Our Blog

Yeah, we got one, too.

Contact Us Today for a
Free Consultation

Announcing the 1st Annual Book Architecture GIT-R-DONE Travel Grant

Last year, we traveled 19 states to tell the story of Doris Buffett’s unique philanthropy. Crafted with co-writer, Anita Mumm, and accompanied by Stephanie Craigs dynamic images, LETTERS TO DORIS: One Woman’s Quest to Help Those with Nowhere Else to Turn presents a slice of the heartwarming and selfless community that Doris created through her Letters Foundation. One thing that working with the Letters Foundation has taught us is that our charitable giving has been all…over..the…place. Executive Director, Amy Kingman, challenged us to really think about where we wanted to focus our efforts. What do we think is most helpful for the writers that we work with?

The answer was resoundingly clear: A travel stipend for the author of a work-in-progress to get away and finish the damn thing.

Book Architecture thrives as a finish line business.

Our proudest testimonials go something like: “We’ve been thinking as an organization of doing a book for ten years and with your help we were holding it in 9 months.”

 

Hence the BOOK ARCHITECTURE GIT-R-DONE GRANT was born.

Without further ado, then, the Particulars:

Grant Money Awarded: $2,500. Book Architecture will also provide 1 hr. of coaching prior to departure to help you get clear on your production goals and 1 hr. of coaching while you are away to help you stay on track.

Deadline: Jan. 15th, 2020, to BAGrant@bookarchitecture.com

Submission Criteria: 10 pages of writing (max 2,500 words) from a work-in-progress of any genre, along with a 1-page cover letter (max 400 words). This cover letter should answer the following three questions:

  1. Why will getting away from the unending stream of responsibilities (children, aging parents, day jobs, chores, etc.) help you push this project over the top… i.e, git-r-done? We want to know things like: How long have you been working on it? What number draft is this? How clearly can you see the finish line, etc.?
  2. What good is this project doing you? Who were you before this project started and who do you hope to be when it ends?
  3. What good is this project doing the world? Like, really. We’re interested.

Stipulations:

  • Grant money will not be delivered to recipients. Instead, travel expenses up to $2,500 will be paid directly by Book Architecture. Approved expenses include transportation, lodging, and meals. Requests for equipment upgrades will be considered as part of a getaway package. Wine-in-a-box you will have to get on your own.
  • Grantees will share a description of their travel/writing experience in a blog on the Book Architecture website.
  • Grantees will be required to sign a legal waiver stating that if anything happens to them while they are away it’s not our fault (duh).

Judging: Book Architecture has partnered with InkHouse to be the sole judges for this award. InkHouse is an integrated PR agency for innovative thinkers, creators and leaders who believe in the power of stories to effect positive change. We are satisfied with their judging criteria, and their decisions will be final. Book Architecture will be able to confirm that your submission was received and passed along…but that’s about it.

How to Write Something Good

“So many things have happened to you, you should write a book!” Has anyone ever said that to you? Or how about this one, “Write what you know.”

Unfortunately, writing what you know won’t be that interesting to you. It won’t be that interesting for us readers either unless we feel you gleaning what’s up ahead in your life. Writing doesn’t possess the same sense of immediacy as the theater or the movies, or even the visual arts or music for that matter. Engaging the reader’s sense of immediacy is best done by engaging your own sense of immediacy. Writing brings the past into the future through the lens of the present.

 

Below are seven ways to engage the present so first you as a writer and later your readers will feel the continuous unfolding of the moment in your work.

  1. Ask yourself questions you don’t know the answer to. Being the expert is boring. Confidence comes from having a question then finding the answer. But you got to start with the question.
  2. Retype each word from a previous draft while you are writing your next draft. This may seem like living in the past; actually it’s the best way to eliminate the stale and misdirected elements from your piece.
  3. Don’t mouth platitudes. Any time you want to use a cliche is a signal that you are not in the moment describing the very quality of existence that is transpiring right now. Come back; we’re waiting for you.
  4. Don’t repurpose material. Unless something you have done before is summoned as if magically don’t dig through your files trying to find paper to throw at a problem. Something can only be new once.
  5. Don’t look back. You don’t have to fix what might have gone wrong in a previous paragraph because you are planning on doing more than one draft, right?! So keep it moving; that was then, this is now.
  6. Skip the parts that bore you. We might try this in life too. No matter whether you’re working from a full draft or an outline or just a few notes, nothing has to go in there. You’re making the rules here.
  7. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. We can train ourselves to become attuned to the whiff of a new idea, and to investigate that idea and keep investigating to see if it turns into two or ten ideas or was just that one.

That’s how I think you write something good. Not something that will endure for centuries maybe, but something authentic, something you can be proud of, and something that just might inspire.

The Series Arc

Finish Your Book in Three Drafts (3D), the third book in the Book Architecture trilogy, came accompanied by a wealth of writing know-how in the form of 9 bonus PDFs. We are opening up the vault for the first time and publishing them here: one blog at a time. Behold, PDF #8.

It’s probably a little late in the game to start introducing the series arc, but I wanted you to know about its existence; so, better late than never. The series arc is one of three tools I introduce in Book Architecture (BA). Like the series grid, it is relatively easy to set up.

The first thing to do is to complete a grid for a particular series. It helps to have all of the iterations gathered together before you make your series arc; that way you can feel the differences in emotion and consequence of each in relation to the others.

The simplest grid contains two iterations. A series with only one iteration will never go anywhere; it won’t even register enough to catch a reader’s interest. But two iterations can work because the first one establishes the series’ identity, and the second one represents its change.

The Money series in the children’s book Corduroy is a great example of a two-iteration series. At the beginning of the story, Lisa wants the teddy bear, Corduroy, but her mother turns her down. “I’ve spent too much already. Besides, he doesn’t look new. He’s lost the button to one of his shoulder straps.” At the end of the story, Lisa springs into action. “Last night,” she announces to Corduroy, “I counted what I’ve saved in my piggy bank and my mother said I could bring you home.” These two iterations show the difference between spending—“I’ve spent too much already”—and saving—“Last night I counted what I’ve saved in my piggy bank…” Sort of a “God bless the child/who’s got his own” thing.

When we put it into a grid, it looks like this:
 It may only appear twice, but the Money series makes all the difference in the world, influencing the relationship between Lisa and Corduroy more than anything else that happens— her thrift is the reason his quest ends favorably.

The repetitions let us know what we are talking about, while the variations give us the direction: things are getting better (improvement), or things are getting worse (deterioration). When something changes, you can plot the narrative arc of that series, what we call the series arc.

Here is the simplest series arc there can be, showing the two iterations of the Money series. The change is also pretty simple: no money, no Corduroy; money, Corduroy. It is so simple, in fact, that this isn’t even really an arc—more of just a line. You need three points on a line to make an arc.

These arcs will get progressively fancier as we go forward, but their rationale remains the same: they demonstrate the direction and degree of movement of your series. You can always make an arc of one of your series by grabbing some graph paper and producing an x-axis (horizontal), which spreads the narrative out from the beginning to the end, and labeling the y-axis (vertical) from DETERIORATION to IMPROVEMENT. If you saw the word “axis” and your blood pressure rose, relax—there aren’t going to be any stressful tests; we’re only going to discuss what value graphing the series arc can bring to your storytelling. Finding where you want to plot an iteration horizontally is pretty easy: You just find the place in the story where it exists. Finding where you want to plot the iteration vertically is really more of an art than a science. The truth is, if you use your intuition, you’ll be fine.

In Corduroy, the two iterations span virtually the entire book: of 28 pages, the first appears on p. 3 and the second on p. 23. Otherwise known as the beginning and the end. If you want to put in a middle, you will need a third iteration, such as we find in the Erica & Mark series in the film The Social Network.

Mark is Mark Zuckerberg, the genius but socially inept Harvard student behind the founding of the now mega social media site Facebook. His girlfriend at the beginning of the film is Erica Albright, a student who attends Boston University (BU).

In the first iteration, they break up, Erica “clarifying” why girls won’t like Mark and then leaving the bar. The second iteration comes exactly in the middle of the film. Mark runs into Erica at a club; he wants to properly apologize to her for some of his past actions, but he can’t convince her to leave the table where she is dining with her friends. The third iteration of this series comes at the very end of the film as Mark continues to refresh his computer screen to see if Erica Albright has accepted his friend request on Facebook.

I have put the running time in minutes on the x-axis (and don’t worry, I still had to scroll back to see which axis was which). The first scene occupies the first five minutes of the film; the second scene comes between minutes 53 and 55; the last scene concludes the movie, from one hour and 53 minutes until the end.

The irony of this last scene is magical. Mark has become the youngest billionaire in the world on account of Facebook’s success, yet the site that eventually got him into the exclusive upper society he wanted so badly to be a part of is also what has allowed Erica to exclude him from her life by not friending him. It is certainly not a happy ending.

The impact of this series comes from the fact that Erica only appears these three times in the film. The Erica & Mark series is a perfectly spaced three-iteration series that puts the architecture in Book Architecture, as far as I’m concerned. The other thing to notice about this arc is that it does not rise up like that ubiquitous narrative arc we are all used to seeing. Below is the series arc of the Weather series in Hans Christian Andersen’s short story, “The Ugly Duckling” (for more see chapter three in Blueprint Your Bestseller). But you can probably open up any book on writing and see something that looks like this:

Even though we quoted William Dean Howells in PDF #3 who said that “Americans love a tragedy with a happy ending,” not every series arc needs to improve by the end. Here is an arc from Franz Kafka’s novella, The Metamorphosis, which describes the main character’s decomposition after he has awoken one day in the form of a giant insect.

He scrapes himself trying to get out of his bedroom at the beginning of the story, leaving him bleeding profusely and limping. His fortunes improve briefly—even the most determined arc usually changes direction at least once for tension—when it looks like his wounds have entirely healed. But then his eating slows down, he loses his eyesight, he stops eating, he can’t move at all, and he dies.

That’s a pretty Kafkaesque-looking arc. And now, as I promised in the Finish Your Book in Three Drafts (3D) description of this PDF/blog, let’s look at graphing multiple narrative arcs to foster connections and establish pace. Because there isn’t just one narrative arc in any story with depth. And getting your arcs to work together is what creates complexity and nuance and resonance.

Here is the series arc from the Family’s Fortune series of The Metamorphosis:

I won’t go into extensive detail about these iterations [for more, see chapter seven of Book Architecture (BA)]. Suffice it to say that when Gregor, the sole wage earner in the family, wakes up as a dung beetle, it doesn’t bode well for any of them. As Gregor’s condition deteriorates, so does the family’s fortune—until he dies—then things start looking up for them.

When we plot both arcs on top of each other, we get something that looks like this:

This is how you get complex effects, through the interactions and intersections of series—the collisions where the energy in the story comes from. This kind of contingency, where one series depends on another, is a great reason to draw two series arcs on the same graph.

That spot just before the end where Gregor dies (around p. 105 of p. 126), is what we call a key scene, where the reader’s expectations are (at least partially) satisfied and where there is an emotional payoff. If you watch that spot when we lay two more series arcs on top of the current graph, you can see the complexity that results from such an event as the main character’s death.

The dark blue line which went up just slightly after this key scene is the relationship between Gregor and his sister, Grete. Having been on a fairly steep decline since the middle of the book when Grete’s distaste for her once-beloved brother began to consume her, she now responds to his death with a kind of bittersweet reaction: “Just look how skinny he was. He went such a long time without eating anything all.”

A key scene is one of the discoveries you can make by plotting your series arcs. It is also something you can use arcs to engineer importance…or if that verbiage o ends your artistic soul, something that can illuminate your perspective on how things are unfolding in your narrative. Questions naturally arise when you are constructing an arc:

  • What am I missing from an individual series?
  • How do these two series work together?
  • Where are certain series going up while others are going down?

You can chart as many series arcs as you think might benefit your process. When we regard our collection of series arcs all together, we might be tempted to call what we have created a “plot.” But if we do use this word, let’s not go overboard and follow someone else’s recommendations for how to construct the ideal plot. A plot is something you evolve into. A series arc, on the other hand, is something you do.

A Convert Speaks

A Word on the Method, By Jeanette Stokes

When I feel completely stuck in my life, I try to remember that I worked all this out about twenty years ago. If I walk, write, and make some art every day or nearly every day, then I can keep going and life can seem quite livable and sometimes even meaningful. So, when I run out of steam, I try walking, writing, or painting.

When I get stuck in my writing, whether working on a book or a shorter project, I can sink into that dark place of: “This is stupid. I can’t write. All those other things I wrote were a fluke. No one wants to read what I write anyway.” Then, just before I give up entirely and turn to learning macramé, a faint voice in my head will say, “the method.”

As though coming out of a fog, I take a few bold steps toward the bookcase in my upstairs study and reach for Blueprint Your Bestseller: Organize and Revise Any Manuscript with the Book Architecture Method by Stuart Horwitz. This and his two subsequent books lay out a brilliant method. I begin at the beginning, proceed through the steps, and everything gets better.

It is important to have already written down everything I can think of to say on the particular subject at hand. That’s actually the first step. The method is most helpful to me once I have written a great quantity of words and am stuck trying to figure out how to help the project hang together.

One step that is particularly useful is writing down all the scenes I can remember. Trust me, I never want to do it, but it’s like peeling the tough skin off broccoli, it is so much more satisfying to eat if I’ll just take the time to do it. So, I write down the scenes, compare them with what I actually have, and notice what’s missing. Almost immediately, I have some hope about the possibilities for the piece I’m working on.

Then comes the really hard part: Cut it up. I never want to do this step either and once wrote a friend: “I don’t want to print the book out and cut up the scenes. I don’t want to do it. I’m SURE it is the next step, because I have the glue-y feeling about the project. I work on a little bit here and a little bit there, but it is time to figure out the theme and the scenes and stop dealing with it as a big wad of dough. Telling you this will give me the courage to DO IT!”

I print the manuscript out and cut up the scenes, worrying the whole time about how to save the brilliant segues I have written to connect various sections. Once this surgery is completed, I get the payoff: a sense of ease and spaciousness comes over me and I can see! Instead of one tight intransigent blob of words, they come to look like small interesting packets that have a chance of making sense together.

The method works for a book, an article, or a chapter. I remember one particularly satisfying hour of writing when I printed out a slightly tangled chapter, cut it apart, rearranged and deleted, and found the meat. The next day I rewrote it. The method never lets me down.

After separating all the scenes, I get to make charts on the wall of all the scenes and a big bullseye target that helps figure out what the theme is for the project. If I just stick with all the steps, I wind up with a much clearer, cleaner, more accessible piece and I stop feeling like I’m lost in the dark.

Writing is hard, but it doesn’t have to feel aimless. Stuart Horwitz’s method will help you find your way.

Jeanette Stokes, is the executive director of RCWMS and author of several books, including Just Keep Going: Advice on Writing and Life. She lives in Durham, NC.