No, I don’t mean the catwalk type!
This topic has been brewing in my mind for over a year, and when WordPress so kindly provided me with my handy dandy annual round up, it showed me that the most popular posts I’ve written are those on writing or publishing – as if there aren’t enough of those out there already – so I reckoned it was about time for another.
Anyway, back to topic. ‘Modelling’, in this case, is something I use every day in my work, both equestrian and writing. It actually refers to a concept used by NLP practitioners (that’s Neuro Linguistic Programming).
Don’t panic, it might sound like psychology technobabble, but its really quite simple when you put it in plain English:
- the study of excellence, and
- how to copy it to produce great results
Sounds terrific, huh?
Well, it is. It’s used extensively in business training, sports psychology at the highest levels, and teacher training, or indeed any form of coaching. Other aspects of NLP involve the study of communication, which is why the relevance to teaching and coaching, and it can also be described as ‘the science of communication’.
We can apply both these aspects to our writing, because what is writing (fiction or non-fiction), but the ability to clearly communicate our knowledge, or our characters, or our plot, to the reader.
It’s quite a large subject, so today I’m focussing on one ‘small’ area: that of story construction.
Study excellent books
This is the most important starting point: read. Read widely, and read books of acknowledged excellence. If you want to analyse them afterward, for style, content, how they create believable characters, tension, etcetera, fine. But you don’t have to. Just read lots of excellent work and allow it to sink into your subconscious.
When you read something that’s less than stellar, you might want to try making a comparison: what was it that didn’t work, that was disappointing compared to those excellent books you’ve been submerging yourself in? Again, this is more about concept than detail – think on a broad scale.
If you really allow the great writing to sink in, when you start writing your own work, you should find yourself ‘modelling’ your structures (plot line, character, scene) on the excellence that has lodged in your subconscious. This doesn’t mean you copy shamelessly – but you should start to know what ‘feels’ right, (or wrong), in comparison to the excellent examples that you’ve read.
[Sorry to keep repeating the word, ‘excellent’, but it is the most appropriate term.]
Watch and learn
Do you realise how much excellence there is out there, amongst screen writers?
You may not be overly-enamoured of someone’s film or TV adaptation of your favourite novel, but believe me, those who don’t know the novel will love the show. A great example would be the recent series of films based on ‘The Hobbit’. Many aficionados of Tolkein’s work were scandalised by the Hollywood-style treatment, creating new characters (a female elf for a love interest, for goodness sake!) and new climaxes, while missing out some stuff altogether. But did it hurt the box office takings? Nope. Because it was excellently structured and scripted for the target audience.
Script writers know all about construction – things like story beats, character arcs, plot arcs and the like. They have to, otherwise viewers would lost interest, and a film (or TV show) would flop, which costs MONEY!
Again, you can study their excellent use of structure in a formal way, by analysing, or taking classes (and I’m not for one minute suggesting you ignore such options), but if you, once again, watch and absorb, allow the structure to seep into your consciousness and lodge there, when you begin to write, you will find yourself copying, or modelling the structures that keep millions of people glued to big (and small) screens.
Creating the page turner
For myself, I realised a while ago, that I’ve learned an incredible amount by watching TV soap operas. They aren’t my favourite shows, but I’ve gone through periods of being a devotee to one or another, and when I questioned why, I realised it was the structure that the writer has used, that kept me coming back. Not on an intellectual or analytical level, but on that gut ‘I need to find out what happens next’ level.
Watch how they structure relationships in these shows – how, as the audience, you really want a character to spill the beans, or share their troubles, or something along those lines, but events always prevents them from doing so at the very last moment, and the outcome is bound to lead to disaster further down the line.
That, my friend, is awesome story construction. How to structure your plot – every scene, every relationship, every event – to keep your reader turning the pages and coming back, panting to buy your next book.
No, I’m not, as those of you that have been around here for a while, advocating ending your book on a cliff hanger (see my post: Please don’t leave me hanging), but if you use this absorbed knowledge, that should eventually feel like instinct, to write such exciting or absorbing books that keep the reader up late at night, or missing meals, you will create fans ready and eager for your next tome.
Neither am I suggesting that modelling take the place of editing, especially if you are in the earlier stages of your writing career, but as is so often cited, the better your work when you send it to an editor, the less needs fixing, and the less expensive the experience will be.
So how about all you writers out there, can you think of instances when you’ve used modelling, now you can recognise what it is you were doing? What have you learned from excellent books, films or TV shows? I’d love to know – it’s all a positive learning experience.