Three Writing Craft Concepts
Understanding writing craft concepts and a writer’s ability to apply them to their work can be the difference between a published manuscript and another draft hidden in a drawer.
As a developmental editor, I read a lot of unpublished work. The drafts vary in their “finishedness”. Some are almost ready to query, while others are in a first draft state and need to be torn down and rebuilt from the ground up.
Any of these manuscripts could end up published. Any of these manuscripts could fail. Many different things need to fall in place for a manuscript to find an agent or a publisher.
But here’s three writing craft concepts that writers can use to improve the chances that their manuscript will cross the finish line.
Writing Craft Concept Number One
Characters Need Objectives
We all want something. Everyone has a goal. This is what we call an “objective.”
I had an objective when I sat down to write this. My objective was to write a useful blog post that would help writers improve their craft. It’s also true that I want to promote myself as an editor and an author, but those are secondary. My primary objective here is to help writers improve their craft. That’s what we would call a super-objective.
If characters don’t actively want something, they don’t need to act.
Each paragraph or section has its own objective. For example, in this post, the opening introduces the reader to what the blog will cover. Each section provides information about a different aspect of the writing craft. The section at the end tells you about my most recent novel and how to find out about my editing services.
Just like I have a super-objective for the overall post, and smaller objectives in each section, your characters have an overall objective for the entire arc of the story and each chapter or scene has smaller objectives, which all lead toward the larger objective.
Manuscripts filled with characters that lack objectives tend to wander. If characters don’t actively want something, they don’t need to act. Manuscripts are built on characters wanting something, acting on that want, and failing to achieve the super-objective until the end.
The super-objective and the objectives of each scene propel the characters through the story. The protagonist drives the action of the scenes by working toward their super-objective. It’s what gives a story its sense of forward momentum.
Writing Craft Concept Number Two
Stories Have Throughlines
Similar to having a super-objective, which drives characters through a story, the story itself needs a throughline, which drives readers through the manuscript. What is the overall point of this specific manuscript? Is there a big question the author sets out for the reader and how is it answered by the end? Does every scene in the manuscript connect to the spine? Making the overall story feel active and focused?
Just as characters need objectives, the manuscript has objectives too. Whether to inform, entertain, shock, or amuse, a manuscript takes a position. It tells a story for a reason.
One way to think about this concept is what I call the “Big Question.” Every story asks a question at the beginning, which is answered by the end. It could be who killed Jane Doe or will John Doe survive being lost in the wilderness? It could be will Jane Doe rise to the top and become the first female CEO of the company or will John Doe finally find true love?
Regardless of the genre, something is asked in the beginning, which is answered by the end.
Another way to think about this is to imagine a spine. Every part of the body is connected to the spine. Every scene in the manuscript is connected to the spine, and just as the leg moves the body, the scene moves the manuscript by impacting other parts of the total picture.
Writing Craft Concept Number Three
Stories Require Action
A lot of people talk about show versus tell with regards to the craft of writing. This concept can also be understood as action versus description. Do we see characters act or are we told what they do? Do we see characters react to events or are we told how they react?
Description has its place in storytelling. But it can’t replace active scenes. Think of description as filling out the manuscript. Description is the side dish to the main course. Description helps us see the world where the action takes place. It gives readers a complete picture of what the environment look, smells, tastes like. It provides readers a more complex understanding of the experience.
But it doesn’t take the place of the active events. Each event forces a reaction. Character A does something, to which Character B must respond. Repeat.
The more a writer can show action rather than tell, the stronger the overall narrative.
Long ago, when theatre first started up formally in Greece, the word “theatron” joined the lexicon, from which we get the modern word “theater”. It meant “viewing place”. In other words, it was where the audience sat so they could see events. They did not call it the “hearing place”. Drama requires action. We want to see what people will do just as much as we want to hear what they say.
There’s a lot more to writing than just these three writing craft concepts, but these three are ones I consider crucial for strong storytelling. Hopefully I’ve met my super-objective and this was a useful blog with concepts you can apply to your writing!
Want to learn more about the craft of writing?
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Elena Taylor is the author of All We Buried, available now in print, e-book, and audio book format at all your favorite on-line retailers. And don’t forget many independent bookstores can order books for you and have them shipped to your home or for curbside pickup.
For more information on All We Buried, click on the link here to visit the home page.
Interested in working with Elena? Visit Allegory Editing for more information. Click the link here.
Pencil photo on Pixabay.
Skeleton photo on Pixabay.
Goal photo on Pixabay.
Greek Theatre on Pixabay.
Header photo on Pixabay.