Hello, writers. Children's and YA author Walter Dean Myers died yesterday, three months after issuing a call to action in the New York Times for more diversity in children's literature.
As a child I remember loving his novels about the adventures of children in Harlem. These were not the books would make him famous, but they were good fun, very kid-oriented and with hilarious dialogue.
Unfortunately I think that in an increasingly competitive children's book market (three times as many children's titles are published annually as were before the Potterquake) the presence of protagonists of color in children's books-- and, most especially, on the covers of children's books-- is proportionately worse than when I was a kid in the 70s.
At one of the children's authors' conferences I attended earlier this year, some writers were talking about Save the Cat by Blake Snyder. It's a book about screenwriting, but several folks at the conference said they found it useful.
Not wanting to buy yet another writing book without knowing if I'd even make it through, I went to the library and ordered it through ILL. They weren't able to obtain it, but eventually unearthed a posthumously self-published (wait, that doesn't sound right) sequel, Save the Cat Strikes Back.
So I read that, and I read some blogs devoted to the Save the Cat story process. There's also a Save the Cat website that sells Save the Cat software. The essential idea is that all movies, and possibly all stories, are divided into 15 major “beats”, which go on the beat sheet, and which are part of a total of 40 “beats”, occurring in three acts. And large segments of the internet seem to be devoted to pointing out that similar formulae have been put forward in the past, or to defending this formula. Save the Cat is divisive, apparently.
Personally, I didn't like the book much. I realize it was intended for screenplay writers, but novelists are apparently using it, and I couldn't help but notice that none of my novels have followed the universal story pattern it lays out. And I found the boisterous tone a little off-putting. (Example: “Did I just blow your mind?”)
My searches for it in library catalogs turned up another book which I also ordered through ILL, and which I'm finding more useful. It's The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure for Storytellers and Screenwriters by Christopher Vogler.
I'm about halfway through this book. It's based on Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey, which we've discussed on Write On! in the past. It's very readable, and breaks down the various stages of the hero's journey and discusses different forms each might actually take. It's a more flexible version of the hero's journey than what Campbell wrote, really.
For example, in discussing the Threshold (stage 4 of the hero's journey), Vogler talks about the various kinds of characters who might guard the threshold, how they might be allies or enemies, or enemies whom the hero transforms into allies. And there may be repeated thresholds, and many guardians. (I realized this is always true in my books.)
(Thresholds, by the way, are often rivers. They may be caves or underground passages. They may be actual thresholds-- which, architecturally speaking, sometimes occur 7' or so below transoms. Or they may be social or psychological.)
Vogler suggests that all stories are hero's journeys. I'm not sure I agree with that; it seems like a stretch for some stories.
Anyway, I've filled the library's copy with sticky-notes, only one of which voices a complaint. (Tom Sawyer does not open with Tom painting the fence. Ouch.) I found the book quite useful for its discussion of story structure and, most particularly, different ways in which different stages of the story might be addressed.
Pick a story, any story. It can be your work in progress, the Neverending Quest for the Jewel of Togwogmagog, or something else from Write On!'s handy-dandy list o' scenarios:
- Belinda sees Lord Postlethwaite-Praxleigh (pronounced Puppy) leaving the ballroom on the arm of her rival, Adelaide, who isn’t even capable of appreciating all he went through in the Peninsular Wars
- The battle isn’t going so well for intrepid mercenary soldier Wallace Higginbotham.
-Incorruptible detective Scotty Blaine delivers a warning to the local mob boss.
-International superspy James Buns has been captured by an eccentric megalomaniac, who plans to use an elaborate invention to kill the hero and his unfortunately-named girlfriend.Show an encounter between your protagonist and a threshold guardian. This person may be an obstacle, an enemy, a guide, an ally, or some combination of the above.
Try to limit yourself to 150 words.
Write On! will be a regular weekly diary (Thurs 8 pm ET) until it isn't.
Before signing a contract with any agent or publisher, please be sure to check them out on Preditors and Editors, Absolute Write and/or Writer Beware.