Monthly Archives: November 2013

From Art Holcomb: Lester Dent and the Master Fiction Plot

A guest post by Art Holcomb

I am a screenwriter and writing teacher.  I am also a voracious consumer of fiction.  I enjoy and teach pretty much all types and forms of stories,  but for the purposes of this post, I should clarify that I am also a lover of the shorter forms of fiction.

Because as you’ve read here many times, the principles that make them work — Larry refers to them as story physics — apply to all fiction, regardless of form, media or length.

In my career, I moved from poetry to stage plays to comics and screenplays, in part because of the limits that they impose. But one of my earliest lessons was certainly that story is story, and mastering the short form will teach you how to master the longer forms.

Several years ago, I came across this piece by the prolific pulp writer of the 1930’s, Lester Dent (1904-1959) who was the creator and primary author of the novels about superhuman adventurer, scientist and all around hero, Doc Savage. In his life, he wrote 159 novels over just 16 years, as well as countless short stories under various pseudonyms and was heralded as one of the best pulp writers of his time.

Someplace along the line, Dent set down what he called the Master Fiction Plot which he used to help craft all of his stories. It is simple and clear and one of the best applications of what Larry and the Story Engineering / Story Physics books represent.

It is attached here.

While it was written as a guideline for creating 6,000 word short stories, I think you’ll see how clearly it can be applied to novels, just as Dent did. By understanding its principles, you can learn how to keep your story moving, your characters involved and – most importantly – learn how to make every word count, which is perhaps the greatest thing writing short fiction can teach any novelist.


Art Holcomb is a screenwriter and comic book creator. His most recent comic book property is THE AMBASSADOR and his most recent project for TV is entitled THE STREWN.  His new writing book is tentatively entitled “SAVE YOUR STORY: How to Resurrect Your Abandoned Story and Get It Written NOW!” (Release TBA.)


Filed under Guest Bloggers

Confessions of a Story Fixee

Not long ago I wrote an article entitled Confessions of a Story Coach, which appeared on the Writers Digest website (September 4th), and more recently, right here until Google’s clear-as-mud ranking rules forced me to take it down.

I thought it might be helpful for those on the fence, and moreover, those who have a little voice telling them their story isn’t there yet, to see what it looks like from behind the catcher’s mitt.

To be honest, it’s not that I’m looking for new business as much as it is calling you to a higher awareness of how your story aligns with the principles of story architecture and story physics.

Nann Dunne  is a widely published pro, which adds an interesting dimension to this process (the high bar of story physics spares no one), and her willingness to share her experience. The “issue” with her story fell right in line with what I’d written about in that piece, but like so many of us who bring passionate thematic urgency and intention to our fiction, she didn’t see it at first.

Not seeing it before you send it out there can be a deal killer.


My Conceptual Kick-Start Story Analysis Adventure

by Nann Dunne

One writer’s experience with being informed her story could be better.

I offer my experience as a prime example of how valuable Larry’s Conceptual Story Analysis (the $50 level) can be.

At 20,000 words into my work-in-progress, the story was going along well, but it lacked pizzazz. Something needed done, and in spite of having six published books, I couldn’t figure out the problem. I’ve been an editor for more than 30 years, and I recognized that I was too close to the story to grasp what was required to boost it to a higher realm. So I decided to take advantage of Larry’s Story Analysis offer.

(Note: Larry didn’t read those 20,000 words, that’s not how the program works, and why it’s so affordable.  It involves a pointed, take-no-prisoners Questionnaire that focuses on what the writer knows, and doesn’t know, about their concept, premise and first plot point.)

I had spent a lot of time on the Concept and Premise of the story and felt I had them well in hand. Nevertheless, it took a lot of self-urging to submit the bare bones of my newest creation to someone else’s judgment. But I stiffened my spine and sent for the questionnaire. At the end of the questionnaire, Larry provides the opportunity to add some remarks that are relative to the purpose of the analysis, and I mentioned a dramatic subtext that I planned to run as an undercurrent to the story.

Larry explained that my Concept was thematic, not dramatic, and while not wrong, a dramatic Concept would make it easier to involve the reader and keep them anxious for more. He strongly suggested that I inject more power and urgency by bringing the subtext to the forefront and using it to underpin the rest of the novel instead of vice versa.

 Okay, I admit I’m not the type of person to accept advice without scrutinizing it. I pondered Larry’s words for several weeks. I tossed my story’s proposed scenes back and forth, first with my original take on the story and then with Larry’s take on it. Finally, I had an “aha” moment when I realized what Larry meant and how I could implement it.

 So I’m approaching my story with new purpose. Thank goodness, I had written only 20,000 words. A revision will fit nicely with what I already wrote. I won’t have to trash most of the scenes; I can just move them around.

 I thank Larry for showing me the right path. Now the bare bones of my story have stronger muscles to fill them out, and I look forward to creating a better story than I first devised. Having a second set of eyes examining my intentions was just what the doctor – or in this case, Larry – ordered. He put his finger precisely on the sore spot and healed it.

 I’m grateful for his analytical abilities.


A professional editor for many years, Nann Dunne has five novels and a number of short stories published. Her latest offering is a collection of her short fiction, Shaker and Other Stories.  You can listen to excerpts read aloud at


Nann also wrote Dunne With Editing: A Last Look At Your Manuscript, available at Amazon.


If you’d like some of this for yourself, click HERE (full story plan analysis) and HERE ($50 concept/premise/FPP) for the two levels of story plan analysis.


Filed under Write better (tips and techniques)