Learning from the expert

I just finished reading the book given by my daughter, “Wired to Write” by Lisa Cron, after two months of dabbing on it. Finally last week, I determined to pore seriously over her insights, ideas and instruction like a student cranked up to get an A in the exam. Two-thirds of the book flew by with every thought and suggestion mentally chewed into fine morsels for my brain to easily digest. The goal? I want to be a better writer. I want to know the knots and bolts of tight storytelling, be it in an anecdote, novel or script. Up the ante, a common phrase in Cron’s book, and that’s exactly what I aim to do.

My dream since my youth has been to be a successful novelist. I had written journalistic articles and features for newspapers and magazines, but never yet a novel. Recently, I tried my hand at writing for musical theater, since I love music and compose songs for private consumption. I sent the script to a professional critic in New York, hoping she would love my work as much as I do and recommend it to a thriving Broadway producer. Big dream! The bubble burst when I received the critique. My critic was good. She was harsh, but so professionally right. I read her review once and never looked at it again. The musical – I hadn’t touched since the critique, and that was nearly four months ago.

Soon after I finished reading Lisa Cron’s book, I want to work on my musical again! Great encouragement to me was the author’s mention that many successful writers of plays, musicals, film or books struggle through scores of rewrites before final versions acceptable to the publishers, readers, audience, not to mention themselves. I wonder how many rewrites I can weather through.

Something else stuck out from reading Cron’s book. She maintains writers have a big advantage over their story characters – they know what’s going to happen to them, while the characters themselves don’t. Funny, I never before realized the edge that writers have over their characters. When the writer does not have that prerequisite roadmap, the result is a hodgepodge of muddled personas and developments that go nowhere, but to the readers’ boredom and disinterest. The readers, in fact, may get to that crucial point of not caring what happens to the protagonist or the story. After all, they had abandoned the book at midpoint or way before the last page. A directionless story is a lost cause.

Another fortuitous point that Cron emphasized: do not be “nice” to your protagonists. Let the protagonists stumble through thick and thin to reach their full stretch of experience and goals. For the protagonists, the more falls the better, to prove their stamina, resilience and determination to achieve the same goals or purpose that readers or audience have identified for them. When the story rambles, characters dismay or bore. Writers need to be “wired” into their characters’ lives, track pertinent changes and nuances on their radar to project direction and purpose.

An analogy surfaced in my mind. I think of God – the one ultimate creator of our stories, of each person’s journey. Only He knows what His creatures/characters are going for or live toward. None of them bears certain knowledge of what the end of the road would be. Writers of stories, in a sense, shadow the Creator’s image, or try to. When writers are not equipped with conviction of their characters’ direction or purpose, the story might as well not be told.

Oh yes, my musical? I’ll comb through it thirty times at least, keeping the critique very close at hand. I’m working on the script and storyline. My musical isn’t bad, but it could certainly be so, so much better. If it isn’t, it will “not be told”. But it will be … perhaps next year, or two or three years hence. But it will be. That’s how much I believe in it.

Or…maybe it will not be told … or maybe it will be … or … hmmm …

Linda P. Jacob