Daniel posted this question on my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page:
BTW, I’m currently in chapter 9 of your dummies book. I love it! It’s
absolutely great stuff especially the 7 layers of plot and how to use
one layer to get to the next in the chain. I read James Scott Bell’s
Plot and Structure book and got the doorways of no return down pat,
but I never understood how the pieces all related together before.
Kudos for explaining it so simply. I realize now that I’ve been trying
to write my synopsis as a scene list. Go figure.
And I seem to be tackling my own project from both ends. I’m naturally
an edit-as-you-go but this is only after much outlining. Again,
synopsis –> scene list. Arggh! Thanks so much for sharing your
knowledge. It keeps me and all your other faithful blog readers from
getting stuck in this long process. We wouldn’t know what to do or how
to begin without some help and you provide this in spades!
I know this email is getting longish, but I do have an intellectual
question for you and your blog. I’m curious of your response. Here it
is: How is a book like Twilight – which is consistently talked down by
industry professionals for it’s lackluster composition – so
successful? Essentially, I see Twilight as a success because Stephanie
Meyer did one thing and one thing only very, very well – she captured
the emotion of falling in love. However, emotion is not one of the
five pillars of fiction and none of them are done particularly well in
her book: minimal setting, flat characters, weak plot, weak theme, and
adverbial style. Maybe my question is best phrased as, “how does
emotion fit in with the pillars of fiction?” It’s not one of the five
yet if done correctly it can support an entire series. So is emotion
woven into all 5 pillars? Or is it the foundation of them? Or do they
support a roof of emotion? I need a visual.
I begin to think we need a new set of pillars that include emotion and
the concept of flow. (Or does writing this just show how green I am?)
On a related note screenwriters are graded on a similar scale. But in
their case, if the story idea is interesting enough everything else
can be poo and they’ll still make the movie. See
for the awful truth.
Randy sez: Thanks for the kind words about WRITING FICTION FOR DUMMIES and also the shout-out for Jim Bell’s book PLOT & STRUCTURE. Jim is a good friend of mine and I really love his book. I learned a lot about story structure from him years ago when I was first getting published and it was a huge help. There is a reason that Jim’s book is almost always #1 on Amazon’s list of books on writing fiction. It’s a terrific book.
Now to your core question which I will recast as follows, “What makes Twilight fly?”
Really, it all comes down to the fact that the point of all fiction is to create a Powerful Emotional Experience in the reader. If you do that, then your reader will love your work, no matter what rules you break, no matter how bad your grammar, no matter which “pillars of fiction” you ignore.
Rightly so, in my opinion. I once had Sol Stein as my mentor when he ran a workshop for a small group of writers in Laguna Beach back in the early 1990s. Sol is a living legend and I think we were all in awe of him. He knew I’m a physicist, so he autographed one of his books to me as follows: “Physics is facts; fiction is Truth.”
I’m going to have to disagree with Sol on both counts. (The mark of a great teacher is that he doesn’t create clones who parrot him–he creates students qualified to argue with him, so I don’t think Sol would be bothered at all that I disagree with an off-the-cuff remark he wrote in an autograph. He’d be pleased that I can think for myself.)
In my view, physics is Truth and fiction is feelings. If you want facts, go to an accountant or an engineer. (Both of these classes are fine folks but they deal mostly with concrete facts, not so much with abstract Truth.) Fiction can deal with Truth and often does, but that’s not why people read it. They read it for the emotive punch it gives them. That’s why I read it. I bet that’s why you read it.
So what makes the Twilight series fly? I’ve read the entire series and mostly enjoyed it. Twilight’s primary audience is teenage girls. The lead character in the Twilight series is an intelligent young girl with a lot of angst. Her angst works perfectly with this audience. Girls this age want an answer to the question: “Will anybody love me, even if I’m different from normal people?” The answer in the series is a resounding “Yes!”
Everybody, in fact, asks this question at some time or other, which explains why Twilight has done well outside the narrowly defined niche that it was aimed at. Yes, you can find all sorts of “problems” in the craft of the series. No, that is not particularly relevant to whether Twilight works as fiction.
Twilight gives many, many people an Extremely Powerful Emotion Experience. That’s why it flies. Stephenie Meyer earned her money. Of course, she has room for improvement, like every other writer on the planet. But she’s doing the main thing right. Kudos to her for that. (For the record, I’d rather be a werewolf than a vampire. For whatever reason, I’d rather be hot and furry than cold and stony. So my sentiments were with Jacob over Edward.)
The purpose of the “Five Pillars of Fiction” (that’s a slightly weird term I coined a few years ago) is to let you categorize the main aspects of a novel where you have a chance to create emotive punch with your reader: A plot, a character, a setting, a theme, and style can all resonate emotively with the reader.
But never, never, never forget the reason for those pesky Pillars or for all the rules on writing. The whole point is to create an emotive response. There are many paths to publishing nirvana. It doesn’t matter how you get there. It matters that you get there.
If you’ve got a question you’d like me to answer in public on this blog, hop on over to my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page and submit your question. I’ll answer them in the order they come in.