On Trusting the Process
I was up late last night working on a post for you about why planning the second half of your novel seems more difficult than planning the first half, which several readers have recently reported. Couldn’t make the second half of that post work, which is ironic, and what leads me to this morning’s content.
Story planning is often a matter of blind faith. If you create an ending for your story, and if it’s in context to that solid first half, then start writing it. Even if it makes you squirm a little. Don’t start until you have an ending in sight, the best you can come up with.
Here’s what experience has shown me on that count. When you get to the Mid-Point of the manuscript, one of two things will happen, both good. You may discover that what you thought was soft is actually solid (always good when that happens, especially at my age). Or, you may come up with a better ending. The best news, though, is that it’s almost always a value-add based on what you’ve already done, versus what pantsers face, which is the need to go back and rewrite the first half, which never stood a chance.
Trust the process. There’s magic in it. It’s your subconscious engaging with the story at the planning stage, then coupling with your creative intellect at the implementation stage. You’ll be shocked at how well this works. Have faith.
On NaNoWriMo Sanity
The very best piece of advice for NaNoWriMo participants: write with an ending in mind. If you don’t, your manuscript will simply be a pile of paper with no future. Pure mush. This is too hard without the possibility of a future. We’re on Day Four, chances are you’ve discovered that by now.
Do this right. Better to create 10K words that are viable than 50K words of sludge. And it will be sludge, especially in the context of the NaNoWriMo process, unless you know where the story is going. From the get-go. You need an ending, and you need it now. You also need a first plot point. You need a Mid-Point context shift.
You need to write scenes that are in context to those destination milestones. It’s the key to everything.
If you don’t have ’em, stop now and put your planning hat on.
On Hamburgers and Stupidity
When I was a teenager who didn’t drink, we had this really stupid game. A quantitative challenge, like NaNoWriMo. The idea was to see who among us could eat the most gut bombs (the small, cheap hamburgers sold by fast food restaurants). I ate ten. I won. Then I threw up.
It had no point. NaNoWriMo is like that if you don’t write with a purpose, with context. The higher purpose, other than to just spit out 50,000 words, is to learn this process or create the basis for something with a future. Don’t waste your time pursuing a hollow goal. Make this month count. Or all you’ll be doing is regurgitating words.
On Brilliant Guest Bloggers
Hope you liked the guest post by Jennie Shortridge a few days ago. This Friday I’m posting a great piece of New Times bestselling YA author April Henry. I have a post in the can from National Book Award finalist Deb Caletti, and have lined up NY Times bestselling authors Phil Margolin, Lisa Jackson and Chelsea Cain to appear soon. Working on some others of that caliber. This is good stuff, I can’t wait to hear what they have to offer us.
Deb Caletti, by the way, just read my new ebook, Story Structure – Demystified. Here’s what she said: “True, ‘Story Structure – Demystified’ is full of fresh, solid guidance, craft essentials and real-life advice from a seasoned pro. But Larry Brooks is so hugely entertaining, I would have read it cover to cover if I were a car mechanic.”
Yeah, that’s me, hugely entertaining. Nice. You can read more about the book HERE. You can read more reviews HERE, HERE and HERE. Or you can just buy it HERE. Please do, it may be the final piece in your emergence as a publishable author. That’s the intention. And readers say it’s true.
On a 100 Minute Story Structure Case Study
There’s a movie out called “The Stepfather” that you should see. Not because it’s great — it’s not, in fact it’s totally predictable. So why should you see it? Because it’s a clinic on story structure. The plot points are clean and visible, the character exposition follows the book (mine). When you know what to look for – which you will, by the way, if you read the ebook or my structure series here – you’ll see it everywhere you look. This one is a great example.
On Me versus Robert McKee
Someone recently challenged me to defend my ebook against Robert McKee’s “Story.” My answer was that McKee’s focus is narrowly targeting screenwriting, forcing novelists to make a big leap. My book does the opposite, it’s optimized for novelists. We have a looser, more literary take on structure, even though it’s the same basic model with different labels. Neither McKee or Syd Field or me invented this stuff. Any more than Newton invented gravity. It just is.
You can’t get too much structure mentoring. Just like pro athletes can’t get too much conditioning and grounding on the fundamentals of their craft. That’s why there’s spring training and pre-season camp… every year.
On Metaphors and Meaning
Not sure which is my favorite metaphor to illustrate the benefits of story planning over blind pantsing. Besides spring training, there’s the pilot metaphor that talks about cruising around without a flight plan — you still need to know how the airplane operates or you’ll crash and burn. Then there’s the builder who arrives on the lot without a blueprint — the final product looks like a treehouse, cobbled together with no symmetry or flow, not something you’d want to live in. Or the surgeon who eagerly cuts the patient open in search of something to extract, not sure what it is. That’s why there’s medical school, you can’t just rip into the flesh of a patient – a story – and expect it to survive unless you know what you’re doing, or more specifically, what needs to be done. Exploratory surgery in novels is for your creative writing class. If you want to publish, you need a plan.
My position on pantsing, though, has softened somewhat.
There are pantsers who write great books. They come in one of two flavors: those who have the story structure paradigm firmly in their head, allowing what they write organically to fall onto the page in accordance with that symmetry, or those who come by it naturally. Not many there. I guess there’s a third, too — those who write draft after draft after draft in search of their story. Which, if you’re honest, is just another form of story planning.
Sometimes, doing it that belabored way, they actually find one.
At the end of the day we all plan our stories, one way or another. At least if they are to work.
Have a great writing day.