Monday morning, and for once I’m not going anywhere in a hurry.  Kids are still sleeping, I don’t have to work, I’m not on call.  It’s been a good weekend, with plenty of opportunity to both write and relax.  My weekend challenge goals have been met, and there is still more weekend ahead of me.  Luxury.

I was going to sum up some more Donald Maass advice, but frankly, you can buy the books and he can tell you all about it better than I can, so I am moving on to the last presenter at the conference, the one who possibly changed my writing the most profoundly: Brian McDonald.  This man is not a novelist, nor is he an agent.  His medium is film, and my first thought was that he would be interesting but somehow irrelevant to my writing.  Never have I been more wrong about something, and I am profoundly grateful that I decided to stick around on Sunday and attend his talk.

Now, the problem with Mr. McDonald and his Invisible Ink is this:  although I think I grasped the concept of what he calls ‘armature’, it was in a wordless,  ‘gestalt’ sort of way, and I find myself floundering when I try to explain to other writers what I am talking about.  So let’s start with the simple stuff instead.

To begin with, Brian talked about having an open mind, of coming into any potential learning situation and setting aside what you think you already know.  As an illustration, he told a story about the great jazz saxman, Coltrane, who was introduced by a friend to another man with the words, “he also plays the saxophone.”  Coltrane’s response:  “What can you teach me?”

Whoa.  No condescending remarks, no polite tolerance for the little guy, but a serious request to learn.   This is the mindset I want as a writer, in every situation.  An open mind, a quest for information, the belief that everybody and every event has something to teach that will make me better at my craft.

McDonald taught our group a Simple Skeletal Story Structure, which he believes underlies any good plot, whether in print or in film.  It goes like this:

  1. Once upon a time
  2. And every day
  3. Until one day
  4. And because of this
  5. And because of this
  6. Until finally
  7. And ever since that day

 We played with this as a group, making up stories one line at a time as he walked around the room and pointed at somebody to continue.  And as we played, it suddenly struck me:  this might just be the perfect structure for those tricksy little blurbs we need to write for Query Letters. I haven’t actually tried this yet, but I think it will definitely help me structure what I’m trying to do.

 McDonald also showed us how this skeleton fits into Aristotle’s Three act structure, with Proposal, Argument/proof, and Conclusion. 

Now, I have never been a plotter, but this is a structure that I think I will actually use.  Along with Armature, which, as I’m waxing rather long here today, is going to be a whole ‘nother post.

Enjoy today, writers.  If you can’t enjoy it, at least LIVE it.  Learn things wherever you go.  And may your muses be benevolent and your fingers swift and tireless on the keys.