I’m Lou Franco and this is episode 36 of Write While True.
Write While True is an infinite loop, and that’s because I think of writing as an infinite game. A game I play for fun and to get better at it. Like a game of catch.
So in each episode, I’ll tell you something I learned about writing, and then I’ll throw you the ball with a writing challenge or a prompt.
Thoughts from screenwriters
I make a writing podcast so it makes sense that I would listen to other writing podcasts.
One of my favorites is called Scriptnotes. It’s about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters. I was listening to some old episodes, and way back in 2012, in episode 60, one of the hosts, John August, was talking about movies and a problem he was seeing in them recently. I put a link to the episode in the show notes, but let me tell you what he said.
He put it this way
This summer, I saw [movies] that I really liked, but I didn’t love, and I described them as “a stack of scenes.” And as I was thinking back to these movies, I liked a lot of stuff that happened in them, and I liked the things that I could sort of tell you, the things that happened, but I didn’t really feel like they held together as movies. And I want to talk about the difference between good stuff in a movie and a movie that holds together well.
They had a guest on that episode. Another screenwriter. Her name is Aline Brosh McKenna. After John described the concept of a “stack of scenes”, she said this:
You want all your scenes to have a “Because” between them and not an “And Then” between them. And it’s something that you learn and get better at which is having everything cause everything, and everything build on everything.
Their discussion continued along those lines, and I think it’s worth checking it out. Like I said, I put a link in the show notes.
They are talking about movies and screenplays because that’s what they write, but their advice applies to any kind of writing. It resonated with me because I feel like I might be having that problem in my written work. That sometimes my writing feels like a stack of paragraphs.
My paragraphs all belong to the same piece, because I do keep them focussed on a single message to a single reader. I talked about that at length in episode 5. But, I am feeling the lack of propulsion that John and Aline described.
Without that propulsion, the problem is that your reader may drop off because they don’t feel a compelling reason to keep reading.
They had three suggestions that were in this episode and in the follow-up portion of the next episode.
The first suggestion is that you read each scene (or in our case, paragraph) and then see if saying “And because of that” would lead on to the next paragraph. That would be better than if had you said “and then”. You want to be able to say “and because of that” and then deliver on it.
One way to do this in movies, they said, is that whatever else is happening in a scene, that perhaps a character will learn some piece of information that they need for the rest of the movie to make sense. And the next scene could have them use that information. I mostly write about tech, and software project management, and the software job market, and I think I could do this in my writing.
The next idea they had was to make it seem like a thought isn’t finished at the end of the scene. Almost like it’s ending mid-sentence, and the next scene picks it up. That’s a lot harder to do in the kind of writing I do—it would be weird to end mid-sentence, but it is possible to leave part of an idea unfinished.
Before I tell you the third suggestion, which will be the writing exercise I want you to take away, I want to talk about our sponsor.
Write While True is sponsored by me. Ok, so I made something this week that I think is a good companion to the podcast, and I want to share it with you. In the very first episode of this podcast I told you about how I start every day by doing morning pages. I do 20-30 minutes of stream-of-consciousness writing and it helped me learn to write on demand. In episode 19, I followed that up with talking about prompted morning pages. This helps me not worry about what I’m going to write about.
So, I made 4 morning pages journals and put them up on Amazon. You can get them by going to https://loufranco.com/journals. Each journal has 30 days worth of prompts, with 2 pages for each prompt. It’s an 8.5 x 11 sized journal, so it takes me about 30 minutes to fill the two pages, which is perfect for morning pages.
So, go listen to episodes 1 and 19 and then go try out a journal. I think by the end of the 30 days you’ll learn what it feels like to write on demand and it will spill over into your normal writing.
Ok, back to the show.
The last suggestion
The first suggestion that they had was to make sure you could connect your paragraphs with “and because of that” or some other causal phrase and not just “and then, and then, and then”. And the second suggestion is to leave something unresolved at the end of the paragraph. Something that makes the reader want to read on.
And the third suggestion is something I want you to try. If each of your paragraphs are propelling the next one, then it should be impossible to rearrange them without consequence. It shouldn’t make sense. So, try reordering a couple of paragraphs and see how the piece reads. The more rearrangeable it is the more it’s just a stack of paragraphs.
The issue isn’t that either paragraph is bad. That’s the thing. Often the paragraphs are each well-written. So, settle on which order you think works best and then make it so that order has the right flow. Make it so the latter ones logically flow from the preceding ones in a way that won’t work if you rearrange them again.
Thanks for listening. This has been Write While True, where we’re ok with infinite loops, as long as they’re fun.