Gerke’s tools offer a simple solution to one-sided writing, pack a big punch.
Author, editor and writing coach Jeff Gerke has a pretty damn good theory about writers. And a pretty simple one at that: all things considered, we fall into just two types. (I know, and you thought you were so original!) But his theory stands up. Willing to admit it or not, there are those among us who are great with characters, setting, world-building and description and those who excel at plot…at connecting the dots, telling the story, taking us seamlessly from rising action through conflict upon conflict until we don’t even care who the story is about because we can’t wait to get to the twist at the end.
Unfortunately, the writer who is equally skilled in both plot and character is rare. Most of us tend to lean heavily towards one side or the other. The problem is…for fiction to be truly outstanding, it is vital that it be rock solid in both areas. This can be wearisome and exasperating, especially when we know where our weakness lie but have given up on the idea of any sort of a solution. We’ve resigned ourselves to the extra months of sweat and tears to try and make sense of the ‘other side’ of the writing divide. You know, the one all mysterious and shrouded in darkness.
Luckily for us, Gerke brought along a big flashlight! He didn’t let the insight he had about these two strikingly different writing styles wither in the back of a notebook somewhere. He sat down and did something about it, creating a few ingenious writing tools that offer us a glimpse into the brain of those living on that scary ‘other side’. Once you are actually thinking like a character maven or a plot genius it’s a simple step by step process. There’s plenty of work involved, but stay on the path, and you will have fantastically rich characters and stay-up-all-night plots carrying your novel all the way to the publishing house.
The first tool, Character Creation for the Plot First Novelist will take you through the ropes of creating living, breathing characters with a kick start from real Myers-Briggs and Keirsey (Enneagram) personality types, followed by the most depth building character worksheet we’ve ever come across. Other than the use of personality types, the thing that really stands out about this worksheet is how each section builds upon the next. We are connecting the dots to make a complex mind…not just writing a laundry list of traits…we are exploring how those traits really work together in unison, creating their own important and unique attributes. It’s a crater opening depth charge for your characters.
Along with the Character Creation Template, you get some background into personality types (including a short humorous chart entitled: Myers-Briggs Prayers for the 16 Personality Types – which was incidentally a big hit at my recent family reunion -another lesson that all good story telling comes from simple truths), and a fun little no frills program called Charpick which at the push of a button randomizes choices for 42 different character traits. This is great for adding some spice to a main character. For a minor player…try letting it do all or most of the mixing of for you. You just might be inspired by the cosmic character soup it serves up. Me? I’m already feeling sorry for my plain red-headed child with a full beard and ‘not too bright’ intelligence. Careful though….like most random generators – in the hands of many naturally procrastinating writers caution is advised (or at least a really annoying kitchen timer!) Gerke recommends picking up a copy of Please Understand Me II: Temperament, Character, Intelligence by David Keirsey for more insight into the Myers-Briggs character types. I also highly recommend: What Type Am I?:The Myers-Brigg Type Indication Made Easy by Renee Baron for the same purpose.
On the other side of the proverbial writing style fence Gerke gives us How to Find Your Story: A Step-by-Step Roadmap for Creating Page-Turning Plots. As a character minded writer myself this one was the tool I knew I’d be scrutinizing the most. As you can imagine , I’ve read more than my share of books about plot. Still, I’ve struggled with finding interesting story and structure for years, while churning out notebooks and gigabytes of computer files full of deep, damaged and drifting characters who ultimately continue to drift until I lose interest or get distracted by an idea for another quirky character. I’ve always heard that if you write good characters they will write the story for you. In my nearly 8 years of working as novelist and screen-writer, I’ve yet to see that miracle occur.
How to Find Your Story starts out with a great visual of internal and external plot structure which if you don’t already have burned into your consciousness to the point that you can recreate it in your sleep, you would do well to print out and post in a prominent place on your writing bulletin board, the cover of your laptop, the ceiling over your bed -what have you. This is your road map, your template and your kick in the pants to remind you that your story needs to actually be going somewhere!
Gerke does an amazing job then of walking you step by step through not only the elements of plot development, but theme, backdrop, antagonists, ticking bombs, character journey’s and knots and structure, structure, structure. (Just to name a few) Each element is tied into the questions on the How To Find Your Story Worksheet. Again, this deceptively simple tool is a power-house plot generator and the instruction in the program is some of the best I’ve ever come across. Enough from me – I’ve got some stories to write!
Rating: 4.5/5 stars
Jeff Gerke’s Program’s can be found on his website: Where the Map Ends
Oh, and while you are there…be sure and have some fun with his Random Story Generator. It’s ok, I know you can’t resist!
(Story originally published June 05, 2009 – Blogcritics Magazine)