Monthly Archives: December 2010

Part 2: How To Write A Home Run Story in 2011

NEWSFLASH — click HERE for some exciting Storyfix news.  Thank you all for your support.  Let’s work together to make 2011 an even better year for all of us who write, and all of us who read.

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Click HERE to read Part 1 of this two-parter.

Picking up with Segment 3 of this six-segment process model…

Segment 3: plan the story’s architecture.

This is where those who know and those who think they know, but only see the intuitively obvious, part ways.

Story architecture is the marriage of structure and story arc.  It is knowing what to write, where to put it, and why.

It doesn’t take a genius to know you need landing gear before the plane can touch down safely.  It takes a freaking engineer, however, to build that gear into the airframe of a viable flying machine.  And for that you need a blueprint.  Even if it’s only in your head.

Are you a story engineer, or someone sitting beside the runway with a sack of burgers and a dream?  If the latter, see Segment 1.

This segment is the search for your story.  Its twists, turns, nuance, sub-text, thematic power, thrills, chills, and gloriously satisfying ending.

You can find all those things by writing a first draft (by pantsing, which is fatal if you fail the exam from Segment 1), or you can do it with a flowchart, yellow sticky notes, the back of a stack of old business cards, or an old school flipchart.

Which, if you’re a genius, can exist only in your head.  But whether in your head, in your computer or on your refrigerator door, it must exist before your story will work.  Via pre-draft plan, or a draft that realizes it’s only a story search tool that isn’t in play… yet.

But here’s the good news: if you do this architectural blueprinting well, the next draft you write (which may very well be the first draft if you’ve planned your story completely, rather than written a pantsed draft to find it) has a good shot at being good enough.  At being a polish-away from submittable.

Hold that thought up as your goal and your reward.

The result of this planning is what is known as a beat sheet: a sequential telling of the story – all the way to the end – in the right order, defining each moment of the narrative, scene by scene.

Expand that beat sheeting from bullets into sentences, and you have a bonafide outline.

If you’re a pantser who has written a draft (or drafts) to finally land on the best architecture for your story, your beat sheet may indeed be that draft itself.  As long as you can see and understand the beats layered within all those pages, this is fine.

Good luck with that.  A succinct beat sheet will always keep you safe and focused on the right things.  Those characters that talk to you during the writing process?  They might just be hijacking your story.  You can and should pre-empt the chatter with a solid story plan.

And surprisingly to many who are new to this, in the presence of a good story plan those chatter characters shut up and do as they are told.

Remember, an idea or a concept isn’t a story.  And a pantsed draft that finally settles into the right groove halfway through (or any percentage of the way through) isn’t a submittable story, either.

Only a draft written from a final story plan – be it a beat sheet, an outline or a pantsed draft that allows you to identify the very best creative choices for your story, in context to its ending – has a shot at being good enough.

Segment 4: write a draft that counts.

If the previous segments have been given their due attention and effort, then this one falls right into place.

In fact, it’ll seem so smooth that you may be tempted to shortcut one of the previous segments the moment a hint of that forthcoming smoothness dawns on you.

Which it will.

Do this all in the right order, and this segment will feel like you’re writing a final draft, not a first draft.  Even if it is a first draft.

And if you’ve come this far via pantsing, that’s precisely the case.  Everything that came before in the form of a draft was just story planning in long form.

Segment 5: get feedback.

You know whose opinion you value and trust, and who will simply be nice to you.

The nicest thing anybody can do for you and your story at this point is to be honest with their feedback.  The more they know about storytelling, the better.

But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t show the draft to a non-writer who is an avid reader.  Just like that person sitting on the edge of the runway, they’ll know a crash-and-burn story when they read it.

Another strategy here is to put the thing away for a few weeks, do something else with your life, then come back to it.

Fresh eyes, in context to your command of Segment 1, can work miracles.

Segment 6: rewrite, revise and/or polish the draft.

Those three words – rewrite, revise and polish – are all very different things.  Which one pertains at this point depends on how well you’ve executed this sequence, in context to how well you have internalized and applied the basic principles of storytelling that comprise Segment 1.

There are many otherwise credible sources out there that will tell you this: a first draft is always crap, that is must be rewritten.   What they are really saying, even though they didn’t use these words and might bristle at them, is this: your first draft is nothing more than a search for your story.

To that I respectfully say… bullshit.

It’s only true for pantsers.  And it’s only true for them if they’ve pantsed a draft in context to a command of the principles, because without that command a panster – or a story planner – will never write a draft that works.

But if you plan your story’s architecture down to the scene, and if you understand the underlying principles – including how to execute a great scene, which is one of the Six Core Competencies of Storytelling – then… well, like I said… this you-must-rewrite-your-first-draft is nonsense.

Or at least, it can be nonsense for you.

Because the first draft you write in context to this knowledge and awareness may very well be a polish away from a submission-worthy draft.

Welcome to 2011.  This just might be your year.

Click here to learn about Larry’s ebook on story structure.  Or here for his development model for writing great characters.  Or here to get your bad self published in 2011.

We’ll be back after a short Christmas break.  From Storyfix to you… we wish you the warmest of holiday seasons.

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How To Write A Home Run Story in 2011

Part 1… of Two

We say the same thing every year right about now: this will be our year.  This, of course, meaning the fresh new year about to commence.

Because, perhaps on many fronts, the departing year definitely wasn’t it.

Right about now is where one of the most tried and true truths of the universe applies, to the point of cliché.  It’s that old definition of insanity: doing the same old thing while expecting different results.

Too many writers get stuck in this loop, many because they aren’t aware there is a better way.  But there is.

Perhaps, in 2011, you should do something different. 

Where your story is concerned, the following sequential regimen and process just might qualify as something marvelously, brilliantly different.  The thing that could break you out of whatever loop, or rut, in which you consider yourself stuck.

And while I can’t guarantee your success – nobody can do that in the writing game – I can do the next best thing.  Because your novel and/or screenplay – or whatever other kind of story you’re writing – can’t help but be better for it.

This process breaks down into six sequential parts.

Which means, you get to do the math any way you’d like, as long as you do this in the right order. 

I also highly recommend that you tackle these as equal segments of time, if nothing else than for the sake of discipline and focus. 

Could be that a lack of discipline and focus was your undoing in 2010.  Follow this story development process, and that particular issue will go away in 2011.

Which means, you can write your story in six 2-month segments, six 1-month segments, or six 3, 2 or one-week segments.  The further into that sentence you fall, the more projects you can write, and write successfully, in the next year.

Feel free to start in the middle if you’re already somewhere down this path.  You may begin the year knowing precisely what story you hope to write, which means you can skip to Segment 3.  But, with an asterisk.

The asterisk is: you should never skip Segment 1 if, in the most objective dark corner of your writerly soul, you aren’t completely sure that you’re in command of the requisite tools of the trade.

If you aren’t sure what those tools are beyond “a way with words,” then you more than most are in need of Segment 1.

To skip Segment 1 is like trying to fly an airplane without ground school.  Or take out a spleen without medical school.  Or survive a troubled marriage without counseling.

You may think you know… but do you?  Really?

The lie you tell yourself in this regard is precisely what stands in your way of writing a story that will sell.  In this or any other year.

I also caution against jumping around in this sequence… that, too, could be part of the reason you remained unpublished in 2010.   The Great Fatal Mistake writers make is to skip one of these segments, or even just phone it in, in favor of the joy of actually writing the narrative.

Yeah, it’s fun to fly an airplane, too… but just wait until you try to land.  You’d better know what you’re doing.

The countryside is full of crashed writing dreams because the writer/pilot lied to themselves about Segment 1, and then, out of that ignorance, disregarded one of the other steps.

Don’t let that be you.

Segment 1: prepare the storyteller.

You’ve just read my cautionary pleadings.  Now it’s up to you.  This is the reason most writers can’t sell their work.  It’s not their story… it’s them.

Are you fluent in dramatic theory?  Do you know the difference between sub-plot and sub-text?  Between concept and theme?  Because premise and concept?  Between inciting incident and the first plot point?  Do you even know what a first plot point is, and where it goes, and why, and how it detonates your story if you misplace it, as well as the other major story milestones?  Do you know what those milestones are?

More importantly, are you operating out of the belief that those questions are invalid for you, that there is some great and mysterious creative muse out there that will guide you through and around these story-killing obstacles?

These questions are just the tip of the iceberg.  You actually can write a home run story without knowing these things by summoning your intuitive, inner storytelling genius.

But let’s get real.  There are only a few of them out there, and they are rich and famous.  The rest of the names you see on the bookshelves or on the opening credits of a film… they’ve immersed themselves in Segment 1.

It’s your call.

Read Syd Field, whether you’re a novelist or a screenwriter.  Ready my story structure ebook.  Immerse yourself in the realm of the Six Core Competencies of successful storytelling, available at this link in my new book, or here on the site in the archives.  Read The Writer’s Journey, which is not available here.  Read about Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake methodology.  Read James Frye’s How To Write A Damn Good Novel and his several genre-specific follow-ups.  Go to a Robert McKee workshop.

Then, read some bestsellers and not so bestsellers and watch it all unfold before your eyes.  Perhaps for the very first time.  Reading books in context to something valid, craft-wise, is the most beneficial thing you can do to prepare yourself for writing your own.

Reading or writing without that context… it’s a crap shoot.  With very low odds.

Make sure you get it.  If you don’t, you’re on your own with that inner storyteller that thinks he/she does get it.

And, remains unpublished as 2010 leaves the building.

Segment 2: prepare your vision for the story.

What follows assumes you do get it.  That you’ve taken the time, put in the effort, and it all makes perfect, illuminating sense to you.

Now it’s time to get to work on your story.

You need to have an idea for a story, and it has to have legs.  You need to live with that idea for a while, kick it around and bat it back and forth with your creative peers and mentors, to see if it really is a good idea after all.

Ideas are like cheap lovers.  Sometimes they don’t look so hot in the morning.

Ideas are also like not-so-cheap lovers.  When you let them go, if they don’t come back to you they were never really there.

But, as you hone your idea into great majesty, remember this: beginning a draft with only that idea on the table, without the following segments of the process having been addressed, is a commitment to using drafting as your vehicle for story discovery.  A long and arduous road.

If you do this, you are officially a pantser… someone who writes stories by the seat of their pants.  It can work, but it’s the long hard road to get there.

Why?  Because there are three other essential elements, or essences, that you need to put into place before your story will work, and there are a list of criteria under each of them you should apply to your plan.

The only pantsers who stand a chance are the ones who know this.  Same with story planners, but by definition, what story planners plan is, in essence, those criteria-driven elements.

Once again… do the math.

Ready to commit to a long term relationship with that idea?  You’re not done with this phase.  And you’re not ready to write the story, either.

Has it been done before, and how, and by whom?  What is your genre, and does it fit?  What is the market appeal of this idea, assuming you can write it well enough, and does your idea fit, stretch or otherwise offend its given niche?  Why will anyone else care about this idea and the story that will spring from it? 

What gift does this idea bestow upon the reader?

What about this idea will grab a crusty old seen-it-all agent or editor and make them lose sleep until they can sign you?

To Be Continued…

Go to, or return to, Part 2 of “How To Write A Home Run Story in 2011.”

 

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