The Mind of Your Story, Revisited

April 30, 2008
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Dissonance
Dissonance, a Novel by Lisa Lenard-Cook
Buy This Book via Amazon.com

The Art of Fiction: 

The Mind of Your Story, Revisited

by Lisa Lenard-Cook
May 2008

Lisa Lenard-Cook is a regular columnist for Authorlink. She is an award-winning published author and writing instructor. This is another in the series, The Art of Fiction. Watch for her insights every month on Authorlink.

Mind of Your Story
Mind of Your Storyby Lisa Lenard-Cook
Buy This Book via Amazon.com

When I wrote the four columns collectively entitled “The Mind of Your Story” for Authorlink in 2005, the book that would grow from them was a mere seed in my right brain. Now that this seed (along with the others that sprouted with it) has made the journey not just to left brain, but to the page, I’d like to revisit what I mean by “the mind of your story.”

"Every fiction has a mind of its own – an imagined world created by you, its author."
—Lenard-Cook

Your Fiction’s Mind

Every fiction has a mind of its own – an imagined world created by you, its author. The (unwritten) contract between writer and reader stipulates that for the length of a fiction, readers will surrender their own minds to the story’s, and in return the writer will offer a world that will make that surrender worth the readers’ time and effort.

This is why the best fictions, the ones that grab us and don’t let go, arise from writers’ obsessions, the things we think about those nights we can’t sleep. Sending your obsessions over to right brain to percolate, though, is just the first step on your journey toward creating your fiction’s mind. You’ll create – and listen to – your characters. You’ll observe their story arcs and offer them both setting and mood. You’ll consider point of view and person, tense and tension. Finally, you’ll map your story’s mind, the way it moves around in time.

Then you’ll start all over again.

"I think that work means “fun.” No matter how difficult the challenge a fiction presents. . ."
—Lenard-Cook

The Joy of Work

While these few sentences may make the process of creating a fiction sound both deceptively easy and ridiculously hard, the reality of what it takes to generate a story that connects with readers is that it is work. Some of you may think that work means “hard,” but I think that work means “fun.” No matter how difficult the challenge a fiction presents, I know that if I keep working at it, what’s on the page will ultimately reflect the picture that was in my head when I began.

Twenty years ago, when I started writing fiction again after some time away from it, I sought out books to help me understand what I wanted to do. I found books that urged me to “just write” – which wasn’t a problem I needed to solve. I found books about character and plot, about dialogue and point of view. But while every book – and every writing teacher – talked about pacing, and revision and rewriting, none of them explained how to apply these essentials in my own fiction.

So over the years, as I wrote (and rewrote) my own short stories and novels while at the same time teaching writing classes, I paid attention to my ways of doing these things. I discovered what worked – and what didn’t. And slowly, I began incorporating what I learned into classes and workshops.

"That was when, in quick succession, a number of things occurred."
—Lenard-Cook

The Seeds Sprout

That was when, in quick succession, a number of things occurred. I started teaching a new session of Fiction Writing I. My agent called, with a “quirky little thing” that came across her desk. My husband and I rented the d.v.d.s of the HBO series Band of Brothers. An advance copy of my book about fiction writing, The Mind of Your Story arrived. (Yes, it’s gorgeous, and yes, I hope you’ll use the link above to order an advance copy, as it will be out by the end of this month.) And I read an article in The New Yorker about… well, it doesn’t matter what it was about. Let’s just call it a fictional seed.

"I still remember the first time I “drew” a story’s mind on a whiteboard, . ."
—Lenard-Cook

Paying Attention

I still remember the first time I “drew” a story’s mind on a whiteboard. It was an Alice Munro short story, a masterpiece of moving around in time, and as I diagrammed that movement, I could hear the students behind me agreeing with what I was doing.

I also remember the first time I stood in front of a room full of writers and said, “I put Dissonance in my closet for seven years.” There were gasps, then nervous laughter, and then, as I explained further, nods of recognition and a lot of note-taking. I’m on to something, I thought. I paid attention. I took (mental) notes myself.

"– I’m still learning. We all are. That’s part of the fun, too."
—Lenard-Cook

These concepts (and doodles) are the basis of The Mind of Your Story. I’ve written down the things I wish had been written down for me, when I was trying to figure out this fiction writing thing. But – and here’s the thing – I’m still learning. We all are. That’s part of the fun, too. I hope you’ll join me.

Lisa Lenard-Cook
About
Lisa Lenard-Cook
Lisa Lenard-Cook’s first novel Dissonance was short-listed for the PEN Southwest Book Award, and her second novel Coyote Morning short-listed for the New Mexico Press Women’s Zia Award. Lisa is on the faculty of the Santa Barbara Writers’ Conference and Vermont College’s Lifelong Learning Program. Her book about fiction writing, The Mind of Your Story, (April 2008) is now available for advance purchase at amazon.com.

 

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