I’m waist-deep in revisions for my most recent novel (third major round, for those keeping score at home) so Dinty W. Moore’s The Story Cure: A Book Doctor’s Pain-Free Guide to Finishing Your Novel could not have arrived at a better time. A slim but nonetheless capacious book, The Story Cure does cover a lot of ground, from the usual suspects: character, plot, voice and point of view—issues writing geeks working on big projects will appreciate reading or reviewing. But what I appreciated most was Moore’s personal take on the most essential elements of the major prose project: the primal story or the problem of the heart, and the invisible magnetic river. The problem of the heart is the primal element of the story, the human current that runs deep within its core that pulls the reader in and makes them care about it, makes them unwilling to put it down. The invisible magic river is, likewise, the current that carries this story and that every single element of the work—”word, element, scenes, snippets of dialogue, reflection,” should be drawn toward. I knew that these were key parts of any novel or memoir that I loved and that they should be integral to my own work—but I needed reminding, and thinking about what my story’s “problem of the heart” and “invisible river,” resonates for me. I appreciate the way these metaphors also underscore the importance of the reader in any work—something I think writers sometimes forget when they’re in the weeds. It’s always about the reader. As a reader yourself, you know this. You don’t owe any author your attention. But in the struggle to bring a story to life, we sometimes forget.
I also asked Moore to answer some questions that I thought writing geeks might particularly want to know about his writing techniques and he graciously obliged. So check these out and then check out The Story Cure yourself.
You’ve published a few books on writing now (Dear Mister Essay Writer Guy, Crafting the Personal Essay, The Mindful Writer, The Truth of the Matter)—what prompted you to write The Story Cure specifically? What problems were you seeing among the writers you taught and coached that you were hoping to address?
My other craft guides focus primarily on essays and shorter stories, but much of my teaching at summer workshops and conferences is with writers hoping to begin, complete, or revise a first book. Though good writing is good writing, no matter the length, there are different approaches to pacing, endurance, and revision strategy with longer works, and certain other complexities. The Story Cure captures what I’ve taught and what I’ve learned, after two decades of working with authors at every stage of the often intimidating “first book” experience.
How did The Story Cure get written? What’s it’s “story”? Were you working on anything else at the time and when did you make time for this project?
The story of The Story Cure is simply that story is everything. Problems with plot, characterization, language choice, structure, with writer’s block, or with getting unstuck in the middle, or with revision—these are often seen as separate, but my idea is that the answer is always found in the same place: What is your heart story? Just as it is true for living creatures, it is true for our writing. Nothing thrives unless the heart is healthy.
The book was written while I was stalled on another project. That may be a bit of irony, given my “doctor” credentials, but the good news is that I kept working.
What would Dinty W. Moore the author, today tell the hopeful Dinty W. Moore the writer just starting out, years ago?
You have so much to learn. Forget about that and write as much as you can. You learn by making mistakes, so make them today, and every day, and you’ll get steadily better.