Three Dirty Birds Talk Story Trumps Structure — Chapter 9



Three Dirty Birds is back, with more squawking about Story Trumps Structure–what we liked, what we didn’t like, when we felt like throwing the book at him.


Kate: My first problem with this chapter was his description of working through snags in the story as being the same as working through a tangle in your hair. Basically, he says you just go back to the beginning, read through the entire story again, and by the time you get to the snag, you’ll be able to move a little further in the story. Then you do it again.

That has never worked for me, either with my hair or my stories. If I’m snagged, I have to move past that point. Because what that snag tells me is that my brain needs to work out what’s coming up, so it knows what to put in the snagged section so everything makes sense. Same with my hair–work from the ends up. Otherwise, I end up scalped by brush.

Zoe: Yes, I got the sense he had no idea what his daughter was doing (or his daughter has no idea what she’s doing—maybe she got her advice from him). I find that if I keep backing up and working my way into the snag, it’s more like when your tires are stuck in mud, and you just work yourself deeper and deeper in.

Ana: Usually when I hit a snag it’s because something isn’t working. But that could be something in my backstory, the story so far, or my plans for the story’s future. Of course, he doesn’t have any such plans for what’s supposed to happen. My main problem with his ‘advice’ here is that I’m not really sure what he’s trying to tell me. Like, what…. read over my story over and over again until I figure it out? I usually just do some brainstorming.

Zoe: Like Kate, I often move on to a new part, because a lot of the time once you have where you’re going down, you can see what you need to fix/add/remove to get there.

Ana: I actually don’t get into snags very often. When I do it’s often because I don’t know where I’m going, or I’m not sure that I’m going in the right direction.

Kate: I always have the general shape of the story, the chapters, and the scenes in my head. All the time. (It gets very crowded in there sometimes.) But it’s the details that define what the transitions will be, what supporting scenes need to be added. Once I know the details, I can get past that snag, because they almost invariably occur in a transition.

Zoe: Yes, a lot of mine happen in transitions too. I hate transitions.

Kate: Transitions are the work of the devil. Like whiskey. Maybe that’s why whiskey helps?

Zoe: *makes a face* For me, the cure would be worse than the disease. I’ll stick with rum, thanks.

Kate: I’m sure rum would work too. That’s the caribbean devil.

Ana: But the rum’s always gone. (-lame movie reference-)

Kate: Which is why Zoe doesn’t invite Jack over often.

Zoe: Jack didn’t get rid of the rum. That spoilsport Elizabeth did. She’s never allowed over.

Ana: I could think of ways for Jack to pay for his rum.

Kate: You guys missed the typo, but Ana actually wrote ‘rump’.

Zoe: Anyway, Ms. Crankybird didn’t make a lot of notes in this chapter. Mostly she wants to know how she’s expected to get any writing done if she spends 3-4 hours every day first reading through what she’s already written, and then on page 130, she has a sticky note that says “Um.” That would be the part where he shits on self publishers: “If you’d rather not have to work and sweat over every sentence, every word, in draft after draft, don’t bother. … But don’t plan to get published. Or maybe just self-publish your book. That seems to be the preferred route people are taking today. Put your story through a few drafts, then send it out to the world. Ta-da! Look! I’m finished already!” Ms. Crankybird has only two words to wind up her thoughts at this point of the chapter. The first starts with F and the second ends with U. She also hopes that as we go into Part III: Story Progression next week Mr. James will get off plotters’ backs and just give useful advice.

Ana: Yeah, I could have done without his crap on self-publishing. It seems like he simply enjoys making assumptions about certain ‘types of people’ and painting them all with the same brush. First plotters now self-publishers.

Kate: It’s a shame he lets his personal issues with anyone who isn’t ‘like him’ get in the way of what he has to say. Because there is good stuff in this chapter. A bit repetitive, but he does talk about how much time you should spend on scenes, depending on how much importance you want your reader to place on them. It’s something I correct in critique group all the time, because it does lead to creating inappropriate promises, and slows down the story.

Zoe: Yes, I thought his advice on writing both “from” and “toward” was good: write from what has already happened and toward the promises you’ve made the reader (the payoff).

Ana: But don’t forget not to bend your story toward where you want it to go. (As opposed to letting it grow naturally.) I’m not sure what to think of that piece of advice. Sometimes we do have scenes in mind we want to happen. At least, I do. Then I end up rewriting the beginning to fit instead.

Kate: Yeah, I had a bit of a problem with that. I’m wondering if it’s more his wording than him thinking you can’t have definite signposts to aim for. Because I find it hard to believe that many people would jump into a genre novel and just start writing, without knowing their characters, without any assurance of a satisfying climax to come.

Ana: You can easily find some of those stories on the Internet. Most of them are incomplete, though. Wonder why…

Kate: So, I think if you dig a bit in this chapter, there’s some good information, some good guidance in it. But it could have been half as long, if he took out all the unnecessary judgment.

Zoe: Which could be said for this whole part of the book.

Kate: Yeah. He kind of went all “Judgy McJudgy-pants” on us in this section.

Agree, disagree, just want some rum? Let us know! As always, the next chapter discussion will be posted on Kate’s blog on Monday! And you can find the master list here.

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