Deep Story Magic Course

Line art representation of a Quill
Line art representation of a Quill (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m a bit of a skeptic when it comes to courses and workshops for writers (see Mining the Miners for evidence). There are great courses and workshops out there but there’s also a lot of folks cashing in on writers’ hunger for success. In January, when I was trying to figure out what to do with an earlier manuscript, I mentioned that my wife took a course called Discovering Story Magic (DSM) by Laura Baker at a Fearless Writer (also WriterUniv.com). DSM offers a concise, clear way to define and drive the story from the characters. That is currently my weakest area as a writer so finding a way of looking at it that clicked was a huge relief.

I’ve got my current project out to two alpha readers and am taking a break from it by working on story development for the next one. As it turns out, Laura has a sort of “mini” version of her DSM course available starting 28 June. Fortunate timing: I can spend a few weeks getting a first draft of the DSM “grid” and related material in place and hope to get some early, good feedback on it. It makes my break between revisions on SOTA a bit longer than planned but sometimes more distance is better between revisions, anyway.

To sign up for this mini-course, it is necessary to have some familiarity with DSM, either from an earlier course or from Laura’s course materials (available at one of the links above). Enrollment is limited to about 10, though, so if it sounds interesting, you may want to check it out sooner than later.

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What to do with that Manuscript that’s under the bed

War and Peace, Re-write or Abandon?
War and Peace, Re-write or Abandon?

TMSO’s comments about her previous project on N. E. White have me thinking about my own previous novel. I’ve been torn on how much more revision it needs: another tweak or a complete re-work? A tweak feels like it might be insufficient and a complete re-work has been hard to stomach. But lately, I’m contemplating the latter. It was one thing to consider (and balk at) a complete re-write when I really wasn’t quite sure what I would do in that re-write. It’s another thing when, thanks to a writing course my wife is currently taking, I have some specific ideas that I think/hope will turn some weaknesses into strengths.

As I mentioned earlier, I have had it professionally critiqued. The feedback was good and overall encouraging but I’ve still been going back and forth on whether to spend more time on it. As currently written, it is about 98,000 words and in the first person with a climax that has the antagonist acting a bit crazy. And while the main character could appear in follow-on books, any sequel would be only loosely coupled. So, the book is short for a fantasy novel, has a POV that turns some people off, has a climax that will take enough care to get just right that it probably won’t work for a fair number of readers, and doesn’t have strong sequel potential. That’s not to say it couldn’t succeed but that’s a lot of barriers to overcome. Set against that, I really like the characters, premise and setting.

So what to do with it? It’s been through many major drafts and I’ve spent over a thousand hours on it. But that’s all “sunk work” and no excuse to put more into it if it doesn’t have a future. Enter Discovering Story Magic by Laura Baker on WriterUniv.com. My wife is taking the class now and is really liking it: it isn’t just abstract things to keep in mind, it’s actionable ideas for specific projects. DSM provides a model for how to link character’s, especially their flaws, to turning points and climax. For me, it’s a model that really connects. One of the resulting epiphanies is that given how Laura defines protagonist and antagonist, I really have it backwards in my current draft. If I turn the two around, no longer will she seem crazy at the end, and I now have good material for follow-on books should it do well enough to justify one. Plus if I convert it to 3rd person, I can better setup the relationship between the two characters thus dealing with a number of the other challenges in the manuscript.

I’m going to do at least one more draft on my current project first before returning to this other one and, who knows, I may change my mind again. But suddenly I’ve moved from waffling on my earlier project to excited by it, all because of a writing resource that opened my eyes to some useful, actionable solutions. It’s been quite enlightening and even if I don’t use the model for a re-write of the last book, it is already proving useful for my current project.

In the class, students apply this model to their current project. I was looking forward to taking the course as a first step on the re-write but, sadly, it won’t be offered again this year. It does look like there are a lot of other interesting courses on that site, though, so it might be worth a look.