by Kelly Baugh
This week my third grader came home with the assignment of writing a summary of his favorite book. As we worked on the project together, he told me, “We have to make sure we use that special formula. The Somebody-Wanted-But-So-Then Formula.”
At my blank look, he patiently explained how every story follows the same formula. Somebody is the main character. That character wants something. But they come across a problem. So they have to decide what to do next. Then something happens that brings the story to an end.
“Shouldn’t you already know this, Mom?” He asked when he was done instructing me. “I thought you were a writer.”
Fighting words. I responded with, “Well in my day, we called it the Exposition, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, and Dénouement Formula.” (Except I only remembered about two of the terms and had to look up the rest on Wikipedia).
“I think that's the old fashioned way they taught it,” he said and scampered off to do some light computer programming.
Aside from the fun of being schooled in writing by a nine year old, the conversation proved useful as I returned to one of my manuscripts the next morning. For the last few weeks I’d been wandering around in editing wasteland.
You know that place, right? When you’ve read your story so many times you want to throw it across the room because it’s the most boring thing you’ve ever laid your eyes on. As I worked on charting some timeline issues, I wanted to cry at the tedium. I was tempted to shelve the story and turn to something more enjoyable. Like cleaning the bathroom. Or watching paint dry.
Do you believe in your Somebody-Wanted-But-So-Then? The words popped into my mind.
Did I? Yes I did. In fact, I love my SWBST; my boredom didn’t come from the story, but rather the doldrums of making it polished. And that gave me the determination to keep fine tuning the details.
I think all of us as writers must keep returning to our love of the initial story. Do we believe in it enough to slog through editing, rejection, pitches, etc.? If not, maybe we need a better story.
However, if we believe in our SWBST, then we can use that love to push us through the hard stuff, one edit (or rejection, or pitch) at a time.