NaNoWriMo #19: Center Yourself Within the ‘Big Picture’

You’ve got two Big Pictures to deal with come November. 

One is the Big Picture of your story.  We’ve been working on that in this series.  Understanding the Big Picture of your story is the key to turning your NaNoWriMo effort into a viable, professional novel — a real novel — worthy of a future.

But there’s another valuable Big Picture to consider, and now may be the time to visit or revisit it.  Because I’m guessing you’re swimming in details, criteria and high bars: six core competencies, three dimensions of character, four story parts, three major milestones, hooks, endings, chapter building, beat sheets, sub-plot, sub-text…

… and you thought it was just about sitting down and typing whatever comes to you. 

Or maybe you didn’t.  Either way, those two Big Pictures define the challenge at hand.  Your task will be more effective and efficient when you proactively consider both.

The Big Picture Analogy of the Day

Been on an airplane lately?  Peeked into the cockpit as you board?  What we see in there looks overwhelming to most of us.  We wouldn’t think of trying to fly that airplane ourselves just because we’ve ridden in lots of airplanes.  No, we happily understand that it takes a working knowledge of of, well, three separate yet dependent realms of knowledge: the physics of aerodynamics… the fundamentals of the various disciplines involved in aircraft operations… and the skill required to fly the airplane safely.

Which is also why it’s hard to write a novel based on your intuition alone (as hard, say, as flying an airplane on intuition), without familiarity with all the guages and gadgets and levers that compose the storyteller’s cockpit. 

Reading a novel and thinking you can write one… those are very different things.  As different as riding in the cockpit versus coach.

The Second Big Picture of Storytelling

After knowing what you’re doing with your story, the other Big Picture is craft… or, the ability to execute that plan.  It’s the difference between the architect’s craft and the builder’s craft… overlapping, dependent, yet separate disciplines.

The three realms of storytelling are:

1.  The physics (principles and forces) of dramatic theory… this is what separates a great story from an als0-ran.  Click the link and review what they are. 

2.  The Six Core Competencies of Successful Storytelling… the toolchest and a checklist that allows you build-out your idea over the requisite bases.  There are about 200 posts here on this topic.

3.  Execution… the writing itself… during which you add value and depth through the power of your scenes and words.  This is the marriage of art and craft, the collision of intention and execution. 

This topic is  more than a post in a series… it’s an entire book. 

In fact, it’s gonna be my next writing book.  I even have the title: “The Search for Story,” which will pick up where my last book left off. 

But it’s the subtitle that comprises today’s tip in this series, because it’s the subtitle where clarity and value are found: “Understanding and Navigating the Three Realms of Storytelling.”

Everything we’ve talked about in this series falls into one of these three realms.  Each realm depends on the other to function.  It’s a mistake — the bane of beginners — to either ignore or miss the nuances of wrapping your head around all three.

Can you succeed without acknowledging these separate realms?  Sure, it happens.  But not in 30 days.  It’s just easier, it just makes more sense, when you do.  And if you really do, you can nail it in 30 days of writing, provided you’ve planned it out (in context to all three realms) ahead of time, even if it’s all in your head.

Once you grasp the 1o1 on each of these realms, you begin to understand how their melding results in a whole that vastly exceeds the sum of the parts.  That swirling sum is what you’re shooting for… it’s the stuff of bestsellers and award winners.

Just like flying that airplane — not just flying it, but designing a flying machine, which is a much more appropos analogy to writing a novel — you need to own the principles of aerodynamics (the physics)… you need to master the core competencies involved in building and flying an airplane (there are six of them where writing a novel is concerned,. and they’re plastered all over the nearly 400 posts on this website)… and the skills required to successfully operate it once built (your learning curve as a storyteller).

Today’s tip: understand where you stand in relation to these realms.   Not just one or two.

And here’s why: you actually can compose a story with all six core competencies in place… and then write the hell out of it… and it still might still not work.  It might even suck.  Because it’s the physics — that first realm — that delivers the qualitative criteria that you apply to the core competencies (the second realm) and, then, the writing itself (the third realm).

Read that again.  If you want to nail your NaNoWriMo, you need to develop your Six Core Competencies in context to optimized dramatic principles (tension, compulsion, vicarious experience, denouement, something stirring), and then write it like a seasoned pro would write it.

Because at the heart of the story planning process is, in fact, quality.  Something that is all too often undervalued, disregarded or considered impossible during NaN0WriMo.

Don’t get sucked into the quantity mob mentality come November.  Make no mistake, 50,000 words cannot become a story without these three realms making music together, — even if it happens via blind luck — and there are principles and tools to help you make it happen… without the need for luck.


Filed under NaNoWriMo

7 Responses to NaNoWriMo #19: Center Yourself Within the ‘Big Picture’

  1. Thanks for these great tips to get us ready for NaNo!

  2. Martha

    I absolutely agree with you, Larry, about how important it is to tell a good story. Most how-to books on writing fiction (or any other kind of book for that matter) seem to overlook the fact that even more important than the quality of the writing is the story the writer is telling. To me the perfect example is “The DaVinci Code”, which I think all will agree was not very well written, but Dan Brown had a tiger by the tail with that fascinating story he wove. I’m happy to hear your next book will explore the subject of storytelling. I want to read it!

  3. spinx

    Point on!

    Planning every detail, and actually writing about it—>>>hard as hell.

    I enjoy planning, always have. But writing it down so that it really makes an impact requires a totally new set of skills. Actually I find myself having a harder time to write characters I have spend much time on creating as opposed to those I barely know.

    For example, I use this one exercise where I pick a random character from a TV show (possibly one I dislike) and then I write scenes for them (dialogue, ect.).
    Why is it that they end up so much more natural than my own creation……..I wonder?

    Whatever, whatever……..your latest post have really helped me a great deal to settle some issues. I´m slowly (very, very slowly) getting somewhere.

    (this whole pile of new posts you´ve put up this month could very well cover a new book!)

  4. spinx

    Oh my god, I didn´t even finish reading your whole post when I made my comment up there!
    Then I got to the part in which you reveal that you really are going to turn this into a BOOK!!!

    Damn it!! Way to go Larry!!

    I swear to god, I have this feeling that you´ll make some giant impact this year. You´re really going to make a name for yourself with your craft-books.

    Best of luck with that ;T

  5. Yes! Three realms, all necessary and all working together. If you get the physics and Craft (Six Core Cs) down and planned fairly well, you’ll be able to let your creative juices flow full volume in the Execution realm.

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