Story Geeking

I spent yesterday giving three sessions as part of a workshop of local writers here in south-central Indiana. Since it essentially ripped the heck out of my normal Saturday, I’ve found that I’ve been reminding myself all day that this is Sunday. It was a fun workshop, though. I did a session on line editing, and another on writer’s block. Enjoyed both of them quite a bit, but the one I enjoyed the most and was the most attended was one on the seven point story plot.

I always enjoy doing that particular workshop for several reasons.

First, I’m just a story geek. I enjoy thinking about structures in stories, and working through them to decide why they worked for me (or didn’t, as the case might be). Second, I enjoy seeing people’s faces as they see things they didn’t see before. And third, I’ve taken to using The Sorcerer’s Apprentice as my example of how the structure works…and who doesn’t love watching The Sorcerer’s Apprentice?

This is a great story to use as the foundation for structure because (1) it’s well plotted, of course, because (2) at 8:53, it’s nice and short—so it fits into a 75 minute window, and because (3) it has no words to get in the way of the story. I’ve found that a lot of writers, and new writers in particular, seem to want to focus first on the words in a story. I guess that’s somewhat natural, though personally I don’t remember coming at it that way. But, while words arevital, they are not where things start. They are not really the story itself. The best that words can do is represent the story faithfully. To get the words right, I believe a writer must first actually know (or discover) the story.

So I use that piece for this discussion. I run the process by showing the story in video all the way through first, then taking 10 minutes to lay out the details of the 7-point structure. After that we go back to video, and we play the piece again, but this time I stop the film every time there’s something to talk about. As I said above, the clip is 8:53, and to give you an idea of how often we stop … well, I but up against the back end of that 75 minute block. In other words, there are a lot of stops and starts and a lot of discussion about what we all think at each point. Truthfully, I think it would benefit from 90 minutes rather than 75, but I suppose when you get a room full of writers discussing story, it will just fill up whatever time you give it.

I mentioned that I am a story geek, right?

The first time I saw story structure taught like this was in Indianapolis when Kris Rusch and Dean Smith brought their mobile Kris & Dean Show to InConJunction. They used Die Hard, and it was a great experience. I’ve also heard that Roger Ebert used to hold a week-long event where he would take a movie and deconstruct it moment-by-moment.

*[aside – this would probably rate as one of those things that would be on my list of events I would go back in time to see … you know? “If you could go back in time and be an observer to three events in history, what would they be?” My problem is that I have too many of those. But, yeah, it would be absolutely amazing to watch Roger Ebert dissect a story/movie like that.]

So, anyway, yeah. Kris & Dean, Roger Ebert, and me. One of these things is not like the other, eh?

Regardless, the whole workshop was great fun.

Afterward Lisa and I did dinner, and though I was tired, I couldn’t get to sleep. So I stayed up and did some work on Saga of the God-Touched Mage (my soon-to-be released fantasy serial). By 2:00AM I was finally ready for bed. And, though I slept in a bit, I still managed to get a bunch done earlier today.

But, dang, did you know it’s already Sunday?

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