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The Bermuda Triangle of Storytelling

The goal of today’s post is nothing less than to explain why writing a novel that works is hard.

As opposed to, say, a pile of 50K-plus words poured into a steaming pile during, say, the most recent month of November, that doesn’t.

But if you break it down, there really aren’t that many different things going on, categorically. And with so many of us trying to do it, and so few of us producing a sure thing (this isn’t a knock on the new or struggling writer; so many famous names and titles were rejected multiple times before finding a place in the market, and so many others have one flash of the spotlight and then virtually disappear), why are the odds so long?

Especially since there are more than a few folks like me seeking to clear the air and impart some sense of what works and what may be holding you back.

In an effort to get to that bottom line, I set out to view the problem differently.

To break down what actually happens in the moment of collision between a writer’s intention and action, tempered by the heat-resistant presence of that author’s distilled sense of story.

In the end  it all boils down to three things, and really, only three things.

  • What we know about storytelling (the sum of what we think we know and actually do know about how a story is built – craft – and what it is built of);
  • What we know about the story itself, including the ending (which explains why some drafts work and others don’t);
  • and, then, how we steer that ship across the void of the blank page (our story and prose sensibilities).

That last one is the kicker. It explains (or it doesn’t; more accurately, this is just the label on a map about a place we know very little about, sort of like the Marianas Trench of storytelling) why some writers are consistently better and faster than others… writers who seem to wield a natural gift of some kind.

Versus those that think they do. Finally realizing that you may not yet be among that tiny crowd can, for some, be the most empowering moment in your writing journey.

Because that might be when you let craft into your process.

Welcome to The Bermuda Triangle of storytelling.

Screenshot (108)

Because in the stormy, uncharted confluence of these three natural forces of storytelling, some writers get lost and some are never heard from again.

Two out of three of these sub-processes may be good enough… if you have the time or patience for it. But nailing the story reasonably early (for many this means, in this lifetime), and easily (before your world collapses, or before you begin deceiving yourself about it)… that requires firing on all three of these cylinders.

All three of these forces, though — 1) knowledge of craft… 2) a vision for the story… 3) a sense of how to get it on paper — are in the end required, at least in some perhaps unequal proportion. The good news is that each time we give it a try, we make a deposit into the each of these three creative/intellectual accounts.

Soak up enough craft, apply it to your vision for the story, and your story sense is bound to elevate. Do this long enough, in context to the principles of craft, and your story sense will at some point catch up with your enthusiasm.

Analogies abound. I’ll spare you those for now, but let it be said, immense knowledge without some sense of magic and movement does not a singer or dancer or artist make.

The reason we study craft IS to beef up our story sense. To skip the craft in reliance to one’s natural storytelling gifts is like preparing for the Olympic trials without training… because you were born fast and strong.

Clearly, this isn’t math.

It’s more like Olympic figure skating or platform diving, where results and the pursuit of perfection are determined by a bunch of imperfect human beings levying judgment. But even the experts often get it wrong (Kathryn Stockett’s The Help, for example, was rejected by 46 agents before one of them had a higher sensibility to the party), thus testifying to the imprecision of story sense.

This little model gives us something to work on and build upon.

Not to mention, something to blame.

From the moment the spark of a story idea lights up our brain, continuing through the entire process up to the moment we set the story free (which is to finish it and move on to something else, whatever that looks like for you), we are juggling these three very different intellectual and creative phenomena. Viewed separately, we can see how they apply (if you can’t, it is a sign that one or more is still underdeveloped). But it is in the areas of overlap where the math becomes vague, where so many have tried to credit an unexplained inspiration or what becomes the equivalent of a muse, or perhaps just plain blind luck, good, bad or otherwise.

In the absence of this understanding, that may be as good an explanation as any.

 

 

The principles are always available to tutor your story sense. 

You don’t need a “natural storytelling gift” (as some claim) to develop a novel that works, or become a successful career writer.

That’s why Jeffrey Deaver proudly says he writes twenty-two drafts of his novels… which, at a glance, is not the outcome of a highly developed story sense. Rather, that’s Deaver trying to get it right, over and over and over again. He succeeds because he follows proven, reliable, solid principles of craft – he has the requisite knowledge about how and why stories work – and doesn’t settle until he knows as much about his story, from premise through the entire structure, as he needs to for it all to work… and to recognize when he gets to that point.

Novels that fail or under-perform are often simply drafts that the writer didn’t – perhaps cannot – recognize as unfinished.  Which is a story sense issue every time (lack thereof, in this example), arising from an inadequate foundation of story knowledge.

Bottom line: you may have been born with The Gift. But most writers who truly hold, nurture and present a solid sense of story, got there as a product of craft, leading them to a vivid vision for their stories.

This is precisely why experienced authors don’t write every idea that pops into their head. They have the story sense – born of craft – to recognize a rich premise and not jump at one that is merely clever.

Story sense is what happens when you lead with craft, rather than relying solely on your gut.

That can work… usually for Stephen King and authors like him. Which means we must ask if we consider ourselves in his league.

*****

If you haven’t checked out my first wave of craft training videos, with a slant toward newer writers, click HERE. Remember, as a Storyfix.com reader you get a 25 percent discount… just use this code – storyfix25off – during the Vimeo checkout process (the Download links on my new training website take you to the Vimeo page where the videos are available).

A new wave of training videos will be launched in March 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                      

 

 

 

 

 

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The #1 Challenge Facing Writers Today

It’s not what you think it is.

And you’re already a part of it.

Art Holcomb and I — you know Art if you been here a while; if not, Art is one of the foremost writing mentors and lecturers in the country — recently made a 30-minute audio recording, a teleseminar, really, that ended up focusing on this important topic.

Important, because it can sabotage everything about your writing dream, including your learning curve… without you even knowing it.

Writers are deluged with information. Some of it is obvious. Some of it is gold.

Too much of it is less than credible, and sometimes it is downright toxic.

So when Art asked me this question in the audio interview, I ran with it.

I am passionate about writers understanding the truth about what we do, how we do it, and the liberating, mind-blowing awareness that suffering is optional.

The purpose of the recording was to introduce my new video training products to his significant following and readership. So there’s that, alongside the observations of two guys who are among all the noise out there, screaming our lungs out.

You can listen to it HERE.

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Another listening opportunity...

Last April I had the honor of presenting the Keynote address at the Las Vegas Writers Conference, after doing two workshops during the conference.  It was 74-minutes of gut- wrenching vulnerability, with harrowing tales from the writing road that made the audience wince, laugh and generally realize that I am not the grizzly bear middle linebacker of a writing guru-type that I am reputed to be.

Despite looking exactly like that in the video.

I just posted this on my new Youtube channel, if you have some time. It was shot from the audience, so it’s a little raw… as any worthwhile keynote should be.

Check it out HERE.

*****

The Roller Coaster Ride of Writing Professionally

You write, you publish. Then you get reviewed.

You get praised, and you get blasted.

The thing that has amazed me is the vehement vitriol that some reviewers inject into their reviews. Don’t like my novels? Don’t get my approach to writing, because it isn’t quite like what you heard from Famous A-List Author at your last writing conference? Don’t like my analogies and my lists of criteria? Don’t like all the “big words” I use to preach the gospel of craft? (You’d be surprised at how often this appears in reviews… words like “Epiphany” and “story essence” and “thematic resonance” and “dramatic tension” seem to challenge and confound some folks… which to me is like the term “load bearing” fogging the brain of an aspiring engineer; if the language of the craft confuses you — it’s not my language, by the way, it’s the language of the avocation — what are you doing reading a book intended for writers who aspire to write professionally in the first place?)

Last night I made the mistake of going onto Goodreads to see what some of the folks out there were saying about my work. The novels and the writing books.

Big mistake.

Believe me when I say, as gratifying as some of the positive feedback is, the enthusiastic blasters suck up all of one’s attention — let’s just say my evening was emotionally compromised — leaving you wondering what you did to offend or confuse those who didn’t seem to get what so many others were appreciating?

Comes with the territory. That’s the learning here. Not everyone gets you., and not everyone gets it.

There is always a lowest common denominator in any reader demographic — in the real world they are confused by four-way stops and ATMs and still believe in characters that talk to you from the page, telling you what to write next — just as there is often some real validity in the criticism that resides within one, two and three-star reviews, not all of whom are haters.

Today was better. This review showed up on Amazon for my latest writing book (Story Fix: Transform Your Novel from Broken to Brilliant), and it helped me put it all back into a healthier perspective.

Give it a read HERE.

*****

If you’d like to check out my new training videos — there are five of them now, with more on the way — click HERE or HERE (this one is my new site for these virtual classroom video modules).

And if you’d be interested in hearing more about a new weekly Advanced Training Shots for Serious Authors — short videos with bluetooth-able audio (5 to 10 minutes, delivered to your Inbox every Monday morning), offering high-level learning and insight that applies to the application of the core principles, rather than an introductory context for them — drop me a quick email and I’ll add you to that rollout list.

Thanks for listening and reading. I really do appreciate you.

Larry

 

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