Every Blade of Grass by Thomas Wharton

everybladeA couple of years ago I took Aaron Sorkin’s online masterclass on screenwriting. I’m not a screenwriter, I’m just a huge fan of his and a firm believer that, by and large, writing is writing, regardless of the medium. The course mostly focused on things like storytelling, dialogue, and character development, but the most impactful lesson, for me, was about how to approach story structure.

Sorkin asks his students to visualize their story as a clothesline. At either end of that clothesline is an intention and an obstacle.

For any story to work, there needs to be a character that wants something (the intention) and there has to be something that gets in the way (the obstacle). If both of these are interesting enough, then the clothesline is pulled taut. At this point, the writer can hang as many things from it as they want: conversations, side stories, plot twists, intellectual tangents, you name it. But if the intention and the obstacle aren’t interesting enough, if they don’t keep the viewer  wanting more, then the clothesline has too much slack, and those aforementioned things–conversations, side stories, what have you–start to weigh the clothesline (i.e. the story) down.

In other words, if the driving action of a story is compelling, the writer is freed up to add in as many colorful touches as he or she wants without losing the viewer’s interest. That’s when you have them.

“I worship at the altar of intention and obstacle,” Sorkin says.

If Every Blade of Grass is any indication, so does Thomas Wharton.

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Icefields by Thomas Wharton

IcefieldsI’m often asked why I write about books in my free time (and for free, no less). For a long time, I struggled to come up with a concise answer. Writing about my reading comes with a lot of positives–community, encouragement, inspiration, challenges, exposure, reinforcement–but I’ve always stopped short of saying these were reasons that Another Book Blog exists.

After reading Icefields by Thomas Wharton, I thankfully don’t have to. Suddenly, after five years of doing this, the reason for this blog has become very clear.

There’s a moment in Icefields where two characters are talking about poetry and journalism, and the moving target that is writing. With each field, the goal is never perfection. The best a writer can do, they surmise, is produce something that simply approaches what he or she really feels. That’s because even getting close is incredibly hard.

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