels it into the middle (confrontation).

Towards the end of your middle (confrontation), you need to have another plot point, which again changes the story direction just before your ending (resolution).

Your ending (resolution) should contain a climax — the highest point of tension, the big moment your story’s been building up to the whole time (Cinderella tries on the glass slipper; the third little pig confronts the wolf; water-phobic Sheriff Brody faces the giant killer shark). The climax should be related to the inciting incident.

Too easy? I wish.

plotting notes

I find Syd Field’s Paradigm Worksheet helpful for planning my beginning, middle and ending.

Once I have my story foundation in place, I like to use Nigel Watts’s eight point story arc as a tool for building up the structure.

Watts’s eight points are:
1. Stasis
2. Trigger
3. The quest
4. Surprise
5. Critical choice
6. Climax
7. Reversal
8. Resolution

You could read Watts’s book, or take a look at this Daily Writing Tips post, which explains the basics of the eight point story structure.

The Hero’s Journey is another narrative outline worth googling or reading about.

Once I’m pretty sure the story-house I’ve built is not going to fall over (and even if it does, I can always make repairs, additions or renovations), I start writing. From here, I let my characters take the car (mixing metaphors, I know!) and drive the story where it wants to go, and I adjust the plot accordingly. For me, character is as important as — if not more important than — plot.

Some wise words from Graeme Simsion, plot guru: Plotting vs Pantsing — Why I’m a Plotter | Graeme Simsion

And finally, my favourite storytelling rules:

Where the hell does writing come from?

I hate writing; I only like rewriting. Looking at things I’ve written, I usually struggle to recall how I wrote them or where the ideas even came from. Somehow words have just appeared on the page, magically. I think this writing amnesia is similar to the kind that kicks in after childbirth — a defence mechanism because it’s so painful.

This morning I caught myself in between the godawful blank page and the ‘where did that come from’ stage? I stopped and made a conscious effort to take note of how I got from one to the other.

Two days ago, I was staring blankly at the gap between chapters seven and eight of my work in progress, where I had written put something here. Yesterday I updated that to Sidney goes to work. Maybe Mac comes in to meet her after work? Thirteen words in two days!

I have this character, Macallister, who was my protagonist Sidney’s boss in the hellhole office where she works (any resemblance to places I have worked is completely coincidental). While Sid was ‘away’ (in the psych ward) for reasons that are becoming increasingly sinister, Mac resigned from his job. Mac was off the page at the start, and I thought I’d probably delete him altogether at some stage, but there is this line about him in Sid’s thoughts that made me think perhaps he is an important character. What if something had happened between Sid and Mac just before the ECT, which wiped her short-term memory, and she doesn’t remember?

This morning, I finally did some writing. I started with dialogue — slabs and slabs of boring dialogue. I just let my characters talk to each other at the pub for a while to see what would happen. What came out of these conversations between Sid and Mac was a strong sense of unease. Sid had confided in Mac something that she can’t remember; she was afraid of something, maybe of her husband; Mac is worried about her; she dismisses his concerns, saying it had been the illness talking. There is so much tension between these two characters. Maybe they had an affair? Yes! No. But I think maybe Mac wanted to.

I uncovered clearer character motivations as I chipped off the boring bits of dialogue that didn’t create tension or reveal character. Next, I added action between the dialogue, and then description and sensory detail. I will add more setting details when I decide on a pub location and go there to do some ‘research’. I also did the pathetic fallacy thing with the weather — a wild electrical storm — reflecting the calamity that’s going on beneath my character’s skin.

Now for the fun bit: rewriting. I’ll polish, and move bits around, and then move them back, and then move them again. I’ll delete bits, and then reinstate them, and then delete them again. And again. And again. And then I’ll go onto the next section.

book-1012275_960_720 (4)Having done this twice before, I trust in the process, and know that I will eventually get to the end of an entire first draft. Then I’ll rewrite the whole thing a gazillion times. It will become a blur and, in the end, I will look at the words on the page and wonder where the hell they came from.

Twas the night before publication

I started writing books when I was about five years old. Now — after, I’m not going to say how many years — I’ve finally got one published. Publication was a dream I never thought would come true …

That’s the opening of my book launch speech. My dream has come true; I got what I wished for. So how does it really feel? Well, I have this lump at the back of my throat, I feel like I’m constantly about to vomit; and I thought I was getting a cold, but it’s actually some kind of stress-related allergy.

Publication of your book is a bit like your child leaving home. There’s nothing you can do except hope they’ll be OK out there alone in the world.

Go, Little Book (by Geoffrey Chaucer)

Go, litel book, go litel myn tregedie,
Ther god thy maker yet, er that he dye,
So sende might to make in som comedie!
But litel book, no making thou n’envye,
But subgit be to alle poesye;
And kis the steppes, wher-as thou seest pace
Virgile, Ovyde, Omer, Lucan, and Stace.

Research trip: packing

I’m packing for my book research trip (not ‘a holiday’ as my kids keep saying) to the Gippsland Lakes. Not a big deal for a normal person. But it is for me — somebody who hasn’t done anything alone for twelve years and who seldom ventures beyond Richmond … Woohoo!


Laptop, manuscript, books, wine, coffee. Have I forgotten anything?

My book is like Frozen

If you have a young child, you will probably know all about the Disney movie Frozen — and the savvy marketing that has filled our home with Frozen merchandise.

I’ve watched the movie over and over with my five-year-old. Although my novel — a psychological/crime thriller — is full of sex and drugs, and a little bit of rock ‘n’ roll (definitely not for children), I think it’s a lot like Frozen!

Elsa-and-Anna-Frozen book






  • It’s set partly in the past and partly in the present.
  • My protagonist is a bit like Elsa (the accidental perpetrator wrestling a guilty secret), and a bit like Anna (the awkward innocent).
  • ‘True love’ is not who you expect.
  • Ultimately it’s about acceptance and letting go.



Letting go of a story

I don’t know where you came from, why you chose me, or if you existed inside me for some time before I gave you life. You were never easy to live with, but every day I nurtured you. As you grew, I grew. I learnt so much about myself from writing you. Some mornings I couldn’t wait to see you at 5.00am and some times I felt like deleting you, but I never gave up on you.

Leonardo da Vinci said: ‘Art is never finished, only abandoned’. I don’t know how I’ll survive without you and I’m scared of what could happen to you out in the world, but it’s time to ‘abandon’ you, to let you go.