Taming the Monster

By Anne B. Howard-  I am a writer. I’ve been serious about my craft for eight years, but have yet to publish a single work. Instead, I’ve maintained memberships in Memoir and Creative Non-Fiction writer’s associations, completed online and Community College courses on all aspects of composition, development, and polish, participated in critique groups, read and reread developmental-editing books, located my energetic markers, my major complication, the sub-complications, the major resolution, the sub-resolutions, my scene of origin, my protagonist’s primary goal, how she was transformed, and on, and on.

Through it all, I’ve tried, I really have, to apply what I’ve learned to the process of reshaping a flabby diary-like memoir into the compelling true story it is, with half the words. Each time, as I returned to the beginning and worked forward, searching for places to cut, I was hi-jacked by my compulsion to polish the prose. Three years later, I’m convinced that this way lies madness. I lost confidence in my ability to tell my own story.

The breakthrough came like a lightning bolt, via Twitter, when I clicked on a link to a book mentioned by Lisa Cron, author of Story Genius, in one of her blog posts. Lisa suggests that writers seeking help with developmental editing might refer to an “oldie but goodie” by Jon Franklin, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winning author, entitled Writing for Story.

On impulse, I ordered the book from Amazon and it has changed the way I think about writing. He opens with two original short stories, and refers to them throughout, illustrating the components of his developmental process. His unique style of outlining taught me how to distill my eight-hundred-page manuscript into an effective outline with five fundamental components, the major complication, three developmental focuses, and the resolution, using no more than three words for each (a noun, a strong concrete action verb, and a direct object). The resolution must match the major complication.

Naturally, there is much more to consider in the layering of a long-form novel or memoir, but, in every case, the fundamental “bones” remain same.

Once the outline has been solidified, and it takes more experimentation to get this right than one might guess, he advises the writer to begin at the end of your story, rather than the beginning, and “write that pivotal moment at the end of the last developmental focus, when the situation first crystallizes in your character’s mind. Follow it with transitional narrative that sets up the first scene of the resolution. Then, write on through until you reach the end of your story. Do it this way,” he says, “because the story does not pivot on the beginning, it pivots on the ending—so write that first. This way, you know exactly what it is that you need to foreshadow.” From there, Franklin lays a clear, easily understood blueprint for structuring any type of story, be it essay, memoir, non-fiction, fiction, etc.

Of all the resources I’ve previously tapped to help tame a monstrous writing project, Writing for Story by Jon Franklin, has made the most sense and been the most helpful to me. I hope that others who are struggling to restructure will find it just as helpful.

As a sideline, as long as I’m chatting up my favorite pro-writing advice, if you are a writer with a Twitter account, try following Jon Winokur @AdviceToWriters, and sign up to receive notifications of his tweets. Daily, I receive around ten bits of writing inspiration, from Jon and other well-known authors, flashed across my mobile device’s locked screen. They are great motivators to “get butt in chair,” and do what comes naturally.

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!







By Anne B. Howard

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