Case Study: Lift Your Story from the Ashes of Mediocrity

Another writer has stepped up to share her experience from the receiving end of the story coaching experience.  I suggested it to her because it presents an all-too-common situation: answering the question “what is your concept?” with a thin and/or familiar premise, rather than something conceptual.

This one thing can make the difference between publishing, or not publishing. 

In fact, it’s one of the leading causes of rejection, even when the writer is competent and the story otherwise well-told.  If an agent or editor is less than compelled because they’ve “been there, read that,” if the story is too familiar right out of the starting blocks, then it’s already mediocre.

And mediocre isn’t enough.  It’ll kill your chances.

So dive in, see if this rings familiar, or simply rings a bell.  Hope so.  Click this — Case Study – Abby  — to engage. 

The Consequences  — and the Win-Win — of over-delivery.

You’ll find there is a lot of here, and it resides at the sweet spot of the entire writing-for-publication proposition.  Based on feedback, on the evoution of how I do these, I”m moving the price of my Kick-Start Conceptual Review to $50.  (Note: the case study sample shows the old price, which was $35.)

And my goal will remain to over-deliver.  I’m adding a “bonus question” to the Questionnaire… your choice.  You’ll see that today’s case study went there, and the answer might save her a year or two of revision.

Feel free to offer your thoughts to this author here in the Comments, as well.  Thanks for playing.


If you want in on this $50 level of story analysis at the concept/premise level, click HERE.

The full story plan Story Coaching Advenure Program (a longer, deeper level of Questionnaire and analysis), that remains $150… click HERE for that.


Filed under Write better (tips and techniques)

6 Responses to Case Study: Lift Your Story from the Ashes of Mediocrity

  1. Abby, thanks for braving the gauntlet. These case studies are stupendous.

    Larry, I promise when we do the concept work on “anodyne” you can use it here.

    Very helpful that you really hammer the “unique” angle. It’s easy, when thinking about the structure of story engineering, to focus on how our book will be the same as all other novels (because in those ways, it is.)

    But if it doesn’t stand out, it’ll sink like a stone.

  2. “Abby” is brave. In fact, she is braver than I because she has been willing to put her story before other eyes. Furthermore, she is willing to make the criticism (both good and bad) public. I’m not there yet. But, as I write draft #2 of my tenth novel, I’m considering one level of Mr. Brooks’ evaluation.

    So, I want to sincerely thank “Abby” for her help. Wow!

    Some of the lessons I’ve already learned, and others are ones which I needed to learn or else recognize. Sometimes we make mistakes that we don’t even recognize.

    I knew that I needed a personal face for my enemy. Most of my books had no true enemy, just an amorphous opposing force like “the government.” In my current book, I finally personalized my enemy. Instead of just “the government”, I made a particular official into the face if the enemy. In fact, he was a huge help, because he had goals similar to the hero, but very different motivation. This made him sympathetic, but dangerous.

    Even now, I still struggle with the “concept”. I used to say “shipbreaking”, but this is really the setting, not the concept. I’ll admit it does make an interesting setting, but I had to think about the concept. The concept really has nothing to do with shipbreaking.

    I’m still fighting over the “what-if” with my concept.

    I’ll admit that I was a bit lost with “Abby’s” try 1 and try 2. I don’t know what these mean.

    After this, I discovered another thing I did right. Why does the hero do what he does. Thankfully, I had realized that I needed to give my hero motivation. He could easily leave the planet according to the logic of my book. Once I considered motivation, I worked on his backstory, and now I have 3 possible sequels. Who knew one crippled hero had so much within him?

    I had a good external force. However, I really needed to improve my first plot point. I was surprised that it was already written. However, I had made it a minor event. Instead, I will rewrite so that the first plot point becomes important, and the rest will be background detail. So maybe I picked the wrong first plot point. My planned first plot point didn’t involve the villain. Now it will.

    So, I’ve been a bit wordy, but I think this has been really valuable. “Abby” has shown me a few things I’m doing right and a few I’m doing wrong. I’m also getting a better idea of the services that Mr. Brooks offers.

    A few ideas I’m taking away: the opposing force must be personalized, the hero must actually do something, the first plot point must involve the villain, and, finally, concept is not the same as setting.

  3. Matt

    Thanks for another insightful case study Larry. In one of your comments to Abby about concept you said “this isn’t literary fiction, it’s genre”, emphasizing the need for a strong concept. Though I’m sure you’re not implying that literary fiction can thrive without a strong concept. What do you see as some of the main differences on a conceptual level between literary and genre fiction?

  4. Heidi Loney

    Hi Abby,

    It’s so great to see your story broken down here. I have used Larry’s service a few times ow and I cannot tell you how much time he saved me from writing in circles. Anyway, I think you are very brave for sharing your story with us.

    While reading your concept, an idea came to me when reading about the Guard. Even though you state that they are protectors of the realm, I thought it might be an interesting twist if the Guard was only a front for good. What if the marauders perhaps are rebels or mercenaries fighting the guard because the kingdom is actually corrupt and your female trainee has actually been duped into believing the Guard is good. Maybe after having her village torched, she could learn the truth, and that would be your first plot point. I think this would create real stakes for her and her people.

    The big baddie could be a member of the Guard, a trusted person for your protagonist, and in turn is actually trying to quash the marauders before they take back the kingdom. Also, a love story could come with your female protag taking up with one of the mauraders. Just a thought.

    Anyway, I am just brainstorming here, but you get the idea. Good luck with your draft. Cheers, Heidi.

  5. Abby

    Hi everyone – I’m Abby! I wanted to thank Larry for this opportunity. When he asked if he could use my Questionnaire in a blog post, I accepted immediately. I’ve learned so much from others here, I thought it was least I could do. I thought if I planned on publishing my stories, I might as well get used to people talking about them. I appreciate your comments!

    @Jason – My ‘try 1’ and ‘try 2’ were two perspectives, just trying to get my concept on target. It (obviously) still needs work! I should’ve listened to my intuition telling me it wasn’t quite right. I also really like your succinct summary at the end of your comment. Spot on.

    @Heidi – Thanks for the brainstorm! I have also thought about the ‘Guard as a front for something bad’ – but not as a FPP. In my head it would come later in the story, more of a revelation. But I’ll have to think about if I could use it as a FPP.

    I hope others can learn from my Questionnaire – I’ve learned so much here, it was the least I could do. Cheers – keep writing!

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