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