This month’s Spotlight Week features THE WRITER’S COMPASS by author Nancy Ellen Dodd.
224 pages, Softcover
Genre: Writing Resource
Published on June 29, 2011 by Writer’s Digest Books
About the Author
Nancy Ellen Dodd is a writer with many voices, a university instructor, and an editor. She received her master’s in Professional Writing (MPW, which is a multi-discipline approach to writing) from the University of Southern California with a concentration in dramatic writing/screenwriting and her MFA in playwriting at USC’s School of Theatre. Having studied writing for more than 25 years, Dodd currently teaches screenwriting at Pepperdine University for undergraduate and graduate students. Dodd has received numerous awards for her writing and studied with several successful, award-winning writers. Currently on faculty at the Graziadio School of Business at Pepperdine University, Dodd serves as academic editor of the “Graziadio Business Review.”
Back Cover Blurb
How do you tell the story you want to tell and capture your audience’s heart? Regardless of genre or format, to tell your story effectively you must first sort through all the ideas you’ve been toying with–organize them, whip them into shape, and turn them into great writing. Whether you’re writing a novel, a short story, a play, or a screenplay, the 7 stage approach of The Writer’s Compass allows you to focus on one apect of your story at a time–including forming and developing ideas, building strong structures, creating vibrant characters, and structuring scenes and transitions. The path of a writer isn’t always easy. Let The Writer’s Compass be your north star by simplifying a wealth of writing advice into easily applicable concepts that will help you improve your craft.
Map out your idea and finish your story in 7 stages!
This book will show writers how to develop their ideas into a finished novel by working through it in 7 stages, while learning how to mapping out their story’s progress and structure so they can evaluate and improve their work. It teaches writers to visualize their story’s progress with a story map that helps them see all the different components of their story, where these components are going, and, perhaps most importantly, what’s missing.
The book simplifies Aristotle’s elements of good writing (a.k.a. that each story should have a beginning, a middle and an end) into easily applicable concepts that will help writers improve their craft. The author helps readers strengthen their work by teaching them how to focus on one aspect of their story at a time, including forming stories and developing ideas, building strong structures, creating vibrant characters, and structuring scenes and transitions. Thought-provoking questions help writers more objectively assess their story’s strengths and weaknesses so they may write the story they want to tell.
The author’s diverse writing background is apparent, as THE WRITER’S COMPASS seems to have been structured to be applicable not just to novels, but to short stories, plays and screenplays as well.
Author Nancy Ellen Dodd begins with an introduction to the writing life. Novice writers will appreciate this section, as it talks about how to build a writing life—from creating one’s writing time and space, to deconstructing bad writing habits, and developing an instinct for writing organically.
Part II delves into the meat of the writing book—the Story Map and the 7 Stage Process. The 7 Stages Dodd has created are:
Stage 1: Forming Stories and Developing Ideas,
Stage 2: Building Strong Structures
Stage 3: Creating Vibrant Characters
Stage 4: Structuring Scenes, Sequences, and Transitions
Stage 5: Increasing Tension and Adjusting Pacing
Stage 6: Enriching the Language and Dialogue
Stage 7: Editing the Hard Copy and Submitting
Each stage addresses the story elements that tend to require the most attention in terms of story development. The idea behind the 7 Stage Process is to lessen the amount of revision time for the writers. Structure is the main driving force behind the 7 Stage Process. The three-act structure, in particular, is the foundation behind many of the tools and techniques that Dodd shares through the book.
Dodd uses the analogy of building a house to explain how the 7 stages work:
“Much like constructing a house, the 7 Stages are based on developing the story foundation, then adding the structure, the roof, the walls, the flooring, painting and designer touches, and finally moving in. Each stage adds another level of breadth and depth to the story across the entire structure chart.”
Dodd emphasizes the importance of planning a draft and gives writers a tool to help them do just that—the Story Map. The Story Map helps writers map the elements of good storytelling. Using the Story Map, writers can gain valuable insight into narrative flow, and the possible weaknesses their story might have.
Plotters or writers who like outlines, will definitely enjoy the organizing aspect of the Story Map. Pantsers, (writers who write by the seat of their pants) may also benefit from using this tool, as it will give them a general idea of how their story flows, without forcing them to come up with too many story details.
In each of the 7 Stages, Dodd discusses specific methods and lists concrete steps to achieve that particular stage’s goal. For example, the goal in stage 3 is to create vibrant characters, so Dodd explains several elements to help the writer get to know their characters better. These elements include the character’s physiology, heredity, sociology, personality and psychology. She also shares techniques for character development such as Characterization Mapping and the Character Timeline.
The thing I found most helpful about the book were the series of questions in each chapter, designed to challenge the way a writer thinks about his/her story. The questions encourage writers to think about the details, logic, structure, and development of a story. For example, questions like “What do you want to say about life? Your philosophy? The world?”, helps writers define the universal theme of their stories; while questions like, “What caused the over arching event, and what are the results, are they reasonable?”, allow the writer to think about the cause and effect factor within their scenes.
Writers who haven’t had the opportunity to attend writing classes or conferences will definitely benefit from the book’s step by step approach to story-telling. I truly enjoyed the book’s emphasis on structure and am eager to use what I’ve learned in writing my next draft.
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