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Story Mapping Workshop

I gave a talk for the Long Island Romance Writers yesterday on story mapping, how to explore your fictional world. It was great to see so many people come out for the talk! Here is the handout from the workshop — I think it makes a handy list of resources:


1/15/11 LIRW presentation at Barnes and Noble, Huntington, NY


Source: Orson Scott Card, Characters and Viewpoint, p. 48

1.      MILIEU: The milieu is the world surrounding the characters – the landscape, interior spaces, the surrounding cultures the characters emerge from and react to; everything from weather to traffic laws.

Julie Leto —

2.      IDEA:The idea is the information that the reader is meant to discover or learn during the process of the story.

Holly Lisle –

3.      CHARACTER: Character is the nature of one or more of the people in the story – what they do and why they do it.  It usually leads to or arises from a conclusion about human nature in general

Jim Butcher

Holly Lisle

Donald Maass

4.      EVENT: The events of the story are everything that happens and why.

Randy Ingermanson:

Blake Snyder Beat Sheet:

5.      GENRE: This is not one of Orson Scott Card’s story quotients.  But I think it is very important to know what kind of story you are going to tell in the world you are discovering – think of it as the weather of your story world.

Finding The Monstrumologist

I’ve had my Kindle for about a year now, and lately have been paying attention to how my reading habits have changed.  Used to be, I found new books by wandering around a big book store or a library.  Some of my favorite books came to me that way — I, Claudius I found in the middle school library, and I found A Wrinkle in Time at a used book store in Manhattan.

But, alas, I don’t get time to wander around book stores and libraries very much any more (unless you count 15 minute expeditions to the kid’s section).  My browsing happens online, and for the first time I’m getting books based on word of mouth.  In my younger years, sad to say, I didn’t talk books with many people I knew.  Watership Down, one of my favorite books ever, is a glaring exception to that — a friend of mine loved it, and we read it and re-read it together.  That was wonderful.

But now I hear about books in my wandering around the Internet (which I also don’t have time to do, but do anyway :-)  ).  And, since I’ve gotten my Kindle, I get recommendations from Amazon too.

Scary, but those recs are often really helpful.  Take The Monstrumologist.  I’ve never seen this book in a store, not even during my strategic strikes on the kid sections.  Never heard a peep anywhere on the internet about it, either.  But Amazon recommended it, and linked it to my book Lady Lazarus, and I weakened then bought it.

And you know, it’s fantastic!  Very dark and creepy, with haunted but wonderful characters, in a sweeping historical setting (end of 19th century NYC).  Not done with it yet, but loving this evocative story so far.

So how does Amazon manage this feat? Here is a very technical but fascinating discussion of the mechanics of the Amazon recommendation algorithm, and Netflix’s too.

Do you ever think about this stuff?  As a reader, I’m always on the hunt for stuff off the beaten track (why?  I don’t know, perverse reader I guess).  And as a writer, I’m always curious to know how people find my books.  Whenever a book of mine comes out I have a sightings contest, and it’s been fascinating to me to see where people are looking.  My first few books were all reported in book stores and big box stores.  Lady Lazarus – almost all the entrants reported online sales.

We’re in the middle of a sea change in how people read and publish.  I love thinking about the implications as both a reader and a writer.  Like some of my writing, it keeps me up at night, too…

The writer's truth

Stephen King, in the afterword to his excellent new release Full Dark, No Stars, shares a bit of writing advice that really resonates with me this morning:

When it comes to fiction, the writer’s only responsibility is to look for the truth inside his own heart.  It won’t always be the reader’s truth, or the critic’s truth, but as long as it’s the writer’s truth — as long as he or she doesn’t truckle, or hold out his or her hat to Fashion — all is well.

That writer’s truth may be communicated to a reader via p-book or e-book, published by a big NYC house or e-published by the writer herself.  Instead of pondering the distinctions between the self-pubbed vs. trad-pubbed, e-pubbed vs. print-pubbed, one of my goals for this shiny new year is to focus on my truth and just write my heart out.  I’ll figure out the publication and distribution part later.

Wishing you a year full of soulful writing and reading.  Happy new year!


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