Monthly Archives: March 2014

Case Study: The Square-One Death of a Story

Premise makes or breaks you.


Often before you write a single word of the story that your premise promises.

Only rarely can you make chicken salad out of a sow’s ear (to combine two apropos bon-mots).  Trying to do so is one whopper of a low percentage wager.

You think writing is art?  So is pegging the commercial and literary viability of a story premise.

It’ll kill your story, unless you kill it (different context) first.

This one is awkward. 

I’ve asked an author — who courageously consented — to allow me to share my feedback to his $150-Level Story Plan Evaluation with Storyfix’s craft-hungry readership.

Those of you who suspect I am a raging insensitive bully will be heartily rewarded.

The author and I have hashed this through, he’s accepted my apology for any tone issues that crossed the line (there are certainly some that nudge it, such was my level of frustration), and he says he sees the light.

I actually get (and give similar feedback) projects like this quite frequently (processed one today, in fact).  That’s the source of my obvious frustration — because I’ve written nearly one million words on his site about these principles, as well as two books — and the energy behind my recent focus on this idea/concept/premise black hole of story disaster and opportunity.  I’m amazed and gratified that, almost without exception, I get a thank you note rather than indignant outrage accompanying the accusation that I just didn’t get it.

Nobody said this was easy.  But people… think it through. 

Writing conference etiquette is such that nobody critiques the IDEA/CONCEPT/PREMISE level of a story, as if ANY story proposition is worthy of a manuscript. That you really can make anything work, if you can write well enough.

But in my experience (well over 400 of these in the last 18 months), easily HALF of the proposed stories were DOA (that’s Dead On Arrival, folks), precisely because the author put forth a story proposition that, in some combination, made no sense, would appeal to a miniscule fraction of any reading demographic, and, even if viable, jumped the tracks along the way to turn into something else entirely.

This one is a love story.  What the author deemed a romantic comedy.  I’ll be interested to see how many of you laugh.

Am I being too harsh?  Am I a cruel insensitive bastard?

Or… am I saving the story itself?  Empowering the next draft to a higher level of effectiveness?  That’s certainly my intention and hope, snarky tone and all.

You are invited to read and analyze this for yourself.  Feel free to leave you own feedback, if so moved, consider it a gift to the writer.  (I’ve covered the “what-were-you-thinking, dude?” part, so anything you feel helps him move forward would be appreciated.)

And in doing so, I hope you’ll experience the sensation of moving further along — up — the learning curve.  Nothing says “ah-hah!” like seeing principles put onto the field of battle, naked and exposed.

You can read it here: Story Plan Analysis – DOA

I hope you will jump at this opportunity.  This is a rarely seen glimpse of a story’s birth – often ugly and bloody – in a world where all we have normal access to are published works in bookstores and online.  While modeled competency is valuable, it can be hard to learn from that which has been already polished, leaving the principles alone and isolated.

This analysis is a head-on collision between principles and execution… fasten your seat belt, you’ll see how easy it is to drift into the wrong lane.

May you never fall off the horse (onto the back of a shark you’ve just jumped) at Square One.

Here’s a little postscript to add some punch to this process.

The author has written four full drafts of the story described in this analysis.  He makes reference to “parts” by number in his notes, which are from another “story model” that, frankly, didn’t serve him.

He is about to write his fifth… this time with some targets and criteria to shoot for.

Learn the craft.  Use the principles.  Think it through before you get to page one.

Because no matter what your process involves, any draft is better when you’ve envisioned it with the criteria of effective storytelling in mind.


If you’d like to explore the relationship between an idea, a concept and a premise, and why this is critical if you want to publish and attract readers, scroll down to the post that ran just prior to this one (or click HERE), called “The Bermuda Triangle of Storytelling.   The discussion thread is particularly illuminating, especially the most recent entries (45 comments and counting, as of this writing).



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