Thursday, November 17, 2011

Storming the Brain

In late October, regular commenter here at the Alley, Jeanne T. asked what was my biggest takeaway from Techniques of the Selling Writer. While I’ve read and reread through this book, I’d have to go with what I’m giving you below.

Swain spoils writers with his lightning, surefire method of getting to the heart of what your book is about.

When delving into the sometimes cloudy area of story elements, Swain challenges writers to fill out as many specifics as possible when capturing the following (and then stripping them down to the essentials).


After we flesh out each of the above for our novel, Swain challenges us to combine all five into two sentences. We can use this as a reminder and a structural base as we write.
I even tend to be more of a pantser than a plotter, but I make sure to construct (at the very least) a skeletal version of the above. This is one way for me to test my plot—to see if it will sink or swim as the rains of distraction and lack of focus increase and threaten to flood the work.

Swain also emphasizes the importance of incorporating a “fresh idea or unique twist” in our manuscripts. I cannot echo this enough. To make a novel stand out today, we must be intentional about seeking out and working with all that’s original in our work. We must not settle for cliché. Just like every single one of us possesses unique features, our book must also take on a distinctive, defining form.

Have you ever flubbed when someone has asked you what your story is about? That all too important question can get thrown at us at the most unpredictable times. After you spend time brainstorming the above you’ll no longer have to fish for words.

You’ll answer with confidence because you allowed your brain to be stormed. Maybe you’ll even inspire thunderous applause. ;)

What forms of novel preparation are you familiar with?

Wendy Paine Miller writes women’s fiction, crafting stories with the hope of poking brains and moving thoughts. She graduated with a BA in English from Wittenberg University, where she earned an Honor of Distinction for her accrued knowledge of literature. Wendy feels most alive when she’s speeding in a boat, reading, writing, refurbishing furniture, running, and trusting God. To interact with her, visit


Jeanne Takenaka said...

What surprise to see my name in here. :) You must have been reading my mind, Wendy, because I had that exact scenario happen the other day when I took my computer to the shop to be fixed. The person helped me asked me what I did. When I told him I was writing a book, he immediately asked what it was about. Stuttering, I tried to condense thousands of words into a sentence. I failed to really give him the essence of my story. His response was, "How depressing!" Not exactly the response I hoped for! :) I am going to work on this suggestion today.

Thanks for sharing your biggest takeaway! :)

Jeanne Takenaka said...

Oops, I forgot to answer your question. :)I learned a lot about novel preparation from Susan May Warren's My Book Therapy. Her books and work shops taught me a lot about getting to know my characters (figuring out their lies, greatest dreams, greatest fears, dark moments, etc) and gave me good info for structuring my story. :) Too much to share here. :)

Sarah Forgrave said...

Ohhh, to hear that thunderous applause someday. Developing that summary is so important...not just to shape our story but to answer the question, "What's your book about?" when we're asked by editors, agents, and nosy grandmas. :)

Mary Vee Writer said...

You never know who is prime for the elevator pitch.

Even a computer tech, right Jeanne?

Wendy Paine Miller said...

Jeanne, Loved everything you shared. Clearly I'd been thinking about your question for quite some time. ;)

Sarah, It seems difficult to pin down sometimes, but working through things like what I listed in this post really help. At least they've helped me.

Mary, So true. So many chances to practice in our lives! :D

Thanks for offering your thoughts today, ladies!
~ Wendy

Beth K. Vogt said...

I sat with Jeanne today in the local Pikes Perk (lucky me!) and talked about this very thing!
Now I'm home reading your most excellent post.
My tried and true method for brainstorming/outlining my novel is Susan May Warren's Book Buddy. She walks you through characters, plot points like the Black Moment, the Inciting Incident, the lie, the truth, the spiritual thread, subplots, layers ... she really makes you think and dig.
And I love talking these things out with other writing friends and with my mentors.

Wendy Paine Miller said...

Beth, you realize I just eat that small world stuff right up! Love it and thanks for the RT! The lie & the truth...put that way, the lesson sounds novel-worthy in and of itself!
~ Wendy

Tracy Krauss said...

I appreciated the list and the idea that we should be able to boil it down into two sentences. This is somewhat like an 'elevator pitch', which I have found to be a very handy thing to have memorized so that you don't get caught with a stumbling answer when asked , "What's your book about?"

Angie Dicken said...

This is so great to see for me, a pantster...I like quick techniques to get to the writing! Something that has helped me...which doesn't usually happen til somewhere in the middle, is to construct a one page synopsis...that helps me work out the kinks that I am heading toward!

Keli Gwyn said...

I learned, after many fumbling attempts, to condense my story to those two sentences. As you said, if I can't do that and end up with a catchy summary, I need to work on the story, making sure it has that special something that will set it apart and grab a reader's attention.

Pepper said...

Good points, Wendy - and not so easy either (especially for long-winded people ;-)

Making it concise really does show whether we know the heart of our stories or not.

Ouch! Back to the drawing board ;-)

Wendy Paine Miller said...

Tracy, You're right, it is much like the elevator pitch!

Angie, That makes sense and then you don't have to go through the painful process after the book is written.

Keli, So truly about grabbing attention in this attention crazy world.

Pepper, Some of the best writing advice I've received has to do with chopping longer thoughts down. This can be difficult for me sometimes, but I like the results.
~ Wendy