My Story Wall Presentation – Elaine Fisher (Fishmama)

For our May meeting, we had a very small turnout (5 including myself), and I couldn’t have asked for a better group to participate in my Story Wall. My special thanks goes out to them.

Not being the most organized person in the world, I used visual aids to help with this presentation. (see Tim’s photos below) I displayed and moved around cards of the characters, location settings, and themes to help me explain my story. Even with the aids, my presentation tended to wander in different directions. The group guided me back to the important areas, I needed to concentrate on. My novel was written in the literary genre which allows more freedom, which worked in my favor, since my story was character driven.  So now I’m concentrating on developing more conflict to move my plot along centering on my main character, Madison. Everything should revolve around him, so some minor characters may be eliminated. I am revising my first part to give a better sense of the direction in which the story is going and build on from there.

This was my first NaNo and first year as a Journey member, so If I can do this story wall presentation, anyone can.

IMG_3271IMG_3270

 

 

 

Story Wall

Image
Presenting a story wall

There’s a thing we do in my writers’ group, The Writing Journey, called a story wall.

Here’s the idea: you come to the meeting prepared to talk about your story with a few other people. You provide a general idea of plot, characters, setting, genre—all the usual elements. If you’re having problems—say, you’re stuck and can’t seem to write after a certain point—you see if anyone has any helpful ideas. You also give people a chance to say whether they have problems with the story. Maybe they don’t believe the premise of a certain scene, or have difficulty seeing why a character would behave in a certain way. It’s not all negative, however. People are also allowed to tell you things they like about your story.

At the last Journey meeting, Elaine and I each did a story wall. I think it was the first time for her; I know it was the first time I ever presented a story.

Image
Elaine’s beautifully prepared story wall

Elaine provided excellent visual aids, creating a kind of mind map of her story, with various locations and characters each having their own color-coded card or sheet of paper. I did not provide great visuals, though I did read out a synopsis I’d written (hours before!) and provided a spreadsheet of the scenes, which included the location, characters (including whose POV I used in the scene) events, and any issues I was worried about. In my case, I asked for help with the magic system and with one of the characters.

Image
My novel scene spreadsheet

So. What did I get out of the story wall?

  1. I got an idea I think will work well for a character I was finding difficult to write.
  2. I got reminders about the cost of magic, which I definitely needed. There’s still work to do along those lines, but other people’s ideas definitely helped.
  3. Since I’m using more than one POV character, I need to make sure I spread around the viewpoint a bit more than I had. Otherwise, when someone other than the protagonist has the viewpoint, it might seem like a mistake, or just plain sloppy.
  4. I need to work on my synopsis-writing skills!
  5. I learned I need to make sure my protagonist can carry the book. There was some concern over whether he “protags” enough.  It takes him a long time to do the right thing, to break through and realize what he’s capable of. I don’t feel the situation is hopeless, but I do want to make sure the reader cares enough about him to keep reading.

I definitely need to keep an eye on the 3 “prongs” of character development, an interesting concept I recently heard about on Writing Excuses. Briefly, when you have a character you want people to care about—say, your protagonist—you have three dimensions which are especially helpful in creating reader interest: sympathy (how nice/relatable is he?), competence, and agency (how proactive is he?). The character doesn’t need to be all of these things, but he should be at least one of them if you want to keep a reader interested. So, what needs to happen with my protagonist? The way I think of him right now, Slim needs to learn a lot, and he’s quite gifted, but stunted. He’s not particularly admirable, but he’s not a total jerk either.

So the question is, how do ratchet any of those settings higher? He doesn’t start out competent, he’s lacking in agency, and he’s not that high in sympathy, either. Hey, he grows as a person, okay? I guess sympathy is where I have the most wiggle room, but does putting him in jeopardy automatically make him sympathetic? Does having him do the right thing, or try to do the right thing in a few places, does that help? I’ll do what I can with those ideas for now, and then see what beta readers think, once I round some up. (If you’re interested beta reading my Western historical fantasy novel, please leave a comment below, tweet at me—@cmbrennan09—or contact me however you usually do.)

Finally, what did I learn from the whole exercise?

I learned that being the victim—er, focus—of a story wall wasn’t as scary as I feared, and that I should absolutely do it the next time I come up with an idea for a novel. Heck, maybe I should do it whenever I come up with a story idea of any length. It’s excellent to get help spotting potential problems before you bury yourself too deeply.


March Story Wall Experience (Sam)

Thanks to all who participated and in my story wall and special thanks to Tim for recording the session. A lot gets covered in these sessions and it is hard to write down or remember all the good ideas. For my story wall I covered my entire series, the BarnYard Heroes. There are seven books in the series about a group of barnyard animals who have been given superhero powers by a space aliens who’s project gets canceled by his company which fallen on hard times.

I was concerned this might be too ambitious for a story wall session, but there were a number of issues I was struggling with in regards to the series as a whole and until I get those resolved it’s difficult to address issues in the individual novels. Trying to cover this large amount of material highlights what I found to be one of the keys to story walling, which is to keep your material concise. Provide a brief overview of the story (or in my case stories) and get to the issue you are struggling with as quickly as possible. This is your time to get help with the parts you most concerned about.

What I prepared was one sheet on each novel in the series which contained:

  • short synopsis of novel (40 to 60 words)
  • description of lead BarnYard Hero in the novel
  • description of the villain(s)
  • Photos representing the BarnYard Heroes and villains

I then cut up the sheets to separate the synopsis and characters so we could move characters and stories around.

My main concerns were:

  • a lack of a common story line or thread throughout the series
  • the order of the novels with one novel in particular which did not seem to fit in good anywhere.

The team provided a lot of good ideas and suggestions which I am still mulling over slowly. The next big step is to take all of these ideas and make some decisions. What might be a good is to have people a recap of what changes or decisions they made based on the feedback they received from their story wall.