What I’ve Learned About Writing in the Last Six Months

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by Larry Brooks on October 9, 2012

Sometimes, with our head down and our focus impervious to anything short of an earthquake, we forget to look up and see what’s beckoning within arm’s reach.

That’s me for the last six months, working on two projects (actually three, but two were particularly world-rocking) that have totally consumed me.  The first is the launch of my new story coaching model, which has given me the opportunity to read and evaluate (in a condensed, creative way) well over 100 yet-to-be-published novels in the last six months.

A fascinating journey.  Patterns form.  Truth screams up at me. 

And, I’ve been finishing the manuscript for my new writing book, “Story Physics: Harnessing the Underlying Forces of Storytelling.”  I turned the manuscript in yesterday, which in no small part inspires this post today.  The timing couldn’t be better, because those 100 novels I’ve been evaluating were the real life case studies I needed to solidify that content.

The Huge Bat-to-the-Head Learning From This Experience

It’s the clarification of the scary intersection of craft and art, and the illumination of what can go wrong when a writer doesn’t see it.  Here it is:

● You can nail the core competencies with textbook perfect criteria-satisfaction… and the story still might not be publishable.

● You can bring a fresh, compelling, provocative conceptual premise and story landscape… and the story still might not be publishable.

● The sum of those two is this: you absolutely do need to understand the basic story physics at hand… but if applied to an under-cooked idea, the story won’t work well.  Because your idea of a compelling idea may not be a universally-held opinion.

Bottom line:

In storytelling, there are two realms of talent: the ability to craft a story for optimal effectiveness using fundamental principles (core competencies and story physics)… and the “story sense” to make it all seamless, powerful, compelling and original.

It’s that story sense that’s the awaiting Epiphany. 

It can’t be taught directly.  It is the outcome of a journey of discovery, practice and growth… just like a musician, a surgeon, a pilot, a politician, a teacher, an athlete or even a parent.  Within their craft they are all exposed to the best principles and latest thinking.  For the most part they receive the same level of coaching and preparation.

But only an elite few rise to the level of professional excellence.  Ask your golf pro or your piano teacher, neither of whom are touring… they’ll tell you.  It’s an indefinable sensibility that’s the difference between who tours and who doesn’t.  At the highest professional level of achievement, the ability to make a living is entirely defined by, and empowered by, the relevant sensibilities required to compete against other professionals at that level.

It’s why Larry Bird, without the speed or leaping ability of his peers, is in the Hall of Fame.  It’s why Dr. Oz is on television reaching millions, while other doctors are every bit his equal.  It’s why only one guy gets to fly the #1 jet in the Blue Angels, while the Navy is full of pilots who are technically just as good.

The Pursuit of Something

It made me realize that as I wax passionate and hopefully clear on the principles of storytelling from both realms, my work is leading us toward something.  As is your work.

That “something” is what I’m looking for in these stories I’m evaluating, and the explanation as to why writers with good stories aren’t executing well enough, and writers who are good at executing aren’t telling stories that are compelling enough.

There is a difference between those two. 

A significant and meaningful difference.  The key to it all.  When you recognize what it is, you’re already on the path toward this something we are seeking.

We are seeking to elevate our story sensibilities.  It is the sum of our craft and our imagination, our ability to breath life into an idea.  One realm without the other isn’t enough.  Both realms, artfully combined, yield an outcome that is in excess of the sum of the parts.

A story with that extra something going for it.

This is the Holy Grail of storytelling.

Some call it talent.  I think it’s the wrong term… I prefer… enlightenment.  We don’t have to be born with it.   We discover it, moment by moment, along the path.

I pursue it by writing about it, here and in my books and in my workshops.  I hope that my work fuels and empowers your pursuit of it, whatever form that may take.

The path asks you to conquer two realms of understanding: craft, as defined by the core competencies you must command… and power blended with nuance, as defined by the story physics you can and should access.

Only then will the requisite sensibilities be liberated within you.

*****

If sharing this content has earned a few more moments of your attention, and if you’d like to share the journey with me, here are four avenues of further exploration I’d like to put out there.

My Writers Digest University Webinar – October 18, 2012 (1:00 pm Eastern)

Spend 90 live minutes with me discussing: Story Physics: Mastering the Most Important Moments In Your Story.  If you don’t nail these story beats, nothing in your story works as well as it should.

Sign up HERE.  As an incentive to Storyfix readers, use this Discount Code for $10 off the published tuition of $89: WDS329.

*****

A One-Day Advanced Storytelling Workshop – November 10, 2012

“STORY 404 — Advanced Story Development and Execution for Serious Writers”

It’s one career-changing day, open to writers everywhere.  Drive or fly to Portland and take your novel or screenplay to the next level.

Learn more and Sign up HERE.

*****

My new Story Coaching Service… like an MRI for your story, for the price of a fill-up and a car wash.

Learn more HERE.  There’s never been anything like this – either for the price or the value – in the story coaching business.

My new writing book, available for pre-order.

“Story Physics: Harnessing the Underlying Forces of Storytelling”

Check out the new cover and pre-order on Amazon HERE.

 

{ 6 comments }

Bruce H. Johnson October 9, 2012 at 1:26 pm

Craft, Power, and Story Sensibility are interrelated. Gotta work a lot on the Craft and Power, then the Sensibility will tend to increase. As the Sensibility increases, it tends to enable you to work with the Craft and Power to express what your story is about.

As Larry points out, that Core Concept has to have some legs just to get things off the ground even though Concept is a Craft. Once you’ve got something, you can work Craft, Power, and Sensibility back and forth so they mesh and are self-consistent. Here’s where your notes and beat sheet comes in; if you can’t get a good handle on Craft, Power, and Sensibility on your beat sheet, your story just won’t happen.

Not all of us can be great, that is true. A lot of that “greatness” is chance in the marketplace so we’re all treated the same that way.

Give your work the best shot you can; sometimes it takes several tries (3 more novels, etc.) before something clicks and your Craft, Power, and Sensibility get lined up. That will give you much better odds in the marketplace so your ideas can influence more people.

Larry, please ensure you post a link for Story Physics as soon as it’s available. It is going to be a must-have.

Now, folk, let’s all go write something great.

J.J.Foxe October 10, 2012 at 5:23 am

Larry

Interesting post….have some thoughts about the writing/learning/talent axis…but they are post length. So will save them for another day (unless you want a guest post.)

Two questions: do we have a release date on Story Physics? And have you thought about having your ‘method’ translated into a story structure piece of software?

Oh, and the greatest learning I got from Storyfix this week wasn’t any particular post….rather it was the list of people you follow on Twitter. Very interesting and revealing ;)

J.J.

Martha October 10, 2012 at 8:54 am

Double ditto Mr. Foxe’s suggested about software.
If you recall, I mentioned some time ago that you should create ‘software for dummies’ that allows writers to follow your story architecture layout, plug in the plot and pinch points along the way, and make sure they were in the right spots. It would be very valuable. It would help those of us who are visual learners see the way. Something rather like Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method, although with apologies to Randy, the story engineering paradigm you have taught us is much clearer and much more intuitive, at least for me. Think about it. Any good software writer could probably put it together for you
.

David Gillaspie October 10, 2012 at 11:40 am

Hi Larry,

Been subscribed and reading storyfix a while and feel the good sense with each post. Wanted to pass this along:

Last night at a reading sponsored by Wordstock at the Multnomah County Library I heard three authors and the follow up questions. One question was about structure.

All three struggled to answer it, but finally did, with all the mystery and magic intact. I wanted them to say “I read Larry Brooks storyfix.” When they didn’t, I felt like telling them.

Thanks again,

David

Briana October 10, 2012 at 3:17 pm

The new cover looks great!

Will the webinar critiques be based on a description of the First Plot Point? I’m trying to gauge which service I’m ready for at the moment. :)

Larry October 10, 2012 at 3:28 pm

@Briana — the webinar will really focus on the First Plot Point, as it is (IMO) the MOST important moment in a story. That’s my top priority… if the participants get one thing, and one thing only, it will be this understanding and a shared appreciation for the FPP as a storytelling tool. But the other milestones will be defined and explored (using examples), because they all depend on each other to prop up the story. Hope to have you! Larry

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