Part 1… of Two
We say the same thing every year right about now: this will be our year. This, of course, meaning the fresh new year about to commence.
Because, perhaps on many fronts, the departing year definitely wasn’t it.
Right about now is where one of the most tried and true truths of the universe applies, to the point of cliché. It’s that old definition of insanity: doing the same old thing while expecting different results.
Too many writers get stuck in this loop, many because they aren’t aware there is a better way. But there is.
Perhaps, in 2011, you should do something different.
Where your story is concerned, the following sequential regimen and process just might qualify as something marvelously, brilliantly different. The thing that could break you out of whatever loop, or rut, in which you consider yourself stuck.
And while I can’t guarantee your success – nobody can do that in the writing game – I can do the next best thing. Because your novel and/or screenplay – or whatever other kind of story you’re writing – can’t help but be better for it.
This process breaks down into six sequential parts.
Which means, you get to do the math any way you’d like, as long as you do this in the right order.
I also highly recommend that you tackle these as equal segments of time, if nothing else than for the sake of discipline and focus.
Could be that a lack of discipline and focus was your undoing in 2010. Follow this story development process, and that particular issue will go away in 2011.
Which means, you can write your story in six 2-month segments, six 1-month segments, or six 3, 2 or one-week segments. The further into that sentence you fall, the more projects you can write, and write successfully, in the next year.
Feel free to start in the middle if you’re already somewhere down this path. You may begin the year knowing precisely what story you hope to write, which means you can skip to Segment 3. But, with an asterisk.
The asterisk is: you should never skip Segment 1 if, in the most objective dark corner of your writerly soul, you aren’t completely sure that you’re in command of the requisite tools of the trade.
If you aren’t sure what those tools are beyond “a way with words,” then you more than most are in need of Segment 1.
To skip Segment 1 is like trying to fly an airplane without ground school. Or take out a spleen without medical school. Or survive a troubled marriage without counseling.
You may think you know… but do you? Really?
The lie you tell yourself in this regard is precisely what stands in your way of writing a story that will sell. In this or any other year.
I also caution against jumping around in this sequence… that, too, could be part of the reason you remained unpublished in 2010. The Great Fatal Mistake writers make is to skip one of these segments, or even just phone it in, in favor of the joy of actually writing the narrative.
Yeah, it’s fun to fly an airplane, too… but just wait until you try to land. You’d better know what you’re doing.
The countryside is full of crashed writing dreams because the writer/pilot lied to themselves about Segment 1, and then, out of that ignorance, disregarded one of the other steps.
Don’t let that be you.
Segment 1: prepare the storyteller.
You’ve just read my cautionary pleadings. Now it’s up to you. This is the reason most writers can’t sell their work. It’s not their story… it’s them.
Are you fluent in dramatic theory? Do you know the difference between sub-plot and sub-text? Between concept and theme? Because premise and concept? Between inciting incident and the first plot point? Do you even know what a first plot point is, and where it goes, and why, and how it detonates your story if you misplace it, as well as the other major story milestones? Do you know what those milestones are?
More importantly, are you operating out of the belief that those questions are invalid for you, that there is some great and mysterious creative muse out there that will guide you through and around these story-killing obstacles?
These questions are just the tip of the iceberg. You actually can write a home run story without knowing these things by summoning your intuitive, inner storytelling genius.
But let’s get real. There are only a few of them out there, and they are rich and famous. The rest of the names you see on the bookshelves or on the opening credits of a film… they’ve immersed themselves in Segment 1.
It’s your call.
Read Syd Field, whether you’re a novelist or a screenwriter. Ready my story structure ebook. Immerse yourself in the realm of the Six Core Competencies of successful storytelling, available at this link in my new book, or here on the site in the archives. Read The Writer’s Journey, which is not available here. Read about Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake methodology. Read James Frye’s How To Write A Damn Good Novel and his several genre-specific follow-ups. Go to a Robert McKee workshop.
Then, read some bestsellers and not so bestsellers and watch it all unfold before your eyes. Perhaps for the very first time. Reading books in context to something valid, craft-wise, is the most beneficial thing you can do to prepare yourself for writing your own.
Reading or writing without that context… it’s a crap shoot. With very low odds.
Make sure you get it. If you don’t, you’re on your own with that inner storyteller that thinks he/she does get it.
And, remains unpublished as 2010 leaves the building.
Segment 2: prepare your vision for the story.
What follows assumes you do get it. That you’ve taken the time, put in the effort, and it all makes perfect, illuminating sense to you.
Now it’s time to get to work on your story.
You need to have an idea for a story, and it has to have legs. You need to live with that idea for a while, kick it around and bat it back and forth with your creative peers and mentors, to see if it really is a good idea after all.
Ideas are like cheap lovers. Sometimes they don’t look so hot in the morning.
Ideas are also like not-so-cheap lovers. When you let them go, if they don’t come back to you they were never really there.
But, as you hone your idea into great majesty, remember this: beginning a draft with only that idea on the table, without the following segments of the process having been addressed, is a commitment to using drafting as your vehicle for story discovery. A long and arduous road.
If you do this, you are officially a pantser… someone who writes stories by the seat of their pants. It can work, but it’s the long hard road to get there.
Why? Because there are three other essential elements, or essences, that you need to put into place before your story will work, and there are a list of criteria under each of them you should apply to your plan.
The only pantsers who stand a chance are the ones who know this. Same with story planners, but by definition, what story planners plan is, in essence, those criteria-driven elements.
Once again… do the math.
Ready to commit to a long term relationship with that idea? You’re not done with this phase. And you’re not ready to write the story, either.
Has it been done before, and how, and by whom? What is your genre, and does it fit? What is the market appeal of this idea, assuming you can write it well enough, and does your idea fit, stretch or otherwise offend its given niche? Why will anyone else care about this idea and the story that will spring from it?
What gift does this idea bestow upon the reader?
What about this idea will grab a crusty old seen-it-all agent or editor and make them lose sleep until they can sign you?
To Be Continued…
Go to, or return to, Part 2 of “How To Write A Home Run Story in 2011.”