Today’s prompt comes from editor Stuart Horwitz, author of the Book Architecture method and all-round top chap. If you get a chance to hear him talk at a writers’ conference or meeting, run, don’t walk! He’ll help you look at story structure in a whole new (and, in my opinion, more accessible) way than you’ve come across before. And possibly blow your head wide open, all the better for stories to fall out of it!
Write A Story Set In A Time Period You Connect With
- Find a time period in history that you connect with deeply. It could be the politics or the architecture or the cuisine or the religion that interests you.
- Now imagine that you are living in that time.
- What job do you do? How are you dressed? What kind of family relationships do you have? Is your life a happy or a sad one?
- What are the three main events of your life?
Stuart Horwitz is the founder and principal of Book Architecture, a firm of independent editors based in Providence, RI. Book Architecture’s clients have reached the best-seller list in both fiction and non-fiction, and have appeared on Oprah!, The Today Show, The Tonight Show, and in the most prestigious journals in their respective fields. His first book Blueprint Your Bestseller (Penguin/Perigee), was named one of the best books about writing by The Writer magazine. His third book, Finish Your Book in Three Drafts, will be released June 6th of this year.
Today’s prompt is inspired by a great book I’m reading on story structure. It’s called Book Architecture: How To Outline Without Using A Formula by Stuart Horwitz (who I had the pleasure of meeting at the Philadelphia Writers’ Conference recently. If you get a chance to see him speak, I’d highly recommend it. Very engaging and he takes a VERY different approach to the idea of outlining a story from most pro-outline people.)
Write A Story That Contains More Than One Timeline
- Here’s a Flash Fiction example of the kind of thing I’m talking about: Comatose by Megan Manzano
- In Book Architecture, Horwitz offers a couple of great tips for keeping multiple timelines from becoming confusing: 1, anchor your reader in the ‘present’ timeline before jumping back to a flashback and b, keep your flashbacks moving in the same chronological order (i.e. start at one point in the character’s experiences and move in one direction from there. He uses the movie Slumdog Millionaire as an example of this structure).
- Here’s a longer, and more complex story that has multiple timelines: The Weight Of A Blessing by Aliette de Bodard (the timelines here are The Present, After The Last Visit With Her Daughter; The Recent Past, During And In-Between Her Three Visits With Her Daughter; and The Far Past, During The War. All of them combine to illustrate the theme of the story while unpacking the details of what the heck’s going on (kind of).
- For today’s exercise, try doing the minimum: weave two timelines together, and keep each one moving in a particular chronological direction.
- This might take more time than the usual Write On Wednesday “write it fast and loose” kind of exercise. What the heck, take the whole week.
- Try taking a story you’ve written before and reworking it this way. Choose one you’re not happy with, or that you never finished Good candidates are stories that sank under the weight of their own backstory. Split out the backstory and tell it in flashback.