Guest Post: Dave Monroe on… Story Coaching

A short, self-conscious intro from Larry:

Here’s my morning: my wife and I go for a power walk.  I’m a little quiet, she asks why.  I tell her I’m mulling today’s NaNoWriMo post, and one other thing.  She asks what.  I tell her that one of my favorite Storyfix guys submitted a guest post, at my request.  Didn’t tell him what to write about, he had carte blanche.  

He wrote it, then sent it, I didn’t read it.  Too busy with this NaNoWriMo series.  But I did plan to run it, because I said I would, and because Dave is… well, you’ll see.  And, it’s been a while.

Dave Monroe and I have been working on his novel together — my role: story coach, with two passes and a handful of exchanges in between) for a few months now.  I have to say, Dave is one of the most gifted voices I’ve encountered.  As good as anyone publishing mysteries and thrillers today.  The fastest, strongest kid at the pro tryout.  If we can get this story right, sky’s the limit for him.  So it’s been a pleasure and an honor to be involved.

On my walk I decided to run his guest post this morning, as a bit of a break from the NaNoWriMo focus.  And because it sucks to write something and then not hear back. 

And then, this morning after the walk, I actually read it.  And that’s my problem… you’ll see what I mean when you read it.  A cynic — I know you’re out there — might feel that running this is over-the-top self-serving of me.  That Dave is returning a favor with some quid pro quo.   He assures the reader that none of this was solicited, so that base is covered adequately and accurately.

So here it is.  Still makes me uneasy. 

There is value here, not so much about me, but about the process.  The availability of inspiration and knowledge that resides outside yourself, while unlocking the writer within.  My hope here is that this view, this endorsement, will open you to this NaNoWriMo series in an empowered way, that you’ll go back and soak it all in, again, and if you need to read my book you will, and that as a result, when November 1st arrives, you’ll be salivating over your story plan.

I promise you a killer NaNoWriMo post later today.  But for now, if what Dave says helps trash any limiting beliefs you cling to, this may be the most important post yet in this series.  Enjoy.

A Guest Post from Dave Monroe

I want to get one thing straight – I’m not getting paid to say any of this. 

No kickbacks, no sweet deals, no nothing.  Why am I’m kicking off like this?  Because what I’m about to say may come off as ad-speak bullshit.  But it’s the truth, and nothing but the truth.

Larry Brooks is the best thing that’s ever happened to me as a writer.

No joke, the guy saved my story-ass, and then some.

And to think I found him by accident.  One night, in a book store, scanning the how-to writing books, I saw his book, STORY ENGINEERING.  I pulled the book off the shelf, and flipped through the pages. 

I went to the chapter 30, The Most Important Moment in Your Story.  I figured I’d give what’s-his-name a chance to sell me on his book, otherwise I’d dump it, like I’d dumped so many others.

And what I read blew me away.  I’ve read stacks of garbage on plot points, midpoints, inciting incidents, and on and on and on.  But when I read Brooks, he got me by the balls.  It was flat out the BEST explanation I’d ever read on plot-point one, or any plot point. 

So I bought the book, read it some crazy ass fashion, skipping from this chapter to that, and everything I read was like ah-ha moments on steroids. I sucked dry two yellow highlighters with my manic underlining, then switched to a ball point and drained it, too.

Man, who was this guy?  I had to know.  So I hopped on his website, locked in with his style, and – well, this is the part I can’t explain. 

Let me back up a bit. 

I had one novel, BLOOD DANCE, published years back.  Some mean life-gumbo got in the way of my writing, but that’s another story.  I’ve written other novels.  They’re in the attic, being revered by a big audience, an audience of not even one.

But here’s the thing – I’ve always worked alone, like too alone and for too long, like nobody would see a single word until after a year or two of writing.  By the time I showed someone my work played out, dead, just give me a match please.  I had nothing left, and I hadn’t even made it to the fourth quarter.  

So the day I was on Brooks’ website, I saw the Click Here tab, the one that led to the blah-blah on his coaching.  I clicked through, got the low down, and it hit me – maybe I should give this coaching a try, send this guy the novel I’m working on now (“The Get-back Job,” a partial is posted on the peer review section).

I always heard, when the student is ready, the teacher arrives.  Yeah, yeah – I don’t put much stock in fortune cookies. But something was going on, because I decided to give Brooks a try and let him coach me.

I sent him my first hundred pages and a behemoth of an outline, and I got back an even more behemoth of a coaching document back.

Brooks had read my submission three (3!) times, and put together a 16 page coaching document.  At first it felt like knockout punch.  To stay with the boxing metaphor – I lay on the mat, praying not to see double, letting what he’d said soak in, and my focus snapped back, and I got up before the ten count.

And it came to me, like I already told you – this guy just saved my story-ass! He probably saved me from a year or more rejections. 

It was brilliant how he handled his coaching document.  He let me know what worked with me as a writer, and what didn’t work with my story.  That’s critical – he let me know I had the stuff to be in the game, and that gave me the drive to roll up my sleeves and work harder on a story that was way out of the game

Let me just say, for the record – the story was bonkers, lost in sub-plots signifying what-the-hell-is-going-on-here-anyways?  It would’ve been easier if the story only signified nothing.

But, back to Brooks – the guy doesn’t quit.  Even in our seemingly ho-hum, back and forth emails, he dropped gold bricks on me.

In one email he turned me onto a writer, Nelson DeMille.  DeMille is now one my kingpins that I model.  I don’t sweat leaning on great writers. Hunter Thompson copied, by hand, hundreds and hundreds of pages of Dickens.  If HT was okay with leaning, then I sure as hell can be.

In another emails, Brooks told me story planning is the most right brain part of the creative process.  Meaning, stories can be fixed.  Or in my case, my mess of a story could be cleaned up.  Damn, what a relief.

And in another email, Brooks tossed me one idea.  He told me it’s the single most important thing he’s learned as a writer.  I ran with it and redrafted everything.

It gave every chapter eye-pop, drive, and burn. A friend of mine Shelly Stoehr, talented novelist (CROSSES) read the rewrite and said it reminded her of James Patterson.  So I’m okay with that. Patterson is only the bestselling novelist in the world these days.

But the most important thing I learned from Brooks – I can’t do this alone.  When I’m writing I get too wrapped up in the dream I’m dreaming.  I get too close to my story, I lose all objectivity.  I get lost in space – danger, danger Will Robinson on crank.  And I burn myself out.

If I don’t have someone setting eyes on my writing, it’s no different than being in a padded room with a typewriter.  Not to put it down, it may be a good career – I could sell my unpublished novels as drawer stuffers at flea markets.  Rejection slips make nice wallpaper for bathrooms, especially if they’re pink.

But if I want to make payday, this is the gig – I NEED another set of eyes on my work, so I can find out what’s working and what’s not.  And I want that set of eyes on my work as early in the game as possible.

Larry Brooks has the best set of “other eyes” I’ve ever come across.  I love the guy.

And here’s a secret – the one thing that almost fucked me up and kept me from getting started with Brooks was fear.  There’s no getting over fear, there’s only going through it, and on the other side of fear, it’s all magic.

So let’s talk about magic. 

As I’m writing this, it’s coming to me, I’ve used Brooks in ways I haven’t even told him about.  He’s hearing about this for the first time, too.

I took a workshop given by agent on how to find an agent.  I’d never written a query letter, so I was sweating it.  Then I decided to I’d roll up the query letter with what I’d learned from Brooks.

So I outlined my query letter according to Brooks – a set-up box one, first plot point, a reactive box two, pinch points, midpoints, pinch points, an active box three, an all is lost moment, a willing-to-die box four, and so forth.  Each story pillar got a slug line in my query letter.

In the workshop we read our pitches out loud.  Before I got halfway through reading my letter, the agent wanted to see the book. 

Actually, it was kind of a problem, because I haven’t finished the book.  But she’s now read the opening hundred pages, the synopsis, and is waiting for me to finish. Maybe she’s the one, maybe not, doesn’t matter.  These days I have no doubts getting published will happen, and work out wilder than I’ve ever imagined. 

And for that, I’ll be forever thankful to Larry Brooks.

So I don’t who you are, or where you’re at.  But if you’re hemming and hawing, sitting on the fence about using a writing coach – just do it, and do it as fast as you can. 

Let Brooks coach you.  I’m sure he can help you turn your writing dream into a reality, into a hardcover book on the shelf, into a movie on the big screen – or why not both?  That’s what I’m gunning for, and Brooks is helping me.

 Why not let him help you, too?

To your very best writing success,

David Monroe 

 

7 Comments

Filed under Guest Bloggers

7 Responses to Guest Post: Dave Monroe on… Story Coaching

  1. I love this type of enthusiasm and gratitude shared. You, Larry, are doing something good and though this post is directed to your work, the message is every writer should garner feedback and chose wisely where that feedback originates.

    I do have issue with one thing – “Here’s my morning: the wife and I go for a power walk. …” THE wife? Really? For that I feel you need a smack upside the head…

  2. Debbie Burke

    David…I remember reading your piece last summer and being blown away by it. I agree with Larry that you are exceptionally gifted and WILL be published. And I WILL buy your book.

    Larry…You are an ethical guy, so naturally you’re reluctant to publish a post you feel might be too self-promoting. But…to those many of us whom you’ve helped, we couldn’t agree more with David’s words. I quote you and your techniques regularly among my peers and those I coach and edit for, because your system works! You convinced this diehard pantser, after seven novels, to finally plan (using Rachel’s circus tent), and that’s no small achievement.

    You’ve done more good for many writers than you’ll ever know or receive acknowledgement from. Helping others is a legacy you can and should be proud of.

    Debbie

  3. Leanne Lucas

    David…thanks for the post. I can’t imagine what it would be like to have Larry as a coach. I’ve been reading his blog for less than a month, and I feel like I have firm ground under my feet for the first time in YEARS of writing. (And that’s with eight published children’s mysteries, a degree from the University of Illinois and a job as a writer at the University of Illinois!)

    Larry…since David started it, I’m going to continue the unsolicited endorsement of your capabilities as a story coach. About three days into your blog series for NaNoWriMo participants, I bought your book and read it pretty much straight through. When I was finished, I told my husband, “I’ve been looking for this guy all my life.”

    I pantsed by way through my first NaNoWriMo last year, not because I wanted to, but because I didn’t learn of the event until October 28th. I was a “winner,” and thirty days of concentrated butt-in-the-chair writing was great discipline for me, but when the month was over I put the book aside and didn’t look at it again until July. I knew it was horrible and I knew if I did NaNo again this year, I had to do it differently. I was going to plan, I just wasn’t sure how.

    Then I started reading your blog and your book, and now I am indeed “chomping at the bit” to get started come November 1. I’m re-reading the book even as I put the things I’m learning into practice.

    I would like to comment on one point you make. I agree that reading hundreds of mysteries does not qualify you to write one, but it has to give you a little bit of an edge, don’t you think? It’s the only way I can explain selling eight children’s mysteries. I wanted to write what I loved to read as a child, so I just jumped in and wrote. I deconstructed one of my own books, and was a little amazed to see that, with just a little bit of fudging, I can claim that everything that needed to be there, was there. The first, mid and second plot point, as well as pinch points were all in place. Since I didn’t have any idea about those things when I was writing, I can only believe that I must have gained some sort of innate understanding of them from all the reading I’d done. Of the six core competencies, character and theme were incredibly weak, so the books only did so-so in the Christian children’s market and now they’re out of print.

    Anyway, I just wanted to add my gratitude for your willingness to share your knowledge and expertise. Thanks.

    Leanne

  4. You’ve just outlined all the things I love about Larry too! And when I am finished writing the first draft of the novel I am currently planning, I definitely plan on contacting him to get started on some manuscript coaching. There’s just no substitute for the knowledge Larry has. I hang on his every word. I can’t wait to get started working with him!

  5. Laureli Illoura

    I think we will all be able to relay our own ‘ah ha moments’ and our own reverence regarding Larry’s help to us, one day.
    It would make a good coffee table book for Larry.
    I don’t think even Larry has understood what he’s given to us.
    -All the best of all possible, serendipitous, and blessed luck, David!
    (But you won’t need it now!)

  6. elizabeth

    Hey — I’m loving the preview of Monroe’s book on storyfix. I found one typo that you might want to fix — the first scene in the hospital, Burner tells Jocko that Holly “through” him out. Might want to change that to “threw”. Thanks for the good read, though.

  7. Love this post. I think it would be fun to post the query letter – just to see the different “boxes” at work in a real query!