You kick your kids out of the house before you’re certain they’re ready (or they just leave, in which case you’re absolutely sure they’re not ready), and it never feels quite right.
So it is here, for me, with this series.
Not that you’re my kids, in any way – some of you know way more than I do about this stuff — nor am I kicking you out. But tomorrow is Day 1 of NaN0WriMo, and while we’ve gone fast and deep in this series, it feels on the other hand like we’ve just cruised the surface.
Is the series really over? Should we ever stop harvesting tips and folding them into our storytelling toolbox? Do new tips, even recycled ones, ever really stop being valid, or necessary?
Are there really only 31 of them?
So here we are, on the eve of your NaNoWriMo Page One.
I sincerely hope you’ve found value here, and perhaps a bit of inspiration, as well. Thanks for your feedback, which has been very encouraging and gratifying.
Except that guy who told me I am a little man in a basement schleping hogwash. Because The Greats require no “rules.” You, I feel sorry for.
An ebook with this stuff in it, and a ton of other goodies, is just around the corner.
Oh wait… you’re expecting one last tip.
I actually have two of them. Three if you count the reprise of one the tools previously offered, reprised in a slighlty abbreviated form (it appears below, in this post, in case you didn’t click through to it before).
For today’s craft-oriented, story planning review tip… CLICK HERE. It’s a summary, but when you see these criteria all in one place, it’s some combination ofo sobering and affirming. I wish you the latter.
CLICK HERE, too… for some edgy little tips to make your story more compelling.
And HERE if you’d like your NaNoWriMo novel to someday appear on bestseller list. I’m serious.
That’s a ton of content today.
A little perspective.
I was watching the World Series these last few days, reminiscing about the days (long gone) when I used to also get paid to play that game. I’m looking at the players, at their finely honed physiques, and, while certainly impressive, it isn’t like the NFL or NBA, I see guys that look just like these pro baseball players in the gym all the time.
So what’s the difference? Who makes it, who doesn’t? Talent, sure. Hard work? Absoluely. But there’s more to it. In baseball and in writing.
To a great extent, your fate as a writer will be determined by how you think. By who you are, at your core.
By that I mean… how do you take coaching? How stuck are you in your own world, how strongly do you cling to limiting beliefs? Are you in your own way, or are you willing to stretch, to risk, to commit? Do you remain childlike in your wonder and blank page possibilities, or do you know it all already? What’s your comfort zone, and is it serving you?
Have you planned your story? If the answer is less than an enthusiastic yes — at least the major arc and milestones — then take a look at these questions and be honest with yourself. Because the folks in the bookstores… they have answered them. And, by virtue of a beat sheet, some sticky notes or a series of drafts created in context to certain principles and expectations, thay all have planned their stories.
Writing is life. A mirror and a microcosm. We author our stories, but as we write them we are living one. It’s an adventure, one that takes you deep within yourself.
What’s your ending?
The story you are about to write is part of your story. Will you be different? Be better? Be the best you that’s inside you at this moment in time? Or will you be… stuck… or frightened… or stubborn… or closed off?
Write with courage. Write something important. Change yourself this month. Go for it. Reach high. This is what it means to win NaNoWriMo… and it has nothing to do with word count.
And finally… keep reading this post. The forthcoming title is self-explanatory.
I wish you great success. May the blood that pours from your forehead be the blood of your invested self and not that of frustration. All greatness is paid for in blood, if not literally, then metaphorically.
And when the blood flows — it will, it always does — just remember that these posts, and many more, are still here. I may add a few NaNoWriMo-specific posts as we launch into November.
As for me… I’m takin’ a couple of days off.
The Single Most Powerful Writing Tool You’ll Ever See That Fits On One Page
It doesn’t, actually… I just tried it (printing it out for a handout at my workshop this weekend)… it’s 1.5 pages.
This is a listing of everything you need to know about your story before you can successfully finish it, stated as a list of questions.
For drafters — those allergic to story planning and who fight to the death in their defiance of outlining — this becomes a checklist of things you’re looking to discover (answer) in your series of inevitable drafts. The more answers you can stuff into your next draft, the fewer subsequent draft you’ll need to write.
And if you leave only a few of these untouched then no draft you write will ever be final. Only abandoned.
Yeah, it’s that powerful.
Print this baby out and keep it in a safe place. Frame it and put it next to your PC. Whatever works. Because when you fully understand what these questions mean to your story, and how to integrate the answers into it, you’re there.
What is the conceptual hook/appeal of your story?
What is the theme(s) of your story?
How does your story open? Is there an immediate hook? And then…
- what is the hero doing in their life before the first plot point?
- what stakes are established prior to the first plot point?
- what is your character’s backstory?
- what inner demons show up here that will come to bear on the hero later in the story?
- what is foreshadowed prior to the first plot point?
What is the first plot point in your story?
- is it located properly within the story sequence?
- how does it change the hero’s agenda going forward?
- what is the nature of the hero’s new need/quest?
- what is at stake relative to meeting that need?
- what opposes the hero in meeting that need?
- what does the antagonistic force have at stake?
- why will the reader empathize with the hero at this point?
- how does the hero respond to the antagonistic force?
What is the mid-point contextual shift/twist in your story?
- how does it part the curtain of superior knowledge…
- … for the hero?… and/or, for the reader?
- how does this shift the context of the story?
- how does this pump up dramatic tension and pace?
How does your hero begin to successfully attack their need/quest?
- how does the antagonistic force respond to this attack?
- how do the hero’s inner demons come to bear on this attack?
What is the all-is-lost lull just before the second plot point?
What is the second plot point in your story?
- how does this change or affect the hero’s proactive role?
How is your hero the primary catalyst for the successful resolution of the central problem or issue in this story?
- how does it meet the hero’s need and fulfill the quest?
- how does the hero demonstrate the conquering of inner demons?
- how are the stakes of the story paid off?
- what will be the reader’s emotional experience as the story concludes?
You might notice that these blocks of questions correspond to the four parts of story structure, as well as the four elemental components of the Six Core Competencies (concept, theme, character and structure), leaving the other two (scenes and writing voice) to your brilliant execution.