Writing by Templates

Here are two ways to write a story:

  1. The writer creates characters, action, and an environment based on how they think the story should unfold.
  2. The writer follows a template, created by someone else, that dictates who the characters are, when action takes place, and most times what the ending will be. Examples of templates are Save the Cat and The Hero’s Journey.

In June 2019, I read a blog by Janice Hardy titled The Lure of the Writing Template: Why Filling in the Blanks Doesn’t Work.” Janice was a guest blogger on Anne R. Allen’s blogsite.

Janice wrote, “When templates are used for developing stories or to help keep writers focused, they’re useful. But when they dictate how writers should write their books and tell their stories—especially if they give false hope as to the marketability of those stories—they lead writers down a dangerous path.”

I agree with Janice. Yes, it is easy to follow a template, like following a paint-by-numbers kit. However, the writer must “. . . hit specific turning points at specific times, even if they don’t fit . . .” as the template demands. By avoiding a template, a writer can tell the story as they think it should be written.

Writing is a creative process and I think using a template diminishes the creativity. However, a writer can write and sell more books by following a template. It is faster and readers recognize the formalistic style. Therein lies the decision.

To write for quality or quantity. If a writer’s primary income comes from novels, many feel they must write for quantity and follow a template. This is not necessarily true.

There are many successful writers who do not follow a template. They write a story they feel is their story and not someone else’s. Whichever way a writer chooses, it should be their story and not someone else’s.

A Nonprofit’s Turnover Rate

A turnover of staff (employees leave and are replaced) greater than forty percent over a six month period is not good for any organization and can be critical to nonprofits. This should be a warning sign to grant writers that it may be difficult working with the nonprofit.

A high turnover can mean a continuous change in mission direction, different goals, redirected priorities, and always new people to work with. Sometimes nonprofits need this change and it is understandable that staff leave as a result. It is important that the grant writer know why so many people leave.

Besides a planned overhaul of the nonprofit, the most common reasons staff leave can be underpay, no upward mobility, and excessive workloads. However, I think people who work for a nonprofit do so because they believe in the mission. They want to stay despite the low pay or even working conditions and it takes a lot of negativity to discourage them to leave.

While negativity can come from other employees, I find that staff leave more because board members overstep their authority and/or the executive director’s lack of leadership.

A grant writer may try to change this situation. However, if they decide to get involved, they are not writing grants and have assumed a different role in the nonprofit. Eventually, the leadership leaves and/or the nonprofit fails. That is when the grant writer is most needed.

How to Write a Novel Using the Modular Form

Some writers sit down and write a novel chapter by chapter to the end. Some writers find this discipline difficult to achieve and may never write their novel because of it.

An alternative to chapter by chapter is to write individual scenes that could be placed somewhere in the novel. By a scene, I mean a moment of dialogue, a dramatic or adventurous event, or anything representing a unique segment of the story.

The scenes do not need to be in any specific order in the story. Nor do they need to involve characters. They can be long or short and do not need a beginning or an end. There is only one requirement.

Scenes should contain some type of an “arc” meaning a rise in action or dialogue, the climax, and an aftermath. The arc does not need to be dramatic, but the climax should be some important knowledge revealed or a change in a character or environment. After writing several scenes, the writer fits them into the story like puzzle pieces.

To create a flow and link the scenes, beginning and/or ending sentences may need to be rewritten. Mostly, the writer needs to create connecting passages that lead from one scene to the next. These passages should not have an arc, but give the reader a rest between scenes. As an example, they can show people moving across a landscape or thinking about what happened or setting up for the next scene.

Writing scenes provides freedom to change the story as needed by moving the scenes around to where they belong best. The writer will not see the story as a whole by looking at scenes, yet when put together they have a novel.

How to Build a Relationship

Building business relationships between nonprofits and foundations are different (and should be) from personal relationships.

The strongest business relationships are built by sharing an experience or event in a joint venture. As an example, in a local catastrophe the nonprofit and foundation can work together in recovery efforts. Later, they should have developed an understanding of how each other operates or not. Even with partial success in the joint venture, a strong relationship can develop.

Another example is a long time commitment with each other. Trust is built over the years because the nonprofit is able to spend the foundation’s money efficiently and effectively while meeting all the reporting requirements. The foundation knows they can rely on the nonprofit to manage projects and money accurately.

Other relationships are built by shared interests between the primary board members of both organizations. This interest is usually outside the mission areas of the nonprofit and foundation and could include shared work activities, similar hobbies, or family relatives.

These are positive ways to build relationships. There are also negative ways such as accumulating political capital. Politics is everywhere and not just in governments. I won’t go into specifics because I don’t recommend this, but a person builds political capital through “owing favors.”

Having a positive relationship is important for many reasons. One of the primary advantages is:

      • A nonprofit has a support system when they need help in a crisis (usually financial)
      • The foundation has a viable source they can contact when they want to help people in the community

The most important ingredient of all these examples is communication. Whether sharing an experience, knowing each other for years, or have like interests, relationships are built on conversation.