Monthly Archives: April 2015

Empowering the CORE of Your Story

Introducing a new level of affordable Story Coaching… and why you should take a look.

You don’t have to spend a couple grand to get your story professionally evaluated and coached.  There’s another way to get there, and it’s every bit as thorough and effective at the story level as a full manuscript review… for less than 10 percent of the cost.

You don’t even have to have the manuscript finished… or even started yet.

And now, it’s even better and more focused.


When asked about your core story, what would you say?

There really aren’t enough qualifiers in that question to point you toward the best answer, because your genre and your level of craft-speak (knowledge) become variables in that proposition.

There are three primary candidates when it comes to “core story.”

One is the inherent potential and compelling power of your CONCEPT AND PREMISE… how one feeds into, and off, the other.  Without a good answer here your story might be flat before you write a word of it.

Another is the core DRAMATIC ARC of your story, which is a function of genre and structure… and, in every genre, becomes the primary narrative engine of the story.  Get it wrong and the story loses steam before the first quartile concludes.

At this point you may be thinking… wait, isn’t the primary engine of my story the sum of my characters (leaving CHARACTER ARC as the third option among the aforementioned three)?

Well… not not so much.  In genre fiction in particular (as opposed to “literary fiction”), it is the nature and degree with which you’ve given your characters something to do that drives the story forward.

That “something to do” is your CORE DRAMATIC ARC.  Your plot.  The source and contextual impact of conflict in the story.

If that doesn’t work, or if it isn’t there at all, your characters won’t matter.

So the question — the key question, because nothing works until you get this right — is this: how IS your core story coming together?  What is the level of compelling strength and structural execution of your core dramatic arc”

Does it work?  How can it be strengthened?

And then the next question is… how do you find out?

Here’s the new Story Coaching answer to that one.

I’ve developed, and have just launched, a new level of coaching that focuses in on the Core Dramatic Arc of your story, as a facet of your story plan (or of your latest draft if you’ve gone that far).  It’s a Questionnaire-driven process, which makes it affordable at only $95.

This program stands alongside my Quick Hit Concept Review ($49) as a specialized evaluation of your story plan.  And it is a subset of my Full Story Plan level of analysis (at $245), which looks at your story according to a sequential rendering of your major story beats.

Why add this new level?

Because you can totally nail your Concept and Premise , but the story will still hobble if your Core Dramatic Arc is not optimal.

And you can get to the finish line with a full story plan, only to find that the central driving force of it – the core dramatic arc – is a 4-cylinder putt-putt installed into the body of a gleaming sports car or elegant luxury machine.

In other words, your full story and it’s gleaming new characters may be under-powered.

Here’s what the initial beta user (a writer, just like you) has to say about the new DRAMATIC ARC ANALYSIS:

“Wow, I am BLOWN AWAY by how good this is! I’m about halfway through the “first draft answers” and I’m amazed at the info you’re pulling out of me. Hurts so good! It is the most detailed, but succinct, interactive step-by-step forced look-in-the-mirror that all of us novices need, that I’ve ever seen. (And like most writerly dreamers, I have a large library of writing how-to books, including yours.)

It’s ‘way too cheap, too.”

You can opt in using the proper service level Paypal button from the Home page in the left column…or email me to request direct invoicing if you don’t have a Paypal account.

If you’re a prior client at the Quick-Hit Concept Review level… (already, or you plan to be), your fee for the Dramatic Arc Analysis is only $75.  See the drop down menu on the Home page (under Dramatic Arc Analysis), or email me for an invoice; this also means you can start now with the Quick Hit Concept Review and add the Dramatic Arc later at only $75… or you can opt in now for both at $124).

Don’t leave your best intentions stranded at the starting gate, concept in hand, with no takers.

Your story deserves the best developmental effort you can throw at it.  Another set of eyes — professional eyes — can save you more drafts and cut months or even years off your story development learning curve.


Got $2.99… and a hunger for more craft?

Here is one of the new ebooks I’m launching as part of my Storyfix eBookstore, which is soon to be launched (though the books are available now):

Three Men and a Manuscript:

Three Writing “Gurus” Discussing Craft, a Shifting Market and What it Takes to Create Successful Fiction

A dialogue between James Scott Bell, Randy Ingermanson and Larry Brooks on the nature and context of craft and what it means to the creation of successful fiction today.

The closer you listen to the writing conversation, especially when it comes from those who teach craft at workshops and write bestselling books on the topic (in addition to their own critically-acclaimed novels), the more commonality you notice. While it it possible to convey and cloak the basic principles of writing effective fiction with a variety of contexts and tones and approaches, which can sometimes cloud the issues, certain basic truths remain, and they are as universal among genres as they are eternal in their validity.

What’s less evident, but nonetheless true, is that there remains some “wiggle room” within the parameters of those principles, as well as a deep well of subtleties that become the tie-breakers for writers who harness them to create truly remarkable and original fiction.

In this dialogue, three leading voices in the realm of fiction craft seek clarity and precision of those principles, while culling out the subtleties that empower stories and storytellers toward greater heights. The result is, rather than the creation of an ominously higher bar, an illumination of a clear and doable path toward the reaching of that bar, no matter what one’s level of experience or genre of choice.

Click HERE to go to the page to order this ebook.


Filed under Write better (tips and techniques)

Case Study: When Your Premise is as Vague as a Campaign Promise

When you think about it, the story concepts and premises we pitch – and just as often, the story concepts and premises we write from – are nothing other than promises.

We pitch a story concept and an ensuing premise to an agent with hope that they’ll want to read more.  By implication, by virtue of how we describe the story itself we are promising that they won’t be sorry.

Some writers are better salesmen than they are storytellers… the  concept is huge and universal and the premise sounds appealing, dripping with potential.  And sometimes – even if the writer has no real clue how to actually write that story – it works within a pitch… the agent likes what they hear and consents to read the story.

Story ideas, even good ones, are a dime a dozen.  Writers who can bring them to life… well, that’s why we’re here.  To become that writer.

The agent wants to believe in the promise.

And then, all too often, the inevitable happens, and when it does it sounds a lot like the other shoe falling.  The promise of the concept/premise is on the line.  Now, when it manifests as a manuscript, it had better deliver something more than a promise, more than the scent of something juicy and compelling sizzling on the grill of a storyteller’s keyboard.

Sounds a lot like a political campaign promise, doesn’t it? 

How often have we heard candidates assuring us they can solve our problems – end the war, balance the budget, get both sides of the aisle to work together – only to get elected and find themselves (and us) stuck in a political machine that renders all those promises moot and irrelevant.

They say that, and we vote for them.

It’s easy to make a promise.

When you consider that for every 100 story pitches that result in an agent’s request for more (which is about a quarter of all pitches made to agents at writing conferences, which means there are 300 other pitches that got turned down)… thus allowing us to conclude that the promise of those 100 premises was appealing – only about ten of those delivered manuscripts actually result in the agent agreeing to represent it.

That’s nine out of ten promises broken by writers who couldn’t deliver the goods, despite the ability to pitch them well.

For self-published writers, the risk here is orders of magnitude greater.  Because nobody is telling you that your promise, via your premise, came up short.  Too many writers are executing a premise that is, like that line in Top Gun, an ego writing a check the body can’t cash.

Because the promise of the premise is a story plan promise, as well.  And if that plan is lacking clarity, the road gets a lot steeper.

The reason behind this…

… is that it’s too easy to construct an idea into something that sounds like it might be fodder for a compelling story… but ultimately, in that writer’s hands, isn’t.

“The story of a woman whose search for love brings her happiness and dreams beyond her wildest imaginings.”

Yeah, that’s a nice pitch, all right.  A promise made.  A premise that never misses.  Right up there with “learn to make six figures on eBay” via an online training program.  That training products keeps on selling… on the promise alone.

But we, as writers, aren’t in that game.

We don’t get paid for promises made and naive customers fooled.  We have to keep the promises we make in our premises.  We have to deliver a story that is orders of magnitude deeper and richer and broader in executional scope than even the tastiest of premises could possibly describe.

There is a reason many compelling pitches ultimately fall flat. 

And here it is.

The pitch… the promise… the premise… is actually more an extension of the concept than it is a buildable blueprint for the story to follow.

Read that again.  It means that, while the criteria for a good CONCEPT it describes a compelling framework for a story – is all there is…

… the criteria for a compelling PREMISE must be much more than a framework.

It must be specific.

A concept and a premise are different things. 

That’s the hidden gold here.  A premise is much more than a concept, even if/when it is an extension of that concept.  A premise is much more specific.  It fleshes out the concept.  It tells how and why… with specificity that relates to a protagonist.

A concept doesn’t even have a protagonist in it.

A premise must introduce a protagonist with a problem or an opportunity, stemming from a situation, leading to a specific call to action, a quest (that requires decision and reaction, then attack), with specific opposition in the way… with specific stakes in play… all of which will evoke the reader’s engagement on multiple levels (emotional, personal via vicariousness, intellectual, social, chemical, etc.).

I see nice concepts leading to equally promising yet remarkably vague premises all the time.  If the promise of either the concept or the premise is rich enough, an agent might still say yes, but a publisher won’t (nor will readers) unless and until the premise (which, let it be emphasized again, is a different thing than the concept) and the story that emerges from it is imbued with much more specificity.

Not just a promise.  But with something specific.

I will offer you a job” is a promise.  A concept.  But you can’t write that story until you know what that job is.

“I will hire you as a teacher, in a third world country, working with a man you might fall in love with, or not, because he’s a terrorist sympathizer…” that is specific.  A huge difference for someone looking for a job.

Here’s a short case study in point.  Read and learn.

This is from my Quick-Hit Concept Review program, in which writers are asked to state both a concept and a premise.  Many succeed at the former – as does this writer – but fewer deliver a premise that is more than an extension of that concept, that make a promise with real teeth and compelling specificity at its heart.

Compelling specificity.  That’s the whole ballgame, right there.

Read it here: April Concept to Premise Case Study.

Feel free to comment with your own feedback and creative thinking. This writer generously and courageously consented to the sharing of this, and deserves the best thinking we can offer.

I’ve done that in my comments, as you’ll see.

Now it’s your turn to chip in.


Got 99 cents?

Want to write better middles?  To get yourself out of the corner into which you’ve written yourself?  Consider this, one of my new eBooks (and part of my new Storyfix eBookstore):

Stuck in the Middle: Mid-Draft Saves For Your Story

Writing craft is always the sum of various pieces, one of the most critical – and problematic – being the middle section of a novel or screenplay. But like every link in a chain, the middle depends on how you got there and where you’re headed, which is where the challenges may reside. This tutorial focuses on your middle narrative – including the all-important mid-point story milestone – in context to overriding principles of story structure, with criteria and step-by-step diagnostics and fixes for the most problematic story middles, and the writers who are stuck there.

Included is a bonus article: “The Nine Sequential Missions of Story Architecture,” which is an introduction to the principles of story structure.

This tutorial first appeared as an article in Writers Digest Magazine (January 2014).


Read a nice interview I did with Sue Coletta on her website, Crime Writer Blog.  She’s an example of an author who is soaking up craft as fast as she finds it, with several titles available.

You can also read her review of my novel, “The Seventh Thunder”HERE.


Filed under Case studies