And so I pick up a few of the latest how-to books just in case. The 4-and-5-star ones that claim to deal with such things as the “underlying forces of unforgettable fiction.”
However, though I try to keep an open mind, I always seem to take every sure-fire guideline with a grain of salt and even find myself refuting some of the claims.
In other words, the basic question seems to be, Is this the kind of book I want to write? How does any of this jibe with works I admire and my own voice and integrity? Do I really want to be in the same league of best-selling crime novels just so I can increase my sales?
For example, I met Larry Brooks and attended one of his seminars in Oregon and was curious to see if he had anything new to offer. His previous expose of the tools of the trade was called Story Engineering. This latest effort is called Story Physics. But here we go again: based on a high concept, a sure-fire page-turner that’s sure to take off in the market place. His great example of harnessing vital structural forces is Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. In other words, if you can steal a provocative premise from a contemporary religious scholar, add a secret religious society that will stop at nothing to keep the secret from getting out, add a one-dimensional hero that keeps running here and there and toss in a female sidekick who thinks nothing of running with him, you can’t miss.
But what kind of structure can hold up given those basic elements?
At the same time, Steven James’ how-to book comes along with his background in theater and tells you readers just won’t buy that sort of thing. They’re bound to question any action on the basis of character. What would he or she really do under these circumstances? Of course, if you’re Dan Brown you can dispense with sticky elements like credible characters and keep the action churning so that you can spend time writing about historical parts of the world you love to explore.
The upshot? What’s left standing after you’ve sorted through all the keys? Perhaps your original “elevator pitch.” What if so-and-so unwittingly was faced with such-and-such under these circumstances, what worthwhile and intriguing endeavor would this lead to? Is it really worth the candle? Does it have a built-in set of proliferating complications that will truly pay off after all is said and done?
All told, you can either happily stay the course or shore up some real structural flaws. But you’re probably better off keeping the latest how-to books to a minimum. Otherwise all the nodding and arguing might keep you from doing your real creative work.