My Pseudo-2Q Newsletter Update With a Few Gratuitous But Nonetheless Valuable Tips

“Story Physics” has shipped.

If you’ve pre-ordered my new writing book, “Story Physics,” chances are you have it in hand.  The official pub date is still three weeks out, so the Kindle version is just around the corner.

First reader feedback: “I read the Introduction and experienced a shift in attitude toward writing, a clarification of my relationship to my own work, so please, teeter no more. If the Introduction can do that … I find myself torn between wanting to read the rest of the book in a single gulp, and a more leisurely pace, to allow further shifts to occur and be integrated. Scary good, Larry.”

Good to get that first one under the belt.

Conference/Workshop Update

Writers Digest has invited me to teach as session as their annual Writers Digest West Writing Conference, September 27-29 in Los Angeles.  Will forward website info on that when available.

I’m also teaching three sessions at the Willamette Writers Conference, August 1-4 in Portland, OR.  Click HERE for more on that one, it’s a massive conference with killer breakouts and an entire wing full of agents taking pitches.  Great for screenwriters, too, with dedicated sessions and Hollywood pitches.  Manuscript reviews, too.

Art Holcomb Update

Our favorite Storyfix guest blogger, Art Holcomb, is teaching a session at The Greater Los Angeles Writers Conference (“greater” because Art is there, IMO), June 14-16.  Click HERE for more on that… and HERE for more on Art.  Use the Search function to the right to find his killer posts here on Storyfix.

Best Concept Definition Ever

The recent posts on concept — what it is, and what it isn’t… what it isn’t being your story’s premise — have stirred up some interesting and valuable feedback.  The definition is imprecise, and often leans into premise itself.

A Concept is simply something conceptual at the heart of your premise.  A compelling notion or proposition.  Something that stands alone as a source of energy that fuels the story.

A premise is the dramatic story, with a protagonist, that evolves from the concept, that seizes that energy, that builds a story upon that conceptual stage.

If your “concept” sounds more like a book jacket synopsis, then it’s probably a premise.  If it comes off as a killer idea or notion that could inspire any number of stories, because it’s that cool or scary or original or heavy… that’s a concept.

Trust me, I’m as tired of writing about this as you may be of reading about it.  But, based on what I see in the story evals I do… more focus and depth on this issue is necessary.   Four out of five writers get this wrong, and in doing so miss a great opportunity.

Story Coaching Update

Effective June 15, I’ll be raising the price on my $100-level story coaching service.  It’ll be $150 after that, with a revised Questionnaire that drills deeper into the concept vs. premise issue… AND, all submissions will be a one-week turnaround  (an upcharge to $180 will get you a 48-hour turnaround).

Why?  Because I’m over-delivering.  And, this process can save your story, even before you write a word.  It’s worth ten times the fee.

Get your order in at $100 before June 15 if you’d like to take advantage of the price break.

For now the $35 Kick Start Conceptual Analysis remains just that.  More on this soon.

 

28 Comments

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28 Responses to My Pseudo-2Q Newsletter Update With a Few Gratuitous But Nonetheless Valuable Tips

  1. Robert Jones

    I’ll be the first to say that Larry’s questionnaire alone is worth the increased price–and I haven’t even turned mine in yet. Why? Partly because I want to get it right so his feedback won’t cover things I can (or should) be able to work out on my own. But mostly it has been worth it as a story development tool. It takes a bit of reseaching older posts to define some of it, but that even lead me to better ideas. And every time I’ve reworked my list of scenes and went back to the questionnaire, it made it very apparent if a key part of the story still needed some work when my answers felt wrong, or incomplete.

    At some point, I’ll get things to a point where that final feedback will be be required. But so far it has been like going through several drafts over the past five months working this way. Had I simply dove into drafting–a single draft taking me approximately 4 months–I would barely be into my second draft and nowhere near to having worked out all the bugs I’ve eliminated so far.

    Concept was definitely a toughie. Because every time I figured out a chunk of it, I still overlapped into details, that psuedo book jacket type of explanaition Larry mentioned aboved.

    Here’s my most recent, and hopefully best ever deffinitions of concept Vs. premise:

    Let’s examine concept, looking at it as if it were the board a game of chess might be played on. It could be considered the setting. It might also be considered the circumstances in which the hero and villain find themselves. It could be seen as an arena where the protagonist and antagonist compete. There are stakes involved, upon which the outcome is pending. If those stakes are interesting, dire, or fresh in some way that make them important enough to hook our curiosity, the basic platform for a story is born worth telling.

    Premise then becomes the moves both sides, each player, must take to ensure they win because they both believe they are right. Backstory, inner-demons, all are part of the premise because it defines what the players do, who they are, and why they do what they do. And if the beauty is in the details, all the truly important story elements go into premise because this is where we explore those details and possibilities.

    Which means, your core dramatic thread is dirived from the former. Who are the two players seated at opposing sides of the board/concept? Essentially, they are your hero and villain. The core drama will be played in conjunction to their moves against one other. No matter how important the other details, subplots, backstory, everything these two players do, no matter how circuitous, is a move against their opponent. They are essentially defying, or denying, each other’s wishes in everything they do in the present tense of the story.

    This is the great triad of fiction writing. Go off the board (concept) and your story is meandering. Add details that do not support, either directly, or indirectly, the basic outcome of the game (premise) and you’ve shifted to another board entirely. And if the endgame does not meet with either a victory, or loss for one or both of the chief players (core dramatic thread), then you’ve left the game unfinished and lost the audience who waited paitiently to see how things would turn out. A victory cheer, or a broken heart…even if subtly disquised as a moral is what gives people something to feel.

    In life, no matter what we do there is always someone telling us we are wrong, or competing for the same goal. I think that even in complex stories, or dual plotlines (like my own), or literary endeavors that strive for strong character lessons, there is always someone who has a strong contrary opinion to the protagonist. And in the end, someone is going to either fail, or at least be proven very wrong by their actions…be it an aggressive game, or an entirely intellectual one. Concept, premise, and core dramatic thread are the foundationational triumvirate upon which everything else is built, and emotional payoff is derived.

  2. MikeR

    Looking forward to a copy. I know that it will be an excellent book to sit beside “Engineering.”

    With regard to “concept”: Compare the stage-play, “Chess” (which in my humble opinion is defined by the LP record, N-O-T by the actual abortive Broadway play), to, well, a game of chess. Both of these, arguably, are chess. But one has a concept and the other does not.

    The game of chess is absolutely the same, anytime and anywhere it is played. A story whose plot consists of “winning the game” is similarly life-less. “So What?™”

    The (in my mind, “never yet successfully staged”) concept of “Chess” lives in the powerfully-drawn, passionate characters – all of them with fully-developed past and present lives of their own – who are brought together (and ignited) by this tournament. The storyteller set this absolutely-binary event at the center of his/her story – the game WILL be played, and one person WILL win and the other MUST lose – and then proceeded to tell a story about … PEOPLE. This story does not have a binary ending: the characters had lives before they came, and they will have lives beyond it … but, changed lives. There’s your concept.

    In this case, each song is a scene. Or, part of one. Your mind stitches it all together.

    Obviously, the puzzle or contest that you have set forth must be clear, and you need to bring it to some kind of a conclusion. But, let there be more to your story than a mere puzzle or a contest. The greater story did not begin on page-1, and it does not conclude at “The End.”

  3. Thomas

    What about the concept of overthinking?
    A premise would be – a blog comment that turns readers brains into mush goes viral.

  4. Robert Jones

    @MikeR–All very true…with the possible exception that a game of chess is always the same. Great chess players might argue that it all depends upon the players. But since this is essentially what you said in terms of story, I really can’t disagree on that score 🙂

  5. MikeR

    @Robert: By “the game of chess is always the same,” I intend that “=the= =game=, itself,” is always the same, and always quite sterile. Pieces are set-up on a board, and moved around. Someone wins, the other one loses, game-over. Could be “Spassky vs. Fischer,” could be two bored high school students, could be a bored geek playing against his computer.

    Heh … and haven’t we all read novels, or seen TV shows, where “the strings were almost visible, and the puppeteer definitely was.” The presentation was technically-perfect, and utterly devoid of life.

    If you could pick the plot up, and plop it down absolutely-anywhere “else,” and not notice the difference … then what you have is not a plot, but a wooden puppet. On the other hand, if you’ve got a dynamite concept within which any number of great stories could be staged (all of them “great” because they’re ricocheting off that great concept), you’ve got Magic. “All the world’s a stage.”

  6. Kate London

    Oh happy day. My copy of Story Physics just arrived on my doorstep via UPS this afternoon–one month early! This is a good thing because my copy of Story Engineering is completely trashed with a cracked spine from all the times I’ve used it in the past, and I need to order a new copy.

    Just started reading this new one (even though I know that’s asking for a couple of sleepless nights, but what can you do?) Sorry friends/family– all of a sudden I’m “feeling sick” this weekend. So far, it looks AWESOME. Congrats Larry!

  7. @Larry. While waiting for the arrival of Story Physics I took a peek at the table of contents and read the introduction on Amazon.

    You always manage a take home zinger. The introduction’s last line. “Physics — in sports and in storytelling — are what separate professionals from the aspiring masses.”

  8. @Thomas: What you call overthinking, I call tossing sundry explanations into the air in hopes the readers will catch onto one. Different strokes for different folks has a literal meaning. BTW, your premise sounds more to me like a concept. 🙂 But I’m not an expert on that.
    @Larry: Currently, I have nowhere to store books so I’m waiting anxiously for the Kindle version. Congratulations on its publication!

  9. VAG

    You do over deliver, and the service is worth more than you charged. And you still may be doing it, promising such a quick turnaround. When I first read your claims about what the service would do, I frankly thought it was marketing bombast, but I liked SE so much I tried it anyway. You delivered more than you promised.

  10. Cool. Can’t wait until I can read it.

  11. Sara Davies

    OK. Now I see the difference between concept and premise. But there is no formula or magic recipe for coming up with either. Understanding what they are doesn’t change the process of finding a compelling reason for a story. Definitions might help with planning the four-part structure but not with generating a viable seed idea. I think it’s important to be clear about why definitions matter, what purpose will be served by knowing, what knowing will help us accomplish.

  12. @Sara – so true, so well said. It is precisely this “choice” (what our story IS) that makes or breaks us. Writers are so anxious to write a story, so they “settle” for one with the intention of “writing the hell out of it” to make it work, to allow it to compete. That choice is everything, and how we make it is impossible to define.

    My best cut at it is this: we have criteria in place (story physics)… does the story you intend to write inherently open those doors? That’s why definitions are important, because targets and criteria are important. If we don’t know what excellence looks like, landing on it is unlikely.

  13. Robert Jones

    @MikeR–I hear what you’re saying. Been a long weekend, sorry for the delay in responding.

    I’m getting the concept and story structure better and better. But like all learning, it takes time. Some have said a lifetime isn’t enough to learn everything and apply with the skill of excellence it in terms of writing–or any of the arts. It’s a very deep well. How far we dive beneath the surface varies from person to person.

    I heard a quote recently about freeform jazz: The artist has to live within a set tonal structure and trust their own instincts to find their way out of an infinite maze of musical possibilities.

    The same could be said of “story” possibilities…and structure. We start out learning the rules, bending our plot to adhere to the loops and hooks of the loom. The great writers, however, have learned to warp reality, even bend the loom to fit their ideas. But the loom is still present, no matter how intricate the weave concealing it.

    It’s really hard to learn and apply what we’ve learned on something as large as a novel right out of the starting gate. I’ve tried to break the four part story structure grid into one section–sometimes even one character–at a time. Easier to see one section, or one arc at a time, than to try to move forward with everything as a whole. Which has meant that I’ve had to go back and adjust a lot as I learn. It has been both maddening and rewarding. But I will find my way through the maze!

  14. Sara Davies

    In other words, the purpose of clarity about concept & premise is to check that they are robust enough to generate a novel before getting into the writing phase. That makes perfect sense.

    On the subject of outlining, the 4-part structure Larry describes and the 4-part rhythm of want-obstacle-action-resolution throughout a story (as taught by J. Cleaver in “Immediate Fiction”) are far more conducive to creating a useful outline than systems that suggest using post-its, flow charts, file cards, spreadsheets, color coding, etc. to LIST scenes or events. There has to be a foundation – a reason – for creating a scene, and deciding where it belongs on a functional and/or strategic level.

    To those who are struggling – after creating an outline using the 4-part structure, and adding to it the conflict/resolution pattern, I still found that I was getting lost in stray plot threads. I went back and made a list of unanswered questions. A long list. Now I am methodically going through the list to answer those questions, which I hope will serve as a guide to what happens next.

    It IS a maze, and it is frustrating, particularly when people who get paid to offer advice on that subject (as in two whole books I’ve read on the subject of outlining, supposedly by writers who are experts on the topic) don’t have practical answers – it’s taken for granted that you know how to structure the scenes and why to include them. What’s needed is a big picture analysis of how this should work. So far, the 4-part structure comes closest to providing it, but more is needed on the micro level. Cleaver is good at that, but more is needed – if you just use his method, you’re pantsing the plot.

    I’m still stuck with a search for methodology and process. I think there must be a way, but I don’t know how long it will take to find it. Writing is easy – planning is hard.

  15. Robert Jones

    @Sara–I’ve read a lot of books on writing–too many–that left me feeling that way. Especially early on in my learning of craft. Some were written by people teaching classes, or that have worked in the book or film industry. Some made the mystery of the blank page seem quite intrigueing to dive right into. Others suggested chapter by chapter planning, but with no real plan on how these chapters should fit together. So either way, you ended up pantsing your way through one phase or the other.

    That statement about jazz music mentiones “instinct,” but that’s almost as tricky a word as “talent.” I believe most of us are born with certain insticts, but few (if any) are born with a full fledged talent. Yet we hear many skilled professionals say things like, “No one ca teach you how to write, or draw, or paint. You either have a knack for such things, or you don’t.”

    I would replace the word “knack” with “desire,” and/or “drive.” No one becomes very good at what they do without a strong desire and a larger than life drive to do it well. And doing it well requires someone to show you the tools, proper formatting and technique. Practice alone is rarely enough. Practicing and learning go hand in hand. I have an uncle who can draw. He’s been drawing his entire life. He has the basic skills. Yet no one has ever shown him how to take it beyond a certain level. Thus, he remains at a consistent amateur quality.

    Instinct can get most of us only so far without adding to the knowledge and structural integrity of a given pursuit. But there is some part of us, once we assimilate a decent degree of knowledge and understanding in the arts, when instinct does kick in (or expand) and the singer becomes one with the song. We assimilate that knowledge and make it a part of our own rythm…and it flows.

    The question is, where does one find the knowledge in order to assimilate it?

    I’m not certain any of the arts has been charted to an exact science. We can watch masters who make it look easy after years of practice, we can learn to read musical notes, or words on a page, but can we feel them, or use them with great skill? I think there will come a time in every creative endeavor where we will have gotten as much as we can from the maps and charts of those who went before us. Then we will have to just cut loose and explore the uncharted. A time when all we can do is aim high and hope our arrow hits the target we are aiming for. When in doubt, keep it as interesting as possible, making the lines, or words, into something greater than the weight they carry by themselves alone, a rythm, or path, that shifts them into forms most extraordinary, and visions beyond mortal’s reach.

    In other words, we may give our ideas a localized structure, or format, but I believe the reason most do not have an exact plan is because they do not want to confine their imagination. It’s the primary argument between planners and pantsers. Some pantsers fear confinment. Some planners fear impromptue navigation. But the truth is, all pantsers will eventually have to discover a plan, and all planners will have to soar across a few uncharted gaps.

    Writing is a grand adventure. You’re never quite certain where you’ll end up until you get there. And you’ll have learned a lot about your characters, and about yourself, by the time you reach your destination. Just be warned, it’s not a two week vacation at the beach. It’s more of a Mount Everest sort of experience.

  16. I do hope you’ll keep banging away at “concept”, Larry.

    When I was in school, I grokked math instantly. At the top of my class, every class. Algebra, trig, geometry — it just came to me, zero effort.

    Then came calculus.

    For the first time in my schooling life, I was baffled. I had to study. Things took forEVER to sink in, but when I got ’em, I got ’em.

    Concept is my calculus. If you can explain it every day for the next year, one of those 365 explanations will crack open my brain, and a couple more will leak in, and finally finally I’ll get it.

    The examples you share always help. Seeing “this is an idea, this is a premise, this is a concept, this is NOT blah blah blah” are right helpful, they are.

  17. MikeR

    To slightly revise your comment, @Larry, if I may presume …

    “… does the story you intend to write inherently open those doors?”

    I’d presume to finish:

    “… if not, then you probably shouldn’t (yet) invest time in writing ‘that’ story. Even before you’ve put the thing into the oven, you can guess it’ll probably come out flat and icky. So, don’t put it in the oven yet.”

    @Sara, when you say that you’re “lost in” “‘stray’ plot threads,” heck, I =love= stories that are full of “plot threads!” … =I-F= (heh…) the author has taken the time to weave those threads into a tapestry. Every one of them, more or less, has the same .. overlapping .. form.

    SOME “central” plot-thread is happening – a plot that ties-together the entire story with a bright red bow – BUT, as you read the thing, you’re seeing many “plot threads” at once. They’re all somehow connected to the master story-thread, yet, independently of one another, they’re all happening, and they all exhibit the same (more or less) four-part form. “Even as the Confederate Army is abandoning Atlanta, Melanie, whose story you’ve been following for many pages, is having her baby … while Scarlett, whose interlocking story you have also been following for many pages … is at that particular moment (a terrified and wholly-inexperienced midwife and fellow-female) …”

    If Melanie (or Pittypat, or Ashley, or Frank, or Rhett, or …) didn’t have a story of their own, they’d just be wooden planks in the scenery of “Scarlett and Rhett’s inexorable journey to ‘Frankly, My Dear …'” Even though “S&R’s thread” might be the Main Thread … the one ring that rules them all … it is only one among many. In a NOVEL.

  18. MikeR

    … edit:

    “So, don’t put it in the oven yet.”

    In other words: “before(!) writing hundreds of pages, improve the story itself. And, do so as EFFICIENTLY (in terms of your own time-spent) as possible.”

    “Don’t even PUSH the ‘Bake’ button until you have your ducks in a row.”

  19. Robert Jones

    MikeR has a good point. As long as the story becomes part of the whole and doesn’t meander, sometimes other threads can be used to good effect. Like cutting away from the primary thread to leave the reader hanging.

    Might be a good topic for Larry. How much is too much?

    I’m not a huge fan of stories with a cast so large that makes the plot linger too long, or go off into tangents that seem more like sidebars that never truly mesh like they should. But a few good plates in the air is something I can appreciate as well. Keeping in mind there is one main objective/goal set by the main character that effects them all.

    I’ve been sweating a dual plot line for a while, that is really all part of the same story. But after the current definitions of concept–and taking a couple of days off to digest some things–I’ve decided there is only one plot, but several nasty problems that block the progress of my hero. All plates that are hurtling towards the same ending.

    Isn’t that the objective of defining that core dramatic thread? To give us a target to aim at, or point of convergence in our fictional timeline that will impact our key players hero and villain)–but may, in fact, impact other lives, possibly the entire pseudo planet our characters inhabit.

  20. Sara Davies

    @MikeR

    What I’m wondering is if the other plot threads need to follow the four-part structure. I think the core story carries the structure – the main character’s journey – the other stuff can be woven in without needing to go through every stage, because then I’d have four or five different books. Seems like the 4-part structure relates to the concept and core dramatic thread – the other stuff is just…extra. I probably only need it to the extent that I can tie it directly to the main character’s journey. Otherwise, cut. That’s probably the answer right there. Thanks.

    @Robert

    My interpretation is that if writers can’t communicate a process beyond this point, that means they don’t have the answers. It could be that arrival at a working process is unique to the individual. If I can’t find the answers I’m looking for, it may be that they don’t exist. And it may be time to stop looking.

    If I were at the point where I am in my painting – when it can be hard to solve problems but I also am confident that I know how to solve them – then I’d be ready to just wing it. I don’t feel like I’m there yet, but I probably do need to narrow my focus (again).

    The closest thing I’ve seen to what I’m looking for appears in “Save the Cat,” which is about screen writing, and identifies maybe a dozen types of scenes that fit into a “hero’s journey” template. This is not right for every story. It follows a predictable pattern – but it is, at least, a template that has been proven to work.

  21. Sara Davies

    Also, I think Larry’s way offers more room for creativity and innovation – flexible and not at all formulaic. There’s all kinds of leeway for content and micro-structure, and allows for many different kinds of book and story. It’s the best all-encompassing set of guidelines I’ve seen after reading I don’t know how many tomes of writerly advice – a dozen, maybe two.

    The “Save the Cat” method is prescriptive and it IS formulaic in the sense that a haiku or a sonnet are prescriptive and formulaic. The form dominates, comes into the foreground, and to some extent defines the content. It influences what the final product is going to feel like. But unlike a lot of people, I’m not allergic to formula – if it works. When I start a new story, I’m going to try that method just to see what happens. I think it’s easier for a beginner to start with a more prescriptive approach (I resisted it, but I might actually need that much help).

  22. Robert Jones

    @Sara–I tend to be naturally expansive when drafting myself. I always think of other things. I may cut 50 pages of waste, then add 75 pages that elaborate in some other way. It can be a problem. But it isn’t exactly one that is unique to you…or to me. In the end, almost everyone overwrites when drafting. That’s part of what the editing process is for. It’s also just how the human brain operates when faced with a problem requiring a solution.

    I recently had a discussion with someone who is writing a novel that said he suffers from the age old problem of his characters taking control and doing things he doesn’t want them to do. Much of what we read tells us some semblence of this “Characters having a mind of their own,” theory.

    What it really is–and relating to what we are talking about in terms of too many subplots and ideas–is that the mind really does come up with new possibilities all the time when caught up in a creative buzz. And what do we do when it happens? We just roll with it and see where it takes us because man, we are juiced and tuned into the muse. And who doesn’t want to see if the new path opening up before us is better than the one we thought of before, right? Why? because we’ve all had that spontaneous experience while pantsing where something took shape out of nowhere, something that we looked at afterward and said, “Man, I don’t know where that came from, but it’s some totally awsome sh_ _ !”

    I think if you want that type of experience, you can always sit down on a scene by scene basis and draft a while, see what happens. Or take a drive, or a walk. It all works pretty much the same way, keeping your physical body occupied while you allow your mind to play in the ideas pool, or what some have called “creative sleep.”. But I think it’s really all part of the planning stage because everything new you add to the story that wasn’t there before, now needs to be taken back to outline (or draft) to see how it will effect everything else.

    All new material added equals a new draft. Whether in outline form, or actual drafting. Few writers can get around this and expect it all to miraculously work.

    And if you take off running on several scenes, or a complete draft, allowing a whole lot of new twists to happen in the maze, you’re pretty much back to squares in figuring out the real story from a huge jumble of scenes.

    It takes an awareness of the process. It also takes a degree of control. Maybe a checklist is required here as well. Something to keep next to us while drafting for measuring new ideas when they pop up:

    1) Is this idea really better than my previous ideas for this scene? If it’s a firecracker, by all mean finish the scene and then go readdress the rest of your outline before proceeding. If it isn’t, get back on track. If unsure, write it down in a notepad and go look at how it either improves, or disimproves, the rest of the story later.

    2) All new material equals a new draft, so…is this new thought worth my time?

    3) Often the spark of a new idea is actually more exciting in the moment than it will seem tomorrow.

    4) Having gotten this far down the list and still feeling excited about your new great idea, better to stop now and spend a day (or even a few) reworking it into my outline than spending weeks sorting out where it leads the entire story later. Because writing time is still writing time. It won’t interrupt your flow as much now as it will by pressing forward.

    That last part will no doubt sound pretty radical because we are all told to allow nothing to stop the drafting process once it has begun because you may lose your rhythm, or even your story. No one ever warns the innexperienced writer that it’s altogether possible to get lost in your story and lose it anyway. Maybe even lose yourself.

    Balance, caution, be aware of the pitfalls. Primarily, know that when the subconscious mind is presented with an idea in the form of a problem, it will always come up with new possibilities, new solutions. And in fiction, as in life, there are some solutions that are exact and finale, and others that have myriad possibilities and choices. Be choosey and weigh each new possibility with discernment. A great new idea can be a genuine gift. But it can also be a genuine hassle if it turns out to be just another arbitrary turn inside the maze.

  23. Sara Davies

    @ Robert

    Yeah. I’m tired of the muse. The muse is a time-wasting buffoon. In case you were wondering how I really feel. The characters want to take over, the plot threads want to take over – every time I sit down to write, the muse jumps off the page and says “Hey, how about this?” I’ve been there, done that with this book…? Since 2007? Is that really how long I’ve been working on it? Tried moving scenes around. Tried chronological order. Tried different points of view. I tried third person and first person. And all I ended up with was a meandering pile of nonsense featuring some well-crafted scenes (including a complete Part 1 of a different character’s story line) I might not be able to use.

    The major improvements here from Larry’s feedback are that 1) now I know what the story is, and 2) have chosen a POV, and 3) have organized scenes into the four-part structure. I have a focus, trajectory, and goal. That’s huge.

    But a few weeks ago, I finally thought I had my outline, it was great, I was buzzing along, I thought yeah, I could totally finish this thing in six months. I’m chugging along, cranking out page after page, life is beautiful. Right? Suddenly I hit a roadblock, the outline fails, and I can’t fix it. It’s a disaster. It’s an 18-wheeler sized highway explosion. Smoke and flames. I’ve got this dour old farmer from Maine in my head, the guy with the pitchfork, standing there on the side of the road saying “You cahn’t get they-ah from he-yah.”

    I feel like I can move things around for the rest of eternity and still won’t be able to make it work. Right now I can’t even get to the FPP. Even knowing what it is. There has to be a more efficient way of doing this. I want a plan that will actually work. Screw the muse. The muse is a troublemaker and a liar.

  24. MikeR

    @Sara, @Robert:

    =I’m= not the authority here, obviously. 🙂 But here’s sort-of what I think, when I am in the role of “Gentle Reader.”

    *** I do want to know “what the story is about.” I do want there to be just one “main story,” not three books at once. I want that “main story” to be advancing, and to be engaging. It should stand-out clearly among all the others, and you should return to it regularly. I like it when an author takes the time to re-set the stage, just in case I’ve forgotten (or that was the spot where the book hit me in the nose and my wife gently turned out the light for me). 😀

    *** If a character figures into the main story, I like for them to have their own believable lives, maybe their own different point-of-view on what’s going on. (Maybe they don’t directly influence it, but they CAN see it.) Keep the stage clean. If a character’s “on,” give him something meaningful to do – otherwise, why is he “on?” The best writing tool of all is the eraser. If =I= don’t know why it’s there (nevermind the reader, who might be in the dark) … it isn’t. “Snip! Snip!”

    Now, as for creativity and “The Muse” … I’m fond of, “Kill Your Darlings.” Every idea gets dutifully recorded, but in order to make the show it’s gonna have to audition. “Thank you for your idea, now, please leave your head-shot photo and your phone number and we’ll call you. Really. Maybe.” The idea goes onto a (virtual) 3×5″ index card, and for now, that’s it. And another thing: nothing ever, ever gets discarded. Every “version” of every “thing” is kept. But I’m not going to spend/waste time developing something if I don’t clearly know how I’m going to use it. I’ve thought-up dozens of possible plot-points and side-plots and most of them are a few sentences. There are lots of holes and unresolved issues, and lots of ideas competing for a chance to be “the winner.” I’m at this point mostly trying to keep track of them all, while investing as little time/effort as possible into deeply-developing any of them.

    At this point, the one thing I know is that a character is, at least, “savagely assaulted” in a bathroom. I’m toying with exactly where that bathroom is (the hotel? or the train station?). With whether or not he survives. With the idea that maybe the elderly gentleman attendant was a medic’s helper in WW1 and suddenly his instincts take-over and he drops into “triage mode” and saves him, and if so, (a) does the guy “stay saved?” and (b) what impact does this unexpected act have on how the attendant is now perceived? Funny-sounding maybe to say: “I, the wannabe author, haven’t quite decided yet, but I’m toying with a bunch of ideas.” Toying… with them. Toying is cheap.

  25. Robert Jones

    @MikeR–Good way to look at supporting characters, or walk ons. I also keep everything that’s ever been cut from a story. I list my basic scenes on 3X5 cards when figuring out how it all goes together, but all my other ideas get crammed into notebooks and legal pads. Every new story begins with a fresh notebook. Into which goes everything, no matter how trivial. Once the notebook starts getting a decent amount of ink, I’ve lived with the idea long enough to know if it’s going to hold my interest, the characters are beginning to feel real, etc….

    Plus I’ve provided a space for the muse, or subconscious, to vent all that spaghetti that wants to hit the wall of ideas. It becomes a journal, not only of ideas, but to allow you to see just how many seemingly grand notions falter in the process. Sometimes I’ve come back to ideas I’ve discarded. But usually, once you begin narrowing down what’s important to the characters, how they think, and where the plot road is leading, much of those early ideas have given birth to something else.

    It’s as much a process as drafting. The difference is, there is no delete key when you fill up physical pages. You have a permanent record of the journey the mind has taken, and how the process works–or, if you prefer, how the muse works. One day it may hand you a heaping plate of spaghetti complete with meatballs and a healthy smattering of parmasan cheese. But this is just a lure to get you to play, to see a glimps of the “Ah factor.” Usually the muse just sits in the center of the maze and says, “Find the most expedient path to me and I’ll give you a cookie. Maybe.” Maybe it’s only a part of the cookie and finding the rest is up to us. Other times, there really is no cookie, the muse just says, “Congrats, you’ve proven you can navigate the maze successfully when prompted. Now I’m going to leave you for a week, or three, just so you can learn how to navigate without the lure of the cookie.”

    Best to just learn to navigate on your own from the start. Be self reliant. And when the muse shows up–as it will–bearing plates of spaghetti, or the ocassional cookie, just say, “Thank you,” enjoy it, and keep on plodding forward under your own steam. You might say that muses, as a rule, don’t like to be taken for granted, nor do they want you to become dependant upon them. We learn nothing for ourselves if we come at writing with those sort of expectations.

    @Sara–I’ve been there and done those things too. Then I developed solutions. One of which I think might be of help. I’ll email you.

  26. Olga Oliver

    Hello Larry Brooks, the Story Physics man. Ordered ‘de book’ late May 31. Twas on my front porch growling for entrance on June 3. If I could write stories like Amazon gets books to my front porch, I’d be residing in paradise.

    Right now ‘de book’ is standing on my typing stand with Chapter 9 blinking at me from page 79 where the six realms of Story Physics are talking to me. Because there is so much to learn, I often consider burning all my writing stuff – I call my neighbor and say, ‘come, watch, it’s burn-all time.’ Her answer: “You can’t, burn ban set last night.Too dry. You’ll get arrested.”

    Larry, would it be a cop-out to say: Do some of us simply not have the brain power for this writing journey? And if so, why can’t we just say to hell with the burn bans and burn the stuff. What a miserable stop-in-the-road. Will the brain make room for all this learning? Damn! Rats! I’m in DRAMATIC TENSION right now. I need a VICARIOUS EXPERIENCE right now – something like lighting matches under piles of a million words or so in the backyard. I could do this in rapid PACE, but that wee voice hiding in shadows in the middle of my being changes its tonal quality and yells: “Shut up and open your brain cells. You can learn story physics.” So Larry, even though I’m in ragged tension right now, the first 78 pages of your new book is impressive. Thank you so much for making it available. Should I happen to forego the burn ban and find myself in jail, I’ll write a story. Surely, there a lot of space hanging around in such a story for HERO EMPATHY.

  27. Sara Davies

    If it helps anyone, according to Syd Field, who wrote “Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting” most writers hit the wall at some point – get overwhelmed and feel shut down. Sounds like a pretty normal and typical part of the process. He says that doesn’t mean you’re stupid or a bad person or that you can’t do it or that you should never have thought of yourself as someone who could do it or that you can’t do it alone and should just give up. And that if you feel that way, take it as a sign that something isn’t quite right with your draft. Which just means you have to go back and find that thing and fix it. His method of dealing with it is to make a list of all the critical thoughts that come up, like a grocery list, as you work through things….and later, when you look at it, you will see that the Inner Critic is always saying the same things. Address its concerns without freaking out about it. “Confusion is the first step toward clarity.” Go back into the character’s life or the outline or whatever and find the problem there, rearrange stuff, etc. I would argue that it’s also useful to have a reliable set of tools for the job. But rather than see yourself as a failure, see yourself as someone who hasn’t found the right tools yet, if more are in fact needed.

    @ MikeR: What is it about bathrooms? I have a murder in a gas station bathroom in my story. Your response to the Muse cracks me up. Who is the guy who gets attacked? If he ends up dead, his role in the story may be diminished by his lack of ability to participate. On the other hand, I have a dead guy in my story whose influence outlives him. I would be curious about the role you have planned for the victim.

  28. Wow! Larry, just started to read Story Physics, and all I can say so far is Wow!
    And though this is not a surprise, not an epiphany and certainly not a shocker, I have to say, you’re a really smart guy. I’m so enjoying your interpretations, analysis and explanations of what it takes to create a compelling, page turner in TODAY’s market. And I cap TODAY because I grow soooo weary of writers who author books on writing and who use the classics, many of which would not get published today, as their ONLY examples. Classics with timeless stories are a must and always worth studying, but when today’s literature and story mechanics are ignored, and a writer tries to emulate Hemmingway or Fitzgerald and then finds no interest in their books, well, obviously they’ve overlooked their audience’s ever-evolving appetite, which equals literary death. THAT’S WHY I LOVE YOUR BOOK, it’s about what works today, not yesterday. As I read Story Physics, I’m learning and re-framing what I thought I knew. And I’m only 70 pages in. Thanks for writing this book. More later…. Mindy