October 21, 2007 at 6:43 am 11 comments

I’m on page 230 of Stephen King’s On Writing. I’ve read it before, but like a spaghetti noodle a whole lot of it didn’t stick, because I wasn’t ready.

Things that makes sense (or really made me laugh.)

On the importance of word choice: (and my quote for the day)

George Charlin once observed, in some company it’s perfectly all right to prick your finger, but very bad form to finger your prick.”

This one was found in the description section, but I think it should apply to everything you write:

“Certainly, I couldn’t keep it on the grounds that it’s good;it should be good, if I’m being paid to do it. What I’m not being paid to do is be self-indulgent.”

Paraphrased: Cut it if it doesn’t serve the story. If you are reveling in how good it is, but it slows down the pace, doesn’t raise the stakes, softens the conflict, get rid of it. Really, you can print it out and stick it to your wall on the days when you think everything you write is crap. You can go see I can be brilliant.

This quote I’m pulling for the idea of structure:

” . . . You have to learn the beat.”

I know I’m pulling this out of context, but his point was to learn what it meant to break you novel in paragraphs, to have a balance of dialogue, narration, so on and so forth.All this consists of beats.

What the hell is beats you ask?

A beat is the smaller part(s) that makes up a scene. Character walks in, talks to other character, argument ensues, one character leaves. Those are beats, when you fill in the blanks around the beats then you have a scene. For the past year I’ve been hearing about beats and hearing people sing their praises. (refer to spaghetti noodle theory) It wasn’t until last month that I figured out how to use it.

I swear by it now.

When I’m at a lost for what to write next I can write down the beats. Like right now I’ve hit the first turning point and not sure what the second turning point needs to be. Before I can get there I need a scene. The first scene after the first turning point usually tells me where I’m going. That’s the way I’m built it may not work for you, but I’m still going to put it out there. I’m rambling, but anyway here’s what I’ve come up with.

(beat 1)Aiden(the hero) goes into the precinct(he’s a cop in a small town). He’s feeling sour, because this is day two he hasn’t had a good night’s sleep. He kissed the heroine the day before. A BAD IDEA.

(beat 2)He’s reminded of the person he put in jail the day before. Day one of sour mood. This is starting to become a bad habit. As best he can he’s going to avoid Megan(the heroine) unless absolutely necessary.

(beat 3) He goes to release single jailer. Gets the riot act, feels guilty. Realizes he needs to get control of the situation or the whole town will end up in jail. Heroine walks in. Aiden says. “Well, shit.”

It’s the bare bones, but by Gob I’ve got a scene.


Entry filed under: craft, writing.


11 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Anna Black  |  October 21, 2007 at 12:13 pm

    I use beats all the time when I write. They’ve really helped me when it comes to planning and drating and revising my scenes.

  • 2. Mel  |  October 21, 2007 at 3:58 pm

    That’s the one thing I love about using beats. If you are stuck on what to write you can find the beats and write the scene. If the scene feels off you can find the beats and find where you went wrong.

  • 3. mary beth  |  October 22, 2007 at 3:46 am

    I LOVE On Writing. I keep having to re-buy it because my kids take it out of the newsroom, but it’s definitely worth buying more than once!

  • 4. Patricia W.  |  October 22, 2007 at 2:47 pm

    I haven’t read King’s book yet.

    On beats, it took me over a year to figure out what they were. Sometimes authors use what I call “writerspeak”, not realizing that they are only confusing the folks they’re trying to help.

  • 5. Jennifer Elbaum  |  October 22, 2007 at 3:28 pm

    Fabulous book isn’t it?

    Keep up the great momentum!

  • 6. Mel  |  October 22, 2007 at 5:41 pm

    Mary Beth-I do have to agree it’s a keeper for no other reason than it’s entertaining. He was very honest about what’s goes on behind the closed door that is writing.

    I say the most helpful part is at the very end of the book where he shows the first draft of 1408 and how he revises.

  • 7. Mel  |  October 22, 2007 at 5:43 pm

    Patricia-With any profession there is JARGON. The process of sounding important, because you know something someone else doesn’t know. If you never heard the terms POV, GMC, Turning Points, Four act structure, you’ll be very lost and thinking you don’t measure up.

    Not true. A lot of “tricks” to craft are common knowledge you just have to learn the proper name for it.

  • 8. Mel  |  October 22, 2007 at 5:44 pm

    Jennifer-I hope I can. My goal is to finish the book by the end of December and celebrate the New Year with what I’ve accomplished since the beginning of 2007.

  • 9. Edie  |  October 22, 2007 at 8:30 pm

    Mel, I need to get that book and read it again. I don’t use beats, but I think a writer needs to have an “ear” for what works or now. That’s how I do it, anyway. But I’m such a pantser, lol.

  • 10. Mel  |  October 22, 2007 at 10:06 pm

    I’m not so good at flying by the seat of my pants anymore. I still like the discovery of what’s going to happen next, but every now and then I need keep in mind the purpose of the scene. Skelton planning helps when I just don’t know what they hell I’m doing. Funny some scenes just come to me and I don’t have to know what its purpose is. Other days I pull out my teeth without any whisky and then give in and plan.

  • 11. Jennifer Elbaum  |  October 23, 2007 at 12:27 pm

    That’s a great goal Melissa. I’m pulling for you!

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