Posts Tagged ‘words’

When A Story Starts

January 11th, 2017 • by Karen A. Chase • No Comments

once_upon_a_time_lccn98518274A dear friend of mine was struggling to choose when to begin her novel. Not when to begin writing, but when, in the timeline of her protagonist’s struggle, her story should begin.

One method we discussed was outlined in Syd Field’s book, Screenplay, The Foundations of Screen Writing. If the chronological timeline of a story are points along a line, numbered 1 through 10, we can begin with a glimpse of number 9 (the denouement), and then return to number 1 and write the rest in order. In All Is Lost we first see Robert Redford drifting in despair without his sailboat, then we are taken back and shown everything preceding it. The result? We know what’s coming before the protagonist does, but neither of us knows if by number 10 he will sink or swim, so we stick around to find out.

In a book I recently picked up, Wired For Story, the author Lisa Cron discusses the importance of starting your novel or script for the greatest neurological impact. Humans (readers) are hard-wired to hear/need stories. When tales begin, we want to be drawn in to know whose story it is, what’s happening, and what’s a stake. In Albert Camus’, The Stranger, this is accomplished with just three words. “Mother died today.” The child will be somehow affected by a death. I want to read on.

And that, my fellow writers, is the goal that ultimately my friend and I agreed upon. We strive to begin our books so it increases our readers’ curiosity to such a pitch they must keep reading.

There are countless articles that share countless ways on when and how to begin, (this one from Writer’s Digest illustrates 10 Ways to Begin). When or where have you decided to begin?

A Case for Fiction

November 17th, 2016 • by Karen A. Chase • 2 Comments
Fishing For Frogs, 1882. Oil on canvas painting by William Adolphe Bouguereau via Wikimedia Commons.

Togetherness. Fishing For Frogs, 1882. Oil on canvas painting by William Adolphe Bouguereau via Wikimedia Commons.

It has been difficult to know what to write here this last week or so, as an author, and regardless of political preferences. But one thing has been made abundantly clear to me.

We need more fiction.

Especially thoughtful, deep, well-researched and so-worth-pondering fiction. We need it more than ever for three reasons.

Escape. Sometimes the world seems topsy-turvy. Either we’re getting what we want, and no one else seems happy, or what we’ve lost makes us rethink everything we thought was true. Fiction can give us a break–a means to flee to another time in history, or to a utopian or more dystopian future. Inside of that “other” place we’re able to find something else.

Empathy. No matter when or where fiction is set, all great fiction is focused on the characters. Some we will love. Some, not so much. And yet all of them, if well-drawn, illustrate how humanity is complex. People are flawed. And yet, by seeing intimately into someone else’s life, even the worst antagonist might elicit compassion from us. Sometimes pity. Either way, the result is something greater.

Enlightenment. It sounds incongruent, but the goal of great fiction writers is to write the truth. The truth, however dark, beautiful, crushing, sad, joyful, odd, funny, or head-spinning. Do we weave in opinions? Of course, but how can we obtain enlightenment without them? It is only in the absence of listening to and attempting to understand a dissenting opinion that we recede into darkness.

So please, regardless of where you are these days, take a deep breath. Go to your favorite bookstore or library. Read fiction. Write fiction. And by all means, share fiction. Through a thoughtful exchange of words, perhaps we can all heal together.

Not sure where to begin? Pick a book, any book, from this list of Time Magazine’s Best 100 All-Time Novels on Goodreads.

Writing and Reading Rhythm

June 30th, 2016 • by Karen A. Chase • No Comments


Emerald Lake, Canada.

As both a writer and reader, I’ve come to appreciate the rhythm behind prose. Understanding why it’s important, and what it does for readers emotionally, is easier when I liken it to a well-composed piece of music. I love this piece, Haunted by Waters, by Mark Isham, written for the movie A River Runs Through It.

While it mimics the feeling of fly fishing, Isham says he was also struck by the poetry of the script’s words. Consequently this song is a reminder of how sentence structure, length, and syntax evoke feeling. Hit play on the link to the song (above) and then read along noting the timing of it…

Sometimes, like up to the :30 point, sentences are best short. Minimal. Simple. Withholding. Anticipatory. Repetitive. But too simple too long? That’s boring. Dulling.

So, like Isham’s next refrains (:30–:52), sentences also need to be a bit more complex, adding in commas, breaths. A few highs, and some lows, propel us along. Repeating this pacing, as he does after :53, adds extra emphasis for a lead-up to something more impactful.

Consequently at 1:17, when the strings come in, his sentences flow with even more complexity, adding in emotionally charged refrains, long or languishing melodies, and then swirling higher right up to 1:40. Then he adds a crescendo of repetition again, and that second-by-second, word-by-word feeling builds even more until he meanders back down to… a pause.

A paragraph break.

Then he brings in staccato at 2:00–a brief repeating–and that begins another little meandering through several seconds, or sentences, that allows us to return to a comfortable refrain we’ve heard before. The rest of his song, takes us through a variety of pacing and structures, again and again, until we have a gorgeous closing that feels not only right, but leaves us, in the end, with the feeling of wanting more.

If you’ve not been reading or writing with such rhythms, I urge you to listen to classical soundtracks like this one. Composers build soundtracks to increase emotional impact, and as E.M. Forster once said, “In music fiction is likely to find it nearest parallel.”

For more on this topic, I also suggest David Jauss’ book On Writing Fiction, and especially Part III on flow.