Author Archives: Larry Brooks

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The Story I Know By Heart

February 18, 2018

A guest post by regular contributor Stephanie Raffelock

A few years back I attended a writer’s workshop in Portland. One afternoon, a panel of authors sat on the stage and talked about process. I don’t recall who was on the panel, and it’s too bad because I heard something that day that continues to serve my writing.  An author was talking about his work and he said this: “I never write a word of prose until I can tell the entire story from beginning to end without hesitation.”

The Magic Synopsis

Shortly after that workshop, I went to Larry Brooks for some help writing a synopsis of my novel. Like many of my early experiences with Larry, there was a lot of red ink involved. I wound up with a good synopsis and I wound up with a good agent, but the process was a real wake-up call for me, because I realized that I didn’t know my stories as well as I needed to.

How Well Do You Really Know Your Story?

Those back-to-back experiences taught me this: the better you know your story, the deeper you are able to sink into your plot. Under the plot rumbles the meaning of the story, stitched together by theme and the psychological transformation that is taking place in your characters lives. The paradox is this: solid plot and character development leads you to the nuances and the complexities of your story, while at the same time can inform you to how to tell your tale in less than a minute.

How Story Gets to Your Heart

The books and stories that I knew and loved as a child all had one thing in common: I knew the story by heart. It’s such a sweet and meaningful phrase, to know something so well that it’s embedded not just in your head, but in your heart. That’s the place where all the feeling tone and meaning of story is born. But, a writer cannot access that heart-filled story place unless they first know the plot.

Story Engineering

I keep reading Larry’s books they keep teaching me the best way to do prep. I’ve taken a lot of crap about the amount of prep work that I do for my novels. Other writers have told me that I’m using the wrong side of my brain, or that I risk making it all formula, “formula” of course, being a pejorative. To know my story by heart, it first has to be engineered. You can’t put up drywall until you have a frame and trying to do so, or think that you can do so as you move along is a recipe for disaster–well, either that or rambling narrative.

Early Morning Dreams

Early this morning, somewhere between sleep and waking, I started telling myself the story that I’m writing. I got excited and it led me to the kitchen for my daily dose of caffeine. I got this. I know this story by heart.  And as a result, I look forward to getting down on the page. I tell myself the story almost every morning.

The Bottom Line

A story is about a protagonist that wants something; the antagonist that stands in their way; and the journey that ensues as a result. That’s the basic. That’s where you start. I wish I could remember that author’s name from the writing workshop. I’ve held fast to his words for a number of years: tell the story to yourself beginning to end without hesitation before you put a single word on the page. You won’t be able to do that unless you first sketch out a plot that is so vivid with events and their tensions that it seeps into your pores and breathes into your lungs.

Dear Larry Brooks

Thanks for being a good teacher. Thanks for helping me with that first synopsis. Thanks for taking the mystery out of doing what I love and giving me the pushes I’ve needed to continue on this life-long endeavor of writing the stories that I know by heart.

Here’s to red ink and old friends.

And the Final Question

How much are you willing to invest to know your story by heart? Can you say what your novel is about a minute or less?

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Three Things You Have In Common With All Writers

February 6, 2018

by Art Holcomb

I’ve seen several thousand students in my career and, from that vantage point, trends and patterns appear.

One of those trends details things that all developing writers get wrong in the beginning of their careers.

So, today, I want to tell you three truths that you need to face about your own writing, your own personal expectations about yourself and the places where you can go astray.

TRUTH #1 –You often invest in the wrong project.

You all know the feeling – at the beginning of our writing career, we tend to stumble across an idea for story that ignites our imagination.  We are sure this notion would make a great play, movie or novel and we eagerly start to work.

And the deeper we go into the project, the naturally more committed we become.

And once we start seeing characters develop and we have a plot pathway for the story, you couldn’t stop us or dissuade us for love or money.

But here’s the deal – Excitement over a notion doesn’t necessarily tell you whether it could actually make a great book or screenplay.  And even more likely – in spite of your excitement – there’s probably not enough of an interesting idea there to even make a good short story.

Actually, the mere fact that you ARE so excited about the idea can really blind you to any inherent flaws and weaknesses.  Frankly, it is this very moment when you are in the most danger as a storyteller.

Remember: The best writing in the world cannot make a great story out of a weak idea, and the fact that you are in love with an idea – that it fascinates and captivates you and that you are filled with inspiration and energy – is absolutely no real indication that it will make a great story.’’

So – what do you really need to look for when considering a story concept?

First, and most obviously, the idea must be story-capable: That means that all the necessary parts must be there to make a great story.

They are:

A compelling HERO,

A palpable and worthy OBSTACLE

A valuable GOAL with life-or death (physically, spiritually or emotionally) STAKES, and

A THEME that can connect and resonate with an audience.

Second, the concept must be something you know enough about to write competently. Military stories, for example – even well-written one, can become a joke in the eyes of the savvy and informed reader if you know actually little to nothing about military lore, procedures, traditions, etc. Unless you read a GREAT DEAL in the genre you want to write in, you may not be familiar with the forms and conventions of that genre to do it justice

And third, a great story must be built – not intuited or channeled. Great stories (and why aspire to write anything else?) are layered and complex things, even the short ones. Working professional writers, from Stephen King on down, do not dream up great stories off the top of their head, regardless of what their reputations say.  The “scripting” process – the time spend actually writing the drafts – is but a small portion of the entire process, which must include time dedicated to “story dreaming,” research, consideration and contemplation.

You only have so much writing time in your life and only so much talent. You need to choose your ideas wisely.

TRUTH #2 – You are afraid of self-knowledge.

Your career is capped – and, by that, I mean completely and totally limited by – your knowledge of the complexity and complications of human nature.

And the only human you will ever have any chance of understanding is YOURSELF. You must use that self-knowledge to inform, motivate and humanize your characters in order to give your readers what they absolutely crave – an emotional experience. If you are not someone who’s comfortable with or willing to delve deep into their own life and emotional history for those tools for your stories, you will absolutely fail to write a great story.

One of the secrets to writing something commercial liable is to write something HONEST.

Professional writers – in my experience – do not approach their own writing by asking, “Is this original and groundbreaking? Will it earn me the respect I deserve?”

Instead, s/he should be looking at it from the inside-out and ask, “Does this story move me emotionally? Is it authentic and specifically drawn from who I am? And will this interesting to others?”

TRUTH #3 – You are impatient.

We, of course, believe that everything we write should be published.  The mere fact that we’ve completed the monumental task of actually completing our first draft  subconsciously means that we’re ready to get an agent and get this thing into print.

It doesn’t work this way.

It has never worked this way.

And the fact that new writers believe this is not their fault.  It’s part of the myth of writing – that it is a communication and not a craft (but that’s a valuable topic for another post).

All successful writers are, actually, really very much like professional athletes

We must MASTER the fundamentals – vast portions of what I write are based entirely on the fundamental of good writing.  Larry and I have brought you books and seminars and posts filled with this information but, if you do not truly embrace it, nothing great can happen.

We must practice and train.  I write practice pieces every day – prose and scripts that WILL NEVER be seen by anyone else, as I practice these fundamentals and learn my crafts.  I accepted the fact early on that I might never see my first piece, or even my fifth in print on the screen – but I did know that I would eventual sell if I became good enough. That’s why I practice writing every day – even after 40 years at the craft.

We must be coached. I sought out writers and teachers I believed could teach me something I didn’t know –  and then I practiced it  – under their guidance – until I became good enough to submit.

No one makes it there on their own.  We all stand on the shoulders of those that came before us.  We seek out the best advice possible – and that, in part, is which you’re here on this site today.

So – what do we do?

FIRST, GET SERIOUS. You must say to yourself that this is who I am.  This is what I want to dedicate my life to accomplishing. Because the frank truth is that a great many of you want to be a published writer, but you do not want it badly enough to do whatever it takes.

SECOND, GET THE INFORMATION AND MENTORING YOU NEED. The Second Pillar says that all writers need to have a constant mentoring presence in their life. That means someone who is helping to guide you through the process one-on-one.  This can be through Larry’s books or great video series or through my seminars and writing – or through either of us in person –  but it can also be through any writer or teacher that you can make a connection with.  Look for someone who has done what you want to do, someone with a track record.

THIRD, REALIZE THAT THIS ISN’T GOING TO BE EASY. Nothing important ever is.  If you enjoy the process of writing, if the prose comes easily to you, then there is a very good chance that you’re not working anywhere near hard enough to create the success you desire.

But if you are serious and yearn for that success, you can achieve it. You have found here a community of people with the same dreams and desire – and when you’re ready to move up to the next level of commitment and craft, we’re here for you.

Everyone was a beginning, aspiring writer once.  The difference is – will you remain there?

Until next time, keep writing!

Art

 

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Filed under "The Help" Deconstruction series, Art Holcomb posts