A Big Damn Post on Story
One of the prerequisites to being a writer is curiosity. Period. You can't be bored with the world if you want to write. And the good news is that writing not only forces you to engage with the world but the act of it is so engaging, that as a writer it is a crime to be bored. Should you find yourself in that unfortunate state of affairs, just pick up your pen and start writing.
But the down side of curiosity is that it can lead you astray. It can lead you to spend a hot afternoon farting around on the internet rather than attending to the work that awaits. The up side of that, of course, is the interesting things you run across. (You wouldn't keep doing it if there weren't interesting things out there, right?)
As a naturally curious writer, I tend also to be a complete slut for informative sites. I have this terrible habit of signing up for every internet newsletter I stumble across. In the moment, when I first discover the site or blog, I'm so enthralled with it I'm certain, just certain, that I'll want to read every single word of the author's production. And then I wonder why my email inbox is so clogged with, well, crap. I actually spent an afternoon last week deleting things from my inbox and canceling subscriptions to various newsletters (though I do notice that some didn't seem to get the memo and are still arriving in my inbox).
One of the newsletters that I stick with and always read is Early to Rise. Michael Masterson, whose newsletter it is (though others contribute) has made a fortune from copywriting and he always has good ideas and interesting points of view. I've actually pointed to one of his posts before, in this post.
The post I want to bring to your attention today, however, is written by copywriter John Carlton, whose blog is titled John Carlton's Big Damn Blog (and now you get the title of this blog post.) His post in a recent issue of Early to Rise is an excellent mini-primer on story. (When you click on the link, scroll down to the post titled, Bring Your Story Home to the Reader.)
Carlton gives a simple outline for a story: set-up, plot elements, action, and punch line. He comments in the story that it is most often the punch line that is missing in stories that he sees (and he is talking about sales copy and copy writing here, too). Once upon a time, when I was a student editor for the Louisville Review, I often found the same thing–a story would grab me and excite me as I continued to read it, only to fall apart or just peter out at the end.
Truth be told, I'd never heard of John Carlton before. But I thought his advice on story was so good that I investigated him further and this is when I discovered his blog. I like his blog because he flies in the face of common wisdom and writes long, like me. (It is thought that in this age of Twitter, nobody will read a post more than a few sentences long. BS. I like long posts. Short ones make me think the author has nothing to say.)He sells some very expensive programs on copywriting which I'd love to buy, too.
So now in this blog post, I've written the set-up, the plot elements, and the actions. All I need is the punch line. My blog posts are often devoid of punch lines I fear, but in honor of John, here you go:
John Carlton has lots of great info about story on his blog. Check him out.