Not long ago I was sorting through some of my children’s old papers and discovered their rough drafts for the novels they wrote for the youth version of Nanowrimo (except for adjusted word counts, National Novel Writing Month for these younger writers is very much the same as it is for adult writers). At their pre-Nanowrimo workshop my two budding novelists were given a worksheet that sparked a memory of my English classes from long ago: The Five Elements of a Story--setting, plot, characters, conflict and theme.
I critiqued the Five Elements Worksheets with not only a mother’s eye, but also a writer’s, and noticed differing strengths and weakness in both. My son had a fantastic characters but his conflict was confusing. My daughter’s plot and theme were strong but her characters were not three-dimensional.
This discovery challenged me to look at my own writing and how I handled these basic building blocks of writing. What elements do I excel at and love to create? Which ones do I struggle with?
One of my favorite parts of writing is creating the setting (not so coincidentally, it’s the part I have to edit down the most too). I want my readers to feel completely immersed in my book’s surroundings, to experience it with all their five senses. However, I tend to struggle with theme; it’s hard for me to remain consistent as my characters evolve through my story.
Understanding my strengths and weakness has helped me become more efficient in the writing and editing process. With my often limited time, I’m able to focus my attention where it’s needed the most. Also, when I attend workshops or conferences, like the NCW 2014 Writing Odyssey at the end of this month, I know which classes are the most important for me to attend to grow in my craft.
Going back to basics helps me dust away some of the drama of writing. It also gives me a shot of humility and confidence as I recognize that, like all writers, I’m a mixed bag of talent. Maybe someday all those five elements will come easy, but for now, I’m content to keep honing them a little more each day.