A Vicarious Story Coaching Experience

An Intimate Look at One Writer’s Feedback

One of the things I do in my writing life is provide personal story analysis and coaching.  The result of this process is a document that offers my thoughts on what works, what doesn’t, why, and how to make the project better.

It isn’t always pretty.  Which means, it isn’t always fun, from either side of the transaction.  But it’s almost always productive, and it becomes a fascinating clarification and validation of the principles of storytelling.

And it proves that writing a publishable story is much harder than it looks.

Last week I posted an analysis of a story that is highly polished and nearly ready for submission.  It was an outline, but comprehensive enough for readers to see the story in great depth.

Today I’m posting another analysis, this time on a full manuscript. 

The author has courageously and generously granted permission to reprint it here, with the intention of showing the process to other writers and allowing them to benefit from what is, in this case, some tough feedback.

The writer is good.  His story isn’t, despite some compelling elements.  Not yet, anyway.  Both writer and story require a good bit of polish before they can move forward together toward publication.

The document itself is massive, almost 26 single spaced pages of feedback.  It’s like an ebook, and its yours to read here.

There’s a lot to analyze and discuss about any story, ready or not.

Some writers submit their work in the secret hope of affirmation.  For them this type of feedback hits hard.  Others submit their story in the honest hope of receiving coaching that will make their story better. 

This document will show you what this looks like.

It’s like a clinic.  Even though it’s not your story, it could be.  It drills into the basics you read about here on Storyfix, and hear about in every writing workshop you’ve ever attended.

Click HERE to read it. 

Make some time for this.  It may not be fun, but it’s full of information, and from a context you don’t normally experience as a student of storytelling.


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15 Responses to A Vicarious Story Coaching Experience

  1. Wow. I wish every aspiring writer out there could read this. Thank you so much for posting this, and thank you to the writer who was willing to share this feedback with us.

  2. This was a very interesting and helpful read, Larry. So many things you mention I see in my own writing!

    I have one gripe though:
    NOTE: “towards” is always the wrong use of the word… it’s singular – toward.)

    I’m sure this is simply not correct. toward/towards, forward/forwards, afterward/afterwards are all examples of the Atlantic divide (the ‘s’ is more common in UK English), therefore either is correct. I would think the more important point to make would be to make sure that one is consistent in usage throughout. Because the word acts as a preposition, not a noun, adding the “s” doesn’t make it plural.

  3. Krista

    @ Dash “Towards” is just a colloquialism — “toward” is more formal. “Towards” works in dialog better than in description.

  4. Glad this is working for you. My apologies for a handful of grammar errors and typos, never an excuse for that. I wrote it very quickly, in a hot flash of energy for it, and hit the SEND button too soon.

    @Dash and Krista — it’s interesting to note that I actually do a parenthetical note to the writer about using “toward” and not “towards.”

    @Lucas — hope these little mess ups didn’t ruin the value for you. I’m too often a function over form guy in these posts and analysis, and I need to slow down. Normally my wife proofs me… she wasn’t up for a 26-page monster story analysis. Lesson learned. Thanks for the heads up.

  5. @Krista, I’m afraid not – it is very much an American/UK thing, much like ize/ise and color/colour.

    Have a look in the Cambridge Dictionary:
    towards preposition ( MOVEMENT ) /təˈwɔːdz//tʊˈwɔːrdz/ mainly UK (mainly US toward)

    As I say, it doesn’t matter what you use, as long as you are consistent in usage.

  6. Oh and Larry – that’s why I commented in the first place – ‘towards’ is NOT plural and ‘toward’ is not singular.

  7. Thank you, thank you, thank you! This analysis was very helpful to me.

    I have a question: In writing a historical fiction, how accurate should the names of the characters be? I am writing a novel about the Holocaust. My protagonist’s name is fictional, although everything that happens to him is accurate. But, I am wondering about the name of the rabbi. My story begins in a shtetl in Poland. This village, Tycyzyn, still existis today. I have had a difficult time finding the name of a Tycyzyn rabbi during WW II, although I found one for a rabbi in a neighboring town. Do I use that name, or is it acceptable to make up my own name? Any advice would be very appreciated.

    Thank you for taking time to help others. I appreciate it.

  8. @Nan – there really aren’t any risks here, given the decades gone by and the location. Using a real name for a given locale is good, so “borrowing” one from a neighboring village is valid. If your story assets this person you are writing about was real, then you should use the correct names. We’ve all seen the “based on facts, but the names have been changed…” caveate, if you’re worried you could go that route. Best of luck, sounds like a great project!

  9. Ez

    I read through the whole thing. Twice. I’ve underlined some of it that’s super helpful for revising. Sadly, I’m not to the revising stage, I’m still in the “writing from my outline” stage. Easier than my pantsing days, but still feels like trying to drive a truck with fifty clutches.

    P.S. Your kind of typos don’t bother me in the slightest because they are the ones made on the fly and not patterns.

  10. Coupla things.

    A few folks have asked what it costs to have an analysis like this done. It’s based on length. For a short novel (under 300 pages, which is actually too short), it’s about $1200. From 300 to 500, about $1500. Over 500 pages, think $2000 or up (just finished one that was 675 pages… needed a short vacation after that one). The price can fluctuate depending on how near the page-count is to one of these thresholds. As for outlines, 10 to 12 pages is $150. Over 12 pages, $250. More for longer outlines and partials. Sometimes those coaching documents are just as long and detailed as the one linked in this post. I’ll provide quotes after learning more about the project and its length.

    Also… more than a few of you have commented on the number of typos and errors and omissions in this document. I apologize, there is no excuse. I’ve gone back in and corrected most of them, I think (not promising perfection), so it reads cleaner now. That said — while typos are never a good thing, and never defensible, they don’t dilute the value of the coaching. It’s like the pictures in a doctor’s waiting room being crooked on the wall… not good, but it’s not medicine. It’s just sloppy. Yes, this is about writing, so the writing should be perfect… but I’m rarely perfect at anything, including this apology, which has turned into overt defensiveness. So I’ll stop now, and leave it at this: I’ll try to do better with my typos going forward. Thanks for the wake-up call.

  11. R03c

    “Toward” is the proper American use of the word. “Towards” is the proper English use of the word … per the Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus – the same in regard to “regards” and “regard.”

  12. Yeah – the typos and things don’t worry me at all – it’s a nightmare getting things ready and, well, it is the internet!

    The advice is all strong and valid – especially all those sentences starting with ‘-ing’ words, which it seems I do a lot!

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  15. Jo Vandewall

    This isn’t specific to this post (though it’s a great post.) I just wanted to say that, having read your blog for a while now, I decided to check out one of your books, frankly, to see if you really knew what you were talking about. The proof being, as they say, in the pudding. Well, you’re pudding is scrumptious. I’m on book 3 and each one makes me tense and has me tearing through it to see how you resolve it. I love the switchbacks and reversals you write into your stories and plan to read everything you write.

    Oh, and between you and Blake Snyder’s beat sheet, though I’ll never be a true plotter because, if I know too much about the story I lose interest in writing it, I’m starting to map out the high points in advance. So thanks for everything you give to us aspiring authors.