NaNoWriMo #31 — Into The Abyss

It’s time. 

You kick your kids out of the house before you’re certain they’re ready (or they just leave, in which case you’re absolutely sure they’re not ready), and it never feels quite right. 

So it is here, for me, with this series. 

Not that you’re my kids, in any way – some of you know way more than I do about this stuff — nor am I kicking you out.  But tomorrow is Day 1 of NaN0WriMo, and while we’ve gone fast and deep in this series, it feels on the other hand like we’ve just cruised the surface. 

Is the series really over?  Should we ever stop harvesting tips and folding them into our storytelling toolbox?  Do new tips, even recycled ones, ever really stop being valid, or necessary? 

Are there really only 31 of them?

So here we are, on the eve of your NaNoWriMo Page One. 

I sincerely hope you’ve found value here, and perhaps a bit of inspiration, as well.  Thanks for your feedback, which has been very encouraging and gratifying. 

Except that guy who told me I am a little man in a basement schleping hogwash.  Because The Greats require no “rules.”  You, I feel sorry for. 

An ebook with this stuff in it, and a ton of other goodies, is just around the corner.

Oh wait… you’re expecting one last tip. 

I actually have two of them.  Three if you count the reprise of one the tools previously offered, reprised in a slighlty abbreviated form (it appears below, in this post, in case you didn’t click through to it before).

For today’s craft-oriented, story planning review tip… CLICK HERE.  It’s a summary, but when you see these criteria all in one place, it’s some combination ofo sobering and affirming.  I wish you the latter.

CLICK HERE, too… for some edgy little tips to make your story more compelling.

And HERE if you’d like your NaNoWriMo novel to someday appear on bestseller list.  I’m serious.

That’s a ton of content today.

Second tip:

A little perspective. 

I was watching the World Series these last few days, reminiscing about the days (long gone) when I used to also get paid to play that game.  I’m looking at the players, at their finely honed physiques, and, while certainly impressive, it isn’t like the NFL or NBA, I see guys that look just like these pro baseball players in the gym all the time.

So what’s the difference?  Who makes it, who doesn’t?  Talent, sure.  Hard work?  Absoluely.  But there’s more to it.  In baseball and in writing.

To a great extent, your fate as a writer will be determined by how you think.  By who you are, at your core. 

By that I mean… how do you take coaching?  How stuck are you in your own world, how strongly do you cling to limiting beliefs?  Are you in your own way, or are you willing to stretch, to risk, to commit?  Do you remain childlike in your wonder and blank page possibilities, or do you know it all already?  What’s your comfort zone, and is it serving you?

Have you planned your story?  If the answer is less than an enthusiastic yes — at least the major arc and milestones — then take a look at these questions and be honest with yourself.  Because the folks in the bookstores… they have answered them.  And, by virtue of a beat sheet, some sticky notes or a series of drafts created in context to certain principles and expectations, thay all have planned their stories.

Writing is life.  A mirror and a microcosm.  We author our stories, but as we write them we are living one. It’s an adventure, one that takes you deep within yourself. 

What’s your ending? 

The story you are about to write is part of your story.  Will you be different?  Be better?  Be the best you that’s inside you at this moment in time?  Or will you be… stuck… or frightened… or stubborn… or closed off? 

Write with courage.  Write something important.  Change yourself this month.  Go for it.  Reach high.  This is what it means to win NaNoWriMo… and it has nothing to do with word count.

And finally… keep reading this post.  The forthcoming title is self-explanatory.

I wish you great success.  May the blood that pours from your forehead be the blood of your invested self and not that of frustration.  All greatness is paid for in blood, if not literally, then metaphorically. 

And when the blood flows — it will, it always does — just remember that these posts, and many more, are still here.  I may add a few NaNoWriMo-specific posts as we launch into November.

As for me… I’m takin’ a couple of days off. 


The Single Most Powerful Writing Tool You’ll Ever See That Fits On One Page

It doesn’t, actually… I just tried it (printing it out for a handout at my workshop this weekend)… it’s 1.5 pages. 

This is a listing of everything you need to know about your story before you can successfully finish it, stated as a list of questions. 

For drafters — those allergic to story planning and who fight to the death in their defiance of outlining — this becomes a checklist of things you’re looking to discover (answer) in your series of inevitable drafts.  The more answers you can stuff into your next draft, the fewer subsequent draft you’ll need to write.

And if you leave only a few of these untouched then no draft you write will ever be final.  Only abandoned.

Yeah, it’s that powerful. 

Print this baby out and keep it in a safe place.  Frame it and put it next to your PC.  Whatever works.  Because when you fully understand what these questions mean to your story, and how to integrate the answers into it, you’re there. 

What is the conceptual hook/appeal of your story?

What is the theme(s) of your story?

How does your story open?  Is there an immediate hook?  And then…

  • what is the hero doing in their life before the first plot point?
  • what stakes are established prior to the first plot point?
  • what is your character’s backstory?
  • what inner demons show up here that will come to bear on the hero later in the story?
  • what is foreshadowed prior to the first plot point?

What is the first plot point in your story?

  • is it located properly within the story sequence?
  • how does it change the hero’s agenda going forward?
  • what is the nature of the hero’s new need/quest?
  • what is at stake relative to meeting that need?
  • what opposes the hero in meeting that need?
  • what does the antagonistic force have at stake?
  • why will the reader empathize with the hero at this point?
  • how does the hero respond to the antagonistic force?

What is the mid-point contextual shift/twist in your story?

  • how does it part the curtain of superior knowledge…
  • … for the hero?…  and/or, for the reader?
  • how does this shift the context of the story?
  • how does this pump up dramatic tension and pace?

How does your hero begin to successfully attack their need/quest?

  • how does the antagonistic force respond to this attack?
  • how do the hero’s inner demons come to bear on this attack?

What is the all-is-lost lull just before the second plot point?

What is the second plot point in your story?

  • how does this change or affect the hero’s proactive role?

How is your hero the primary catalyst for the successful resolution of the central problem or issue in this story?

  • how does it meet the hero’s need and fulfill the quest?
  • how does the hero demonstrate the conquering of inner demons?
  • how are the stakes of the story paid off?
  • what will be the reader’s emotional experience as the story concludes?

You might notice that these blocks of questions correspond to the four parts of story structure, as well as the four elemental components of the Six Core Competencies (concept, theme, character and structure), leaving the other two (scenes and writing voice) to your brilliant execution.


Filed under NaNoWriMo

15 Responses to NaNoWriMo #31 — Into The Abyss

  1. Just found your Story Structure Series. Definitely reading this before Nano. I know it will also come in handy for years to come. Thanks!

  2. Cindy Hassell

    I just want to say thank you for all you’ve invested in this series. I’ve read a bazillion books on writing, and your Story Engineering is simply the best. Period. I’ve waited for so many years to find THE ONE that clarified everything for me. I despaired of ever finding it, yet here it is. I have observed that you’re a little uncomfortable with this type of praise, but it’s genuine. I kinda thought my Muse would appear in some sort of ethereal, angelic, float-y sparkly form, but that really isn’t your look, is it? Anyway, thanks. I’ve been lurking on your blog for a few months now, read a couple of your books. You’re the real deal. Keep it up! And if you are Nano-ing along with the rest of us, good luck!

  3. Emma

    It is is 1:40 pm on October 31, here in Wollongong, Australia and I am desperately trying to finish my beat sheet for parts 3 and 4. I’m struggling… but I’m so excited. This is hard work!

    I’ve never found it difficult to turn a phrase or to write vividly and descriptively, but I’ve always struggled with the crafting of a story. I have many beginnings and great openings and journals full of ideas… but before now I had no idea how to turn them into actual stories. But now, thanks to you Larry, I do. I thought I could only write organically, that I couldn’t plan my stories… but what I’ve discovered these past few weeks is that I just didn’t know HOW to plan.

    Thank you so much!

  4. Ben

    Thanks so much for this series of posts. You have obviously put a lot of time and effort into it, and all of us are reaping the benefits. You’ve been such a huge help to the writing community.

    I’m in a similar situation to Emma’s. I have numerous beginnings and ideas, but to date have never finished anything. I thought there was something wrong with me, but when I ran into Story Engineering, I simply realized I just didn’t know HOW to do it. Now I know. Of course, I’m still struggling with my beat sheet. I still have to fill out parts 3 and 4 completely, and probably tweak the first two parts. But I’m actually doing it. It’s very exciting.

    Thanks again, Larry.

  5. Thanks for this great post. You’ve got good links here and I couldn’t help answering all of those questions for last year’s book – with surprising answers.

    Oh, on the first one, none of the story questions actually fit my feline hero and heroine. Smilodons don’t have jobs or anything like that. But they love and Musky’s following the scent of love definitely led to the First Plot Point – he chased a young female to find her with a strong older female with a very strong personality. The way they hit it off made everything else in the novel happen.

    By the end of the book I loved her and I think my readers will too. You’ve shown me that my intuitive feelings about plot were right on target and articulated things I didn’t understand consciously.

    That’s worth a lot if it starts going awry, because I know which direction to steer it now if it does.

    I can’t wait for the big day, the beginning. Even if I haven’t decided which of my two concepts to write, one of them will catch fire and become a better novel than I’ve ever written before. Thanks for all the coaching!

  6. *Sigh* What can I say, other than a big heartfelt thanks to you and your time giving us all these tips throughout October. I found you in day 5 of this series, and I know for a FACT that I would not have got this far in my story crafting without you. I would still be bumbling around thinking of *stuff* to write.

    So I’m watching the clock (I have several hours to wait yet where I am). I feel so positive about this, its going to be great!

    Thank you again. 🙂 I will return the favour by writing the best I can (oh, and buying the e-book too!)

  7. Olga Oliver

    Here’s another THANK YOU, Larry. If the old saying is true – one receives what one gives, there isn’t a way to measure the good that swimming to you.

  8. Fiona

    As a novice writer, I found it really difficult to “get” a lot of what you teach. Three years down the Nanowrimo road and a lot more study of the craft, I am finally starting to “get” it.
    BUT, this series of 31 hints has been by far the most easy assimilation and understanding of your stance and being able to apply it.
    I was able to work through each one without being overwhelmed by information.
    Thanks for the hard work in planning (smile) these tips and sharing with us aspirant novelists.

  9. boingboing

    “What’s your comfort zone, and is it serving you?”

    This has made the biggest impact on my thinking and my writing and what I take away from all that I’ve ever read from you.

    What is the saying about the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing and expecting a different result?

    I’ve been a big fan of your writing tips since I first discovered you and your words had such a huge impact on my writing. It shook me down to my foundation. I was blown away. No lie, I was resistant at first.

    My writing has taken huge leaps forward, further entrenching me in your camp when I took the chance let go of my limiting beliefs and behaviors.

    Do I do everything you suggest? No. Some of it doesn’t work for me. How do I know? I know because I -tried- it and -found- it didn’t. I did discover a way to modify it to work for me, though. I stepped out of my comfort zone only to discover the comfort zone wasn’t working for me. It was holding me back.

    One day, I hope to see my books on the shelves of bookstores. When that time comes, a huge thanks will go out to you.

  10. To me, one of the more fascinating – and also more difficult – aspects of being a writer is the endless learning process. I constantly study the craft of writing, and in my past stories, I intuited a lot of structural knowledge. Some sites talk about inciting incidents, plot points, pinch points, and so forth, but the owners of those sites don’t actually show enough to gain a thorough understanding of them.

    While speaking to one of my favorite mystery authors, she mentioned deconstruction of a popular author’s mystery novel as a wonderful tool in her own early writing. So I searched for deconstruction sites and found yours, Larry. I’m grateful I did – I’ve learned vast amounts about story structure from your site (and your books) that I wasn’t able to find anywhere else. Plus you describe the other Core Competencies in comprehensive detail.

    I’ve been fortunate enough to have five fiction books published. I’m a pantser and probably always will be. It works for me. Being a pantser doesn’t mean I ramble in search of a structurally sound story, because I don’t. One doesn’t naturally beget the other. In my opinion, lumping pantsers and ramblers together is unfair. I think the breakdown of writers should be outliners, pantsers, and ramblers. Even an outline doesn’t prevent rambling problems, but it should help you notice and resolve them quickly. Successful pantsers tend to police themselves as they go. Ramblers write everything that comes to mind – and I’ve edited a few of those, unwillingly.

    Your series, however, has convinced me that IDENTIFYING the structural elements can be a boon to my future stories. Following your suggestion, I intend to use YWriter5 (a marvelous free writing program – Google it) to insert my chapters and scenes as I write them and recognize where the various structural points should occur. I expect this to insure that I cover ALL those points, continue to build strong stories, and stay focused on the Big Picture.

    I’m grateful to you, Larry, for generously presenting this NaNoWriMo series to all writers. And to answer a question you posed earlier, yes, I think $7.95 is a fair price and I will buy the book that results from this prodigious accomplishment. I can think of a number of writer friends who can benefit from it, too. I’ve already pointed a number of them to your site.

    I’m grateful for all of your past posts, too, and I’m gradually buying all of your books. Thank you for informing us on so many topics. Enjoy your well-earned rest.

    Good luck to all with NaNoWriMo. I have to wait for January to be my “month,” but I’ll be cheering you on!

  11. Eliza Tilton

    thanks for all the great posts : ) It’s helped a lot

  12. Sam Witt

    Larry, I just wanted to extend my thanks to you. I’ve been a professional writer for a long while now, but was never able to make the jump to novelist.

    Thanks to Story Engineering I’m starting this November with a rock-solid outline and a firm understanding of why the building blocks of my story are where they are.

    You managed to spell out in the span of a very few pages what I hadn’t been able to grasp from dozens of other books and years of trial and error. I’m looking forward to burning through this November, and even more to polishing what I’ve wrought come December.

    Thanks again. You really helped re-ignite my passion for writing and showed me a clear path through the maze.

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  15. This is probably really great and really terrible for me.
    I think Once I have a faint idea of the character I let him or her develop, while writing.
    I think if I laid everything out before I started writing, I would probably lose interest.
    it’s terrible, I stick to short stories because of my attention span.

    But this is a fantastic set of questions and surely will help some writers.