Tuesday, July 23, 2019

The Story Editor

Today, I want to tell you about my friend Chadd. He's a brilliant thinker and storyteller and teacher, and for a couple of magical years, he was my across-the-hall neighbor at school. Every teacher knows how important it is to have a like-minded partner in crime to help deal with the daily bullshit that comes with classroom teaching. Chadd ranks among the best of these confidants.

Another great thing about Chadd is that he's missed his calling as a book editor.

That sounds selfish. I mean, of course, I'm sad for him that he missed his calling. However, I'm really happy for me because it means his services are cheap and available. All I had to do this time was show up at the local brewery of his choosing and open a tab.

And this is what he does: First, he says, "Give me a five-minute synopsis of your story." That's super hard for me to do, but Chadd is positive and encouraging. "Well, then this'll be good practice!" After that, we start with the questions. I've listed them in advance, and he answers them. We bat ideas back and forth. I leave with scribbled notes about which scenes to write next. Here are some examples of problems he's solved for me:

  • Who left that threatening voicemail that we hear at the beginning of Minor Dramas & Other Catastrophes?
  • Who is the antagonist in this story?
  • What are these kids fighting about?
  • What happens when this kid investigates that thing?
  • I love this character, but does she have a place in this story?
  • Does the protagonist have to be fighting with her husband, or is the rest enough?
  • How can I connect these two, seemingly disparate storylines?
  • Is this theme big enough? Who delivers these tough truths?
  • Does this big moment happen in the middle of the story or at the end?
  • What happens at the close of all of this? (This question is really, What HAS to happen at the end of this in order for the story to have integrity?) 
You can see how useful this is. It's like my own personal writers' room. He finds the best parts of my ideas and amplifies them. Very often, when Chadd makes a suggestion, I find the threads of that idea already written into my draft. I didn't even know the seeds were there. He's never read a word of my writing, except for my Listen to Your Mother piece. Incidentally, Chadd nailed the ending of that thing by making me cut a sentence that used to come after the last, best one.

Other people need these services. I keep telling Chadd to monetize his consulting. When I offer my profuse thanks, he always says, "All I'm asking is a nice 5x7" photograph in the acknowledgments section." He's kidding, I think. I can't do that, but I am grateful. You'll find him in the real acknowledgments, and you won't even be able to tell that Dan always calls him "Chad-duh-duh" to account for the extra D, which we've embraced.

1 comment:

LH said...