Is There Seventh Core Competency?

In the creation and evangelizing of my story development model, the Six Core Competencies of Successful Storytelling, I like to tell people that there is nothing in the realm of writing fiction that doesn’t fall into one of these six buckets.

Why?  First of all, because it’s true.  But also, when you deal in such absolutes, some people go straight into challenge mode.  They need to make you wrong, to be smarter than you are. 

And that can be great fun.  Sometimes even enlightening.

While there are multitudes of folks smarter than me, I’ve yet to hear someone come up with an aspect of the writing experience that doesn’t fall into one of those six buckets.  Sure, you can dispute labels and combine them as you please, but when you break it all down this is all there is.

But lately I’ve been wondering… could there be a seventh core competency? 

Maybe.  And if it qualifies, it’s the most important skill of all.

Reviewing the Six Core Competencies

There are a dozen or so places to click on this website that will tell you what the six core competencies are.  But to save time, allow me to review.  They are:

–         concept

–         character

–         theme

–         story sequence (structure)

–         scene elements and construction

–         writing voice

In no particular order, by the way.  You need them all to be solid if you hope to write a novel or a screenplay that is of saleable quality.

Leave out only one, and your manuscript will get a “nice try, you came close,” and a rejection slip.   

So what could possibly still be on the table?

I have a condo in the Phoenix area.  Being an ex-minor league pitcher, I remain a rabid baseball fan who soaks up as much spring training as possible.  Every year I see hundreds of sturdy young men take the field in hopes of making the major league roster. 

Only 25 break camp with that particular hat, the others heading for places like Walla Walla and Dubuque. 

Here’s what’s metaphorically fascinating and relevant about that phenomenon: with perhaps a couple of exceptions, every athlete on that field arrives with the basic core competencies of the game of baseball well in command.

Many are worthy of being published… but only that analogous 25 break camp with a contract. 

Could there be a seventh core competency that makes it so?

As in baseball, or any other field of human performance, getting published is a competition.  Your basic mastery of the requisite skills is only the ante-in, the invitation to attend spring training.

Once there, you need to be better than the other guy.   You need to have something about your game that sticks out, that is not just good, but exceptional

Writers who consistently make the best seller lists, who make a career out of writing fiction, do one thing better than the rest of us.  You could argue that writers who simply get published in the face of incredible odds and stiff competition, do the same.

And that just might be because of the seventh core competency.

It is this: they put it all together with a value-adding panache and intuitive insight that defies definition or description.  With high art.  They get it, and they deliver it with a distinctive voice and storytelling sensibility and exceeds the sum of its six core parts.

So as you strive to master the six core competencies, as you absolutely should if you hope to get that spring training invitation, bear in mind that doing so is only your admission ticket. 

What must be summoned forth from there cannot be taught, as can the six core competencies.  It must be discovered within you.

The seventh core competency is the elusive magic that happens when art collides with hard-won talent.

Until you master the six basic core competencies of storytelling, it will remain dormant, a potential unrealized, if it is even there at all. 

There is only one way to find out.  And it has six components.


Filed under Six Core Competencies

9 Responses to Is There Seventh Core Competency?

  1. ‘…the elusive magic that happens when art collides with hard-won talent.’

    Excellent metaphor.
    Which reminds me. Recently, I’ve been reading writers claiming that writing is a craft, not an art.
    Any opinion?

  2. Hey Poch — love that question. Mainly because the answer doesn’t really matter, rendering the question one of those exercises in rhetoric. A fun debate that changes nothing.

    We could ask the same question about any “art.” Doesn’t sculpture and painting and music require us to learn and master the craft of it before we can discover the art of it?

    Maybe art is on the receiving end… something moves us, it has form and function and balance and something magical about it… it is a sum that exceeds its parts. It’s beyond reach, perhaps even of the artist, as if something external came into play and joined the artist in the rendering.

    But, again perhaps, without the artist even being aware. The artist just pratices craft, they do what they do , they do it the best they can do it… and always, what they do relies on craft and aspires to art.

    My guess is that anyone who sweats this too much isn’t sweating their craft enough. There is a fuzzy and/or invisible line between craft and art, and we have little control over it. We can control our craft, we can deepen it, practice it and grow it. As for art… we can only aspire to it. L.

  3. Sometimes I think the “magic” is what happens when all of the six competencies are working so well together – like a fine tuned machine due to all that hard work – that they allow the creative force to burst through. Like champagne bubbles rising.

  4. There really is something “else”, something “other”. I’ve read articles and stories that are technically as perfect as is possible but they were boring. I’ve read other works with the same technical level that are alive.

    You can’t always go by awards won or place on the best sellers lists either, as I’ve read some books with those under their belts and wondered how they got there – but then I think I’m back to my comment the other day that some of it does end up a matter of individual taste on the reader’s part.

    Either way, I do agree, some writers have that extra something or are able to let that extra something shine through and the ones who do are also (technically) fantastic story tellers.


  5. @Glenna – love the bubbles analogy… you can it all in the glass, but it doesn’t work until the bubbles happen. Cool.

    @Sandra – bravo, well said. It’s the same in any avocation, I think, and the more artistic it is the more visible this becomes. Best we can do is the best we can do, to give our innate potential the best chance possible to rise to whatever level, however high, it can go. From there, add a little luck, a little time and a lot more hard work… that’s how it happens.

  6. I love the art/craft discussion. To illustrate the point – I know a person who claims he only ever does a first draft of a poem, and there is no need to do any other drafts.

    He has the craft – he can write, he can rhyme words. But there is no art at all in what he writes, and he only gets his work looked at because he harasses people into reading it/listening to it. His work is craft with not a hint of art, and I fear there never will be any art in it because he is tone deaf to the idea of redrafting.

  7. Lloyd Corricelli

    I can’t believe you get hate mail over that. There are far too many people out there who think they’ve written the next great American novel that can’t string two sentences together. I know because I real their submissions all the time.

    They should pay attention to a real pro like you.

  8. Mike

    Hey Larry,

    Thought provoking article. I’m tempted to believe what you’re referring to might not be that complicated to grasp. You even said the word in your comments section: Mastery.

    Like Malcolm Gladwell said in his non-fiction title Blink, a master has put in the hours – by living his craft or being in close proximity to it almost every day of his/her life – to stand a head above the competition to attract attention and success.

    Another word came to me when you were describing this 7th principle: amalgamation. All 6 combined. Without all 6 together and in equal parts you no longer have the 7th principle. That’s what I got from it.

  9. I agree with Mike about mastery. Mastery’s so recognisable when you encouner it, but it’s harder to identify its constituent parts.

    It’s something I used to discuss when I was helping coaches get certified. Mastery’s what we expect coaches to have achieved before they gain certification, and our Association spent years establishing the criteria required, based on an amalgam of the common consensus as to what masterful coaches all had in common.

    Even though every single certified coach I’ve critiqued has been unique and special in their own way, they all had to tick every single one of those ‘boxes’ with 80% or above in more than one tape to pass the practical exam. What made them special was the way in which they connected with their client to reach that Aha! moment that was the core of every sucessful session, the moment where a shift happened, the sum that was greater than its parts.

    That’s why I’m more proud of my coach certification than I am of a lot of my degrees, diplomas and promotions. It was a practical marriage of many elements; hard work, art and craft, training and instinct, experience and the ability to relish humanity and navigate via curiosity. I marvelled at peers who did it all effortlessly, knowing I didn’t have that x-factor or mastery. In my case, a recognition and appreciation of mastery in others, a longing to be good at something I valued, an analytical mind, sound instincts and a massive amount of time, effort and hard work paid off. More importantly, the journey towards mastery was life changing in itself. I feel the same about my writing journey