A Perfectly Good Writing Day in L.A.

Welcome to West Hollywood.  I don’t live here, nor am I here to meet with a movie producer about one of my books.  I am, however, sitting in a mall across the street from the monolithic building where that stuff happens, where the agents are, and so I bask in the glorious reflected radiance of their demographic wisdom.

Somewhere in the building, I’d wager, is at least one of the 46 agents who rejected “The Help” before it raised the bar on modern historicals.

It’s gorgeous here.  It’s about 8 in the morning, warm and sunny, and other than a Coffee Bean and a hungover hipster sleeping next to a fountain, the place is deserted.  I’m in town to speak at the Writers Digest West Coast Writers Conference, a presentation I wandered over here from the hotel to actually write.  Nothing like the scent of tacos and piped-in new age music to stoke the creative fires.

Instead I find myself writing this post.  Gotta work on my time management.

The title of my presentation: Storytelling Excellence Through the Avoidance of Mediocrity.

I have 50 minutes to change the lives of 400 writers who have been wondering about this. A bit like getting one hour to deliver a moral compass to the population of a work-release facility.

The time constraint forces me toward theory, I fear, because those 12 buckets I teach from — the six core competencies and the six realms of story physics — barely fit into the UCLA student library, which is just up the street.

Square One, I think, connects to how one defines “excellence” and “mediocrity.”  These are relative terms, but they become less so when one admits they are in this for the money.  Okay, and of course the obligatory nod to art and redemption.  Wrapping one’s head around the difference is the first order of business.  If you raise your hand, you no longer are writing simply for yourself.

The moment one aspires to be a professional, everything changes.  One is suddenly forced to look mediocrity sqaurely in the eye… and then spit in it.

The discussion, I believe, quickly gravitates toward two levels: the Big Picture of a story, and the Execution of a story.  The former resides at the 3-way intersection of Idea, Concept and Premise.  And the latter — Execution — kicks in when you step off that curb.

The premise of a story can lean into excellence by it’s obvious potential for dramatic and thematic chops (again, “The Help” comes to mind) and when it isn’t — about 8 out of 10 of the stories sent to me for evaluation — the writer is left to, if you will, make that steaming pile of story into chicken salad.  Somehow.

Mediocrity happens when writers settle.  When they grab the first hint of a story beat and move forward with it without vetting better options.  When they make it all up as they go and then stamp “The End” on the last page, without introducing the first quartile to the last.

Mediocrity is when you resolve your thriller or mystery with a fist fight that the hero wins.

Mediocrity is when your historical takes your hero on a tour of the land, falls in love, fights a battle (a dragon, perhaps) and lives happily ever after.

Mediocrity happens when your romance  shows a good girl pining for a bad guy, and she gets a chance to change him, because hey, that’s the power of love.

Medicrity happens when in your heart your goal is to allow your writing, your voice, to carry the day because the story is about “real life.”

Mediocrity is episodic.  Mediocrity depicts characters swapping chit-chat over coffee.

Mediocrity is a story about something, without nothing much happening.

You can do everything precisely right, structurally-speaking, and it still might end up in a stack labeled mediocre.

Excellence happens when story physics drive your creative decision-making.

Another reason today is a Perfectly Good Writing Day

At least for me: Amazon is now shipping my new novel, Deadly Faux, a week before the scheduled pub date.  It’s live, in both trade paperback and Kindle (the Kindle link doesn’t show yet on the main book page, but use the Kindle search and it’s there).  Bookstores should have it in a week or three.

Of course, it is on this day when we writers dust off our holiday card list and roam through parking lots putting promotional postcards under windshield wipers… but I’m too old, cynical and been-there-tried-that to go that route… again.  Doesn’t work, by the way.

Instead, I’m going to try something that, to my knowledge, has never been done before.  

I’m going to write an ebook that does two things: it will deconstruct Deadly Faux in detail, turning it into a laboratory for writers looking for transparency into issues such as structure, context, story physics and the optimization of story.  I’ll use pages numbers and describe narrative strategy, story beat by story beat.

In other words, putting my head on my own chopping block to walk the Storyfix talk.  And hopefully, showcase and discuss these storytelling principles for the benefit to others.

It’ll be line one massive Storyfix post.

The ebook will also be a short “making of” story of the creation and selling of the novel itself, which is a thriller in its own right.  If you want to see what this business looks like from behind the curtain, and how it feels to get lifted up, smacked down and then resuccciated (the book has had three agents behind it, for starters), if you want to avoid mistakes and see what works, and why… then this ebook will deliver.

The ebook: “The Inner Life of Deadly Faux” will be free to Storyfix readers who pick up a copy of the novel.  Just send me your online receipt, or if you bought it old school (as in, at a bookstore), just tell me where that happened and what store.  I’ll send the ebook back to you digitally.

For now this is the only way to get your hands on it, and I hope you’ll agree it’s a win-win (because it’s free, and it’s really not relevant until you have Deadly Faux anyhow).  This offer begins immediately… the ebook is being completed and I’ll ship it out to you in a few weeks.  Time enough to get the novel read.

This has never been done before, in this form.  It forwards my goals on several levels, and being a big believer in the win-win, it is designed to forward yours, as well.  I invite you to go to the Amazon page and read the author blurbs about the novel… if you aren’t buying my hype, I hope you’ll believe what two big name authors are saying about it.

Thanks for helping me write my presentation, and for considering Deadly Faux and the free ebook.

 

 

 

 

 

 

12 Comments

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12 Responses to A Perfectly Good Writing Day in L.A.

  1. Woo hoo! Can’t wait to get both the novel and the e-book.

  2. Shaun

    This is practically like math. I have a love hate relationship with math but I love deconstructing it knowing there are different ways to find the solution to a problem. Or perhaps it’s the Capricorn in me needing to know how things work. The deconstructions are really helpful.

    I’ll be purchasing soon. Thanks again Larry.

  3. Olga Oliver

    Larry of an early Californeee morning – ah, thanks for a quick journey to West Hollywood – hope your meeting goes well. And count me in for the new book. Love that Amazon bunch.

  4. Most of the time, selling to authors is a dumb idea. Selling to readers makes more sense. Makes me feel all inner-circle that this is aimed squarely at those of us who are both.

    “Bait and Switch” and “Deadly Faux” are both going in the basket. How can I refuse?

  5. MikeR

    “Ahh, marketing.” I love this idea, and I’m sure that it will work.

    But, I tell ya, in this case I am an easy sell. (Granted, it’s partly because I am a Repeat Customer.)

    It’s very significant, =and= very unusual, for a Published Author to present, side-by-side, both a Published Work =and= a very detailed, “from the Author’s own point-of-view,” deconstruction of It. For someone who wishes to follow in those same footsteps, this is very easily Worth Buying.

  6. MikeR

    (Followup …)

    On the separate subject of “mediocrity,” to Me it really comes down to this:

    * “Yeah, yeah, it’s personally gratifying to have WROTE this, B-U-T …”

    * “Would I, on Concourse-C and already three hours late, BUY This?”

    * … “and, (X) hours later in (Y) city, would I =really= be glad that I did?”

    … That’s the “Tough Question of Real Commerce.” Because, whether or not we are “wannabe Authors,” we A-R-E “buying($$!!) readers!” (As a poor young rocker said, before he blew his head off: “We Are Here Now… Entertain Us!”) Therefore, whether we admit to it or not, WE DO KNOW the standards that determine, at the very least, OUR OWN “admittedly impulsive” Buying($$) Decisions($$).

    Even though we have no way to know what Someone Else might decide, with regard to our work, we can (if we choose .. if we dare ..) put ourselves into those same “do I spend six dollars on this, or do I not?” shoes.

    And here’s the trick: “If our answer, quite bluntly, is likely to be ‘No,’ then WE DON’T WANT TO WASTE TIME(!) WRITING IT, now do we?”

    No: We want to FIX IT, and we want to do so B-E-F-O-R-E writing it.

  7. Olga Oliver

    @MikeR
    Gee, Mike, what are you saying? Can you say it a little clearer? I’m happy with buying any Larry Brooks writing, but clue me in clearly, perhaps I just don’t know what going on. All I know is that my mother taught me that I must learn to give in order to receive. Larry gives, we receive. We give, Larry receives. Seems pretty balanced to me.

  8. Robert Jones

    Larry,

    Excellent idea! Thought about the idea of “How I Wrote This,” ebook myself after I eventually get my novel written…so I’m all for this type of thinking. And why not? People love behind the scenes commentary on DVD. With so many similarities between novels and movies structurally, I’m surprized more people haven’t done this sort of thing already. Might start a new craze, at least for writers and people who want to know such things. It’s a great promotional offer, as well as what several of us have been asking for. So I enthusiastically purchased the Kindle edition and will be forwarding the email receipt shortly. Looking forward to some interesting reading on both counts.

  9. Hi again,
    I just submitted a comment but it seems to have failed. Just as we writers do when submitting queries, I’ll try again. I’m in on the Deadly Faux and it’s deconstruction. Will send receipt of purchase soon. As a recent reader of your book, Story Engineering, recommended by fellow Portlander and wonderful writer, Jennifer Lauck, I am nearly an L. Brooks devotee. My apologies for not replyng to you last year when you expressed interest in following up on my suggestion to come to the San Miguel de Allende Writers Conference. I now live half the year in San Miguel and am a member of the Literary Sala the group which plans the conference. I’m in a better position now to recommend you and that I will do for the 2015 conference. Sorry I missed meeting you at the Willamette Writers Conference in August. I was up to my neck in moving. Buena suerte, as we say in Spanish, on your new book releases!

  10. MikeR

    @Olga – I must have been misunderstood. I hope that I did not =offend= anyone for any reason! :*{

  11. Robert Jones

    MikeR–I hear what you’re saying: If we wouldn’t want to buy our own work, why should anyone else?

    It’s one way to judge our work, certainly. Which is why many writers say we should write for ourselves first. In other words, if you plan to write crap just to make money because someone else did, there’s not much chance you’ll be successful.

    Aside from that single reason, however, I can tell you how that statement breaks down for most wannabes. I’ve been around many of them, and also many professional creators–and most people are in love with their own ideas. The idea of making money not withstanding, most don’t believe their work is anything less than a potential winner. The Amazon writer’s explosion may have caused a glut of bad writing to be tossed into the market, maybe even a glut of the “strike it rich” mentality. But this always happens when an industry booms. For the most part, people choose to write the sort of stories they like, good or bad. Some even terrible. The worst of the worst has its fan following. The trap most beginners fall into with their writing is two-fold.

    1) They don’t read good books or study the market. Some write with true ignorance as to what’s been done–much less done effectively. Others simply don’t care. They desire to read a wide variety. They can cite many reasons, but typically, they get bored when anything begins to feel like work. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard people say they just want to have fun writing something that mimics their favorite genre and who cares if it sells. Meantime, they feel pretty good about what they wrote and secretly hope it will make some sort of splash. So they do care. Who are they trying to fool? Maybe themselves.

    That being said, I think it’s fine if people just want to have fun and simply write as a kind of recreational sport. It can be a great outlet. But to hope it succeeds out of the blue is like tossing a coin into a wishing well and asking your wish to be granted. It could happen. But for most people, it would still take years of perfecting craft and putting it out there to get it right. There are no no short cuts in the arts. The brain needs to have some kind of understanding, a working knowledge of craft at the higher end. Then strive to forge those skills past the level of mediocrity.

    2) There’s a gap between the brain and the written page that needs to be overcome. This is the second trap that leads to mediocrity for beginners. What’s in one’s head doesn’t always make it to the page. The writer may see a scene play out inside their mind, but in attempting to capture that scene, something gets lost in the translation. Or maybe the scene is simply lacking because the writer hasn’t learned to think like an actor, director, set designer–and a host of other things combined–that will bring that scene to life in a fresh way. Or a way people can relate to. So all that potential energy the writer may feel inside about their story, become flat, or cliched, by the time it gets on the page.

    Again, it comes down to exposing yourself to as much as possible, then observing how it’s done when the work of others really shines. Was it an interesting, or even inappropriate phrase, or gesture, by an actor that no one expected? Was it through a metephore on the written page that told you a particular writer captured detail that most of your friends and neighbors wouldn’t notice if it landed on their nose?

    All these things are learned through careful study and observation. Whether you are writing for fun, or hope to publish the next great American novel, if you want the words to sing on the page, you have to develope an understanding of what the great minds in the field have done before you. Not only in one particular genre, but a variety of novels, popular and literary. Then aim your arrow high. You may not feel confident enough to sit next to the greats in any particular class of writing. Maybe you’re afraid to even leave the starting gate. But if you aim as high as you can, on whatever level you stand, there’s a better chance you’ll hit the target somewhere above the center line and avoid the clutches of mediocrity. However, to escape it, and not even understand where that line resides, your relying on luck. And I’m here to tell you, there’s no such thing. You’re either one of the very few who are born with a keen eye and sense of understanding–meaning you’ll put things together rather quickly and maybe get it right the first time…or you’re part of the majority that has to work at craft.

    Welcome to the club. Now roll up your sleeves and get to work.

  12. It might be an interesting experiment to deconstruct Mr. Brooks’ book, and then read (and compare) his own deconstruction.

    Speaking as a teacher, this would be great for engagement in the process and for learning Mr. Brooks’ model.

    Speaking as an unpublished author of 10 novels, maybe I don’t know what I’m talking about! But I have decided to take advantage of his offer.