Category Archives: Guest Bloggers

Art Holcomb on: The Character/Plot Connection

(This is an excerpt from my July tele-seminar, “The 10 Steps to Building a Better Story” – more information at the end of the post –Art)

 I’ll tie this all together at the end, so stay with me . . .

I want to begin with a story about growing up with my 10-year old brother Ray and his Hot Wheels tracks.

Ray loved Hot Wheels from the moment he first saw them.  If you don’t remember, Hot Wheels was a system of cool replica cars and these road segments that you could configure all-which- ways to make more and more elaborate tracks. Click here to see them in all their glory.

Ray started out with just one set but kept adding more and more parts.  He collected all the tracks from several different kits, borrowed pieces from his friends and went on to build more and more elaborates stunt track formations – loops, 90, 180, 270 degree turns. Twists and jumps.  At some point, he went beyond the guidelines of the toy manufacturers and created lay-outs that no one had thought of.

Sometimes the cars would make it through to the end and he’d get so excited.  Sometimes the cars flew off the track – maybe they were going too fast, or the turn was too steep and the car couldn’t handle – but he kept  pushing the cars to do the most elaborate and interesting tricks.

The All-Important Test

And the way he tested these configurations was very simple.  He had very basic criteria:

  • Did they make it to the end of the track?
  • Did the cars perform the way he wanted?
  • Was it exciting?

He pushed himself to make more unique and death-defying configurations.  But the test was always the same.  Could the car perform?  Could the car make it all the way to the end, instead of spinning off of one of the loops or turns?

He spent hours designing configurations and then choosing just the right car for each.

Remember that.

The Truth about Plot

So – What is the true definition of a plot?

It is the mechanism by which the truth and humanity of a given character is delivered to the audience.

And in the argument of what is more important – Character or Plot – I believe that character wins every time

Why?

  • Because there are only a limited number of master plots and an assortment of variations;
  • But there are an infinite number of unique characters!

Each – both plot and character – are vitally necessary to the process fo storytelling.

The Job of the Audience

And what the difference between a plot that just relates a series of events and a story that is compelling to an audience?

It’s Audience Engagement

And the storyteller’s purpose? – To keep the audience doing their job – whch is, staying engaged in the story.

Engagement means that the audience must be made to work for their supper

Because a good story is not meant to be like syrup poured over pancakes – giving all the elements PRE-CHEWED to the reader or viewer.

The audience, in order to stay engaged, must be constantly longing to find out what happens next.  So long as that’s going on, the story is working and you have them just where you want them – and more importantly, the Audience is just where THEY want to be.

You as the Imagineer!

Imagine a story like a roller coaster and you’re the designer.

Your job is to create the RIDE and everything is under your control. You decide everything: the length of the ride, the timing, length and details of every twists and turns.

Everything they see, hear, think and feel is completely under your control

Don’t think for a moment that Space Mountain at Disneyland – or any other roller coaster you’ve ever been on – is about anything other than the drama of the moment and your emotional reaction to it. You enjoy it because the designers did their job well.

It’s exactly the same with story.

To Wrap this Whole Thing up . . .

Let’s return to the story on my brother and his Hot Wheels.

This is exactly how I see writers and their plots in the best stories. Ray worked to get the most out of each part of his equipment. He pushed the limits of the track to  get the best out of the cars. And he pushed the cars to get the best out of the track.

This is the nature of the all-important Character/Plot Connection

A Story is about the WHOLE of what you create

The plot is how we put the characters through their paces, show the extent of what they can do.

But it is through our characters that we illustrate to the world the truth and humanity of our lives.

Your stories are ultimately judged by the success of this interplay.

Because, as my young brother knew, you build the track to race the cars and you race the cars so that the crowds in the stands can feel the thrill.

It is as simple as that.

Goodnight, Ray . . .

* * * * *

IMPORTANT:  I want to thank all of you who joined us in the DEFEAT PROCRASTINATION NOW teleseminar. We had over 300 StoryFix readers at the event and the reviews have been gratifying.

Thanks to you all!

In July, our seminar is entitled The 10 Steps to Building a Better Story, and we’ll be talking about how to make sure your story idea is strong enough to go the distance.  If you’re interested in joining us, click HERE for more information – Art

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A Free Reading Guide to Use with ‘Story Engineering’

A guest post by Jennifer Blanchard

(Quick pre-read note from Larry — Jennifer Blanchard represents the best possible outcome for me as a writing teacher, blogger and author.  She’s someone who had looked for clarity for many years relative to how to write a novel – really write a novel – and when she found my website, and then my book, “Story Engineering,” she says it changed her life.  To be honest, she’s not the only or the first person to say that, but she’s the absolute best living proof-statement to this day relative to how this understanding – not so much me personally – can  truly empower your writing life.  I’ve watched her blossom not only as an author and a professional, but as a purveyor of writing wisdom in her own right, with an on-going stream of helpful guides and ebooks and blog posts and guided programs that take the craft forward in clear and value-adding directions.  A month ago I had the privilege of c0-presenting a 4.5 day “master class” workshop with her, and listening to her wax eloquent on the various facets of storytelling craft was an amazing thing to behold.  She is one of the most prolific, positive, high energy writers I’ve ever met.  Someone we should all listen to.  It humbles me that she reflects on her work with me as she does here.  Every writing teacher should be so blessed to have someone not only get it to the degree she gets it, but represent the material as she does.  I am in her debt in so many ways.   Larry)

Like so many of you reading this blog, I had my life totally changed by discovering Larry Brooks and his story structure model. For me, this was back in early 2009.

At the time I was on a mission to find the information I was missing, the information that would allow me to finally write a cohesive, engaging story (because up to that point everything I had tried was a total disaster).

Googling around and checking out articles, I somehow managed to come across a guest post by Larry on another blog. That guest post led me to StoryFix.com.

And the rest is history.

That article totally changed everything for me. It brought story structure front and center in my mind and helped me to see exactly why nothing had worked for me previously.

I was hooked.

Hooked on Larry. Hooked on story structure.

And since I had read every freaking writing book and took every freaking writing workshop and college class I could find about writing novels, and still never came across the story structure info I learned from Larry, in that moment I made it my mission to spread the story structure message far and wide.

So in late 2009, when Larry put together an eBook called: Story Structure: Demystified, and asked for beta readers, I jumped like a sugar addict jumps for a cupcake.

I got my hands on that eBook and I read it cover-to-cover. Five times in the same week. I even printed the whole thing out and put it into a binder so I’d be able to have a hard copy to read and make notes on. (And, of course, I wrote a glowing review.)

A year later, this amazing, life-changing eBook became, Story Engineering, published by Writer’s Digest Books.  It remains one of their bestselling titles on writing craft, and was followed by two other killer writing books that build on that initial revelation.

I make it a point to re-read Story Engineering at least once a year (sometimes twice!). Because I want to stay connected with the core stuff required to write a killer story.

If you’ve read Story Engineering, you know what I’m talking about.

This book is by far the bible of storytelling. I recommend it to every single writer I come across. I shout from the rooftops why people need to read it and follow it.

Because it’s just that good (which you already know if you’ve read it).

The Story Engineering Study Guide

I wanted a way to keep the information from the book right in front of me at all times. Almost like Cliff Notes for Story Engineering.

So I created a reading guide to go with the book. It’s a simple PDF that I used to keep track of what I learned in each section, and any additional questions I had or things I needed to get clarification on.

And I’m gifting this reading guide to you, so you can also use it to keep the principles of storytelling at the front of your mind.

You can download the free Story Engineering reading guide here.

How has Story Engineering (and Larry Brooks) changed your life? I’d love to know! Share in the comments.

About the Author: Jennifer Blanchard is an author and story development coach who empowers emerging novelists to take control of their writing destinies, by helping them master craft and create a pro writer mindset. Grab her free Story Structure Cheat Sheet and put the principles of structure to work in your story. Visit her website here.

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