So many analogies, so little time.
Here on Storyfix I liberally offer analogies about the writing process in an attempt to clarify the critical and often-misunderstood relationships between certain mind-sets and the writing of publishable novels and marketable screenplays.
Misunderstood, as in… gee, I’ve read a lot of novels in my day, seen a lot of movies… think I’ll sit down and write one.
That simple statement defines the tragic writing journey of many. Because while the majority of us may have launched our dream with that perspective – which equates to the love of stories – too many of us never get beyond it.
And getting beyond it is absolutely required if your wish is to publish your work.
The analogies I often use are about how builders rely on architectural blueprints, even though they understand the principles of structural dynamics like the back of their 401K statement. About surgeons who must endure years of schooling and residency before slicing into a patient, even when the procedure is exploratory in nature. About pilots who, even without a flight plan, must have a firm handle on the physics and principles of aviation to land safely.
And how, at a professional level – and make no mistake, writing fiction for money is the very definition of a professional level – builders always have a blueprint, doctors always have a protocol, and pilots always have a flight plan.
Anything less, at least for builders and pilots, is just recreation.
Anything less for a doctor — or a writer — is a dead patient.
Nobody has ever published a novel from a recreational mindset.
If we are to succeed as writers, we must eventually base everything we do on a profound knowledge of the underlying principles of storytelling and story architecture. That much is non-negotiable.
Knowledge is the key word here. It unlocks everything we seek to achieve as writers. Not talent, not luck, not even practice and sweat equity. Valued as they are, knowledge trumps them all.
Even if we eschew planning our stories before we write them (as many do), we come to understand, through years of rejection slips, that we are still subject to the accepted principles of storytelling – knowledge – as we explore our ideas and unleash them onto the blank page.
Because for the professional, the page is never really blank.
Those pesky storytelling principles are always there, telling us what needs to go where within a story, and why.
Whether you plan your stories or write them organically, you will never publish a word until you get that.
There’s aother analogy that bears repeating here.
In recent posts, and in my new ebook on story structure, I describe a four-part sequence of contextually-unique segments of a successful story: set-up… response… attack… resolution. I didn’t make it up, I’ve just packaged it in a way that makes it clear and accessible to novelists and screenwriters.
I’ve also described those same four sequential parts from the perspective of character: orphan… wanderer… warrior and hero/martyr.
Didn’t make that up, either. It’s something I learned early in my writing career that made a huge difference in my understanding of storytelling.
These four terms not only describe how your hero behaves in relation to plot, they also define the very essence of character depth and arc, which is one of the six essential core competencies of successful storytelling.
Recently it occurred to me: this orphan-wanderer-warrior-hero model is the same exact journey we writers take as we labor to understand and internalize the principles of storytelling.
In other words… we are the heroes of our own writing story.
Think about it. We begin our writing journey with nothing in the knowledge bank other than the stories we love, just as an orphan begins life with nothing other than what they observe in others. They learn, they grow, and eventually the orphan evolves into something else, something more complex.
Just as we do if we keep at this long enough.
Then something happens to an orphan that changes their life (the equivalent to a first plot point). They get adopted, they become part of a new family and environment, they go to college, they get a job, they fall in love, they encounter life itself.
And from that point on everything is different.
All successful writers encounter something that changes them. Especially when it comes to their writing process. Because where they began – knowing nothing – wasn’t enough. Simply trying to copy the form and function of the stories we love never is.
For writers that something is the discovery of the craft of writing stories. We become enlightened. We learn what dramatic narrative really means, what it involves, and eventually, how to execute it.
We begin to sense the power and necessity of story architecture, even if we have no notion what it even means.
And then, the orphan writer becomes a wanderer.
We begin to explore a new world of structure and character arc. We see it within other work as never before. We recognize its power. We study, we learn, we practice, we become subordinated to it.
A wanderer/writer is simply aware of the principles of storytelling. A warrior/writer discovers how to use them.
When we finally get it, when we stop fighting it off in the mistaken belief we can just make up our stories any way we please, we finally become a warrior.
Warrior/writers attack stories from an enlightened perspective.
We get it now. Our ideas are more compelling. Our characters and their quests are more empathetic and meaningful. Our themes carry sudden weight.
And the structure of our stories align with the principles of proper pacing and exposition that will finally elevate us to that professional level, where actually publishing what we write becomes possible.
We bleed from our foreheads, drive our friends and family crazy. We lose yourself in our stories, because finally we have let go of the very thing that has been holding us back – our belief that there is no such thing as story architecture, or our unwillingness to embrace it.
You are the hero of your own evolution as a writer.
And then, once you are a warrior/writer, you eventually triumph. You become a hero, a martyr that sacrifices all that you were in favor of all you wish to become.
Only you know where you are in this cycle. And it’s important that you do.
Because just as your story cannot end successfully until your hero has evolved through each of these four phases, your writing dream – the story of your career – must evolve along a similar path.
You must leave the orphan/writer behind… you must wander and learn until you are empowered… you must attack your stories from an enlightened perspective, waging war with forces that would block your path… and then, using all that you have learned, you eventually summon the hero/writer within you.