Tag Archives: planning

Forget the writer’s sandwich

You know the writer’s sandwich: a story had to have a beginning, a middle and an end? Well, forget about it.

Here is another way: you play with the characters, the place for your story, the relationship between your characters until you have a story that holds the ground and has enough tensive quality (some call it conflict, but to me it’s too strong a word) that you know it’s going to make a great story. Let me illustrate this with the story I wrote for a film script.

I had this idea about the story of a woman who has a phobia of churches and who goes to a hypnotherapist to get cured. She is desperate to get over it because she is getting married in the summer. That was the first idea. Initially the starting scene was taking place in my house. What I mean is that I visioned the girl coming to my practice which was easy to imagine because I am a clinical hypnotherapist and this is routine work for me. So in my mind, I played with the idea for a while. This girl was a lawyer and really not the usual client for a hypnotherapist but she had been dragged in by her best friend, who swore by hypnotherapy. Great start. I thought. I still do. But as the story progressed, the venue wasn’t so right anymore, so I transported everyone to London (I live in a little village north of Bristol) because this lawyer was quite a high flying chick and that didn’t fit with my semi-rural England setting. London did. And I knew about living in London. I revised my first draft and played with the story some more.

Then, I realised that there was not enough tension in her relationship to her friend. It was too “nice”. Her best friend had quit smoking with a lady hypnotherapist, so she was dragging her best friend there. There was no potential conflict between them. No good. As I was playing with my story, I suddenly had an insight into their friendship. Her best friend was actually her Fiancé’s ex and she hadn’t really got over him. Only she was denying it so she would act out. Hey hey, I said to myself. Much better.

I am not going to reveal anymore of my plot here but you can see that I deepened my story not because of the classic writing sandwich: a middle stuck between a beginning and an end. My story got depth by me playing with the characters, the venue and the setting (modern England). I am sorry if the writer’s sandwich has worked for you up to now. And if that is the case, by all means continue to use it. But if you got stuck or if the sandwich hasn’t worked for you, try this more creative approach. Get to know your characters. See how the venue introduces a cultural element to the story that informs it. Change the venue and see how it changes the story.

to your creativity,

Ange de Lumiere

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The blank page

Where do you start writing your book? You have a blank page in front of you and you are full of ideas and perhaps fears too. How are you going to birth that baby?

You start with an idea. And then you need to ask yourself three questions:

  • What is your book about?
  • What is its purpose?
  • Who is your reader?

I suggest you take a long time reflecting on those three questions. Take notes of the different kinds of answers that come up. It could take some time. Don’t rush. Because if you rush, you will be like an explorer going out on an adventure without a map and without a destination. You might want to explore the ancient art of meditation to quiet your mind to gain clarity. Otherwise your mind might be too busy and cluttered.

Let’s say I want to write a book about death. It’s a non fiction book. I am clear about that but books about death can also be fiction. There are so many different angles to that topic. It could be a book about the different cultures relating to death with a more anthropological point of view.

What is the purpose of my book? I want my book to help people get over their fear of death. I also want death not to be such a big taboo in the part of the world where I live. Once I know the purpose of my book, some chapter ideas start to spring to life. I can see chapters about other cultures that embrace death and the difference that it makes: as it is not a taboo, people are not isolated in death houses (some people call them hospitals) at the time of death and usually die at home surrounded by their loved ones.

Last who is my reader? In this case, I want my readership to be as wide as possible. From Jo Blog to someone who might work in a hospital. But I could have opted to write a book specifically geared for nurses and doctors to help them support their clients and themselves through a process that can be gradually numb you and make you insensitive, if you don’t manage it right.

You can see that by asking these three questions I have a much clearer vision of what my book is going to be about. Once I have done that, and taken the time to reflect enough to clarify my vision I can write a “mission statement” for my book. I need to be able to describe in 25 words (no more) what my book is about. Let’s see.

MY BOOK IS AN INSPIRATIONAL BOOK ABOUT DEATH WHICH OFFERS STRATEGIES AND STORIES TO IMPROVE THE STANDARD OF DYING AND LIFT THE TABOO AROUND IT.

I was lucky, I hit precisely 25 words on my first try. This is called an elevator pitch. The idea is that you sum up your book so clearly that if you were to bump into the commissioning editor of YOUR first choice of publisher in a lift and only had a few seconds to pitch to him or her, your choice of words would be so powerful that they would hire you on the spot, provided of course this was something that they specialise in.

Once you have a clear pitch you are happy with, I suggest you print and frame it and keep it by your desk. This will keep you from the temptation of digressing. And believe me it’s a very real temptation. It will come and distract you again and again, making you include in your book things that will dilute it or take away it’s drive. Regularly refer back to this pitch and ask yourself the question: “Is what I just wrote serving the purpose of my book?” I have scrapped entire chapters of books after asking this question and it made my books better and more dynamic.

To your creativity

Ange de Lumiere

New Year resolutions: how to make them work

How many of us have made New Year resolutions? Or decided on looking back at the end of the year that we wished we had done this or that and not let time slip and nothing happened?

Here are a few pointers to make your new year resolutions (whatever you call them) work:

  1. Make them specific: don’t say “I want to write my novel this year”, say “I commit to writing one page per day”
  2. Break them into small steps: this may seem very similar to point nb 1 but you could say “I commit to writing 400 pages to complete my novel” which is specific but you could end up doing nothing because it is far too overwhelming. Committing to four pages a day is more reasonable.
  3. Break them into realistic steps: Even after you have broken down your goal into small steps, If you have a life packed to the brim, four pages a day might still be impossible. So work on the goal so it is actually achievable. Four pages a day might work for me, but what would work for you could be twenty pages per week-end. Or your first step might be to actually declutter your life so you have more time to write and that might involve learning to say no. Don’t run before you can walk. If that is the case, learn to say no. When you have mastered the art of saying no gracefully (that can take time), assess if that has created the space for you to commit to your writing. Then assess how you can break down the time into regular writing slots and commit to them. This might take six months. If you have a baby, it might take more. If you measure your success by something like a finished book, you will feel like a failure. But if you measure your success by a detailed plan of how to get from A to B, then even if there is supposedly nothing to show for it, you will have made progress as long as you can tick the small steps leading up to your big dream.
  4. Tie up a time schedule to your steps: if you don’t, you might find that you constantly let others things come first. Realise that your dreams and aspirations have to be on the top of your priority list. With things such a writing, especially if you have a day job, are a parent or have lots of friends, there will always be something more important. Not to mention that you might create something more important because of your own inner critic. So commit. Have a calendar on the wall and plan your week so you can achieve your small goals. Don’t be rigid but be committed.
  5. Make sure you reward yourself with something small when you reach one of your targets or goals. Have a nice walk in fresh air. Get that special latte. Watch your favourite TV programme or listen to some music.

For example, I have committed to writing three blogs per week for the month of January. It’s a little challenge I have set for myself. So here is the first one. Let’s see if I can keep the challenge.

The best to your creativity and your new year resolutions

Ange de Lumiere