Daily Writing Tip 68 of 100, How Setting Acts As Your Story Backbone

For one hundred days, I’m going to post a writing tip each day. I have a whole bookshelf full of writing books and I want to do some reading and increased studying of this valuable resource. This will help me keep track of anything I’ve learned, and help motivate me to keep going. If anyone has a favorite tip of their own to add, contact me. I’d love to put it up here.

Today’s tip – How Setting Acts As Your Story Backbone

Source – Setting, How To Create and Sustain A Sharp Sense of Time and Place in Your Fiction by Jack M. Bickham

A common problem in writing a long story, especially something as lengthy as a novel, has to do with story unity or cohesion. “I have six subplots going, and how do I keep a sense of unity in my story was so many?” A writer may ask. Or: “I simply must change viewpoint several times, but what can I do to maintain a sense of coherent, cohesive story line?” Or (scariest of all): “My story seems to be flying all to pieces and I don’t know how to hold all the diverse elements together.”

Expert use of setting can often provide an answer to such questions.

Setting – especially the concrete, physical setting experienced through the senses of the characters or described in an occasional panorama by the author – can provide a constant, stable, reassuringly familiar backdrop against which all manners of diverse plot developments can be played out.

There are so many works of fiction that seem to be completely integrated with their setting (Moby Dick, The Shipping News, Heart of Darkness, anything set in London or New York)- that their setting actually becomes another main character – often the most interesting one.

Daily Writing Tip 66 of 100, Exploring a Story’s Meaning And Purpose

For one hundred days, I’m going to post a writing tip each day. I have a whole bookshelf full of writing books and I want to do some reading and increased studying of this valuable resource. This will help me keep track of anything I’ve learned, and help motivate me to keep going. If anyone has a favorite tip of their own to add, contact me. I’d love to put it up here.

Today’s tip – Exploring a Story’s Meaning And Purpose

Source – Developing Story Ideas by Michael Rabiger

Structural and effectiveness analyses only begin to uncover a story’s meaning. These further questions will help you decide how a story acts—or might act—on its audience:

  • What genre is this story and under what rules does its world usually run?
  • What patterns can you see that might be significant to the story’s meaning?
  • Who is the point of view (POV) character (meaning, through whose feelings and viewpoint do we mainly experience the events)?
  • What forces does the story make this character (or these characters) confront, and why?
  • What are the qualities of the main characters and what can we expect of them at the outset?
  • Does anyone in the story develop (that is, learn, change, or grow)?
  • When you compare the story’s end with its beginning, what major changes have taken place and what do they signify?
  • Does the story stay within its genre or does it break out of that genre in any way?
  • Taking the story as a whole, How does it want to act on us?
  • What does it say about the individual in relation to the way the world works? (This is often expressed as “the individual in relation to the laws of the universe”).
  • What is the story’s premise (that is, what is its content and purpose expressed in one or two pithy sentences)?
  • What is its theme? (That is, what embracing truth does it seek to establish? Examples: “Crime doesn’t pay” or “Women don’t make passes at boys wearing glasses.”)

There are these and so many other questions that need to be asked and answered in the story crafting process. I think it is very important to not ask these questions until the first draft is finished. Otherwise, at worst you will be intimidated into never writing the damn thing – at best spontaneous creativity will be suppressed.

Remember – writing isn’t writing, editing is writing. Save all this boring crap for the second through tenth drafts.

Daily Writing Tip 43 of 100, The Meaning of Fiction

For one hundred days, I’m going to post a writing tip each day. I have a whole bookshelf full of writing books and I want to do some reading and increased studying of this valuable resource. This will help me keep track of anything I’ve learned, and help motivate me to keep going. If anyone has a favorite tip of their own to add, contact me. I’d love to put it up here.

Today’s tip – The Meaning of Fiction

Source – “Writing Short Stories” from Mystery and Manners, by Flannery O’Connor

I prefer to talk about the meaning in a story rather than the theme of a story. People talk about the theme of a story as if the theme were like the string that a sack of chicken feed is tied with. They think that if you can pick out the theme, the way you pick the right thread in the chicken-feed sack, you can rip the story open and feed the chickens. But this is not the way meaning works in fiction.

When you can state the theme of a story, when you can separate it from the story itself, then you can be sure the story is not a very good one. The meaning of a story has to be embodied in it, has to be made concrete in it. A story is a way to say something that can’t be said any other way, and it takes every word in the story to say what the meaning is. You tell a story because a statement would be inadequate. When anybody asks what a story is about, the only proper thing is to tell him to read the story. The meaning of fiction is not abstract meaning but experienced meaning, and the purpose of making statements about the meaning of a story is only to help you experience that meaning more fully.

This is such a truth about writing and reading. I know a few literature instructors I have met over the decades that need to read this carefully and take it to heart.