~ Even More Step by Step ~

Posted: September 22, 2022 in books, creativity, editing, Fiction, Non-fiction, Story, Top Tips, words, Writing
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Lately, I have shared some of the information from the Step by Step writer’s workshop, run by bestselling author Graeme Simsion, at our local writer’s festival. Graeme based his writing advice on his latest book, The Novel Project: A Step-by-Step Guide to Your Novel, Memoir, or Biography.
He said there were two parts to The Novel Project; the preparation and the process.

Under ” preparation” there were four parts:
Overview of the approach – which was a precis of the workshop.
Being a writer – Focus on being the best writer you can be. Don’t waste your time on social media.
Creativity – Figure out what works for you. When do you get your best ideas? Start looking for patterns. No matter how hard you work, most ideas will not come immediately. They need incubation.
Structure – Be knowledgeable about story structure. Learn the language. A three-act structure consists of setup, conflict, and resolution.

Under ” process” there were nine parts:
Concept: “What is your book about? You must be able to define it in a sentence or phrase (an elevator pitch). Keep a list of good ideas. One good idea on its own will have been done before, but two ideas mashed up against one another will be original.”
Synopsis – plot: “Beats are the things that happen in a story. I want to be able to tell the story from beginning to end in a few key beats.”
Synopsis – characters (players and decisions): Graeme gave us the inside scoop, “the Graeme Simsion method,” for getting to know our characters. He focuses on the motivations for their most important decisions. “I ask my characters three questions. What would you tell your best friend if you were asked about this decision? What would you tell your parents? and What would you tell your therapist? and follow this up by asking the therapist, What would you tell us about the character? Then this forms the framework for the entire story.”

Brainstorming the story: “Write every idea down. Write scenes in random order. I want lots of material to play with.” See the ‘bucket of scenes’ method in my first post on this subject, Step by Step.
Organizing the story: “Put the cards (from your bucket of scenes) in order. Usually, the setup is too long, the resolution too short, and there will be a lack of acceleration in the middle. A convention of story is to have acceleration throughout the body of the book.”
Reviewing the outline: “Once you have the cards in order, type them onto your computer. As you work on the scene breakdowns add everything you can think of. Flesh them out.”
First draft (manuscript): Graeme’s target is to write 1000 words a day. “Don’t get it right; get it done. I look at the beats and say to myself to trust the process.”

Rewriting (or editing): How many passes to get a better manuscript? Graeme said when he started writing fiction, it took him at least 70 passes, but these days it’s more like a dozen. His advice was that we wouldn’t improve our stories on the first passes, that it wouldn’t be 100%, but on each pass, we would make them better. And we should expect the process to take time. “At some stage, if you can leave the manuscript a few weeks, leave it then come back to it.”
Working with your editor(s): About this, Graeme said something quite beautiful, that “we need to be reflective practitioners.” We need to be willing to be flexible and change our darlings, but only to a certain extent. He told us to remember something Neil Gaiman had said once, “When the editors say something is wrong, they’re always right. When they say something is definitely wrong, they’re probably wrong. And when they tell you how to fix it, they’re always wrong.” That made us laugh.
Thanks, Graeme! And that wraps up his intensive workshop.

Talk to you later.
Keep creating!
Yvette Carol


“A story must have a beginning, middle, and end, but not necessarily in that order.” ~ Graeme Simsion


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  1. I love the Graeme Simsion quote at the end. Confusing but interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

    • yvettecarol says:

      LOL! Agreed. The funny thing is I had just given a speech the week before the workshop in which I told the audience that a story has a beginning, middle, and end, and I said, “Don’t put the beginning at the end and the end at the beginning.” Then, Graeme gave that quote and I realized my mistake!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for sharing these pearls from Graeme. I enjoyed his “Rosie” books. It sounds like he is a good teacher as well.

    Liked by 1 person

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