Thanks Elana Johnson

Elana_JohnsonShould you be afraid of story structure? Do you think it will hinder your creativity? Should you be afraid of seat-of-your-pants writing? Will it destroy your organization? Should all pantsers become plotters or plotters, pantsers? The answer to all of these is, no.

Imagine if you will for a moment a body without bones. Such a creature is reminiscent of old scary movies—The Blob comes to mind. It’s the same with our stories without structure. Chances are people aren’t going to be running away from our goo-ish book(s), but they probably will run towards someone else’s that has structure and buy it. Why? Because they can discern it. Now lest pitchforks and torches descend upon the Provo Library for my lynching, at our next meeting, hear me out.

On March 27, Elana Johnson (a self-proclaimed pantser, “sticky note abuse” advocate and fearer of plotting/scene boards) came and spoke to our chapter on the topic, “Beat Out Your Novel.”  No, it was not the equivalent of how pantsers beat their desks with their heads or how to chase down muses or authors with clubs for that give-me-the-best-story-ever-or-else technique—though all could be entertaining and I’m pretty sure one will land you in jail. The topic was based on Blake Snyder’s book, Save the Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need. Elana showed us how Mr. Snyder’s 15 beats of screenwriting work with writing novels.

The amount of material presented at our chapter meeting was too vast To highlight one or two beats while neglecting the others wouldn’t do justice to the presentation. What we recommend is that you buy or check out Mr. Synder’s book and hear Elana present on how it is adapted to writing novels.  You will gain wonderful tools in helping you find and fix problems within your manuscript.  Whether you are a pantser or a plotter, writing tools are valuable and Elana has amassed a ton.

Now, to be honest, I’ve heard Elana present on this topic before. My mind was blown then. It was why I wanted her to come to our chapter. Well, it was blown again. A paradigm shift occurred in me.

I realized after hearing Elana’s presentation that structure doesn’t hinder creativity—it’s an essential part. The truth is, words, ideas, they are just a blob that either gets smaller or bigger. Now put structure into that blob and you can end up with a lion. Change the structure still and you can end up with a turtle or a fish or any other creature you desire. Structure transforms ideas and word masses into working, movable, living parts and their uniqueness is infinite. Structure can also be exploratory, then clothed with the flesh of words and moving characters, the latter which I see as joints in a living story. There are also different kinds of structure. Emotional, Cerebral and so forth…it’s not always bones.

So thanks to Elana’s insights, if things are starting to feel off in a story or its taking too long to write; I’m now going to put in a little structure and see if the blob walks, crawls, anything other than sits, shifts or rolls. If things feel gridlocked, I’ll pull out a little structure or add more flesh and see if indepedence exists. Either way the trick is balance, not the avoidance of pantser over plotter or vice versa—there are too many blobs and too many anorexic beasts. Elana’s presentation by explaining Synder’s techniques to writers gives tools for how to create a work that can stand and move on its own.

Thank you so much for coming to speak to Utah Valley Writers Elana!  It was one word, awesome.



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