Monday, March 29, 2010

James N. Frey: A Damn Good Inspiration

James N. Frey
The Greater Lehigh Valley Writer’s Group had The Write Stuff Conference this past weekend with leading creative writing teacher and novelist James N. Frey. Frey is known for his widely read How To Write a Damn Good Novel; How To Write A Damn Good Novel II; The Key: Writing Damn Good Fiction Using The Power of Myth; and How To Write a Damn Good Mystery. His newest book due out this week, How To Write A Damn Good Thriller. He’s also an award-winning playwright, Edgar Award nominee and author of nine novels.

His lectures and keynote were very informative, inspirational and filled with wit and humor. He shared some his own experiences, as well as his friends, about his journey to publication. He spent many years learning his craft, had many rejections, had a hard time getting an agent, and getting published. With hard work and persistence he succeeded. He suggested we not put a manuscript into a drawer unless we get at least 85 rejections, then changed that number to 184. He’s adamant about writing every day—2,000 words a day, he says with a humorus note. "If Uncle Fred is coming to visit, F..., Uncle Fred.” Get the writing done, then visit. He also felt an MFA was a waste of time. Writing and reading were the best ways to become a better writer.

One technique he suggested to improve your style or prose was to select a best selling author and copy a page out of her novel, then attempt to write a couple pages yourself using that style. Do this as an exercise to get yourself in a writing mode. Then try a new author every day. He guarantees your writing will improve.

The “P” Word: Frey made a point about Premise and how important it is to know what your premise is in your novel at the beginning of writing your story. By Frey’s definition, Premise “is a statement of what happens to the characters as a result of the core conflict of the story.” The core conflict is the main action. Premise is not the moral of the story although it may seem like one. In screenwriting the premise is called the concept or it might be called the original idea. If you establish a strong premise, you’ll stay focused while plotting and writing your novel and you won’t have meaningless scenes that don’t contribute to the plot.

Frey said one way to figure out premise is to take the character, add their struggle, which yields a transformation or conclusion, and this will equal the premise of the novel. Some examples: Honesty leads to ruin. Foolishness leads to doom. Obsessive love leads to loss love. War drives a tender innocent insane. Greed destroys idealism.

I realized my stories tend to have a similar premise. (If I understand premise correctly. I think I need to study this more.) My general premise in my novels is: With courage love will find a way. But I need an original idea or a more detailed premise specific to each novel to keep me on track. It might also be considered a tag-line. This keeps me from meandering into dead ends or tangents. Here are a couple examples using movies: What if Peter Pan grew up? (Hook); What if you could make dinosaurs from old DNA? (Jurassic Park); A man dies and becomes his wife’s guardian angel (Ghost).

I bought Frey’s book: How To Write a Damn Good Novel II. So I hope to learn more about premise and improve my own writing.


pattie said...

Great blog, Kathy! I took the 2-day plotting workshop with Frey and it was wonderful. He was funny and insightful and gave us solid examples and techniques to keep us moving forward in our stories.

Kathy Kulig said...

Wish I could've taken that. And I missed the prose lecture bec. I was pitching. He said he wants to come back. A good speaker and teacher.

Anonymous said...

Hi Kathy,

I was at Jim's pre-con workshop. If he comes back another year, I'll be first in line for a ticket. He was excellent!

liana laverentz said...

I like that exercise he suggests!


Kathy Kulig said...

I hope he does Jon. I'd try to make the workshop next time. I thought it was a good idea too, Liana.

Adele Dubois said...

Sounds like a terrific workshop, Kathy. Wish I'd been there. Thanks for the overview.


Regina Carlysle said...

This sounds like a great event. I know I need to be more clear at the beginning about things. It's something I need to work on.

Kathy Kulig said...

Thanks Adele and Regina. It's great going to conferences or workshops and learning something new.