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steven james in a nutshell

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mike m.
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steven james in a nutshell

Postby mike m. » Tue Aug 29, 2017 12:46 pm

story trumps structure and plot
no argument there

but that is the WHAT not a HOW to write it
the story still needs to be planned and organised to flow smoothly and quickly from start to finish and avoid dead ends

and the book really just tells you how to outline without calling it outlining.

======

comments on the book elaborate on it

The author's subtitle was: "How to Write Unforgettable Fiction by Breaking the Rules." While it has a rebellious ring to it, the author really did nothing but enumerate techniques on how to write. A more honest subtitle would have been: "Eight Simple Steps to Writing Fiction."

It doesn't break the rules, not any of them. The book does offer encouragement, of a sort, for those writing without an outline or beat sheet ("pantsers") and, if you have no experience or haven't read any of the dozens of other books out there on how to write fiction, then you may learn something new. A good effort, and this isn't intended to be a harsh criticism, but there's not much here.

The book also has some serious flaws. The first is the book's mostly unwritten but clearly implied assumption that all writers are alike and the author's disdain for any writer who uses a formal outline. Second, James tends to preach in this book, and the strongest sermon comes in Chapter 20, where he tells writers that they need to stop writing to a theme or they will lose their readers. This is just one example of his failure to practice what he preaches. A third flaw is that James fails to follow through on the promise in the subtitle: "How to Write Unforgettable Fiction by Breaking the Rules." The entire book is a set of rules, each repeated over and over and . . . You get the point.

Even though this book claims to be about how writing a compelling story is more important than adhering to a specific structure, the truth is that most of the advic ethe author gives pertains exactly to techniques of structuring your story so that the plot flows more compellingly. So it's basically still a book about how much a good structure matters, even if you pretend to not care about structure while you write.

As a reader, I was promised a revolutionary writing book about organic writing and how no writing rule is more important than ending up with a good story. Understanding the essence of the rules. When using them will lead to success and when breaking them will lead to greater success.
Instead I got a pretty standard writing book. The kind that uses pages to explain what should take a few paragraphs. Drifting from the hook/promise of the book to rehash every elementary principle of writing the author can dredge up. Fluffing the book with liberal quotes from other writing books. Pretending to cast away the trite advice of others while ultimately teaching the exact same thing in its own words.
Let me sum up the gist of the advice of the book: The most important thing to focus on in a story is increasing the tension, then delivering an unexpected but inevitable conclusion. As far as throwing away outlines to learn to write organically? IT SEEMS MORE LIKE, "LET ME TEACH YOU THE PRINCIPLES OF HOW I OUTLINE BEFORE YOU START WRITING. THEN YOU CAN OUTLINE INTUITIVELY AS YOU WRITE YOUR STORY. BUT WE WON'T CALL IT OUTLINING.We'll call it understanding story structure and how to make a great story." Not a bad premise in and of itself. Just not what the book is claiming to do.


Steven James makes some very good points. Are any of them new? Not really.
Have any of them been explained better elsewhere? Generally, yes.
Could all of the useful advice fit on one side of A4? Almost certainly.
But they key problem with his ideas is that he pulls the rug from under himself.
In other words, HE OUTLINES A GOOD STORY STRUCTURE!!!!!. The same structure that can be found in countless other books on the subject. Although it's usually discussed in more depth and detail elsewhere.

There is a lot of useful information in this book. My issue with the book was the way it was structured. There was a lot of redundancy and many times when I was strongly tempted to skip ahead. I'd find my self muttering, "I get it. Let's move on." Stated different, the focus on story is excellent but the reading definitely feels padded. A few good ideas that could have been presented in something approaching a pamphlet.

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Brien Sz
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Re: steven james in a nutshell

Postby Brien Sz » Tue Aug 29, 2017 3:21 pm

I'm kind of curious... I've been part of this site for a couple of years. In less than a month in this particular incarnation you have almost as many responses as I do. When do you actually plan, organize and write? I am not trying to be a smart ass, but I will drift by this website a couple times a day sometimes, then not at all for a couple days - as an example, for 15 straight days, I did not visit this site for no other reason than I had things to do. I write almost daily as well as work - can't see how you can write effectively (or plan, or organize) if you are seemingly here all the time making one kind of commentary or another. Like I said, just curious.

mike m.
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Re: steven james in a nutshell

Postby mike m. » Tue Aug 29, 2017 4:15 pm

[quote="Brien Sz"]I'm kind of curious... I've been part of this site for a couple of years. In less than a month in this particular incarnation you have almost as many responses as I do. When do you actually plan, organize and write? I am not trying to be a smart ass, but I will drift by this website a couple times a day sometimes, then not at all for a couple days - as an example, for 15 straight days, I did not visit this site for no other reason than I had things to do. I write almost daily as well as work - can't see how you can write effectively (or plan, or organize) if you are seemingly here all the time making one kind of commentary or another. Like I said, just curious.[/quote]
========

i do the planning and organising before i write
prepare first
write later

there is some iteration as the details emerge
it is not 100% plan every detail first down to the length of the heroes shoelaces

if you mean when do i do the writing itself then it is when i feel like it and it is not preempted by other priorities
as i have other interests and problems to fix
as well as many projects taht i am juggling at the same tiem

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wdarcy
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Re: steven james in a nutshell

Postby wdarcy » Tue Aug 29, 2017 6:51 pm

It is clear that what Mike has done in his original post is to cut and paste together negative Amazon reviews of Steven's book. None of the comments are his (nor does he claim they are).

Steven's book has a 4.5 star rating on Amazon. Of the eighty-some reviews, most are overwhelmingly positive. Mike has linked together the small subset of negative reviews.

I have no idea how much, if any, of Steven's book Mike has read himself.

As for myself, having read the book twice and studied with Steven, I can say that he is absolutely NOT teaching outlining under a different name. I cannot understand anyone who has seriously read his book coming to that conclusion.

Just wanted to make sure that those who read Mike's original post realize that the words are not his and where they come from. But don't take my word for it. Go to Amazon and read the negative reviews for yourself. Then compare them to Mike's post. And while you're at it, read all the glowingly positive reviews as well.

--Warren
"Wagner's 'Das Rheingold'" (Oxford 1993). Winner of the Society for Music Theory's Wallace Berry Award, 1995.

"Elements of Sonata Theory" co-authored with James Hepokoski(Oxford 2006). Winner of the Society for Music Theory's Wallace Berry Award, 2008.

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ostarella
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Re: steven james in a nutshell

Postby ostarella » Tue Aug 29, 2017 8:45 pm

I think most who have had any interaction with william/noob/mike know better than to believe most, if any, of his statements or claims.
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T.A.Rodgers
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Re: steven james in a nutshell

Postby T.A.Rodgers » Wed Aug 30, 2017 10:34 am

I guess I stand corrected. I will now admit to the following:

1. There are no books about organic writing.
2. Everyone that has ever tried to write without an outline has failed.
3. Do not take the advice of any author that says they do not plan or outline as they are surely lying.
4. No one has ever made money writing a novel with the pantsing technique.
5. Only read the negative reviews about books because those are the only ones that matter.
6. No one can teach pantsing. Since this is true, then NO ONE should every try to come up with a class to do so.
7. Mike is a very talented novelist that has written dozens of critically acclaimed novels with beautiful outlines for each one.

There I said it. I can admit when I'm wrong. :mrgreen:

If you really think about it, organic writing is different for every person who uses the method that in reality you can't teach it. Organic writing is structureless because there are no set rules. So you teach around it. You teach creative writing. You teach story telling. You teach structure. You teach plot. You teach character building. You teach everything there is about writing. Then you just write. Some write with a single idea in their head. Some do months of research on a subject, take some notes, then write. Some might even jot down notes as they are writing, so they can include items later. There are no set rules to how you finish a novel. Talking about how to get from A to Z is useless because it's different for every person. What's important is enjoying the ride. I've written novels using both an outline and no outline. The important thing to note is I started the novel and finished it. Until you can say you finished a novel, you can shout from the highest mountain about how to write a novel, but should anyone listen?

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Re: steven james in a nutshell

Postby updog » Wed Aug 30, 2017 10:39 am

[quote="T.A.Rodgers"]

If you really think about it, organic writing is different for every person who uses the method that in reality you can't teach it. Organic writing is structureless because there are no set rules. So you teach around it. You teach creative writing. You teach story telling. You teach structure. You teach plot. You teach character building. You teach everything there is about writing. Then you just write. Some write with a single idea in their head. Some do months of research on a subject, take some notes, then write. Some might even jot down notes as they are writing, so they can include items later. There are no set rules to how you finish a novel. Talking about how to get from A to Z is useless because it's different for every person. What's important is enjoying the ride. I've written novels using both an outline and no outline. The important thing to note is I started the novel and finished it. Until you can say you finished a novel, you can shout from the highest mountain about how to write a novel, but should anyone listen?[/quote]

Very well said, Terry. And the part I didn't quote made me laugh, so thanks for that too. :lol:
"Is it weird in here, or is it just me?" ~ Steven Wright



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wdarcy
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Re: steven james in a nutshell

Postby wdarcy » Wed Aug 30, 2017 3:01 pm

[quote="T.A.Rodgers"]
If you really think about it, organic writing is different for every person who uses the method that in reality you can't teach it. Organic writing is structureless because there are no set rules. So you teach around it. You teach creative writing. You teach story telling. You teach structure. You teach plot. You teach character building. You teach everything there is about writing. Then you just write. Some write with a single idea in their head. Some do months of research on a subject, take some notes, then write. Some might even jot down notes as they are writing, so they can include items later. There are no set rules to how you finish a novel. Talking about how to get from A to Z is useless because it's different for every person. What's important is enjoying the ride. I've written novels using both an outline and no outline. The important thing to note is I started the novel and finished it. Until you can say you finished a novel, you can shout from the highest mountain about how to write a novel, but should anyone listen?[/quote]

I couldn't have put it better myself, Terry. Absolutely. I have completed four novel-length manuscripts (currently editing the fourth). All four were written organically. Maybe one or more will be published, maybe not (I do have great hopes for the latest one, but we'll see). The point is that, like you, I started these novels and finished them. So I think I know something about writing a novel--at least I know what works for me. But I would never tell anyone else how to write or claim that organic writing is better than outlining--it's just a different, equally justifiable way to write. I don't even care to analyze and explain to others how I write. I just do it. And I have a ball doing it. As you say, it's all about enjoying the ride. It's about doing the work, bringing into being a world that up to then existed only in my imagination. I have loads of non-fiction publications (in my field of Music Theory), but writing non-fiction simply can't compare with the rush I get writing fiction.

--Warren
"Wagner's 'Das Rheingold'" (Oxford 1993). Winner of the Society for Music Theory's Wallace Berry Award, 1995.

"Elements of Sonata Theory" co-authored with James Hepokoski(Oxford 2006). Winner of the Society for Music Theory's Wallace Berry Award, 2008.

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Re: steven james in a nutshell

Postby ostarella » Wed Aug 30, 2017 11:06 pm

I have always maintained that too many writers - even those who could become very good writers - give up in despair because they've been told they have to do this or they have to do that, and they can't. Writing is ALL about experimenting - from methods and mechanics to plots and characters.
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rob-lost
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Re: steven james in a nutshell

Postby rob-lost » Thu Aug 31, 2017 8:23 am

[quote="ostarella"]I have always maintained that too many writers - even those who could become very good writers - give up in despair because they've been told they have to do this or they have to do that, and they can't. Writing is ALL about experimenting - from methods and mechanics to plots and characters.[/quote]

It's kind of inherent in education. At least, the way we do it these days.

I wish I could find the book. It was a science-fiction story about establishing a colony on a planet orbiting a far star. There was no faster-than-light travel, so they sent it with thousands of robots and human embryos. The robots were going to teach the kids how things work as they grew up.

Some decades later, having created FTL, a Terran starship shows up.

The kids ignored the robots about government, society, money... they created a completely barter-based society. John grows tomatos. Diana grabs a few and walks away. Diana in turn works on a weather sensor. Bob uses the sensor to plan his outing, which is a nature walk examining planet-native flora...

The funny part is that they didn't design it. It just came about from their natural propensity for social interaction.

The Terrans on the ship are horrified. How does someone earn? They don't. They just do. The Terrans start to live off the free stuff. Until they realize just how boring and unfulfilling that is, and start to find their own place in the chain of barter. And when that place almost never involves having a gun, the captain of the ship acts...

I've HEAVILY oversimplified that storyline for brevity's sake. But, basically, I think it mirrors the Swedish education system. Humans are learning animals. I think simply throwing the concept of money out the window is a utopian dream. Unrealistic if and when resources become the limiting factor. But that should not mean that we simply abandon our inherently curious natures.

Education today discourages curiosity. As if curiosity can be mapped and controlled (and yes, I understand the irony of this given recent histrionics in the forum). If we could just get away from the idea that we must control it, and turn (return?) to the idea that we can facilitate and actively nurture it, I would be very interested to see what comes of that.
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