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*****

Case Study: When Your Concept Disappears

by Larry Brooks on September 18, 2014

From my chair, sometimes it seems like folks encounter the “What is your concept?” question, and then they scramble for an answer.  They conjure something conceptual, or what seems conceptual in that moment.

As if they weren’t ready for that question.  Hadn’t considered it.  This is part of the value of the analysis process, it shows you what you don’t know about your story, but should.

Usually they know the next question asks for their premise, and they’re pretty comfortable and ready for that one.

And they quickly forget about what came before it.  In that case…

Too often, the two answers — and what follows — don’t connect. 

You can identify a concept (perhaps in the moment, in retrospect), but when you get down to the business of describing your story that concept leaves the building.

Because it was never there in the first place.

Which leaves the story without a conceptual layer, something that is appealing before and separate from the characters and plot themselves.

A missed opportunity, that.  And when the concept was there, however briefly, and then disappears, it’s a fumble, resulting (using football jargon here) in a turnover.

Which in this case usually costs you the ballgame.

Check out this case study, you’ll see how this fumble looks in print.

Click on this link — SF Concept Case 9-18 — to read a short Kick-Start Concept/Premise analysis where this is precisely what happened.

The learning is this: notice how potentially compelling the concept is, as a story landscape.  And then, how less than compelling the premise becomes when it fails to harness the inherent power of that concept.

A concept is a promise to the reader: you will enjoy the contextual landscape of this story, because it empowers the story.

It’s a promise you should make from an informed basis, and when it comes to pitching your work, definitely not one you should break.

*****

Want to see if your concept and premise are playing well together?

Click HERE for the skinny on my Kick-Start Concept/Premise Analysis.  If you can find a better $95 investment in your story — because your story depends on this — please tell me where it is.

*****

The free Deadly Faux deconstruction ebook (114 pages of workshop-worthy stuff) is still available.  Click HERE to learn more.

 

 

 

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Story Deconstruction: “Remember Me?” by Sophie Kinsella

by Larry Brooks on September 14, 2014

A guest post by Jennifer Blanchard

KinsellaBook-1

Spoiler Alert: This deconstruction dig deeps to break down the novel. The story will be fully exposed. This process provides a great opportunity to follow along when reading the book and see how a badass story is put together.

There are a lot of things at play in this story, which is why I chose to deconstruct it.

At a surface level, we’re led to believe that it’s a story about a woman who gets in an accident and loses her memory of the last three years (a plot not unlike many others that have been done before, think: The Vow with Rachel McAdams and Channing Tatum). But there’s a lot more to it than what the surface presents.

There has to be, because that alone (a woman getting into an accident and losing her memory) isn’t compelling enough for a story. There has to be more.

To quote Larry, a story needs…

“A hero with a problem and/or an opportunity. We need a reason to invest in it on an emotional level, something we can relate to. We need something specific to root for, as well as feel. We need conflict and tension, a confrontation between what the hero wants and does, and what opposes him or her on that path, something more than “inner demons” (which are useful when they influence that the hero does about the problem he/she faces… rather than simply documenting how those demons feel along the way). And most of all — because this will make us care and root — we need to understand what is at stake for both sides of confrontation.”

A good story is not a documentary of a situation.

A good story takes us on a journey with the hero toward resolution through confrontation, action, courage, cleverness, risk taking and the conquering of both interior and exterior antagonists.”

When it works, there is an antagonist and/or antagonistic force at play. There must be stakes that the reader can relate to, prompting an emotional investment. The hero has to want something and be willing to get it no matter the cost.  As the reader would, vicariously, if in that position.

Remember Me? is actually a love story. But you’d never guess that, at least not ’til much later in the story.

And with that, let’s begin the deconstruction…

The Hook

As with most great stories, there’s a Hook that occurs very early in the narrative, often the first chapter, sometimes the initial few pages. This moment is there to set up the story that’s to come.

In Remember Me? there seems to be two hooks. The first is the Prologue, which introduces and positions a protagonist named Lexi Smart, and her group of friends. We find out they’re going out for drinks and dancing—which they do every week—except this time they’re celebrating that they just received bonuses at work. Well, everyone except Lexi. She’s the only one who didn’t get a bonus.

It’s the night before her dad’s funeral, and her boyfriend had just stood her up. Her life is kind of a mess. Not to mention she feels ugly and unworthy because she’s got a few extra pounds on her, snaggly teeth, and frizzy hair.

The prologue ends with the protagonist tripping down a flight of stairs and falling—hard— while running in the rain for a taxi.

Then in Chapter One we find our same protagonist in the hospital. At this point we’re being led to believe that this is the same night (or the night following) her trip down the stairs. But then something happens.

An additional little Hook appears, on page 19 (an early inciting incident), which changes everything (and introduces what’s to come in the next part of the chapter). Lexi is in her hospital bed talking to the nurse and she says, “Wouldn’t it be great if just once, just one time, life fell magically in place?”

Immediately following this sentence we get the Big Hook: Lexi glances down at her nails and they’re perfectly manicured. This doesn’t seem like something out of the ordinary, except that Lexi has never had manicured nails—her nails are always bitten down to stumps, as they were back in the Prologue.

Suddenly we’re hooked. Something’s going on.

The fall from the Prologue doesn’t appear to be syncing up to why she’s in the hospital right now. We have to read on to find out what will happen next.

That’s the mission of a good Hook—to set up the story to come and to keep you turning the page (or watching the movie).

Part One Exposition

Now Kinsella continues to unfold the story. Lexi goes on to discover that she looks totally different—her teeth are perfect, her hair is long and silky, she’s slender and toned, her purse is Louis Vuitton. But she doesn’t recognize herself.

All she remembers is the Lexi from the Prologue (snaggly teeth, bad hair, broke). She has no idea how she got to look the way she looks right now.

We also find out why she’s in the hospital—she got into a minor crash in her Mercedes convertible. Of course, this is more set up, because Lexi from the Prologue never could’ve afforded a car like that.

And the story set up keeps unfolding: Lexi is married to a handsome, rich home builder; she’s the Director of Flooring at her company, she lives in a fancy, expensive loft that overlooks London.

We’re being set up for the story that’s to come, a lot of which is being shown in Part One. Or so we think…

The First Plot Point

The First Plot Point (FPP) happens on page 79—it’s the final scene of Chapter 6 (and it falls at the 20th percentile in the story—exactly where it should). We find out that Lexi has amnesia—and can’t remember the last three years of her life. Now this isn’t coming as a huge surprise to Lexi—or the reader—but it’s still a shift of what’s been in play for the course of the first 78 pages.  It, in effect, launches the core story spine of the novel, after these 78 pages of set up.  (Not all FPPs are in-your-face, some are subtle, but still just as powerful.)

The FPP defines what’s at stake for the remainder of the story. It put an antagonist into play (or at least implies one) who needs to be defeated.

In this case, the FPP defines the antagonist (her amnesia) and the stakes for Lexi for the rest of the story (she now has to piece her life back together and try to figure out what the hell she’s going to do).

In that same scene her doctor tells her the best way to try and recover her memory is to fall back into her life. She decides to go home and live with her husband after she’s discharged from the hospital—even though he’s a total stranger to her.

Part Two Exposition

The FPP has shoved Lexi into Reaction mode (which is the context of every scene in Part Two—this is important for character arc. In Part Two of the story, the Protagonist is a “Wanderer.” reacting to the FPP). Now she’s gotta go home and re-learn about her life. Of course, when she goes home it’s to an enormous, posh, high-tech loft that overlooks London.

But the more she learns about her life, the more she realizes she doesn’t recognize this new Lexi. She discovers that she changed her looks completely and then went on a reality TV business competition show, which is where she met her now-husband. She drinks wine and only wears neutral colors.

None of this is the real Lexi, though. (The real Lexi being the one we met back in the Prologue.)

During this part of the story we’ve also started to get hints that something’s not quite right. Hints that Lexi’s “perfect life” with her “perfect husband” is not what it seems.

Lexi’s husband does odd things.  He makes her a “Marriage Manuel” that tells her all about their life together, with specific details on everything from what they eat for breakfast to how they have sex. And he gets irritated with her over small things, like leaving her shoes in the bedroom instead of putting them in her dressing room.

It’s pretty obvious that whoever she was before the car accident is the exact opposite of who she is now.

We also get a hint of something else that seems questionable: Lexi is trying to park her new car, but she can’t remember how to drive (because old Lexi didn’t drive) so she almost crashes again. A guy appears in the parking garage and yells at her to hit the breaks—literally. This happens at the end of Chapter Eight.

The guy recognizes her, but she doesn’t recognize him. He seems suspicious of her and her amnesia—he alludes to her faking it. They have an awkward exchange, he doesn’t mention his name and then quickly vanishes.

Around the middle of Part Two we get a little blip of what Lexi was really up to before the accident. That something shows up at Pinch Point One.

Pinch Point One

It turns out that Lexi had somehow snapped back three years prior, and decided to become super ambitious with her career. She changed everything about herself and somehow alienated all her friends in the process. Except now she can’t remember doing it or why she did it. She figures if she connects with her friends, maybe she’ll remember everything.

On page 150, she’s still reacting to the First Plot Point (finding out about her amnesia) and we find her chasing her friends out of the office building, trying to see if she can go to lunch with them. They have an awkward exchange and one of the friends tells her, “We don’t hang out with you anymore. We’re not mates.” (Before this point she had no idea that she was no longer friends with the people from the Prologue.)

That’s Pinch Point One: a reminder of what’s at stake for Lexi now that she’s back to her old self (from the Prologue). She’s got a lot of work to do if she’s gonna win her friends back.

The Midpoint

I love the Midpoint in this book, because there’s another moment that happens about 32 pages earlier than the actual Midpoint that feels so much like it’s the actual Midpoint, except it’s not. Because it doesn’t fulfill the contextual mission of the Midpoint story milestone.

The Midpoint is there to “part the curtain,” revealing new information and shifting the direction of the story. (It’s also what shifts the protagonist from Wanderer to Warrior, more on that in the Character Arc section below.)

So on page 169, Lexi has a bomb dropped on her.

She and her husband are hosting a dinner party, and one of the dinner guests—the guy from the awkward parking garage scene— corners her in the kitchen and tells her they’ve been having an affair—and are madly in love.

Boom! Lexi’s world starts to crumble a little. A very powerful moment… but it’s not the actual Midpoint.  This illustrates that, in addition to the primary (and rather fixed) major story milestones, we can inject other “plot twists” as we please to serve the story’s exposition.

It’s not the “official” Midpoint because we didn’t get quite enough information yet for this to shift the story in a new direction. Nope, this little gem of a moment is just set up moment for the Midpoint to come.

Lexi is still Reacting in this part of the story. She’s got new information that was dropped on her in the form of a plot twist. But she’s still not ready to Attack. She’s still not ready to take action on this whole amnesia thing.

She’s still biding her time, pretending like this all might magically go away and her memories will simply resurface on their own.

Then comes the actual Midpoint of the story.

Lexi’s been Reacting to the news that she may be having an affair. She’s been searching for clues, trying to avoid the guy even though he keeps trying to talk to her about it, and feeling really confused about the whole thing.

Up until this point in the story, Lexi doesn’t know whether to believe what this guy is telling her about the affair or not. (The old Lexi was not the cheating type.) Then the two of them run into each other at a walk-through for her husband’s new home launch (her husband builds expensive loft-style homes that overlook London).

Her husband asks the guy to give Lexi a tour of the building (because he’s the architect who designed the building so he knows everything about it). Lexi and the architect, Jon, are walking through the building on their tour and they end up in an upstairs bedroom, away from everyone else.

Again Jon is trying to convince Lexi that he’s telling the truth, and that they love each other and had plans—she was going to leave her husband for him. Lexi gets flustered and doesn’t know whether to believe him or not.

Then, on page 201, as Jon is talking to her, he grabs her hand, holds it in his for a minute and then begins softly tracing circles on her skin with his thumb.

Suddenly she can’t move.

Her “skin is fizzing; his thumb is leaving a trail of delicious sensation wherever it goes.” She can feel prickles going up the back of her neck. She doesn’t want to him to let her hand go.

Now that’s what I call a Midpoint.

This one little moment—him grabbing her hand—has changed the entire story. Lexi has had no memory return whatsoever so far in the story… but her body remembers his touch.

We’ve shifted into a whole new context for the story. Because now Lexi has a reason to get her memory back; she has a reason to start taking action to figure this whole mess out.

We have now entered Part Three of the story.

Part Three Exposition

Immediately following the Midpoint Lexi starts taking action (which is precisely according to the principles of story structure). Whereas
before she was just sitting around letting her new life flood in, hoping her memory would return, now she’s actively trying to make it come back.

She watches the DVD from her reality business TV show and sees herself—a crazy bitch-boss-from-hell who she totally doesn’t recognize. So when she goes back into work she starts doing nice things for everyone, to try and prove that she’s different now. She buys gifts for her friends, she tries to rally the troops into a fun outing…but no one’s buying it.

Her old ways are still biting her in the butt. Hard. She’s got a lot more work to do if she’s gonna overcome those outer (and inner) demons.

Things are still really strange with her husband—she broke something and he actually invoiced her to pay him back for it. She’s tried becoming more intimate with him in hopes of unlocking her memories, but that doesn’t go well, either.

Not to mention this love affair that she’s supposedly been having. Of course after what happened at the walk through, she’s kind of eager to find out what’s really been going on.

That’s where Pinch Point Two comes in.

Pinch Point Two

This time we find Lexi at the launch party for Blue 42, the new home model her husband’s firm is launching.

After bumping into Jon again and talking for a minute, he gets asked to do a quick favor for the interior decorator—the rocks for her fish tank display arrived late and need to be tossed into the tank in the master bedroom before the tours of the home begin.

Jon asks Lexi to tag along, and still curious as to why she’s feel this energy between them, she goes with him. When they get upstairs to the bedroom, he again launches into more discussion about the love between them.

And then it happens. Pinch Point Two.

He’s telling her things about their life together, to try and jog her memory. He mentions sunflowers, mustard on fries, but she’s still blank. So he tries something physical.

First he kisses her neck and asks if she remembers it. She tells him to stop, but she doesn’t mean it. She can barely get the words out. She wants him to kiss her, in a way she didn’t want her husband to.

Then he does (the kiss is Pinch Point Two, bringing the core antagonist – her amnesia – back to center stage for a moment), and she’s losing herself in it. Even though she doesn’t remember anything, her mind and body are telling her this feels right.

This moment just ratcheted up the stakes big time. Now Lexi has to figure this whole thing out, if only to finally have an answer as to whether or not this affair is real. She’s starting to be swayed in that direction.

But there’s more to come. Some more pieces to the whole puzzle, and finally an answer as to why three years ago she suddenly changed everything about herself and got so driven to succeed at work.

The Second Plot Point

Now technically, according to story structure principles, the Second Plot Point should land at the 75th percentile of the story (but pushing up to the 80th if need be). This story technically breaks that principle (often the case, in a legit way, because the demands of the story trump the paradigm at this point… as long as you’re in the ballpark), because the Second Plot Point actually shows up just a little past the 80th percentile (which is in the ballpark). What we’re seeing in this book is an extended Part Three.

That’s the great thing about these story principles. Once you learn them and know how to use them the right way, then you can push the limits when the story needs it. (That said, it’s not something recommended for new authors or authors trying to get traditionally published… stick to the basic principles.)

Because of the extended Part Three, Part Four is just a little bit shorter than the other parts of the story. But overall it’s still very balanced scene-wise and information-wise.

This story has a lot of set up for the Second Plot Point. In fact, there’s so many mini plot twists going on it’s almost hard to pick out which one is the actual Second Plot Point.

That’s when you have to look to the contextual mission of each part of the story. That will give you the answer. The contextual mission of Part Three is Attack (in Part Four it’s Resolution). So as long as the protagonist is still Attacking and acting like a Warrior, we’re still in Part Three of the story.

So we have Lexi decide to finally meet up with Jon and hear the entire story—how they met, what happened between them, what’s been going on with her work stuff, why she lost her friends, everything. That’s when she discovers that she was still the real her, she just faking it because she went “too far too fast” with the total transformation, and alienated everyone in the process.

We keep getting little drips of information about what happened back three years ago… all leading up to the final bit of information.

That’s the thing about the Second Plot Point. It’s the final piece of story structure and the final place where new information can enter the story. After this moment whatever shows up must have been foreshadowed earlier or be a shift of something that’s already in play.

Here at the Second Plot Point we find out what happened three years ago, before Lexi went off the deep end, changed everything about herself, and became hellbent on succeeding no matter the cost.

Lexi was attending her dad’s funeral (back in the Prologue the funeral was the next day) and the bailiffs showed up to bankrupt her and her mom and sister. Lexi’s boyfriend came to the funeral to support her, but she ended up catching him having sex in the bathroom with a waitress. And when the waitress saw Lexi she took one look at her and called her “Dracula” (think back to Lexi being upset about having snaggly teeth).

Suddenly everything makes sense to Lexi. She now sees what could have driven her to become the person she’s been for the past three years (even though she no longer remembers any of it ).

Now she’s ready to become the Martyr. Now she’s ready to fix the problems at work, win her friends back and reclaim her life, regardless of what that may look like (and who may be missing from it).

Welcome to Part Four: Resolution.

Part Four Exposition

Now Lexi finally has all the facts. She’s figured out why she became what she became. She now also believes without a doubt that she was having an affair with Jon and that she isn’t in love with her husband at all.

Lexi has become the Martyr—she’s now willing to do whatever it takes to save her department at work, win her friends back and make a decision about what to do with her whole marriage-affair situation.

(I won’t tell you all the specific details of the ending… you can find them out when you read it yourself.)

In the end Lexi saves her friendships (though not the department at work—but she does manage to start a brand new company and employ her friends). She also chooses to walk away from both relationships—the husband and the affair—and to find herself again.

Then at the very end, she has a faint but powerful memory of her and Jon together, and she knows that means it was meant to be, so she goes to him and makes things right again.

Character Arc: Lexi Smart

FourParts_upclose

The Protagonist in a story goes through four different phases that coincide with the Four Parts of Story (Part One: Set Up, Part Two: the Reaction, Part Three: the Attack and Part Four: the Resolution).

The four phases of character arc are: Orphan (Part One), Wanderer (Part Two), Warrior (Part Three), Martyr (Part Four).

In this story, Lexi goes through the same four phases. Here’s a description of each of them and how the plot points shift her into each phase.

In Part One of the story, the Set Up, Lexi is just an “Orphan.” She hasn’t been “adopted” by a journey. Yet. She’s just at the hospital, dealing with the things that are happening, but with no real purpose or mission.

But at the First Plot Point, when she finds out she has amnesia and can’t remember three years of her life—that’s when she’s “adopted” by a journey. Now she has to figure out what the hell she’s going to do; now she has to piece her life back together.

This moment shifts her from “Orphan” to “Wanderer.”

Because the context of Part Two is “Reaction,” the Protagonist is then “wandering” around, making plans, hiding out, trying to determine what to do next.

So Lexi is wandering around, getting reacquainted with her life, learning what she does every day, discovering what she’s been up to the last three years, etc.

Then the MidPoint happens, and Lexi discovers her body remembers things that her mind forgot. Now she’s done reacting and being the Wanderer.

She’s shifted into Warrior and is ready to Attack, which is the
contextual mission of Part Three. Now she’s taking action on the problem, instead of being a bystander. She’s battling her inner and outer demons and starting to make some strides.

When the Second Plot Point hits, and we find out the final details of what happened back three years prior that made Lexi change herself and her life so drastically.

That moment shifts her into the final character phase. At this point she’s ready to defeat what’s been holding her back the entire story—not having her memory—and fix her life: get her friends back, figure out her marriage-affair situation. She’s ready to do whatever it takes at this point—which is what makes her the Martyr.

The protagonist always has to have an arc in the story and change from beginning to end. Lexi’s character are is a strong one and her attempts at resolution are hysterical and clever.

Definitely a must-read.  Hopefully, one that now, using this deconstruction, becomes a clinic to help you wrap your head around why it works so well.

About the Author: Jennifer Blanchard is an author and writing coach who helps emerging novelists take their stories from idea to draft, without fear, distractions or disorganization. If you want more story deconstructions and resources to help you write stories that work, check out her story community, Write Better Stories.

*****

Want more deconstruction?  Using a case study is one of the best strategies to understand the structure and nuances of story architecture.

Click here — PDF DF Inner Life — for a FREE 114 page ebook that deconstructs my novel, Deadly Faux (see the sidebar for a review/blurb that might convince you this is worth the time). 

 

 

{ 9 comments }

A Process-to-Product Success Story

September 8, 2014

Welcome new readers: click HERE for a no-strings free ebook offer, equivalent to an entire writing workshop! ***** This post wasn’t my first impulse where this story is concerned.  I’d like to share a story with you, submitted to me for evaluation by a Storyfix reader.  A story that is so good, so shockingly professional […]

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The Six Great Epiphanies of Successful Authors

September 2, 2014

I love this word: Epiphany. It comes from the Greek word epiphneia, which means apparition, in reference to the manifestation of a supernatural or divine reality. The more contemporary definition, one of four contexts, is: A sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into the reality or essential meaning of something, usually initiated by some simple, […]

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Story Structure: a Graphic You Can Use

August 18, 2014

You are one click away from a useable, printable, post-able (as in, on your wall) graphic  representation of classic 4-part story structure, including the 7 major story milestone transition “moments” within the story. Get it right here: Structure Graphic. In the previous post I framed this… as part of a Powerpoint presentation on the subject […]

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How to Elevate Your Story Above the Eager Crowd

August 16, 2014

The “crowd” is pretty good, too.   And they want what you want.   So you need to be better. Greetings from Los Angeles, where I’m presenting at the Writers Digest Novel Writing Conference.  I did two sessions yesterday, and later today I’m doing a workshop entitled: “Your Story on Steroids.” This is why I […]

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The Value of “Pantsing”

August 8, 2014

(Click HERE to land a trifecta opportunity: 1) score a mystery/thriller with killer reviews for only $1.99 for the Kindle edition; 2) download a totally FREE, no strings ebook that deconstructs the whole thing, while going behind the curtain to see how this book, and many like it, find their way to market; and 3) […]

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A Great Read… a Learning Opportunity… a Massive Discount

August 4, 2014

(Note: the discounted price on the Kindle edition of Deadly Faux has passed; the Kindle version novel remains on sale at Amazon (and other venues) for $7.99.  The ebook that DECONSTRUCTS it, as described in this post, is still FREE, and available at the link shown below.  You don’t have to read the novel to […]

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The Epidemic and Systemic Sabotage via Brainwashing of Aspiring Novelists

July 30, 2014

As a writing coach and author of writing books and articles, I deal in numbers. Volume. Significant databases of writers and stories. Manuscripts, story plans, synopses, samples, story analysis and the hands-on witnessing of stories under development. And I’m here to tell you… … there’s trouble in River City. I see it, I read it, […]

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A Better Way to Open Your Novel

July 24, 2014

There’s always two ways to put something out there.  The room divides in terms of which hits hardest… the in-your-face “don’t make this mistake!” approach… or the more positive, “here’s a better way you can do it.” Frankly, I can lean either way.  I mention this because today’s headline cuts both ways.  I came to […]

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