Like every healthy ecology a story needs to work as a whole, not just the sum of its parts. Does your fiction world have a working ecology? Do its parts work together? Or do its characters overwhelm? Do all parts support each other, or do they each vie for power? How can you see the work afresh?
This course will enable you to become a more effective editor of your own fiction work. It will help you visualise a novel/screenplay/story holistically – as one grand ecology – each element reliant on another. If part of your story doesn't support the life of the whole, out it goes!
The Ecology of Novels includes:
Much as a new painter would stroll the Louvre studying the great master painters, as a writer you should be examining the best storytellers. So in this course we’ll be ambling through the literary Louvre, paying our respects to creative greats like JRR Tolkien, George Lucas, Harper Lee, William Shakespeare and many more.
Plenty of courses teach the basics of story writing.
Few teach writers how to write brilliant – and connected – prose. Drafting leads to mastery. But only if you know where to look. Led by a Senior Editor with almost 20 years of editing experience this course points you in the right direction.
An introduction to your instructor and this course, discussing why planned drafting is so important when you edit your story.
What does a working ecology of a story look like? In this lecture we look at the elements of this course: the flow of your story (macro issues), the central mystery, characters, including protagonists and others and how they play together, and how to combine context and themes. We end the way we began, with the flow of your story (but this time we look at micro issues).
We begin this series with a story’s journey – reimagining its flow, just like a river.
How do we begin our stories? I teach my students this handy phrase: "The end is the beginning." The end of your story starts on page 1, that's right page 1! Watch the lecture to find out more.
Patterns abound in nature for great reasons; mainly they ensure survival. Human-made structures – including stories – also take on familiar patterns. This lecture looks at the most common structures of stories – such as the three-act structure – analysing their elements and flow.
When it comes to editing a story think of what type of story it is, following the path laid down by similar stories. We look at types of story like the quest, star-crossed lovers, event, idea and character stories, and many more.
So many stories are modelled on the question – "Is there any way out of this situation?" – easing us sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly into a sense of no escape. This lecture is about building tension.
Next we’re going to look at increasing your story’s flow. How do you do that? One of the ways is to "tell, don't show". WAIT!? "Did she get that wrong?" you're wondering. Emphatically no. This lecture looks at the much quoted, but oft misinterpreted advice of "show, don't tell", explaining what it means, and when you should use it, and more importantly (from this editor's perspective) WHEN TO BACK OFF! Other ways to increase flow include inserting unmet needs or wants, inserting barriers etc.
If you want to keep propelling readers forward, the way you end chapters is important.
After you've watched the lecture download the following exercise onto your computer and save it, then read the examples and do the exercise. (Please note you can not alter the file in Google Drive.)
In this Section we’ll talk about what I call a central mystery, a thread that can hold stories together.
The story Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier is underpinned by a central mystery which is launched in the story's opening lines, and is strung throughout the novel to its end.
Where to place a central mystery.
In this Section we’ll be looking at types of protagonists, we'll find out about the powerful narrative thrust of a protagonist’s unmet need or want, and discover types of transformations, including the popular model of the Hero's Journey.
Many authors – especially newbies – assume they’ll need to include backstory. But is it really necessary? In this lecture I play the devil's advocate challenging you to think about whether you need to include backstory.
Sometimes characters don’t transform. They simply are who they are, and are swept away on a wild adventure. But at other times characters do transform; via nature and nurture, internal and external transformations we see the shift, the lessons of the journey creating a character arc.
In this lecture we look at the Hero's Journey identified in myth and story by Joseph Campbell, American writer, lecturer and mythologist. This structure underpins so many of our most loved stories like George Lucas's Star Wars and JRR Tolkien's The Hobbit, to name just a few.
In this Section we look at supporting characters. Like a bee to a flower every supporting character needs to be of use to the protagonist, themes, context or events of the story.
Types of supporting characters like flat and round, dynamic and static.
In Lecture 22 we look at the most common roles of characters, like mentors, confidantes, foils and jokers/fools.
In this lecture we look at the role of antagonists, and the push-pull relationship that should ideally create real tension between antagonists and protagonists in your story.
Now you know who your protagonist is, and her or his transformation (if any), let’s see how other characters can support that transformation. Like bees to a flower all characters should have – what I call – "gifts to the protagonist".
What elements of supporting characters should appear in a story? Think about: the central mystery (if you have one), themes, the journey and context and how supporting characters interact with these elements.
Discover the powerful role context can play in its own right and in support of characters, plot, or themes, when to use it and how to use it to heighten drama.
Context matters – whether its rests quietly in the background, or stands boldly front and centre – it should dance with other elements in your story.
Exercises for ensuring your context is working hard for your story.
In this Section we learn about types of themes and their integral role. We discover that the more you align them with your characters, context or storyline the more robust the story.
We look at the role and types of themes.
In this lecture we look at the theme of "good versus evil" in Star Wars.
In this lecture we talk about ways to bolster your themes.
We end this series the same way we began. With a story’s journey – remember it’s all about flow, just like a river. But this time we’ll take a micro view, which means we’ll look at your story as we would in a line-by-line edit, examining the small details.
In this lecture we look at dialogue to ensure it bubbles along. We examine ways to increase the flow of dialogue including limiting "he said" "she said", inserting action markers, and stopping at points of drama, lies, or intrigue. We also look at the important role of SILENCE.
Number 18 of Mark Twain’s essay outlining the 18 rules of writing is "eschew surplusage" which basically means "keep it simple, stupid". In this lecture we examine using simple words when editing a story.
When Mark Twain said “If you catch an adjective kill it” he didn't mean kill ALL adjectives. So how do you know which ones to keep and which ones to ritually slaughter? This lecture helps you discover the answer.
Tautologies, dead words and passive sentences are for lazy writers. How can you avoid them, or better still grab those sentences and insert ZING!?
Assonance, alliteration, similes, metaphors, conceits, hyperbole – all fancy words for oiling the flow of your text, or slicking up your sentences to slide!
Spelling, grammar and consistency are all important when it comes to getting your story right. A great editor can help in all these areas, but if you must edit your story yourself here are some tools that will help.
There's no right or wrong system for editing/reviewing/drafting your story, so here are just a few examples of the tools you can use.
Again we turn to the words of the fabulous Mark Twain: “A successful book is not made of what is in it, but what is left out of it.” Master storytellers understand this rule: their stories are like tips of icebergs. The substance is below the surface, always threatening, and sensed, but rarely fully revealed.
Before you go I have some hard questions for you. Have you attempted, by scientific methods, to amass the pages before you? Are they spiritless, inanimate? Or do they contain a quickening heartbeat, the essence of life, a flicker of a pulse?
Edited over 100 fiction and non-fiction titles, including Joint-winner of the Prime Minister's Prize for Australian History; Winner of The Douglas Stewart Prize at the NSW Premier's Literary Awards; Winner of the Non-fiction Prize Queensland Premier's Literary Awards; Shortlisted for The Age Book of the Year Award, winners of The Australian Awards for Excellence in Educational Publishing and various self-publishing awards.
Writer of the popular column 'Writing Bootcamp', in Arts Hub magazine.
Specialties: Copyediting, proofreading, writing, structural editing.