Writing a novel or screenplay is an art and a craft
Below are some of the key elements from our 10-Month Novel and Script First Draft course that enable our writers to develop powerful stories. We have also included quotes in italics from our writers that highlight these key points.
1. The Power of Process
Writing is very much a process and a journey and it is only by following the process to the end that people come to fully appreciate their talent as writers and the quality of the story they are writing.
Many writers when they just start out think that writing a novel or screenplay is simply a matter of having the right idea and then sitting down and writing the damn thing. But that is just the fantasy of the uninitiated. Writing is very much a process and an art and a craft that takes time to bear fruit.
In our First Draft course, writers discover that the story they have at the end of the process is invariably far richer than any idea they may have had when they started. We recommend writers put off judging the work until they have finished it.
“Feelings tell you what to say. Technique gives you tools with which to say it. Faculty lies in knowing what to do next. To know what to do next, you must master process … an ordered step-by-step presentation of materials that presses emotional buttons in your reader, so he feels the way you want him to feel.” Dwight Swain
It is only by completing the process that people appreciate just how powerful it. Getting constructive input from fellow writers and the tutors while completing the process makes all the difference. It is a real pleasure to see the stories come alive on the page.
“I have learnt to trust the process and in doing so trust myself. You just do the writing bit by bit, story step by story step, scene by scene until finally you have a draft. It seems as if by magic. It is truly a revelation. Even as an English major, I don’t believe I ever read as critically as I do now.” Kate Eginton, course participant
2. An Act of Discovery
Writing a novel or a screenplay is an act of discovery where you take yourself, your main character and ultimately your reader on a journey of discovery. A first draft is about discovering your story and developing your characters. You can’t just sit down and plot your story from beginning to end.
Writing fiction is not an intellectual exercise. One of the keys to creating powerful fiction is to evoke emotion in your writing. You want your writing to create an emotional response in the reader. To reiterate, it doesn’t matter what medium you are working in. You want your reader to feel the emotion your characters are feeling. This is something that emerges through the process.
“To know what to do next, you must master process … an ordered step-by-step presentation of materials that presses emotional buttons in your reader, so he feels the way you want him to feel.” Dwight Swain
This is what J. R.R. Tolkien, author of Lord of the Rings wrote in a letter to W. H. Auden on 7th June 1955.
“I met a lot of things on the way that astonished me. Tom Bombadil I knew already; but I had never before been to Bree. Strider sitting in the corner at the inn was a shock, and I had no more idea who he was than had Frodo. The Mines of Moria had been a mere name; and of Lothlorien no word had reached my mortal ears till I came there. Far away I knew there were the Horselords on the confines of an ancient Kingdom of Men, but Fangorn Forest was an unforeseen adventure. I had never heard of the House of Eorl nor of the Stewards of Gondor. Most disquieting of all, Saruman had never been revealed to me, and I was as mystified as Frodo at Gandalf’s failure to appear on September 22.”
“The past 10 months has been full of surprises, learning, new skills and digging deep within myself to uncover the best story I am capable of writing. The way the course is structured allows plenty of opportunities to explore the possibilities of the story. The feedback and guidance proved to be worth its weight in gold. I’m more, committed, disciplined and determined than I thought I could be.”
Rebecca Horne, course participant
3. The Power of Structure
It is structure that gives a story profound emotion and deeper meaning.
Structure is what helps connect your writing, characters and story to your readers. Without structure, a story can end up being a series of disconnected scenes. For the reader it feels like just one dam thing after another.
Structure gives the writing shape and meaning, taking your reader wanting to know what happens next while taking them and the characters in the story on an emotional and spiritual journey of change. For example, if you give your main character a concrete goal or a desire, you hook your reader into the drama. They will want to know whether your character will succeed in attaining their desire.
“You might have the insights of Buddha, but if you can’t tell a story, your ideas will be as dry as dust. Craft is the sum total of all means used to draw the audience into deep involvement, to hold that involvement and ultimately reward it with a moving and meaningful experience.Home
“The function of structure is to provide progressively building pressure that forces characters into more and more difficult dilemmas where they must make more and more difficult risk-taking choices and actions, gradually revealing their true natures, even down to their unconscious self.” Robert McKee
Structure stimulates your imagination rather than limits it. Structure enables you to come up with possibilities you never dreamed of.
“When forced to work within a strict framework, the imagination is taxed to its utmost – and will produce its richest ideas. Given total freedom, the work is likely to sprawl.” T.S. Elliot
Writing a novel or screenplay doesn’t happen by accident. By developing your craft, you learn how to create a story that engages readers’ emotions and has them keep turning the pages.
“I’ve spent a lot of time doing writing and creative writing subjects at different uni’s that all reckon they’ve got brilliant courses for whatever reason, but they’ve got nothing on The Writers’ Studio. I really feel as though I’ve improved beyond what I thought I could do. The resources you provide, the knowledge you impart, the time you put in and the attention you’re willing to give every class member is unique, rare and wonderful, and I’m so glad I found it.” Charlotte Karp, course participant
4. A Dance
Writing is a dance between structure and imagination. Both are equally important and compliment each other when you follow a step by step process that integrates the two. If you meticulously structure your novel in detail, it will most likely lack emotion and fall flat on the page.
If you have no structure and write by instinct alone, the writing will wander everywhere, the story will lack narrative drive and will fail to connect with your reader.
You need a combination of both. At the big picture and scene level.
As Author Tina Howe said, “I think the cruelty of the form is that to write a good play the architecture has to be impeccable. The form demands rigour and a sense of structure. But then the cruel part is that for a play to live you have to surrender control and let your characters go. It’s a constant balancing act. The structure has to be right, but you have to leave room for spontaneity, mystery and silence. As territorial as we are it is important to be challenged.”
“Oh My God. I’ve just come to the end of the first draft of my novel. I can’t get over how huge that is. It is something I’ve thought about for almost 35 years and I’ve finally gone and done it. The process and the structure and discipline of this course is what made it possible.” Alison Atherton, course participant
5. The Fun of It
Writing your first draft should be a profoundly enjoyable experience and the act of writing becomes its own reward. If you take yourself and your story too seriously, you risk taking the fun out of it. This then shows up on the page.
Kathleen, Richard and I believe the writing of a story should be an enjoyable, enriching and inspiring experience. Elmore Leonard, the great crime writer, said he only started getting anywhere when he started having fun.
Stephen King sums up the reasons why writing fiction is a very worthwhile experience:
“Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates or making friends. In the end it is about enriching the lives of those who will read your work and enriching your own life as well. It’s about getting up, getting well and getting over.
“Getting happy, okay? Getting happy. Much of this book – perhaps too much – has been about how I learned to do it. Much of it is about how you can do it better. The rest of it – and perhaps the best of it – is a permissionship: you can, you should and if you’re brave enough to start, you will.”
“Writing is magic, as much the water of life as any other creative art. So drink. Drink and be filled up.”
We believe that if writing is your thing, the process of writing your story will enrich your life.
“This journey has been profound, life changing. I love being part of a group that has the same passion for writing that I do. I feel like I belong and can be me. This course has challenged me more than anything else I have ever done, apart from having children, in a safe and nurturing environment. Thank you.” Sarah Waddington, course participant
Completing the First Draft
This a photo from the group dinner that we hold after the final class of our 10-Month Novel & Script First Draft course. Everyone is on a real high after completing the creative journey together and seeing the results.
Congratulations to everyone who finished the course! A major achievement. Kathleen and I felt privileged to go along on this journey with you all and see how far you and your story have come over the 10 months.