We take this quick timeout from our series on “The Help” to offer the stage to Shane Arthur, who runs a cool website called “Writing Prompts,” with a very engaging exercise called the Creative Copy Challenge.”
You may want in on this: he invites people to offer ten random, interesting words, then readers respond with a sort of flash fiction short (very) story that somehow uses them in the narrative. Shane is also a very astute student of storytelling and — largely because of what you’ll read here — a budding bestselling author.
The Matrix Moment of Story Engineering
by Shane Arthur
Imagine this: You’re at a bookstore. The clerk bags your book, hands you the receipt and smiles at you like a proud father. He reminds you of someone, but you can’t grab onto it at the moment.
When you go home and peek inside the bag, you’re astonished to find not one, but two books sitting there.
One is the book you bought; the other resembles the scene in The Matrix where Neo becomes The One and can suddenly see everything in zeros and ones. It takes you a moment to realize, but this second book is a blueprint, the structural engineering of what makes the first book great.
The two books merge into one. And suddenly, you know everything.
You know that even if you take the blue pill and don’t pursue your dream of writing books, you’ll be a master observer of proper storytelling, not the mindless reader-drone you once were.
And you know that if you take the red pill and embrace this story engineering to its fullest, you’ll have the necessary tools to transform yourself from a frustrated hopeful into a successful, published author.
Interesting to imagine, no?
Fantastic transformations will occur when you study story engineering. Whether it’s Larry’s book or somewhere else (though it’s tough to find this clearly somewhere else), it’ll change your writing experience forever.
I know, because I used to read books and see weird spacing between paragraphs and think they were … wait for it … just weird spacing between paragraphs.
Even after reading six or seven how-to-write books, I’m embarassed to admit my mind just didn’t click that these were official markings of scene changes. I knew the author had switched focus, but I had no idea of the structural significance of it.
Think about it; have you ever counted these scene changes and comtemplated their number, lengths, and overall effect on pacing, character development, and story? I never had until I participated in Larry’s book deconstructions. I used to read just for fun.
Where I once saw interesting developments inside stories, I now see purposeful hooks, plot points, pinch points, and character and story arcs. Who knew each had a name?
Where I once saw random coincidences that reminded me of something I’d read earlier in a story, I now see skillful foreshadowing and revelation.
Where I once thought how lucky an author was to have the ability to pull everything together, I now know luck was nowhere in the storytelling equation. Skilled, thoroughly crafted story planning was. And now I realize, planning isn’t the real issue (though I’m with Larry on that issue… highly recommended), knowing is, and that if a pantser knows, they too can make it work.
And where I once bought books to enjoy, I now buy books to enjoy on one hand, and learn from as a student of storytelling technique on the other. I love two-for-one steals.
I could mention a dozen more specifics as to how Story Engineering has heightened my understanding of storytelling, but I’ll summarize my amazing journey with a quote from The Matrix …
“I know Kung Fu!”
Writing a memoir? Writers Digest is offering an online workshop on how its done. I’ve taken several of these, and they put out a great experience. Click HERE to learn more.