So, you’re a writer, or a budding writer, or an aspiring writer, and you want to learn how to improve? Jonathan McKinney, author of the Schildmaids Saga, has a helpful series of blogs that can help.
Welcome to the first instalment of my new blog series, Story Craft For Writers. Every Saturday, I’m going to take a piece of existing fiction and deconstruct it, and analyse it, so that together we can learn from it. It might be a scene from a book, or from a TV show or movie; it might be, for example, the way that an entire story is structured—but it will always be a critical look at something that’s made its way into the world and, to some extent or another, succeeded.
If you’re wondering how it’s going to work, I’ll explain. I might take a scene that’s been really expertly put together. I’ll take it apart, explain what the author was doing, what techniques he or she was using, and put it back together; and in doing so I’ll reveal how we can apply the same techniques to the composition of our own scenes.
Some weeks I’ll focus on creating strong dialogue. Other weeks, I’ll focus on strong character moments. As we go forward I’ll look at theme, and at conflict; I’ll look at particularly effective foreshadowing; and I’ll look endlessly at one of the greatest, most important things of all: character goals.
(Quick tip: Unless every single one of your characters wants things, you have a problem. But you know that already.)
Now, it’s important that you, dear writer, understand that you won’t have to have read everything I talk about, or watched it if it’s a movie or TV show. This is not a book club. This is like school. Within each blog I will provide all of the context necessary for you to understand what all the characters want, what they’re working towards, and what the stakes are. So, obviously, there will be massive spoilers in every blog. I will make it very clear which work I’m looking at well before you dive in, if there are things that you’re precious about keeping unspoiled.
(My advice, though: forget spoilers, come learn. It’s going to be fun, and I swear it’ll get your brain all excited to sit down at your keyboard and start writing.)
Next week, when I begin this series properly, I’m going to look at a scene from Nail Gaiman’s fantasy novel Neverwhere, from 1996. Again, please don’t rush out and read the book in order to prepare for this. You won’t have to. It won’t help at all. By all means, go and read it, but do so for the fun of it.
For, I will explain the necessaries.
The following week I have it in my mind to talk about a scene from an episode of the increasingly idyllic-looking TV show, The West Wing—but I may change my mind before then, if something else jumps out at me.
I will try to mix things up. I want to get to a breakdown of the climax of Matt Haig’s The Radleys; I want to deconstruct Marvel Studios’ Guardians of the Galaxy; and, when it comes to storytelling excellence, I will fall back regularly on the works of Joss Whedon (the overlord), as well as regularly checking into Stars Hollow for examples of incredibly energetic dialogue.
I may occasionally want to throw a Tarantino in. (Trigger warnings at the ready.) And, I would like to look closely at some of Terry Pratchett’s work too, especially for the construction of wonderful characters.
So there’s your basic gist. Come with me. If you don’t learn how to put together better scenes, better characters, better stories … your money back.
Oh! I should also mention that, from time to time, the analysis might not be positive. I might want to look at storytelling choices that maybe don’t work. I promise, though, I’ll be respectful. I don’t like hating on stuff people work hard on and invest themselves into. That said, if we can improve by looking at scenes that fail, I’m cool with it.
And that’s about it for now.
(Final point: I’m not going to perpetually crucify the adverb. For, ‘Adverbs are fine,’ I said tiredly.)
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Peace and love, fellow writer. Go and write.