Monthly Archives: April 2015

A Case Study in Near-Perfect Concept-Premise Integration

Plus, some updates on coaching and a few new ebooks.


Submitting your work for evaluation and coaching can feel like a daunting experience.  Sometimes things don’t work as well as you thought, or hoped, and the feedback feels more like backpeddling than the forward-energizing catalyst that it really is.

And then there are those times when the feedback is nothing short of affirmation and tips on how to make “good” into “great.”

That’s what today’s case study is all about.  Read this one to see what a solid concept looks like, and how it empowers the subsequent concept that leverages it.

That’s the Big Ticket you’re after.  Your story may be wonderful, but when it’s built on a mountain of gold instead of the mundane sand of what we’re already doing day in and day out, you have a real shot at taking it to higher ground.

Read it here: A Case Study in Whole.

Feel free to add your thoughts and feedback so this writer can get there even quicker.

If you’d like your concept/premise put under this same microscope, and if you’ve got the 49 bucks it takes, click HERE.

****** Updates


Kirkus Reviews – two of my novels have just been reviewed by Kirkus.  Check them out here:

The Seventh Thunder

Deadly Faux


New Story Coaching Level – I’ve just launched new level of story analysis, tucked (sequentially and strategically) between the Quick-Hit Concept Analysis, and the Full Story Plan Analysis… focusing on the dramatic arc of your story.

The Dramatic Arc Analysis is a Questionnaire-driven process that allows you to isolate your core dramatic story, position your protagonist within it, and assess the story physics of it relative to reader response.  It’s only $95 ($75 if you’ve already done a Quick-Hit Concept Analysis for that story).  Click HERE (scroll down when you do) for more.

Also, I’ve expanded (added options) to my Full Manuscript Evaluation service, which has been available for $1800.

That service remains (it includes integrated feedback on each scene, and often mid-scene commentary as necessary, as well as a full summary evaluation and my comments on your Full Story Plan Questionnaire, which is included.  Trust me, you won’t find this level of value elsewhere.

But if you don’t have $1800 to spend…

The NEW LEVEL of the Full Manuscript Plan is available for only $1200.  This is a full read-and-evaluation service leading to a comprehensive coaching document, in which the effectiveness of the storytelling is broken down and analyzed, with strategies for upgrade.

In essence, the lower-cost program is a solution for writers who don’t need (and don’t want to pay for) copy/line editing and scene-specific feedback, but are seeking a comprehensive evaluation of how the novel works, or not.

It’s like a book review on steroids, optimized for the author him/herself, with coaching on how to solve problems and reach for higher ground.

Contact me for more and/or how to get started.


Several new Storyfix eBooks are now available on, from 99 cents to $2.99.  These tutorials are expansions and updates on earlier Storyfix posts that you may have missed, or wish to revisit.  They include:

Three Men and a Manuscript – a forum on storytelling craft with three writing teacher/mentor/guru types — James Scott Bell, Randy Ingermanson, and me –with a focus on what’s working in today’s rapidly evolving marketplace.   ($2.99 on

The Six Great Epiphanies of Successful Authors – helps you zero-in on what highly successful authors are doing, and how… things that the rest of us often struggle to discover and implement in our own process.  (Only 99 cents on

Stuck in the Middle – a tutorial on how and why manuscripts tend to stray – or run into a brick wall – after the setup qaurtile and before the resolution scenes, both of which are easier to visualize and execute.  This tutorial was originally an article in Writers Digest Magazine.  (Only 99 cents on

The Lie: Toxic Untruths Being Fed to Aspiring Writers Today – The title says it all.  A couple of reviewers aren’t happy (tempting to say here, with a Jack Nicholson tone, some writers can’t handle the truth…) , though one of them took the time to attempt to deliver the entire content of the book (which he acknowledges as accurate) in the review itself.  Judge for yourself.  True is true, but only one of us has the credibility to write about it, rather than simply rip it off.  (On Amazon for only 99 cents.)

When Every Month is NaNoWriMo – an award-winning ebook on making your National Novel Writing Month more than an investment of time with an emphasis on quantity, by lending a context of story quality into the writing process itself.  (On Amazon for $2.99.)

The Newbie 101 Guide to How to Really Write a Novel or Screenplay: A Manifesto on Process vs. Wandering in the Dark – not just for writers who like long titles… this book cuts through the crap of “how” to create a connection between process and effectiveness, without taking sides.  See if you have the guts to face the truth about what it takes to nail your story.  (On Amazon for 99 cents.)

The Inner Life of Deadly Faux – now here’s something you’ve never seen before: the biography of a novel, written by its author, telling the story of its arduous journey to publication, living up to its award-winning prequel and the take-aways and life lessons (not to mention writing lessons) that remain.  (114 pages of illumination, on Amazon for $2.99.)

“Gone Girl” – A Model of Modern Structure: A tutorial – if you’ve read any of my many deconstructions of bestsellers on this site, you know you won’t want to miss this one.  (On Amazon for just 99 cents.)

What You May Have Missed About “50 Shades of Grey”: A Manifesto on the Cause and Effect of this Story – if you dare.  Or if you want to learn why this book exploded, despite what so many writers are saying about it.  Don’t be fooled, you want some of what she’s having.  (on Amazon for 99 cents.)

More affordable eBooks on the way, in addition to a continuing flow of free content for thinking writers.  Stay tuned.


Filed under Case studies, eBookstore

“The Situation” – True Dramatic Arc vs. Static Situational Narrative

A Case Study in One Dimensional Storytelling


There is a saboteur lurking in your writing dream, wearing a mask of perfect acceptability.  This killer is seductive, because at a glance he fits right in with your other writing guests, commiserating and kibitzing about the “nature of story” in a way that seems so… normal and harmless.

But in the end what he’s selling is toxic.  And you may not ever really know he was there… because nobody really talks about this.

It’s true, all stories present a “situation” of some kind.

You create a character and plop them into your story world, which by definition is situational.

Or at least it should be, because a novel or screenplay that simply defines a story world and a character – without giving them something to DO – is (also by definition) already broken.

If you have a “plot,” then you have a “situation.”

That said, it is entirely possible to have a situation that is not yet a plot… and that’s the hidden story killer waiting to destroy your writing dream.

The story of your summer vacation, for example.  It was summer, you were on a trip… hence, a situation.   But you’d need a lot more to turn it into a story someone will want to read… because we’ve all been on a summer vacation.

Our stories demand more  of us, as authors, than situations.

Permit me another situational analogy.

A strictly situational story is like a student away at college who never really attends classes.  He’s there, wearing the sweat shirt, partying and hanging out, but at some point he will fail if doing the required academic work doesn’t happen.  The “situation” is that he’s atschool, and you can write all about it… episodically, vividly, nostalgically…without a shred of dramatic context.  More like a diary or a student profile.

But until something happens in the story that creates and sustains a dramatic spine, it never really becomes a story at all.  Certainly not a novel or a screenplay that stands a shot at actually selling.

It’s an easy mistake to make. 

One that I see frequently in my work as a story coach.  It’s easy because we usually begin the story development process with just that – a situation – one that entices us and becomes, in our minds, the landscape for a story.

But too often the story never surfaces.  The situation remains the focus, without anything really happening within it.

I’m sharing one of those case studies with you here, in the hope that it will help you understand the critical difference between writing about a “situation” and actually creating dramatic narrative across a dramatic story arc.

The difference is everything.  It’s an essential understanding to writing a story that works.

Read the case study here: Case Study in Situational Arcs.

The take-away is in the feedback shown in this case study.  Notice that the concept is effective, but the premise never really creates a dramatic arc.  It describes a situation – and only a situationbut not anything specific that happens in a dramatic context.

What is a dramatic context

One in which you’ve given your hero a goal and a need, with stakes attached… and then you’ve put something in the hero’s way – an antagonistic obstacle – that calls upon the hero to take action — to respond to a threat or opportunity, and then to attack the problem — through confrontation and the embracing of inevitable conflict.

All of it with compelling STAKES in play.

If you go to a hockey game, that’s just a situation.  You can write 100,000 words about your night out at the arena, and make this situation vivid as can be.

But it’s not a dramatic arc until you include something happening that meets those dramatic criteria … like,  you have a blackout and end up framed for trying to rob the concession stand… or someone takes your seat when you go to get a hot dog and threatens bodily harm if you don’t get lost… or you meet your dream lover between periods, waiting next to the restroom, but she/he is wearing a wedding ring… and, you soon discover, is married to one of the players… who beats her/him… and, feeling the chemistry between you,  she/he asks for your help…  you get the idea.

A tour of the situation – your visit to the game – is never enough.

Notice, in this case study, that this writer never really gives us a dramatic arc to sink our reader teeth into.  There are goals and context (itself merely more situational fodder) for something in that vein, but those, too, are really just more situations, rather than problems the hero is being asked to engage with through action, or with stakes hanging in the balance.

As usual, this case study is available as a learning tool because the writer was courageous and generous enough to agree to share.  So please, if you have helpful feedback of your own, please feel free to comment and chip in.

Are you relying on a situation that is light on dramatic context?  Give your hero something juicy to do, with something hanging in the balance, and watch your story transform into something with real dramatic chops.




Filed under Case studies