Writing Structure

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In our writing group, there was at one time an ongoing discussion between two members on structure: one plotted out the entire arc before writing; the other jumped into the stream and let the story cut its own course.

I am reading several library books on writing. The first is from John McPhee, one of my favorite writers. (His essay Los Angeles against the mountains is a wonderful description of the connections between plate tectonics, the San Gabriel mountains, El Niño, fire and mudslides. Montecito is a testament to its truth. “The San Gabriels, in their state of tectonic youth, are rising as rapidly as any range on earth. Their loose inimical slopes flout the tolerance of the angle of repose.”)

In Draft No. 4, McPhee has a chapter on structure. He describes how he arranged his essay Encounters with the Archdruid:

When I was through studying, separating, defining and coding the whole body of notes, I had thirty-six three-by-five cards, each with two or three code words representing a component of the story. All I had to do was put them in order. What order? An essential part of my office furniture in those years was a standard sheet of plywood – four feet by eight feet – on two sawhorses. I strewed the cards face-up on the plywood. The anchored segments would be easy to arrange, but the free-floating ones would make the piece. I didn’t stare at those cards for two weeks, but I kept an eye on them all afternoon. Finally, I found myself looking back and forth between two cards. One said “Alpinist.” The other said “Upset Rapid.” “Alpinist” could go anywhere. “Upset Rapid” had to be where it belonged in the journey on the river. I put the two cards side by side, “Upset Rapid” to the left. Gradually, the thirty-four other cards assembled around them until what had been strewn all over the plywood was now in neat rows. Nothing in that arrangement changed across the many months of writing.

This delighted me, as Maude and I did something similar for our first book. We blogged for a couple of years, exploring the aspects of our relationship, then printed out the blogs, cut them into pieces, laid them on the glass dining-room table and shuffled them into place.

The second book on writing is Good Prose by Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd. They, too, have a section on structure. I was entranced to find that he used McPhee’s same essay as illustration:

McPhee’s Encounters with the Archdruid is a paradigm of structural complexity. It’s like a piece of fine carpentry, fussy and great, and great in part because nothing in the writing calls attention to the structure. The book, from the early 1970s, is in essence an extended profile of David Brower, then the nation’s most prominent and controversial environmentalist. The story is told in three parts, each of them an “encounter” showing Brower in confrontation or debate with people who represent for him the forces of environmental destruction.

The final section takes place mostly on a raft trip down the Colorado river. … At one point, the conversation turns to the river’s water levels. These are controlled by the Glen Canyon Dam, upstream from the party of rafters. McPhee breaks away from the central narrative and after a visual break on the page writes:

What seemed unimaginable beside the river in the canyon was that all that wild water had been processed, like pork slurry in a hot-dog plant, upstream in the lightless pen-stocks of a big dam.

Then he tells us that “some days earlier” Dominy had taken him and Brower to see the dam. … It is worth pausing over how McPhee manages this transition, from the river to the dam. Not the prose itself, elegant though it is, but the timing. He waits for a logical moment when he, the narrator, would be likely to remember that earlier trip. … If a story is well-designed, the writer should be able to go from one subject to a rather different one, from one time to another time, without giving off a scent of arbitrariness or struggle. Sometimes two parts of a story can simply be placed next to each other and the structure fits together like one of those New England Stone walls that have stood for centuries without mortar in the joints.

I was gratified to read McPhee’s description of his structure and Kidder’s analysis of how artfully it was assembled. I am challenged in my writing: to justify the table-top of my premise, I must first describe the legs that support it, and these books are helping me in organizing my ideas.


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Local Publishing and Marketing

Steve Figler pointed to an interesting article about small publishers in L.A. and asked why we couldn’t do that here in Santa Barbara. Good question. There are a few small presses here, but they mainly specialize.

  • Bandanna Books is run by Birdie Newborn, who occasionally comes to SBWG meetings. She largely does reprints of older works for the educational field.
  • Bellerophon Books is also in the educational field.
  • Concord Grove Press appear to publish theosophical works, mostly reprints.
  • Allen A. Knoll are not accepting submissions.
  • Sea-Hill Press used to be in town, but have apparently since moved to Florida. I went to a great Adult-Ed class by the owner Greg Sharp when they were here.

There are various author events around town, both big and small.

There is a Santa Barbara Writing Group, a Santa Barbara Publishing and Marketing Group, and Betsy Green runs a separate marketing group at the library, next meeting Monday, April 30 at 2 p.m. on the second floor.

Shaun Sanders is starting a radio show through KCSB in the near future dedicated to indie authors and SoCal writers.


A Couple of Link Recommendations

I got an email the other day from Sabrina Doyle of FocusStars:

Hi Phil,

I just wanted to send a quick thank you for your site, some savvy teens and I are getting a lot of use from it! Our writer’s workshop here in Washington has been researching the industry side of writing since our girls are very serious about publishing one day- plus we could also always use more tips to improve our own writing. In our hunt for inspiration we stumbled onto your page here: https://sbwriters.org/links/ ..it’s been tough finding non-spammy sites so you have our thanks!

You gave us some great ideas to brainstorm. As a token of our thanks we wanted to share another page that one of our superstars Mia found- it’s a guide to the legal issues involved with writing and has some useful resources for those interested in publishing. We found the copyright and fair use information helpful since a lot of the girls are interested in sharing online. Maybe you might find it useful for your page? Let us know what you think

Legal resource for writers-

Hopefully you like it too! If you do decide to add it I’ll be sure to show Mia you liked her find. Another site we reference sometimes is http://www.writersdigest.com. I love sharing so if you have any needs or cool project ideas please feel free to pass them along. Thanks again and sorry for rambling, I’m excited about this connection! We’ll keep you posted on our progress :o)

Cheers and well wishes,


The Belize Writers’ Conference

Elizabeth James wrote to the SB Authors Publishing and Marketing Group about a writers’ conference in Belize, and I’m passing it on in case anyone is interested:

My name is Elizabeth and I’m a writer in the Bay Area. I’m reaching out to you because I sit on the board of the first-ever Belize Writers Conference happening this April, and we’re trying to get the word out.

This conference is a tremendous opportunity for anyone with a finished or close-to-finished manuscript. It is a small conference, limited to just 30, and attendees will have the opportunity to work closely with 2 literary agents–Carrie Howland of Empire Literary and Kate Johnson of Wolf Literary Services–as well as writing coach, Jane Anne Staw. Attendees will have the opportunity to not only pitch their work, but potentially form a working relationship with our agents.

The conference will take place April 23-28 on at the Ak’bol Yoga Retreat on Ambergris Caye, in Belize. It is a tropical paradise and attendees will have the opportunity to relax on the beach, participate in yoga sessions, and time will be set aside for generative writing.

For more information and to register please see our website: http://www.joeygarcia.com/events/

As this is our first year we are on a shoestring budget as far as publicity is concerned. I am asking that you please pass this information along to your group members. If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to ask. My email is elizabeth.james82@gmail.com.

All best,

Elizabeth Gonzalez James

Notes for 1/15/18 Marketing Meeting

Aniaya took notes at the meeting — thanks! I took these from her google docs posting at sbauthors@gmail.com, ask me for the password.

Discussed last weeks’ agenda

Bringing in guest speakers (Betsy)

What do you have trouble with and what have you learned? Easier to read dark print on a lighter background?

Theme each time?

Book, editor new book memories books

Bumper stickers and shirts for marketing your book

Sell your book to the local book stores since you visited those very places

Go look at Chaucers (they want 40%) people show up to buy and then he goes and says oh yeah i have the books here.

Createspace (formatting is tough on this one) KDP to publish books 9buyt for 4.50 a book then sell) quality problems: color tone, spine off center, trim will be ragged, irregular stripes, but they refunded and sent new ones with pics to prove it. Vellum? ($40 per book to format) Format your book correctly and make it fancy

Sell locally rather than nationally

70 percent difficult and everything else is oenting else.

Go door to door to sell books at possible places of interest,

Take bokma d pay me within 30 days or i get my books back.

Online you make more online than just locally in troe or do both.

Webinar next week with Betsy?

$600 for the layout no paying nay money is traditional publishing.

The authors gild?

When you do a book signing they usually charge 40% Find a venue now. Rent a bouse and

Do a weekly time for blogging and also create a mailing list so people sign up and maybe charge? They use mailchimp free for up to 2000. They have 20 amazon reviews, readit,

My notes – Don’t be boring in your design. Use amazing pics make sure each picture ties with each chapter blog about recent trends: ex/sexual harassments just because everyone has their own opinion does not mean you have to change it for them not evryone is going to like your book; deal with it.

Try la times or ny times to get to do a book review for your book. Maybe write their review for them so they do not have to read anything. Or q and a what it is about and why what would they like about it. Church groups for foster home orphan stuff. Rotary groups. Tvsb fee vieo

Use famous people to market your book. Maybe the and they will say to buy it…

Contact a flower delivery and say i’ll give you a discount and you can buy this ebook and five it along with their flowers. Book bouquets.


Ideas for branding:

What is branding?

What do people think about when they think about me or you?

Make sure your brand is consistent and controlled.

Have a brutal editor

You have brand tukes deoedning ob what you are writing about

Make sure your brand does not confine you.

Put it out to your readers, hey guys what do you think of this?


Fiction or non-fiction

The voice you use

The picture on the back of your book

What do you want the reader to see in that photo? Go to a specialist that will make you look that

Are you technical or keeping it simple


Some books always have their titles at the topic with same font and color and size and types,

Your bio and cover need to be great amd thank page and do they look for oics


Reviewers can be other authors

Agents are not impacted too much by reviews

Have a quote a good quote by a reviewer

Politics (write about it or not)

Pseudonyms are for writing different styles of books. Write a ic of your book instead of your pic

Your website should be your author name

Find a cool graphic designer or take a class to do it yourself

Create bookmarks to sell your book or offer a free book mark if you sell your book or even a custom-made book mark if they buy it.

The library takes donated bookmarks

Maybe list the names of your books on the bookmarks

Maybe more exposure with amazon

Wrote and write and write everyday

Audiobooks are a great idea. acx.com is a market between writers ad narrators; you can put your book up and you can hire someone to read it for a flat fee $200 per finished hour better people may be $400. Royalty is 40% Instead of a fee you can split the 40% with the narrator.

If an author has a good reader and then changes the readers get mad if you read good people will want the same readers

Topics ideas for next week:

Online exposure

Get a following

Be at the right place at the right time

We:10th book into women’s romance went huge

Bety Green’s meeting: 2pm thursday at the central library writers group. Professional who want to work with Indie authors