The Eight Crafts of Writing

Everybody should plant a tree, have a child, and write a book. All these live on after us, ensuring a measure of immortality.

– Attributed to the Talmud and Jose Martí, Cuban revolutionary and poet

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The majority of people believe that they have a book in them. We believe that too. We all can look back on unique experiences and expertise, and we all have valuable views on life and wisdom worth sharing.

To become a professional writer takes ten years or more. But to write that one book, you don’t need to become a professional writer. You just need to become decent and the unique story that only you can tell will do the rest.

But you still need to learn the ropes and that can take four to five years. Eight Crafts can help you to cut that time in half. The reason: Eight Crafts gives you a conceptualized overview of storytelling – the map – as well as a methodology that guides you through the writing process – the navigation system.

Eight Crafts is also for you if you are already a few years into storytelling, but got sidetracked or lost in the woods. Learning storytelling is like venturing into a jungle. All writers get lost at one point.

There are no shortcuts to learning and training skills, but we can follow the 80/20 rule. With twenty percent of the total effort, we can take our book to eighty percent of the required quality. But for that, we need to know first what are the eighty what are the twenty percent. That’s where Eight Crafts comes in.

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Read the first three chapters:

The Writing Jungle

Create an interesting character and give her a great goal. Write what you want to read. Create a sense of wonder. The more conflict, the better. Write with intention. Sit at the typewriter and bleed (Ernest Hemmingway). Don’t write to get published. Focus on characters’ struggles for objects of desire. Don’t worry about being a good writer, just write. Grab the reader. Unfold your story organically. Be captivating. Or memorable. Write originally. Create authenticity. Create an emotional connection. Keep the reader turning pages. Be unpredictable. Keep the reader curious. Writing serves the reader, not the writer. 

You can find a hundred more writing tips like this on the Internet. Which one to prioritize? Which one to apply when? Which one to ignore when?

Learning how to write feels like getting to know a jungle. We can only see a few meters into the tangled thicket that teems with cunning predators, yucky leeches, poisonous plants, and sucky swamps. In short, we can’t see the art for tools.

That’s where Eight Crafts comes in. It gives you a conceptualized drone view. Drone view = overview, conceptualized drone view = map.

What Are Stories?

Life is all about experiencing, one could even make the point that experiencing is life’s purpose.

Our lives are strings of pleasant and challenging experiences, so-called good and bad times. Pleasant experiences, like a nice dinner or a happy vacation, make anecdotes. Only challenging experiences make stories.

No challenge, no story. 

Challenges can be exciting, for example, climbing a mountain. But most challenges have an adverse ring to them, for example, a stone in a shoe. Or a storm. Climbing out of a hole is challenging too, for example, recovering from an accident or the loss of a loved one. 

Challenging experiences are adventures. Both adventure and adversity start with adv.

Fictional stories are never as realistic as real-life experiences. Writers make up for that by dramatizing and exaggerating stories. This leads to the basic definition of story:

Stories are dramatized virtual adventures. 

That busts the myth that stories are about change. Stories need to emulate change in order to feel real (life always changes), but stories are really about adventures, i. e. inspiring struggles with adversity. 

Adventures have to do with advancement too. Life bombards living beings with challenges and forces them to learn. Adversity and advancement are inseparable and therefore indispensable ingredients of stories. Who advances? The protagonist. 

Art and Craft

Art is creativity, craft is skill.

Creativity has two phases:

  • Conceiving an idea

  • Turning an idea into an image

The former requires genius or intuition, the latter requires creative imagination.

Craft has two phases too:

  • Formation

  • Production

Formation is the blue-collar work of giving the story image a blueprint, for example, a story outline and a genre.

In this context, production means writing. And editing. And revising. And rewriting. 

When we think of writing, we are used to think of the blissful creative aspect, aka pantsing. But the plotting – the craft – is equally important for success. However, plotting is not the only writing craft, in fact, there are eight. And each has its respective skill set.

The Map

To conquer a jungle, you need a map. If you want to be a writer, you need to learn eight crafts: 

  • Big Idea

  • Genre

  • Story Outlining

  • Scene Structure

  • World Building

  • Characterization

  • Prose

The Big Idea is the essence or theme of a story. 

Narration is storytelling proper. 

Genre determines what kind of story is told. Is it a thriller, a romance, a crime story, or horror? 

Story Outline adds structures and arcs to stories. 

Scenes are the most important story units. You can think of scenes as pearls lined up on the necklace of a story’s outline. Or the bones of your story’s outline skeleton. 

You need World Building skills to design world settings and contexts.

Characterization breathes life into your story characters. 

Prose, aka line-by-line writing, weaves the reading experience.

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