Announcing the Launch of “Story Structure – Demystified”

SS ebook cover

“Story Structure — Demystified” is live.

I’m excited to announce the publication of my new ebook.  The preliminary reader response has been nothing short of astounding, and humbling.  Even for me.   Here’s just one of them:

“I’ve purchased and read at least ten books since last spring on writing and I’ve found nothing yet that explains story structure like this e-book. If you’re a newbie, like me, and you want to learn more about how to put your story together, I recommend this e-book. It’s energized my creativity and it is giving me more confidence in what I’m writing. I think it will greatly decrease the number of re-writes I’ll need to do as well. I like that!”  (attribution available upon request)

If you ordered a pre-release beta copy and would like the updated (sans typos) published version, send me the Paypal address you used and I’ll forward you the new version.  With my thanks. 

If you were tempted but didn’t bite, or if you’re new here and — in either case — would like to read a few objective, third party reviews, click HERE and HERE and HERE

What follows below is the first chapter of the book. 

It stands alone as a perspective on story structure and why you need it, and is valuable as a reinforcing reminder that this is absolutely essential stuff.  At least if you want to publish  your work or sell your screenplay.  Hopefully both.

If you want to read more about the book itself, click HERE for a look at the sales page (you can order from there, as well).

If you know you want this stuff and would like to order now, click HERE.  It sells for $14.95, and if you don’ think it’s worth every nickle, even in comparison to the best books on writing you’ve ever read, I’ll happily send all those nickels back to you.

Chapter 1: Why You Need to Break the Writing Process Down… into Structure

I think all teachings about writing are good.  Wonderful, in fact.  Taken as a whole, the body of knowledge kicking around out there is astounding, and because there are so many views on so many of the variables that comprise the creative writing process, in the end the writer gets to decide what works for them and what doesn’t.

I’ve discovered there’s a wide breadth of preferences on that particular issue.  Especially on the issue of story structure.

Unlike screenwriting, there are no strict rules when it comes to writing novels.  Especially if you don’t like the sound of the word rules.   But there are expectations and proven techniques that are accepted as fundamental principles, and if you want to publish your novel you will honor them.

Or at least you’ll learn to honor them when enough rejection slips collect in that desk drawer you rarely open because, like opening your 401K statement, it makes you nauseous.

Breaking Down the Fiction Writing Process

Next time you go to a writing workshop, notice how the topics on the agenda break down into bite-size segments, each of which gets the once-over from someone you’ve never heard of – famous writers hardly ever give writing workshops – who is nonetheless worthy of dishing it.  Titles like: How to add tension to your stories.  How to impress an agent.  Writing better titles.  Fun with sentence structure.  Tips for better dialogue.  Writing juicy sex scenes.  How to be more creative.

Lots of little buckets of information, all valid.  What’s lacking at most conferences, though, as well as on the bookshelves, is an understanding of what happens when you pour the contents of those buckets into the same vessel – your manuscript.

Because how those elements relate and interact, how they balance and empower each other, is the key to writing a great story.  And unless you look at the issue of melding them, in addition to understanding them as stand alone skills, you’re on your own to put them together.

Putting them together is the primary objective of this book.

Wrapping Your Head Around the Big Picture

I often open my workshops by asking the writers in attendance to define story using only one word.  There are usually five to ten nominations, all just fine and dandy, and usually someone nails the one I am going for, the one that defines the essence of a story, because without it the story doesn’t exist.

The word is conflict.  No conflict, no story.

But inherent to the notion of conflict is the architecture of how it is handled within the narrative.  And that’s where structure comes into play.  No structure, no story, either.  Because story is what turns conflict into dramatic tension, without which, again, you have no story.  It’s the full circle truth.

This is just a slice of the Big Picture approach you need to embrace before you can write a successful story.  You can be the best writer of sentences on the planet, but if you don’t understand story and the structure that makes it work, you’ll have to settle for love letters and poetry.  You can have killer ideas and craft characters that Meryl Streep would pay you to take on in the movie version, but there will be no movie version until you give that character a story to tell, one with structure.

In fact, once you do understand structure and the inherent potential of story architecture (which is the draping of structure with concept, character and theme, told through effective scenes; see page 110), your sentences don’t have to be poetic at all. 

They don’t even have to be much more than merely coherent. 

Because in today’s publishing world, story is everything. 

Narrative voice is just, well, nice when it happens.  But it’s not what they’re looking for.   Not remotely.  They’re looking for great stories, well told, with solid structure at their heart.

Rarely is this Big Picture approach to writing stories addressed.  I haven’t seen a writing workshop yet that offers an initial exploration of what “story” even is.  (You’d be shocked and dismayed at how many experienced writers aren’t able to articulate or implement an understanding of “story.”)   It sounds too entry-level, too basic.  Not something you can teach in an afternoon within the confines of a hotel conference center.

They assume everybody with an admission ticket has that one nailed.  And everybody doesn’t.  In fact, as someone who reads and coaches unpublished manuscripts for a living, I can tell you that the most common shortcoming of unpublished writing is, in fact, a lack of a solid grasp of storytelling.

Which means — if that’s you — as you listen to the breakout session at the next writing conference on How to Write a Better Sex Scene, you’ll do so without the essential context of the Big Picture.  You’ll get something out of it, sure, but too often you’re not sure what to do with it.  If you take that workshop but still don’t know how to write a story, at best you’ll end up with a broken novel or screenplay that has a great sex scene in it.

It’s like trying to build a car from scratch and taking a seminar on how to repair your brakes, when you’re not sure how the brake system interfaces with the brake pedal, or even why the brakes are necessary at all. 

Do you need to master the separate parts in order to master the Big Picture of storytelling? 

Absolutely yes.  Do you need to understand how the parts relate to each other?  Of course you do.  Do you need to wrap your head around how to make the collective gathering of those parts into something beautiful, a whole in excess the sum of the parts?  Well, that’s the idea, isn’t it. 

But that workshop isn’t out there. 

Neither is the book.  Not really, at least for novelists.  I’ve talked to students that after three decades of reading how-to books and going to workshops, their vision of that “collective whole” is still eluding them.  I read those hopeful manuscripts and realize that certain basic engine parts are missing, or if they’re present they’re in the wrong place for the wrong reasons. 

Which translates to: the writer doesn’t understand story structure.

The overwhelmingly common trait among unpublished manuscripts is the lack of big picture context that disempowers a relationship between the essential narrative parts.  This results in bland ideas with great characters.  Characters rendered one dimensionally.  Clever stories with no tangible theme, or stories with too many themes watered down to vagueness.  Stories told without dramatic tension and pace.  Out of whack scenes.  Riddled with wrong notes.  The complete and utter absence of stakes.  Pedestrian writing. 

Any one of these can kill your story.

That’s precisely why most novels and screenplays don’t get sold, despite perhaps being technically sound.  Because it’s art, and art cannot be quantified or reduced to a template.

Story structure is not a template.  It’s a set of principles that translate into sequential guidelines and criteria-driven content.

 Want more?  Click HERE to learn more about “Story Structure — Dymystified”… or HERE to buy it now.

14 Comments

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14 Responses to Announcing the Launch of “Story Structure – Demystified”

  1. Dale

    Larry,

    That’s terrific news! I’m looking forward to reading this and practicing story architecture.

  2. Patrick Sullivan

    Loved this, though going to need to do a reread after NaNo is over before I start on my next story so I can make sure I get everything I missed this time into my prep work. May try for a personal NaNo part 2 in January of February (want to do a bit more writing before I go into edit mode on the current NaNovel, assuming I finish of course ;))

  3. @Patrick – sounds like you’re on a roll. Keep up the great work, and when you get lost, go back to your structural notes (or outline if you’ve done one) and work the “what if?” magic from that. The more practice this technique, and structure in general, the more it will become second nature to you. Sounds like you’re on your way… congrats on that, and enjoy the journey!

  4. Larry,

    Your ebook looks interesting, but I have to address the elephant in the room: you state that most writing books/courses don’t address story structure, but you seem to be studiously ignoring Robert McKee and his more-than-well-known seminar, Story Structure, along with his book, Story.

    I apologize if this sounds confrontational, but exactly how is your e-book different from McKee’s material? If you can answer that, I’ll very likely buy from you. And I think if you address that up front, you’ll get a lot more buyers/conversions to boot.

    Respectfully,
    – Jeff

  5. @Jeff — a good question here. I don’t mind escorting that elephant out of the room, either.

    I’ve read McKee’s book and I’ve taken his seminar (me and 500 other people, all at $495… not a bad day for ol’ Robert). Here’s the deal: McKee’s approach is almost exclusively for screenwriters. Sure, he says “it’ll also work for novelists,” but there isn’t a literary moment to be found. It’s all screenwriting. Nothing wrong with that. In fact, I learned a lot of what I teach from him, and from Syd Field, and from my own research into published books (didn’t need to research movies, which, as a screenwriter myself, I love) since those guys have done it for us. But I do enjoy seeing structure play itself out in every movie I see.

    I acknowledge that’s where I learned structure. I also acknowledge that this “translation for novelists” is what I’ve done, haven’t seen done, can’t find anywhere, and stand behind the fact that nobody in the novel-writing world is presenting structure this way, this clearly, and with the necessary differences when applied to novels. That’s my little corner of this game. That’s how I’m different that McKee — I make this work for novelists. It’s also good stuff for screenwriters, by they way, because I bring a much more literary context to it all. With either application, we really can’t hear too much of this stuff. I’d take McKee’s workshop again in a heartbeat.

    Tell you what. I have your email. I’ll send you the ebook. If you like it, if you feel it goes where McKee doesn’t, feel free to pay me. If not, no problem, just trash it. Based on feedback, writers are telling me this is the best thing they’ve ever read about storytelling.

    Hope this helps, Jeff. Let me know your thoughts.

  6. Monica

    Larry, I went ahead and took you up on your offer to get your ebook for $10 before Nano, and I am SO glad I did. I had gotten a preview, since I had already read your Story Structure series here on your blog. But the ebook was even better, which was something I hadn’t been expecting (I thought I could get away with the blog posts until I read Jennifer’s review).

    I spent October preparing for Nano, outline and all. So I’m not a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants writer. But I’m such a newbie, the ‘writer’ part of that phrase is still shiny, so I can use all the help I can get. And your story structure helps SO much, I don’t know if I can explain it all. But you asked that I do tell you, so I’m trying.

    I had been able to outline the first half of my novel just fine. From there, well, it kind of got blurry. I wasn’t sure about the ending even (my inspiration was the beginning, in this case). Your structure pointed out what I need from beginning, middle, and ending, and helped me flesh out a lot of the story.

    I have to say it didn’t fix all of the particulars. I still don’t know what exactly will be my 2nd plot point or pinch point. But now that I know I NEED one, I don’t feel like I’m working in the dark. And that work help me realize a couple of characters that need a little more work – that’s what’s keeping that 2nd part from coming together.

    So, huge thanks from this newbie. And I’ll let you know how it goes at the end of November. If I can still type.

  7. Larry,

    Great response! That makes a lot of sense to me and thank you for the book – I just received it. I also purchased your 101 Tips e-book and have found the tips well worth the $10.

    Let me take a look at Story Structure Demystified and I’ll repost my thoughts here (and of course pay you for the book ; )

    Thanks again for the response.

    – Jeff

  8. @Monica — glad to hear this is working for you. It’s powerful stuff.

    You bring up an interesting aspect of story planning. The first half of a story is almost always easier to plan than the second half. Even if someone just planned the first half and suddenly turned into a “panster” in the middle (I don’t recommend that, by the way), they’ll be way ahead of the game.

    In fact… this is where planners, plotters and pantsers get on the same page. Even if the planning of your second half seems challenging, EVEN if you don’t really like what you’ve come up with… go ahead and begin writing from that plan for a whole story. The first half will be solid, and as you go you WILL discover your second half plan, either reinforcing your initial plan or realizing that a better idea has surfaced.

    Which means, when that happens, you can go back to your story planning and revise. Here’s the best part: unlike pantsing from page 1, this approach will result in a plan that gets to keep the first half that you’ve so carefully plotted out — and perhaps even written — while a new idea for the second half will be a natural, even tested approach for an effective second half.

    I’ve said it all along, and in response to pantsers who claim that story planning locks you in and stifles creativity — quite the contrary — story planning is the best way to develop great ideas, because when they come they are already in context to a solid whole. And believe me, even with the best-laid plans, new ideas WILL surface as you go.

    Hope this helps!

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  10. Shirls

    Larry – what I have found so valuable about Story Structure is that it thoroughly tests the story idea before one wastes a huge amount of time on it. I thought I had a great idea until I got to the midpoint in the rough structure. It just didn’t hold together and the end simply wasn’t going to pan out. This is fascinating stuff and a real education. Perhaps I’ll go back and try a different angle. But at least I didn’t write 35000 words before I discovered it wasn’t going to work!

  11. Marilyn

    Larry – Thanks for Story Structure Demystified. It is so useful, especially as I get into the swampy middle part of my tale. As a journalist/reporter/travel writer moving into fiction, I’m working in a different world and need that reassuring blueprint. Those who object to structure as too restrictive don’t understand the freedom it gives. Think of the villanelle, with its required 19 lines and repeated refrains and rhymes. Work within that structure, and you might come up with “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night,” as Dylan Thomas did.
    I’m looking forward to your talk at the OWC sampler evening on Wednesday.

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  13. Larry and Fellow Writers,

    Here’s my updated review of Larry’s new e-book, made after Larry very thoughtfully gave me a copy to review, following my question as to differences between his book and McKee’s Story:

    First, Larry’s book is well worth the money – a great book on the subject of structure and an enjoyable read. Even if you already have a book or two on structure, this is worth getting. My only quibble is to say that this isn’t the only book on structure for novelists. But it IS the only book that’s still in print. If you can find it, The Basic Patterns of Plot by Foster-Harris is worth looking at as well, though it’s not nearly as modern or readable as Larry’s book. More on this shortly.

    Second, compared to most other books on story structure, Larry’s book certainly IS more targeted to novel writing than screenplays. Although I think the average person can easily port a book on screenwriting over to novel writing on their own, it’s nice when the examples are from novels/best sellers. It turned out to be a nicer benefit than a guy like me would normally think.

    Third, this is a very do-able book. In other words, it’s a relatively quick read and it doesn’t demand any head-scratching. Although I’ll be the first to defend the books that DO demand a committed, thoughtful reader, it’s also nice to have the material laid out in a “can’t miss it” style, because most of us do our skill development reading AFTER are regular workday, exactly when our mental muscles are already fatigued.

    So all-in-all, I’d recommend it, guys. Even if you already own a book or two on story structure!

    – Jeff

  14. margret baillie shipp

    oh god, looks like I should consider buying an e-reader.