How to Elevate Your Story Above the Eager Crowd

The “crowd” is pretty good, too.   And they want what you want.  

So you need to be better.

Greetings from Los Angeles, where I’m presenting at the Writers Digest Novel Writing Conference.  I did two sessions yesterday, and later today I’m doing a workshop entitled: “Your Story on Steroids.”

This is why I like working with Writers Digest.

Not just because they publish my writing books and put my articles in their magazine (or that they sent me to China last month), they’re just cool, hip, really smart people.  They allowed me to use this title, they got the analogy.

I’ve tried several times to get this title on the agenda at a handful of other conferences, who were scared off by the word “steroids.”

Ooo… scary.  Steroids.  Bad.

Sure, they’re illegal if you’re talking about anabolic medication.  But not in this context, the context of writing really strong, compelling stories.  In that context we need all the medicine we can get, and we need the science that makes it happen.

And it’s an analogy, folks… deal with it.  It — in this analogous context — won’t make you sick and it won’t make your testicles shrink to the size of chick peas, nor will you go to hell for getting the analogy.

Anyhow, in preparation for today I’ve created a killer Powerpoint slide deck that doesn’t mince words.  I’d like to share it with you, too.  The people here paid for the live presentation and discussion, but the content is universal, and I’d like you to have it.

Get it here: Story on Steroids.

There’s a new structure graphic here, too (slide #32), that simplifies the four part, 7-milestone story structure model, worthy of printing out.  For all your visual thinkers out there.

Because good doesn’t cut it these days.

Our stories have to be great to separate from the incoming stream of good stories, most of which will be rejected for precisely that: they are merely good, totally solid… but not great.

Publishers are looking for the next home run.  Not the next book to take up a slot on a bookstore shelf.

Let’s be great today.  Hope this helps.



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Filed under Write better (tips and techniques)

11 Responses to How to Elevate Your Story Above the Eager Crowd

  1. I bet each and every person who cowers in the corner anytime they hear language more powerful than a Frosted Flakes commercial did, and would, nod their heads like a bunch of ostriches when somebody applauds the power of something like “This is your brain on drugs.”

    Thank God for people like Wolfgang Shmitt with the balls to quote their own work.

    If it weren’t for offending, shocking, ridiculing, mocking, condemning and criticizing, nobody would have anything worthwhile to say. The fear of offense is the most sinister enemy of truth. So there.

    Now, how the heck to I unpush my Freedom of Thought button. This happens every time…

  2. Jason Waskiewicz

    It’s funny that people who make their living from words wouldn’t understand an analogy.

    If it were crude, that might be different, but it looks pretty harmless to me.

  3. I work best with a combination of verbal and visual so your presentation is huge. Thanks for being generous.

    I’ve never had any institution accept my presentation titles. I started arranging my own workshops so I could say what I really mean.

  4. Robert Jones

    Not going with what may be “publicly” offensive from a business standpoint is a bit of an oxymoron. Business want to make a killing, but don’t bar the gate with labels that might give pause to the sensibilities of the public–which are programmed mostly by business and ad campaigns across the board from pharmaceuticals to politics.

    On the other hand, if a title like this is offensive to writers, then maybe those writers should reconsider before passing through that gate. What if a writer decided to write a book where the hero took steroids and had to deal with the effects of prolonged use? Would this be offensive to those same people with delicate sensibilities? Would that writer be invited to speak at a writer’s conference? Sounds a bit silly. More than that it is silly. Unless, of course, said writer has made a mint from such a book. Then those same sensibilities can go hang themselves.

    I’m glad to hear WD isn’t worried about such things. Though I suppose if they didn’t have an understanding of writers, I think they would’ve been out of business long ago.

  5. MikeR

    Ahh, I’m quite sure that WD understood @Larry’s analogy … it’s a common-enough expression, after all … and that he was neither condoning nor even talking about drug abuse. 🙂

    (If you -did- want to write a story about steroids, I’m … ahh … not sure that I’d pick it up from the shelves. Even though I’m a guy, I’m simply =not= into sports. But, I digress.)

    @Larry, this is (of course) an excellent presentation, and I’d love to have been a fly on the wall. Thank you very much for sharing this PowerPoint with the rest of us (and thank you, WD, for not objecting to it). You’re =good= as an instructor and presenter, as I have said before, and an ideal match for WD, which I also very-much respect.

    And the “key” take-away just might be slide #24. And #25. (Not, particularly, #32.)

    And both of these ought to be nails in the (buried) wooden box surrounding the notion that you can actually produce a salable writing product by “setting sail without a chart” armed only with the fact that you’ve READ a lot of “good books.”

    On slide #24: “You have SETTLED.” You tried to “pants” your way through hundreds of pages, and you don’t know where-the-hell you are or how you got there, so by-gawd you are going to shove a flag in the sand and claim it for the King of Spain.

    On slide #25: “In That Order.” With “how it will END” as point #3. Of six. The simple statement that you must know the end(s) from the beginning(s). Which just happens to be a very simple statement of the need to plan.

    Since I absolutely and freely admit that I don’t know what I’m doing, I’ve been lately dividing my time between “planning” and “pantsing.” The planning consists of considering how the story -could- go … and I am keeping every possibility in the sense that I absolutely do-not “delete” anything. Meanwhile, the pantsing consists of putting characters into a setting, giving them a general scene-idea, then “yelling ‘Action!'” and taking notes. When the scene peters-out, into the bucket it goes. Never to be discarded; never to replace. Then I go back and pore over it – is there an idea here that could be added to the plan? Could it be ‘better’ than the one that’s “the winning entry” right now? If so, the story-brainstorm “branches” once again.

    I’m doing this purposefully, because part of the experience of writing this piece =is= to fully-explore and thus to try to fully-develop the (historically real) subject-matter that I am dealing with. I don’t want to shut things off too soon. I want to really get to know these people that I’ve created, while being on the lookout for other people that I still need to create.

    However, I know that every one of my brainstorms so-far lacks one thing: the not-yet-made CHOICE(!) of ‘how The Story™ will End.’ When this all-important target looms into view with several different brainstorms pointing toward it, I’ll know that “my story” (perhaps the first of several to deal with this most-interesting subject matter) will finally be in sight.

    And, meanwhile, I sure am having FUN! 🙂

  6. I dunno. Maybe it’s just me. But, when Larry hands out a 38 frame slide presentation with a tidy story check list ala slide #25 and the graphic on #32 slide, I’m just going to say “thank you” and leave it to whoever to debate the title.

    Thanks again.

  7. Thanks for this post, Larry – and for giving us your PowerPoint slides. They are well worth viewing and I’m sure the presentation itself was excellent!

  8. Kerry Boytzun

    Luv the slides! Wish I was there.

    Watched the movie, “philomena” the other night. It’s a movie that could have been great but it wasn’t. All due to everything in Larry’s slide show. To get an idea of just when “philomena” the movie was great (a scene here and there) is to only consider the scene where the journalist confronts the hidden nun in the wheelchair. It’s a great scene but the rest of the movie is just fair. I found myself daydreaming and telling myself to look what’s missing (story structure-physics) as I watched the movie. Ideally, a movie or story should have me so involved in it that I have to go back over it for such an analysis.

    More preaching to the choir here I’m sure.

    Great job Larry!


  9. Pingback: Story Structure: a Graphic You Can Use -

  10. It’s important to stay true to your own voice, in novels as well as in blog posts or presentations.

    If it’s steroids, it’s steroids. Stick with it.

  11. Septembre

    Puritanical hogwash. Everyone knows exactly what “..on Steroids” means in this colloquial context. Once a phrase enters the domain of cliche, moral properties are significantly less applicable. Also, in the places where steroids are the MOST controversial, they are called Performance Enhancers. The irony is ruthless. But it doesn’t get much more reputable than Writer’s Digest, which actually speaks for itself. Good work, Larry. Your blog gives me all forms of life.