What makes you a better writer? Practicing your craft.
But what is craft and how do you practice it?
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, craft is defined as the skill in planning, making, or executing. An occupation or trade requiring manual dexterity or artistic skill.
In today’s episode, Lauren delves into the 5 main elements of craft or style of writing and how you can harness them to become a better writer.
She goes over the concept of dialogue, the aspects of your book’s narration, the importance of developing unforgettable characters, the most overlooked element in writing, and so much more!
As the popular saying goes, practice makes perfect.
The best way to develop and improve your skills is through practice.
Luckily for all of us, Lauren has the perfect tools to help you not only become a better writer but also ditch the starving artist cliche and thrive!
Thank you so much for tuning in today! If you haven’t listened to episode 33 where Lauren and Erin Skye Kelly talk about money tips for writers , then go back and check it out!
You can also stay tuned for new weekly episodes @schoolforwriters, and if you want to spread the love even further, consider following, rating, and reviewing!
Resources mentioned in this episode:
-Get on the waitlist for The School For Writers Academy! A new program coming in June 2021. Spaces will be limited!
-Grab your craft worksheet here and get some juicy extra resources!
-Need help developing characters? check out Lauren’s free workshop Developing Unforgettable Characters.
-Sign up for the FREE plotting course here!
Book Recommendation of the week:
Dialogue by Robert Mckee.
Wondering why we don’t link to Amazon? Check out Episode 2 of the Business School for Writers Podcast to hear all about how supporting independent bookstores helps you see more stories like yours out in the world.
Want to know the best way to be a better writer? Practice craft.
But, what even is craft and how do you practice it?
When we talk about a book being good, or even great, what do we mean? When we speak of an author having a strong voice or having a natural talent for craft, what does that mean?
Today on the School for Writers, we’re delving into the five main elements of craft and how you can harness them to become a better writer.
We hear a lot about the importance of fine-tuning your craft as a writer, but what does craft even mean?
To me, craft is practicing a skill with the purpose of getting better at it, and potentially even becoming a master of that skill. So, the craft of writing is simply me studying and practicing writing, hoping to get better at it. That means that best way to harness the power of the craft o f writing is to keep writing, keep practicing, and keep studying.
According to Wikipedia: A craft or trade is a pastime or an occupation that requires particular skills and knowledge of skilled work. In a historical sense, particularly the Middle Ages and earlier, the term is usually applied to people occupied in small-scale production of goods, or their maintenance, for example by tinkers. It had a stepwise approach to mastery of that craft, meaning you worked as a laborer, then an apprentice, then a tradesmen, then a master, then a teacher.
Back in the day, it took apprenticing, then setting up your own shop and making a living by your craft to call yourself a master of it. By that descriptor, I am a master of storytelling. I have spent decades of my life studying it, including under some of the truly highest masters of the craft, and I have now set up my own shop and make a living off of it.
So yes, I am a master storyteller. After 3 decades of formal training and practice, I’m happy to own that. But you are still the only person who knows how to tell YOUR story. What works for me might not work for you.
When we talk about great storytelling, it’s important to understand that craft, like art itself, is subjective. Think of the difference between Mary Cassatt, Georgia O’Keefe, Yayoi Kusama, and Frida Kahlo. Is either artist better? If so, how do you determine that? What about Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf, Maya Angelou, and Octavia Butler? We like to come up with reasons why one piece of art or one artist is better than another, but the fact remains that it’s all subjective.
What makes art good is if you enjoy it. I love romance novels. My sister makes fun of me for them and calls them trashy even. She loves historian fiction. I make fun of her and say that she is as boring as the books she reads. Who is right? Both. And neither. As delve into this lesson on craft and set the goal of making your writing better, you must remember that “better” and “good” and even “great” are all subjective. Even “craft” and “master” are subjective.
These are elements, but they’re not the end all be all of style. Find your own version of each. Add to these basics. Make this craft your own.
Today, we are going to discuss five main elements of style or craft:
Don’t worry, you don’t have to remember them all. I have a handy worksheet for you, along with some extra resources, all for free at SchoolForWriters.com/craft. Go grab that right now, so you can read along.
1. Voice, or Essence – the perspective from which the story is told Any time you tell a story to a friend or family member about an event or incident in your day, you engage in a form of narration. We went over this a bit in the second draft. Narration includes both who tells the story and how the story is told, so it deals with the point of view and the tense of the book. It also includes narrative techniques, like the physical location, the temporal location, the plot structure, any themes you might have, the details you share or don’t share, the various different storytelling styles and linguistic techniques.
All of this is to say: narration is important! It sets the tone for your whole story. But it’s also simple. It’s that thing we do without realizing we’re doing it. The difference, however, between a decent book and a great book lies in taking your writing from something you just write to something you intentionally edited So, with that in mind, I want you to really think about these five aspects of your book’s narration:
• Point of view or voice: Who is speaking to the reader? What do they know?
• Tense: is your story in the past, present, or future?
• Location of space: where is your book set?
• Location of time: when is your book set?
• Your storytelling style: will it be formal or friendly, will you tell all upfront or tease out bits, are you vulgar or reserved? How can you consciously enhance your narration? How can you make choices of time, space, tense, perspective and style that enhance your story and your reader’s experience?
2. Dialogue – how people talk to each other within the book In my experience, I have seen two main types of writers: ones that start with dialogue as the building block of their scenes and ones that add dialogue only at the very end when they have to. Whether you absolutely love dialogue or absolutely hate it, it’s important to understand the power that dialogue holds in a book.
Think of a movie without any words spoken. It’s been done, but the movies that do that are more artsy than main stream, the lack of dialogue being a conscious choice. Even silent movies had slides with dialogue. Shakespeare’s famous soliloquies – the long scenes where characters would speak their inner thoughts out to the audience – were still a form of one sided dialogue called monolog. In the way characters on screen need to talk so do the characters in your book, even if only to themselves.
Here are some reasons dialogues is so important to your book.
1. Dialogue is easier than paragraphs for your eyes, so it’s a great way to break up large chunks of narrative text. If you find yourself getting bored or your eyes getting tired of reading, think about adding some dialogue.
2. Dialogue shows character. Choice of words, how they interact with others, what is said and isn’t said – these are all great ways to develop a character and slowly show them to your reader.
3. Dialogue is a great way to add action, levity, and/or drama to your book. Instead of describing a scene, let your characters act it out. Think of it like a movie versus a long voice over. You want to see action, people doing things.
One of the best resources I have for teaching this topic is the book Dialogue by Robert McKee. McKee is a well-known teacher of story and I first studied his work while in film school two decades ago. If you’re struggling with your Dialogue, I suggest picking up a copy of this book.
A common suggestion I hear for creating dialogue is to go out to a coffee shop or somewhere similar and listen to how people talk around you. While I think that works and can give you ideas, what I find more helpful is to read, watch movies, and see plays with really well written dialogue. While you want to make the dialogue as natural as possible, the reality is that most people’s conversations are boring.
I find that studying how writers I enjoy reading handle dialogue is the best way for me to keep my written conversations engaging for my audience. We’ll go deeper into dialogue on a later episode, so be sure to follow and subscribe wherever you’re listening to the podcast so you don’t miss that.
3. Characters – the people in the story Characters can range from extremely memorable to people met in passing during a minor scene. If you’re writing non-fiction, chances are you’re a character in your book.
Your narrator has a character and style. Sometimes places have a character – for example, in A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness, there’s a whole house that has a personality of its own. The Pacific Crest Trail is definitely a character in Cheryl Strayed’s Wild.
When developing characters, you want to think about the role they play in moving the action forward in your book. Are they the protagonist, where everything in the story rotates around them. Are they the antagonist, someone or something that fights against, opposes, thwarts or undermines the protagonist.
Other roles include the love interest, the mentor, the confidant or best friend, and, my favorite to say, the deuteragonist, or the people taking up almost as much importance as the protagonist in the book, think Ron and Hermione to Harry Potter, or Dr. Watson to Sherlock Holmes.
If you’d like some help developing characters, check out my free workshop Developing Unforgettable Characters at SchoolForWriters.com/characters. That link is also in your show notes.
4. Action or Plot – what happens in the book
Anything that happens in the story is a part of the plot. People get caught up on plotting but at its basic form it is simply what happens next in a book. Th most basic plot structure sounds something like this happens, then that happens in response, and then this happens to resolve it. You probably tell stories with a plot all the time in your life, while talking to friends or posting on social media.
Human brains get bored if kept always sad or always happy, so you want to make sure it rises and falls, with some points of joy or pleasure and other points of sorrow or frustration. Places where the tension is high followed by places where tension is relieved either through laughter or information gained.
There are many structures that a plot can take, and I outline a few of them in a free plotting course I have. Grab it SchoolforWriters.com/plot. That link is also in your bio.
5. Place and Space – where and when the action happens
If you’ve ever read a book and felt like you were right there with the characters, your author had a fabulous grasp on place and space.
Place and space is often overlooked in books, but it’s an important part of setting the scene for your reader. Whether you’re creating a completely fantastical new world in a sci-fi novel, or writing about your own experiences in a self-help book, you need to orient your audience to where your characters are throughout the book.
Think of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, that famous kids book that counts all the food a caterpillar eats as it prepares for its miraculous transformation into a butterfly. Through simple imagery, you can tell where the caterpillar is not only physically – for example on a leaf or eating an apple – but also where she is in her life cycle and emotionally – she’s a young bug and she’s very hungry.
Contrast that to Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly, a book that outlines both her adventures in shedding shame and stepping up as a leader, but also tells stories of other people’s journeys as well. Each story is set in a different time and location in history, a different mental space, and a different set of life circumstances. Plus, she sets all of us up into a world where shame has become a cultural pandemic.
That is all a part of place and space. Everything around us that orients us not only to where we are, but also who we are and what obstacles exist around us.
That’s it, those are the five elements of the craft of writing. It seems like a lot to think about when you put them all together, but really they’re all things you’re already doing, practicing, and incorporating into your writing.
Remember, craft is simply practicing a skill with the purpose of getting better at it, so all you have to do to hone your craft and skill as a writer is to write.
You can even hone your craft while not writing. For example:
• When you’re watching a movie or show, pay attention to how the dialogue flows.
• The next time you’re stuck in traffic, notice every aspect of the place and space around you.
• While you read, think about why you love or hate a character, or when you’re completely enthralled or totally bored by the action.
If you want some extra support, remember that I have that free Craft worksheet at SchoolForWriters.com/craft.
And, be sure to follow and subscribe to the School for Writers podcast so you can continue to get help becoming a better writer.
Until next time, happy writing!