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A New Perspective: Story Trumps Structure by Steven James

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Story Trumps Structure: How to Write Unforgettable Fiction by Breaking the Rules

Sometimes, the best way to change a situation or solve a problem is to stand on your head and look at the world from a new perspective. At times, literally. Perhaps metaphorically.

Seeing the familiar, the things about which we’ve said, “Yada, yada, yada—I know all that,” differently can change everything.

I had the privilege of attending the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference last month—which was fabulous, by the way. Great classes and keynotes, wonderful connections old and new, incredible conversations, gorgeous setting.

But the thing that turned my thinking upside down was a three-day continuing class with bestselling author Steven James. Just the title made me nervous: Six Secrets to Novel Writing No One Ever Told You.

Here’s the thing: I’ve had 2 novels published and have written half a dozen more, but there’s a nagging feeling I’ve missed something important. Somewhere along the way, I lost the joy of the process.

There is great debate among novelists about whether it’s better to be a “plotter” or a “panster” (write by the seat of your pants). I don’t comfortably fit in either category. If I try to write panster-style, it feels like leaving for vacation without a destination. Which way should I go?

But plotting is fraught with issues, too. If I plan too much, I’ve already told the story and get bored before I start. (Yes, I have the attention span of a gnat.) Worse, plotting the whole story means I’ve already finished the fun, creative part of writing in one big gulp. Writing the book then means cranking out pages and meeting words counts minus the joy of the process.

I’ve quoted Dorothy Parker, “I hate writing, I love having written,” but that doesn’t ring true anymore, either. I want to like writing. If I’m going to spend months doing something, I want to enjoy the process, as I did when I first started. Is there a way to recapture that joy? That excitement? That anticipation of the creative journey?

Story Trumps Structure: How to Write Unforgettable Fiction by Breaking the Rules

Steven James’ Story Trumps Structure: How to Write Unforgettable Fiction by Breaking the Rules

Steven James, in his new book, Story Trumps Structure, is showing me how to do just that. I’ve been reading it in pieces—there is too much to swallow in one big bite. But on almost every page, I’m highlighting and grinning and shouting, “Yes! That’s it exactly!”

This summer, as I dive into a new story (with a boat captain heroine, in fact) I am, with much fear and trembling, accepting James’ challenge, “…if you are courageous enough to ditch the formulas and templates and instead dive into the heart of narrative, you can become a better storyteller.”

I invite you to grab a copy of Story Trumps Structure and see if it doesn’t give you a new perspective, too. Let me know what you think of it. And feel free to ask me how my project is going. Nothing is quite as motivating as accountability.

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    The Conversation

  1. Roxanne Sherwood Gray says:

    Connie, After your glowing recommendation, I bought a copy yesterday. I can’t wait until my son’s swim practice today so I can begin reading it. Thanks so much!

  2. Marti Pieper says:

    My husband asked for a birthday list from me yesterday (my birthday is about 2.5 weeks away). Guess what book I added to the list? (I started to say something about your “glowing testimony” until I saw Roxanne used the same adjective).

    Thanks for the reaffirmation!

    • Connie Mann says:

      Happy Birthday in advance, Marti! Birthday lists are such fun, aren’t they? Here’s hoping you get to read this book! I’ll be eager to hear what you think of it!