WMBTSG Day Sixteen (Comment to this post to enter today’s drawing)

Welcome to day sixteen of the Writer Mama Back-to-School Giveaway. Today’s giveaway is The Mind of Your Story by Lisa Lenard-Cook.

I’m in the middle of reading Lisa’s novel, Coyote Morning, and it’s cool. It’s really cool. This is a book that succeeded in sucking me right in. I admire an author who can do that as quietly and skillfully as Lenard-Cook without a trace of device manipulation. (That’s years of craft paying off, my friends. Lisa is the real-deal.)

The Mind of Your Story: Discover What Drives Your Fiction
By Lisa Lenard-Cook
Writer’s Digest Books, 2008
ISBN: 978-1-58297-488-0
$19.99 hardcover, 272 pages

How do you create a successful fiction that captures readers from its first page and never lets them go until the final page is turned? The secret is a delicate balancing act between allowing a story a mind of its own and holding tightly to its reins.

Award-winning author Lisa Lenard-Cook takes you through the entire writing process, showing you how to:

  • nurture your ideas—the seeds of your fiction—so they bloom more fully
  • develop nuanced characters with distinct voices that intrigue readers
  • manage your story’s “mind”—carefully pacing your scenes
  • navigate the intricacies of the revision process—so your own edits are more efficient and effective

Combining practical advice with down-to-earth candor, The Mind of Your Story illuminates the often-elusive elements of fiction and helps you turn your creative obsessions into that mysterious yet undeniable connection with readers.

About the Author
Lisa Lenard-Cook’s first novel, Dissonance (University of New Mexico Press), won the Jim Sagel Award for the Novel while still in manuscript and went on to be short-listed for the PEN Southwest Book Award. The book was also a selection of the Durango-La Plata County Reads! countywide reading program and NPR Performance Today’s Summer Reading Series. Her second novel, Coyote Morning (UNM Press), was short-listed for the New Mexico Press Women’s Zia Award and, like Dissonance, a Southwest Book of the Year. Lisa is on the faculty of the Santa Barbara Writers Conference and is the fiction columnist for the Web site Authorlink.com. Visit her Web site, www.lisalenardcook.com, for information on upcoming appearances and classes. Lisa lives in Corrales, New Mexico.

***

Today’s question:

Let’s talk about fiction some more! Do stories have “minds” of their own? Are we but channels for such stories to “pour” through us? Have you ever experienced this sensation? If not, would you like to? Tell us how ficiton happens…for you.

If this is your first post in the giveaway, please read “Da Rules.”

You may post your comments until midnight PST on September 16th.

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27 Responses to “WMBTSG Day Sixteen (Comment to this post to enter today’s drawing)”


  1. 1 Mary Jo C. September 16, 2008 at 7:57 am

    I used to think stories had a mind of their own. When I studied fiction at Columbia College, we’d use certain exercises to begin a story: i.e. go in a circle and shout the first word in your head, use an image and just write from there, keep asking “then what happened?” Well, what happened was a ton of great beginnings and no story arc to get to a satisfying end.

    So, the outlining technique became my friend. But now I face multiple chapters outlined and no urgency to tell the story. Hmph!

    I may go back and close my eyes and let my characters lead the way again. Those seem to be the scenes that come alive for me and give me excitement for my project.

    Indecisive much? Yep, I’m a writer – leave me alone to my own devices!: )

  2. 2 alirambles September 16, 2008 at 8:35 am

    I started writing a book with premise A leading to event B, and ended up with a book where premise A leads to event C and the realization that it was all caused by event D which was a total shock to me even though it occcurred chronnologically before the beginning of the storyline. It’s a far better and more unique book than the first idea would have been and the experience of “Whoah! So that’s what happens!” is unbeatable. I’m working now with a teacher who is a huge advocate of outlining, so I’m going to give it a try but I honestly think it’ll be as much a waste of time as, say, researching colleges for my 8 year old would be!

  3. 3 Angie Goodloe September 16, 2008 at 9:20 am

    When I was 11 my parents had The Shining by Steven King sitting on the shelf – they told my I could not read it. Of course I read it. At the time I was skiing every weekend for my sport (I just happen to live near MT Hood – skied at Timberline where the movie was filmed) To this day I get an strange feeling when I go into the Timberline lodge (one of the locations where the movie for the book was filmed)- I wonder if someone could really go crazy if they were trapped up there- seeing things out of the corner of my eye and wondering if it is truly haunted. I think because I was so young when I read it that it really had an effect on me.
    I am of the opinion that thoughts are things. I do know that stories effect how we view the world, therefor changing our reality. Deep I know- but I believe it.

  4. 4 Laura September 16, 2008 at 9:47 am

    I have only begun fiction stories. I am still very inexperienced in this area, but have a deep burning desire to write fiction. The most recent experience I’ve had is a sudden short story idea came to me, at work, of all places. I grabbed the note pad I always have on hand (I have them stashed everywhere!), and quickly jotted down my idea and story beginning. When I got home, I barely gave myself time to change into my beloved jeans, rushed over to my writing desk, and lit my candle (our family signal that Mom’s writing, don’t talk to me unless it’s an emergency, or my parents on the phone.) I sat there for about a half hour, furiously writing the story that just seemed to leap out of the end of my pen, dragging me along. About half way through, my hand cramped up and I had to stop. I have periodically picked that story up, but have yet to finish it. I do have an idea of where I think it will end, but will have to wait & ride the events out to see where it actually will end. I can’t wait to find out!

  5. 5 Cat September 16, 2008 at 11:06 am

    I have tried it both ways–outlining and writing with no plan–and while the outline gives me the illusion of control over the story, I find it’s just that: an illusion. Usually, the story goes someplace I don’t intend or plan for. Still, I like that illusion of control, and I think it helps get me going. I might outline the whole thing, or just make notes on the main events of the narrative, and then I have someplace to start. Outlines have been useful for me when I get stuck in the middle (or beginning or end), too–I look back at the outline and find a place or scene to begin writing from again.

  6. 6 Mar Junge, c3PR September 16, 2008 at 11:25 am

    For me, fiction starts with an idea for a story inspired by a real-life incident or person. Then I ask myself, “Why do I need/want to write this? What message am I trying to convey?” The answers help me determine what characters will take the stage. Next, I create the outline. The outline is like the architectural drawing for a building – without it, all you’ve got is a pile of brick and mortar. The outline helps me decide what scenes need to be built around my characters to convey my theme, or message. There’s a lot of work and planning to be done before the creative prose and dialogue is written. Stories may have minds of their own, but without an outline, you can spend months or even years writing chapter after chapter of great words that pour through you, but never finish a publishable novel.

  7. 7 rowena September 16, 2008 at 11:51 am

    Good question. Sometimes they do have a life of their own. They have a heart beat, at least.

    It’s the characters that are the most alive for me. I still have one novel that won’t lay down quietly. I stopped writing it (I almost wrote “her”) when I went to grad school, put aside the completed first draft instead of revising so I could go to school, but that story is still very alive in my mind, and sometimes I think it wants to come back.

    Okay, I do think fiction lives. Maybe it’s a sign that I really should go back to that novel. If it won’t go away, if it keeps coming back more than any other of my stories, maybe it’s got something special.

  8. 8 Meryl K. Evans September 16, 2008 at 11:52 am

    I believe fiction writers mix the two. Some say that the story just flows and leads them where it goes. Most do deep research to stay true to the story, it a realism (like Tom Clancy researching CIA to ensure his stories are as accurate as possible).

    Others — like me — we have to think hard to find a starting spot. I mentioned I would like to write children’s fiction, but I just haven’t hit on the right idea and theme. So in this case, it doesn’t pour out of me. I’d love it to happen and probably could with some practice and online classes. But there’s that requirement again… time.

  9. 9 Cara September 16, 2008 at 12:21 pm

    There’s some magic process that occurs when my pen hits the paper, or my fingers pound the keyboard. My writing comes from somewhere internal, not under the control of my conscious mind, and it is always a bit of a surprise to me when I read my own words on paper.

    For me, the key to writing fiction is to let the characters drive the story, so I start with them first, based on real people, or some amalgam of their traits, craft a very loose plot, and then let them go and see what happens. So far, I’ve mostly stuck to flash fiction.

    If I’ve learned one thing from writing these past two years, it is simply this. There are no special prizes for those lucky enough to be able to write final copy, or close to it, on their first attempt. When writing for specific calls for submissions, it is often my fourth or fifth take on a topic that is the one I’m most satisfied with. I like to think of my less than satisfactory attempts as just training ground for what I hope to write in the future!

  10. 10 Erika September 16, 2008 at 1:34 pm

    For me it is a combination… The initial ideas seem to just come to me and, at least to some extent, write themselves. There are other parts in a story though where I feel stuck and actually have to think through different solutions. Sometimes this is because the grandiose ideas I dreamed up earlier in the book don’t really seem so realistic on paper.

  11. 11 anniegirl1138 September 16, 2008 at 1:55 pm

    Yes and no. Stories can only come to life if I do the work of transferring them form my mind to the paper/screen. They cannot live or direct themselves independently of me. But, I can/do let the stories unfold in their own way when it becomes apparent that my vision or version is not as good as the one that seemingly filters down from the heavens and takes hold of characters and changes their directions.

    I am what I once heard termed an “organic” writer. I don’t outline. I just write a story about people in situations in places familiar and not so. When I outline, it seems that the work of outline wears me out and makes the writing tedious and makes me more impatient with the process which can be long and hard when one reaches the “wall smacking” part of fiction writing.

    There are moments in every story where I read over something I have read and wonder where it came from because it is that good. I have also “channeled” but even when doing so there is an awareness that the story is coming really from me. My experiences, thoughts, hopes, dreams, trauma and misery.

  12. 12 nathalie September 16, 2008 at 2:59 pm

    I have several beginnings of novels and zero finished ones. For my current book I’ve done an outline but am open to changes along the way, it’s just nice to have a road map to lead me to my destination in hopes that I actually finish this journey! I loved writing the outline but it was a LOT of work. It is satisfying, though, to look at that pile and know completion of this book is a matter of going through one folder at a time. I put each chapter in a folder with its own outline and when I come by things that fit better into another chapter, I tuck them in that chapter’s folder to use when I’m ready.

  13. 13 Jenni September 16, 2008 at 3:23 pm

    The story I mentioned yesterday that got stuck in my head after making it up with my daughter does seem to have a life of it’s own. While I’m writing, I can tell when I’m trying to force something onto the characters and when the action is authentic.

    I’ve read about fiction writers who speak of writing as allowing characters and stories to flow through them. It seems to be a common experience. I imagine that writing a story without this “outside” inspiration would be difficult and lead to begrudging the characters.

  14. 14 Desire Hendricks September 16, 2008 at 5:44 pm

    I’ve tried several different paths to write my stories. I’ve written outlines, and gotten bored and bogged down in plot turns. My short stories, my most successful (read finished) fiction pieces, have been written in stream of concious. Occasionally, I’ve mixed the two methods, but the work went unfinished.

    Presently, I’m beginning a paranormal romance novel. In this instance, I find myself beginning with the premise and the characters. How does this fictional world operate? What are the rules? Who are these people that I’m introducting to the world?

    This seems to be working for me. I’m not rushing to the end. I’m taking my time and going step by step. Premise, characters, next the outline, then I’ll write.

  15. 15 Renee September 16, 2008 at 5:55 pm

    It’s funny you should talk about fiction and “channeling.” The idea I have for my novel constantly channels itself through me. Too bad I haven’t listened to it yet and poured the story out onto pages. I’ll be driving down the road and hear a song on the radio and think, “my two main characters are going to have a love scene with this song playing in the background.” I’ll read an article in the newspaper and think to myself, “I need to incorporate this into the plot.” I’ll hear from a long ago friend and think they have a lot of the same traits as my protagonist. I even have an iPod playlist called “Renee’s Novel.” This story is begging to be told. I just need to give it the freedom it needs to channel right through the keyboard. And a few extra hours in the day wouldn’t hurt, either!

  16. 16 Cathy September 16, 2008 at 6:56 pm

    When I write a story, the very first thing I know is where I want the story to end up. If it’s a very short story, I take that ending and roll a couple of ideas around, figuring out how I want to get there. The funny part of the whole process is that the beginning is always the hardest part for me.

    Now, with my book, I used an outline. I can’t tell you how many times that story changed from the initial outline. But the plot itself never changed, just the details of getting to the ending.

    So I guess I’m pretty controlling when it comes to my writing. Which, if I’m being perfectly honest, doesn’t surprise me a bit 🙂

  17. 17 jamsmu September 16, 2008 at 7:18 pm

    From what I hear, it should. And many fiction authors claim it does. But goodness, I need that mind to seep into mine and take over.

    Like many replies above, so many of us try to just write, waiting for the mind and wonder where to go. Many of us have tried outlines, and then get frustrated later in the weaving and rewriting. In this sense, its a matter of personal choice.

    I like the mind game best. I know it works, I’ve seen and felt it working. I’m just waiting to hear that mind speaking to me again, directing my hand.

  18. 18 Judy September 16, 2008 at 7:32 pm

    What a great question. I had an experience this morning; a “story” came out of nowhere as I was driving. This had happened before. I couldn’t wait to park and write; the “story” hit me about five minutes away from where I needed to be. I don’t know why it came, but it did, pouring out of me. I wrote for almost an hour and a half straight. I didn’t finish it, the ending didn’t flow, so I just stopped. I’m sure it will come at some time.

  19. 19 Celestial Goldfish September 16, 2008 at 7:32 pm

    Stories do tend to take on a life of their own, but to me it’s rather like planting a tree: you plant it, stake it to guide the growth, but from there it’s out of your control. My last book was like that. I had a complete chapter outline, pages of notes, and characters all planned. The story took root, and ZOOM – in nineteen days, I had 50,000 words. The general feel of the story and plot was as I had planned, but several side plots sprouted that added a great deal to character growth. And the chapter outline didn’t match my actual chapters at all.

    It’s wonderful when the muses cooperate like that, but I’ve learned that you can’t wait for inspiration or for the story to write itself. The challenge is to keep plugging along on those dry days. That’s what makes you a true writer.

  20. 20 Amie H September 16, 2008 at 8:02 pm

    I like seeing before and after photos. Radical transformations. From bad to good or from bad to worse. When I think about writing fiction – and sadly so far I’ve mostly just done the thinking part – I can see both ends of the story. Sometimes I start with the after and work my way back. Sometimes I start with the before. And then I ask the characters some questions? If I really listen to their answers – then the story takes on a mind of its own. But too often I’m stuck with my stock responses. Some clunky cliche that slows it down.

  21. 21 marnini September 16, 2008 at 8:24 pm

    The idea of my fiction novel stemmed from a peculiar place my friends and I hung out at growing up. Once I began writing the story I do feel that it took on a mind of its own and evolved in ways I definitely would have never thought I would choose. To answer today’s question, I do think at some point the story dictates the writer rather than the other way around.

  22. 22 Stephanie Craig September 16, 2008 at 8:28 pm

    My best fiction stories are ones that happened while I was writing. Don’t get me wrong, I always start with a plan or an outline but sometimes stories deviate from that plan. When that happens, I am just as excited as I hope my reader will be to find out what happens next. As in life, sometimes the most fun things are the surprises that come up unexpectedly.

  23. 23 Beth@MommyComeLately September 16, 2008 at 9:05 pm

    Writing fiction, aka “Writing from the Dark Side”, is a relatively new experience for me. I’ve found that fiction is equal parts give and take.
    I GIVE a lot of time and attention to the story–working on plot and dialogue and creating tension and making sure my reader has a reason to keep turning the pages.
    And then my characters TAKE me places I never imagined going with the story.
    Yes, my characters talk to me. Sometimes all at the same time and I have to demand order in my head!
    I thought the plot was winding oh so neatly one way and oh. my. gosh. There it goes somewhere else entirely.
    Writing fiction–not an orderly process.
    But then, neither is life.

  24. 24 Katrina September 16, 2008 at 9:20 pm

    Yes, stories have minds of their own. Yes, we are but channels through which they pour onto the paper. But…I am in complete control over the story and the direction it takes. These would seem unhappily at odds with each other, and yet, when it works well, it is a harmonious undertaking. I know where I’m beginning and when I think I’ll end, but the middle is the great adventure.

  25. 25 elizaj September 16, 2008 at 10:20 pm

    I have a writer friend who has published several novels. She said to me one day “You know, I’ve tried to kill off 3 characters, 3 different times in 3 different books, and they (the characters) wouldn’t let me. They wouldn’t let me kill them and the books were better for it. I’m glad I listened to them.”

    I believe when a writer gets in the “zone” of free flow writing, a higher consciousness, creative force, whatever you want to call it .. takes over, and it’s like “whoa where did that come from? I didn’t know I knew that!”

  26. 26 joelle September 16, 2008 at 11:11 pm

    Oh! It’s been so long since I’ve even tried to write fiction. From what I remember, the stories never poured out of me. Instead, I’d catch a glimpse of a scene here or there and be left to my own devices to piece them together in some sort of cohesive manner. Maybe that’s why I don’t do it too much; as a writer mama I spend too much of my time looking for misplaced things already, I don’t need to search for and put together a story just for fun. But I do think it would be fun if it did have a mind of its own and actually let me in on what it was thinking. I’m hoping someday soon to find some time to sit quietly and find that story (or two or three) that are hiding in me somewhere.


  1. 1 WMBTSG Day Sixteen: And the Winners Are… « The Writer Mama Riffs Trackback on September 17, 2008 at 7:56 pm
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