story meaning

*MEMBER INTERVIEW* with Joyce Wacoff

Joyce Wacoff

Introducing Joyce Wacoff!

Joined Story Genius - class of January 2017

Genre: Women’s Fiction

Book Coach: Kemlo Aki

INTERVIEW:

1.) What is the biggest difference between the Story Genius method and how you wrote your previous novels?

My first piece of fiction was a “pantser" production. I didn’t know what I was writing, where it was going or what it was really about. It was fun but it sat around for a couple of years until I decided to do something with it … like give it a character with a name and an intention. It turned into a young-adult fantasy novella. For the next work, I decided I needed more of a “plotter” approach so I pointed my characters in a direction and wrote my way forward. I had just sent it off to a few beta readers when I was introduced to Story Genius. I didn’t really want to start a new book, I just wanted to “polish” the current one. (I hadn’t yet received the feedback that said the story was flat and boring until page 82!) However, the geniuses at Story Genius insisted so I started Book 2 in my series. It only took a week or two to realize how wise they were … and how much I was going to have to go back and rewrite Book 1.

2.) What was the most surprising thing you learned through Story Genius?

How incredibly important regular feedback from a coach is. I read a lot of how to books. I could probably write one. I quickly discovered, however, that knowing something is radically different from being able to do it. I thought I was doing things like showing why the protagonist was doing what she was doing. It wasn’t until a coach gently handed me a feedback sandwich (one nugget of “try again” sandwiched between two slabs of “good job”) every week, that I started to integrate the message on a deeper level and actually saw how to do what was being called for.

3.) What did the Story Genius method allow you to do that your previous method didn’t?

Story Genius “allowed” (forced?) me to dig deeper into the why of what was going on. What in the past made the choice being made right now make sense? It helped me put characters in conflict with each other as I developed subplots for each. And, it allowed me to frame each scene almost like a story within a story, each scene a piece of the developing puzzle.

4.) How did the Story Genius method change how you see story & writing?

I had already decided that neither “pantsing” nor “plotting” fit me exactly. Now I think of the pre-thinking about what the story is as a “framing.” I am creating a framework that will hold the story and each scene will fit within that framework. Before, I agonized going back and forth as to which way the story should go. Now, I have more confidence because I can see the framework.

5.) How did the Story Genius method change how you read novels and watch movies or even how you think about the world around you?

One of my consistent barriers has been internal dialogue, telling the reader what’s going on in the protagonist’s head. Getting ideas out of my head onto the paper felt like I was “telling not showing.” So, I’ve started watching for how other writers handle that.

6.) What did you learn in the Story Genius method that you wish you'd known before?

The power of history. How we get to where we are creates momentum for where we’re going and what choices we will make. Having a clue about where to start a story and then how to weave those moments from the past into the present makes it far more fun to tell the story. It is also a bit like a jigsaw puzzle. I know I want the protagonist to take a totally inappropriate job … what in her past is going to make her not see the obvious pitfall? It’s like reverse engineering psychology … and makes me look at my own decisions and try to find the root causes of them, also.

7.) What piece of advice could you give people who are considering taking the Story Genius Method Course?

Do it now. The process is brilliant, but having a coach give you feedback every week is absolutely golden. I went into this thinking it was crazy to spend so much money. Now, I just wish I had done it sooner.

Thank you SO much, Joyce! We can't wait to read your novel!

On Writing Emotion

By Julie Artz - Book Coach

Recently, one of my clients asked me for pointers on writing character emotion without falling into telling or cliché. As I wrote my answer, I realized it would make a great blog post because, let’s face it, writing emotion is hard. Here’s a technique I’ve come up with over the years that I hope you’ll find helpful.

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A good place to start is with the Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi. The book catalogues the physical responses, mental responses, and sensations associated with each of a broad list of emotions. A lot of authors (including me when I first started learning this technique) stop there. That's why you get a lot of anxiety describes as sweaty palms & thumping hearts in books. But instead of just telling us the character's palms are sweaty, try showing the character wiping her hands on her skirt or shying away from shaking hands with someone, hiding those sweaty palms behind her back. Show her wiggling an eyebrow because she's in a cold sweat that's tickling her as it drips down her face. It's OK to do some physical cues--face getting hot, skin prickling, electricity running up the back of her legs--but don't only do that.

Once you have reviewed the entry/entries for the emotion you’re trying to convey, put yourself into the character's body and conduct a character interview. Why are you doing what you’re doing in this scene? What does it mean to you? How does it make you feel? Then dive deeper, leveraging your own experience with these emotions: How do your legs feel when you’re scared/nervous/angry? How does your stomach feel? What gestures might you make (tugging your hair when nervous, biting your lip or the inside of your cheek, shoving your hands in your pockets, tugging at the bottom of your shirt)? Different characters may tend to feel emotions in different parts of their bodies, and this can be a great way to differentiate voices in a multiple-point-of-view story.

Description also plays a role in getting emotion on the page. What your character notices about the world is influenced by how she’s feeling. For example, if I'm sad, and I look outside and see it's raining, I might feel the rain is heavy and depressing and awful. But if I'm happy, I look out the window and see how the water glistens on the leaves or how the intense green reminds me of my honeymoon in Belize. So you write the emotion not by putting feelings on the page, but by showing how the character's feelings (and their backstory) influence how they perceive everything in the world around them. The details you as the writer choose will help convey the character’s emotions without ever naming that emotion on the page.

Same goes for dialogue. An easy crutch to fall back on is using dialogue to convey emotion such as, “Mom, you make me so angry when you talk to me like that!” I’m not saying you can never do that. In fact, it can be very effective, especially when it’s more voicey than my example, but make sure it’s not the only way you’re conveying emotion.

If you can identify the emotions you want to convey, and then convey them with a mix of gestures, physical sensations, description, and dialogue, you’ll be well on your way to writing emotion that will keep your reader turning pages.

Next time you’re reading one of your favorite authors, pay attention to how they do this.Two of my current favorites,Leigh Bardugo and Maggie Stiefvater, are masters of showing emotion without naming it on the page. Their styles are very different (Bardugo is more lush and Stiefvatermore sparse in style), but they both end up delivering gripping stories in part because of how they write emotion.

What tips have you learned about conveying emotion in your writing? Which authors do you think do it particularly well? This topic could fill multiple books, so feel free to continue this discussion in the comments.