The Killer Three-Headed Story Beast

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by Larry Brooks on October 15, 2012

It might actually be you.  Hopefully it is.

Sounds kinda silly-scary, I know.  But this is a good thing.  Because you need to be of three minds – three heads – before you become a fully realized, successful author.

Even if you just get lucky, in that moment of kismet you will have been of three minds.  Funny how luck works that way.

I build learning and execution models that put a fence around the intention, process and outcome of storytelling. 

High bars to reach for, instead of just leaping into a void.  Specific paths protocols to follow, instead of putting blinders and then pressing the gas pedal.  Conventional wisdom repackaged into clarifying new perspectives. 

To wit: Six core competencies.  Six realms of story physics.  Seven levels of character exposition.  Three dimensions of character.  A three-part story development model.  And so on.  Might seem like you need an abacus and a CPA to wade through it all. 

Hey, the Bible did it… seven headed serpents, seven tablets, seven bowls, seven scrolls, seven thunders, seven days of creation… just sayin’.

So here I am with yet another model for writers to consider, none of it metaphoric.  This offers another way of thinking about storytelling – and a way to attack it and build your skills – that divides into, once again, three parts.

This isn’t about process. 

No matter how you write, this applies to you.

There are three aspects of the writing mindset– what you need to know and what you need to be able to do – that define the skillset of the professional author.  Think of your story as a company run by three executive heads (which, in a small firm, often exist within one skull): the engineering/product whiz, the money suit and the operations honcho.  

They have separate areas of responsibility.  They have meetings, sometimes with each other.  They have tee times, also sometimes with each other.  And before the business model collectively works and a profit is shown, they must ultimately be on the same page, each making the others effective. 

So it is with your story model.

Here they are:

Your craft head.  An understanding of how ideas grow into concepts and then become premises, and how narrative unspools over four distinct contextual parts, separated by specific mission-driven story turns.  This is the stuff of story design. You can’t just make it up, you need to create within this general paradigm.

Your story physics head.  An understanding of what makes a story work.  Craft gives you a shot at this, but the reason one story works better than another perfectly crafted story is that the story physics are strong.  These are the forces of narrative, in which compelling premise is infused with dramatic tension, revealed with artful pace, resulting in hero empathy (rooting) and vicarious experience… rendered with the next of the three heads.  This is the stuff of story power, the forces that render the design effective.

Your story sense head.  Timing, nuance, out-of-box thinking, a personal style and brand… a story voice.  This is the differentiating, empowering stuff of talent and art, and it resides as a layer above and infused with craft and physics..

These three become a sum that exceeds the parts.

When a story works the author has gone three for three. 

Your story is already asking all three of these areas of application from you.  

When it isn’t working, it’ll stay stuck until you bring all three heads to the storytelling party. 

When you recognize these three mindsets as different aspects of the writing process – whatever your process – you will be better equipped to answer the call.

Craft and story physics… they are what they are, and they’re waiting for you to discover and apply them.  But that last one, story sense… that’s the goal, one that entirely depends on the first two.  Having it without the first two isn’t enough.  That just makes you… well, a book reviewer.

Story sensibility is what Stephen King has over the rest of us.  Don’t care for King?  Then swap out King’s name with your favorite author and it’s just as true.  Story sense, rather than craft, is the differentiating factor. 

Craft… that’s just the ante-in.  In a pile of submissions with 500 titles awaiting a decision, over half may have solid craft on display.  But only a handful will land a contract.  The difference is pure, unadulterated story sense.

How are you doing on each of these three heads? 

If you come up less than stellar in any of them, consider a little focus on that area.  It might be just the thing to takes you to the next level.

*****

Consider this INCENTIVE to join me on Thursday, October 18 (1:00 eastern) for my Writers Digest University webinar: “Story Physics: Mastering the Most Important Moments in Your Story.”

This  90-minute webinar (available afterwards as a recorded downloadable product from Writers Digest) will feed all three of your writing heads with fundamental knowledge on narrative sequencing and the application of optimal story forces.

The regular tuition is $89.  Use this code — WDS329 – for a $10 discount.

Then – and here’s the BIG INCENTIVE – if you’d like to see how your story stacks up on all three of these mindsets… send me your webinar signup receipt to get half off on my new $100 Story Coaching Adventure, good for the next six months. 

This practically pays for the webinar itself, and based on feedback, delivers far more than a self-respecting C-note has a right to expect.  (Note: the story coaching discount is not affiliated with Writers Digest University and is not a part of their registration protocol… it’s my offer to you as a means of taking your story to the next level.  This optional add-on is separate from the INCLUDED shorter concept and FPP analysis as part of your WD enrollment.)

Hope you’ll join me on Thursday, it’s going to be intense.

If you can’t and you’d still like to put your story under the intense light of analysis, even if you haven’t written it yet… click HERE

 

terri patrick October 16, 2012 at 1:32 am

Hey Larry, this is all right on.
When we met, recently, we were all about the mutual admiration society. And while I get what you mean, and I agree with all you’ve posted, and wish you tons of success, because you’re right on with all these multi-headed monsters…

Um, turn down the enthusiasm a notch. I’m part of your choir and want to smack you upside the head.

It’s all good. What you say is awesome. I get that. I need that because I’m writing a story. It’s a good story. But I’m writing it because I love being a storyteller. I don’t need the money and I don’t need the accolades. I’m writing because the story I have to tell is what I want to share with readers. It matters enough to me to take the time to tell it well.

I want to benefit readers who connect with my story, and appreciate the effort I took to tell it. I’m also someone who has all three heads so know it’s pretty rare and sort of “the monster within” scenario. As a storyteller I am scary enough and don’t need to add biblical monsters to my mirror.

Tone down the enthusiasm a notch because choir members like me are not the audience you need to reach.

Nann Dunne October 16, 2012 at 6:23 am

With all due respect, Terri, we’re not all in the same choir. Larry’s enthusiasm is part of his appeal, at least in my case. I like how he approaches a subject from several different angles in several different posts and can still be enthusiastic. And sometimes… one of those approaches is the flint-against-steel that strikes the storytelling tinder into flames. I have to admit I’m not always on the same page with Larry, but I do appreciate that his enthusiasm will make a post enjoyable to read, rather than an ordinary, blasé one that might leave me indifferent to his message.

Congratulations, Terri, on having all three heads. Not every writer or wanna-be published writer has.

Pamela Moriarty October 16, 2012 at 7:52 am

To any and all writers reading this blog, brilliant in itself, I highly recommend the $100 Story Coaching Adventure. Best $100 I ever spent! The questionnaire alone is worth the journey. It’s extremely specific, hits on all the points Larry brings up in his blogs about what makes a story work. It’s challenging, confrontive, and forces you think long and hard about the story you’re trying to tell and the way in which you’re going about telling it. Sorted me out in a hurry! Larry’s added comments picked up my story, shook it out, and gently set it down pointed in the right direction. Thank you, Larry Brooks! You made a huge difference to this former pantser! Before I took the Story Coaching Adventure, I felt like I was stumbling around and around in circles in the dark. Now, I’m out on the highway, full speed ahead and loving it!

Norm Huard October 16, 2012 at 8:35 am

I found my way to Larry’s blog over a year ago when I typed “I want to fix my story” in the Google search window. The following words from the sidebar on Larry’s blog resonated:

“This blog is about getting real with your writing dream.

If you want to publish your work, if you want a career as a writer,
then you’ve come to the right place.

Creed: Mission-driven, Passion-infused.
Goals: Give more than I take. Make a difference….”

I found a classroom with its door open to anyone with a dream about becoming a writer. I found a teacher true to his creed and goals, who repeats his lessons with passion and attitude, and, to echo Nann, from different angles and always with enthusiasm. Students love to learn from teachers who are passionate about their subject.

This classroom is open. Students can come and go as they please. If they dig around the blog, they’ll find huge nuggets of knowledge and be challenged to seriously re-examine their writing craft and take it to the next level.

Larry, thanks for making a difference in my life as a writer. I truly feel that I am getting closer fitting those three heads on my shoulders and getting them to focus in the right direction.

Matthew Shields October 16, 2012 at 12:12 pm

I’m going to echo Pam in recommending the Story Coaching Adventure. It was a wake-up call, but a call to action, a call to greatness! I’m about a quarter of the way into my rough draft now and more confident than ever about my story. :)

Bruce H. Johnson October 16, 2012 at 12:52 pm

This puts everything needed together to create a successful (commercially-viable) story/novel/novella or whatever.

Good point on Craft and Physics being the ante-in; they need to be very good before the Story Sense comes through.

I’ve read quite a few excellent stories with decent Story Sense but quite mediocre Craft and Physics. It was a struggle to plow through the distractions. Even a quick brush-up on the Craft and Physics would have made all the difference in the world.

Professionals practice and do the basics so much that they are second nature. Then they concentrate on delivering the impact of what they are doing. With athletes, it’s hitting the ball exactly where it will do the team the most good, putting in those 3-point shots consistently, or consistently scoring in the top 96%.

With us writers, the proper Story Sense enables us to reach our readers so they can’t put the story down, want to read the next in the series, or immediately start looking for more of our work. Now that can lead to success.

Now go write something great.

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