In my post called Target My Structure, I talked about how Stuart Horwitz’s book Blueprint Your Bestseller is helping me organize my memoir.
One of the most important steps of structuring a book, according to Horwitz, is to identify the series in your book. As I mentioned in that post, “a series is anything that has ‘iterations.’ Repetitions, a pattern. But not just any pattern–a pattern where the series “undergoes a clear evolution.” It happens or shows up more than once and changes a bit? It’s probably a series.”
There is no set number of series a book should have, but 12 is a reasonable number. By happenstance, I have 12 series. Most of mine have to do with emotions, which is something that surprised me a great deal. I like imagery and metaphorical language, so I kind of thought I would find series with certain central metaphors or images. But when I did find iterations (repetitions) of an image, I would see that the image fit squarely within certain emotions that repeat throughout the book.
For instance, the image of a gun shows up in several scenes. In one scene, it’s a rifle. In another, it’s a pistol. In yet another, it’s a shotgun. But what is more important than the guns is that they represent the emotions fear and anger. Fear and anger are represented in different ways in many scenes. Guns are just one way they manifest themselves. But these emotions also show up in verbal arguments, physical abuse, and hiding/secrecy.
Once I had a list of my scenes in hand, I noticed that they correspond fairly well to the major emotions as identified by Pia Mellody.
I also have a few other series in addition to these emotions, but I might add a 13th. And it would be called THERAPISTS ;).
40 responses to “A Baker’s Dozen?”
Thanks for the recommendation. I have several friends who are writing memoirs, and will pass along your advice (and link to your post!). Yes, lots of emotions in my fictional writing. Fiction or non-fiction, I think we humans are MADE UP of emotions, so we should never ignore them!
Thanks so much for passing on the post, Pam! I’ve never been a fan of “overshowing” of emotions (especially negative ones), but that’s because my father is an overly emotional person and that took its toll on me. But then that’s what my book is about! 😉 So this book showed me what is in my book. It’s a way of seeing what you’ve got in front of you with new eyes.
It’s always a good reminder to make sure that emotions show up in our writing!
And how to create these emotions in our readers is one of the most difficult parts of writing. Do you find that is true or is it easy for you, Anneli?
I don’t really think about it when I’m writing. I usually sit back and imagine the situation and then I put myself in the character’s head and write exactly what’s going through my mind. Most times it comes out so the emotions are worked right into the writing. (Sometimes I fall on my face, but then I just try another angle.) When I wrote the scene in The Wind Weeps where Andrea is trying to escape by boat, I was right there in the boat with her, freezing and terrified. I just wrote in detail what I felt. I think it turned out pretty good…?
You are so lucky to have that ability to create the emotions rather than to tell the reader what emotions the characters are feeling, Anneli!
You can do it too. Just imagine yourself in that character’s head. I’ve read some of your writing where you do that. It’s good.
I really loved reading your post, Luanne. I read it twice. Once as you wrote it, for writers. And then again, envisioning a series of paintings I am about to embark on. I really enjoyed it. I think I will use it as a template (pretty much) for these paintings.
From the writing standpoint, also I like it because it called for strict organization. And for me, that makes everything easier. I can emote with the best of them (although I am not a writer, by any stretch), so to have a template to “put over” all those emotions, must make the writer feel reigned in a little. Thank you for the post!
Hollis, that’s thrilling to hear you’re gong to use this information for your paintings! I love it! Wow, yes, a template to put over is putting it very well. And as I read what you wrote here, I also thought of how in writing poetry it helps to have something to bump up against, meaning to work within some kind of writing constraint. For instance, if I want to write a love poem I might force myself to try writing it in a modified sonnet form because it will be a nod to the old love sonnets but also because the constraint of writing in a sonnet will also make the poem better. That’s what I mean by bumping up against. Thanks for making me think of that!! So very great to hear from you, as usual, Hollis. You always make me think!
Thank yo. You made me rethink this show I am planning!
never heard of identifying the ‘series’ or pattern in writing but I do like it and I think especially in memoir writing it can be extremely helpful. Thank you for this and the tips in your earlier post (I do like my post-its!) 🙂
I love these post-its that I bought for that project–they are sticky on the whole back and are a little smaller than usual. Very nice! Yolanda, identifying the series is so great. I saw things I had never seen before in my story by doing this. And it will work for all genres, but I think it’s almost a necessity in memoir!
I remember your post on Blueprint Your Bestseller. I need to pass your recommendation along to a few writing pals who are working on their memoir. 🙂
When I write a fiction story and draw on real events from my life, the emotion typically shows up in my character.
Gee, I remember writing a response to this. So what happened to it, WordPress? Jill, I completely understand how the emotion appears because you have felt those feelings yourself. One of the things that I am trying to work with is the difference between the character having emotions and evoking emotion in the reader. Can those be different? For instance, what if the main character is a murderer and he’s sweating it out under interrogation? The emotions he is going through might be beautifully developed, but am I the reader going to feel what he’s going through the same way if I am appalled at his actions? Does that make sense? And, Jill, thank you so much for recommending Horwitz’ book–I think they will find it so helpful. And also it’s good for all genres.
So good to hear from you always xo.
Hmmmm so are “series” similar to “motifs”?
Ooh, that’s an interesting question! At first glance, yes. But I am thinking that most likely all motifs are series, but all series are not necessarily motifs. There might be types of iterations that truly are not motifs.
That makes sense!
Luanne: Love this post. The insight and humor make a great combo. And yes, emotions are integral.
Haha, I thought you would like that therapist bit ;). Thanks, Rudri! Hope you’re having fun with your sweet daughter this summer.
I liked your addition of ‘therapists!’ to your list of emotions, Luanne! I think it is always intriguing to read about the way one can organize one’s writing. I also loved the way you let us in on which emotions that you will be sharing with us, through your memoir. I am so proud of how you tackle the different recommendations and correspond the suggestions to your own personal body of work.
On another subject, still memoirs, though… I read that this is a ‘good read’ and it sounds like a fun one, which is called, “Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good,” chronicling a Midwestern family’s history, through their culinary adventures. They are moving across the country to help run an uncle’s pizzeria, along the way, it includes, “hilarious missteps” like raising chickens. The ‘constant’ or continuing thread is their food experiences, including family recipes. It is written by Kathleen Flinn. It was on a page of “Beach Reads,” in my “Redbook” magazine.
Robin, that sounds really funny! Are you going to read it? I think I will look for it. Oops, just went to look for it. It’s not out yet. You can preorder the hardcover or Kindle, but I don’t do Kindle. So I will wait for the paperback or get it from the library. Thanks for the recommendation! xo
You are most welcome! I just noticed the books suggestion list in the Redbook magazine. I did not know it would not be available when I suggested it, Luanne. I used to like their collection of short stories, but alas, they don’t usually have more than one anymore! I would usually buy one at the newsstand and read, while on vacation! Smiles, Robin
This was really interesting. Now that I’m revising my novel, I’m going to be looking for those series or repetitions. I’ve noticed them already, but now I want to do a more thorough analysis. As for emotions, yes, lots of emotions in my characters. Every one you’ve mentioned is there, and more. No therapists in mine, but they definitely all need one!
Haha, yes, therapists are probably needed more often than they are used ;)! On the other post I responded about narrowing down. Horwitz’ book is sooo helpful.
Yes – emotions do show up in my writing and I guess it’s because I’ve experienced every one of them so I know very well how they feel. Well done for writing a memoir – this is something we should all do! 😀
Dianne, sometimes I think it’s that we’ve experienced all the range of emotions that allows us to write . . . whatever. It’s the emotional experience more than tangible experience of bodysurfing or driving a bus or whatever that makes a manuscript sing.
Hope you find this with all your other comments 🙂
I nominated you for an award, details at:
You are such a sweetheart! But how could you not be, being an INTJ! 😉 Thank you so much for the honor. I will go check out your post.
So gracious 😀
Must caution you that I’ve been spinning wheels in INTP mode….
You’ve probably guessed! They spill over constantly 🙂
Interesting stuff, Luane. I need to back track a bit. I love your header, by the way. It reminds me of licorice allsorts 🙂
Hah, I just saw this comment. Love it! It’s my first playing around with photoshopping ;).
This is really interesting – to me, series sounds so much more accessible and easier to identify than themes. And, yes, emotions tend to drive my pieces. Plus, after attending many, many CNF writing conferences, I’ve noticed that the comments I offer on others’ writings almost always go to the emotional life of the piece they are creating. So I guess emotional truth of a piece is important to me.
Ellen, that’s it! they are so much more accessible. I don’t have to debate–is this a symbol, a theme, a conceit, whatever. It happens in a series, it creates a pattern, it’s next on the list!
Also interesting what you say about the emotional truth of a piece. For all my emotion series, I have found that sometimes I hold back too much on emotion in my writing. I want to be more spare, but people tend to want more emotion. And here it was lurking behind all the time ;).
I have no interest in promoting their books but if you haven’t read The Emotion Thesaurus (Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi) it’s a great reference to help you convey emotions.
Luanne, I enjoyed reading your post…it was very informative. 🙂
I think I bought that book and haven’t read it yet!!!!!!! I have to go find it in the pile. Thanks, Carol!
Okay, now I really need to get Horwitz’s book 🙂 I don’t have many books on the craft of writing and the few I do, I haven’t read … much anyway. But I am really intrigued with Blueprint after reading your posts. As far emotions in my writing, I know that loneliness is there a lot. It was only after writing several short stories and rereading them did I realize that one theme underlying all of them was loneliness. And that’s kind of depressing 😉
That’s a sad emotion, for sure, Marie, but a haunting quality for stories! On the one hand, it kind of sucks that the most difficult parts of life sometimes make for some good reading, but then writing is our chance to transform the negative to transcend the basic muck level of life, if that makes sense.
Indeed, Luanne, writing at least helps towards understanding ourselves and make sense of our experiences.
Pingback: Here at Last: The Best Guide to Structuring Your Novel or Memoir | Writer Site