“101 Tips” Preview: Tip #79 — Five Moments in Your Story You Must Understand Before You Can Write Something Saleable

If you’ve just arrived from MenWithPens, welcome.

If not, check out my guest blog on that terrific writing site, run by a guy I really respect.

And now for today’s Story Fix …

No matter how you go about writing your novel or screenplay, there are a lot of things you’ll need to know about your story before you decide it’s ready to submit to an agent, a publisher or a producer.   Five of them are absolutely non-negotiable.

And in my opinion, you should know all about those five moments – scenes, actually – before you start writing.  But hey, that’s just me.

Frankly, my opinion on this tends to piss some writers off.

They are for the most part organic writers who prefer to use the drafting process as a means of discovery, or as an exercise in story development.  Or just as often, who harbor a serious distaste for outlining, claiming it stifles creativity and spontaneity.

Whatever.  If it works it’s from God, and more power to ya.

But this much is true: organic writers, as much as any other type of approach, need to know all about these five scenes before they can finish a final draft that works.  A draft that might actually sell.  On that we can all agree.

The process is entirely your call.  Potato, pototo, whatever.  The end product is the same either way, and the reader will neither notice nor care.

The five scenes are: opening… first plot point… midpoint… second plot point… ending.

If this sounds a bit greek to you, I submit that perhaps you don’t really understand story architecture as well as you should – an affliction as common to outliners as it is to organic writers – and the best tip in the world for you is to stop writing and go back to square one for some serious form of writing bootcamp.

Because that is one of the most common pitfalls of all — beginning a story without a solid grasp of story architecture, and then wondering how and why you’ve just written yourself into a bleak little corner.

There are certainly other scenes you’ll have to discover before you can finish your story successfully.

From 60 to 100 other scenes, in fact, all of them expressed within narrative scenes.  But once you nail these five critical foundation scenes they are more easily developed, either during the drafting phase if that’s your modus operandi, or as you lay out a series of index cards on your kitchen floor in preparation for our outline.

Hey, whatever works.

As for me, the more you know about your story beforehand – specifically your key scenes – the better you’ll write them the first time you try.

These five scenes define your story.

The most important of them are the first and second plot points, because they introduce and launch the conflicting elements that oppose the hero’s primary quest and need within the context of the story, and then trigger the concluding sequence based on everything you know about what’s at stake, both for the hero and the antagonist.

But once you know these five key scenes, the rest tends to fall much more easily into place.

Spaced appropriately across a linear timeline of the story, these five scenes become the pillars upon which you build.  They are the foundations that hold the weight of your structure.  And most importantly, they separate and connect the other scenes that unfold between them – a total of four discrete sections of the story – each of which has a succinct and different context and mission.

It’s not a formula, it’s a roadmap.  Big difference.

Imagine having four shorter segments, each with its own mission, context and criteria, and each developed in context to the ones next to it.

Sort of clarifies the nature of the storytelling journey, doesn’t it.

Welcome to the wonderful and liberating world story architecture, the most powerful thing in the writer’s bag of storytelling tools.  No matter what process you employ.


Filed under Featured posts, getting published, Six Core Competencies, Write better (tips and techniques)

3 Responses to “101 Tips” Preview: Tip #79 — Five Moments in Your Story You Must Understand Before You Can Write Something Saleable

  1. Shannon

    This is probably the clearest, cleanest, most practical piece of advice I have ever read. It is tangible and pivotable. Thank you.

  2. Love this post.

    I’m a beginner in all of this, but so far although I’m more of a panster, I am discovering that I need some structure also. I will need to keep your 5 plot points in mind. I would hate to crank out a story and discover some major gaping holes in the plot or lack thereof. Great advice.

  3. Hi Larry. Sorry it’s taken me so long to visit, but I set time aside for a ‘proper’ read of your archives. I knew I wouldn’t be skimming through a few trite lists!

    I don’t write novels, so it was intriguing for me to read this and see how it would apply to short stories and even narrative paragraphs. I’m a very organic writer, but I have some road maps and navigational systems so deeply rooted, they feel like the kind migrating birds might have.

    Warning: ugly sentence coming! I love when writers write about writing. It’s a passion of mine – an obsession, but it’s a world I’m very at home in. I’ve never read anything by Julia Cameron, Natalie Goldberg or a shelf of others except their books on writing. Stephen King scares me so much I can’t read his books, but I did enjoy On Writing. I’m not a Ray Bradbury fan, but loved his Zen writing book. I enjoyed hearing J K Rowling, who lives near me, discussing how she had the ending prepared for her seventh book right from the start and about her architecture for all the storylines and character developments and twists. The woman held whole worlds in her head!

    Thanks, Larry. I’ll be back. By the way, you’ve made some very smart guest post moves. I’ll understand if you no longer want to do one for my ‘baby’. Have you thought of approaching Sean and Dave over at The Collective Inkwell with one? They share your dislike of gooey prose, although my pal Sean has a lyrical streak and indulges in the odd spurt of alliterative burping and spitting 😉