What’s Your ‘Vision’ For Your Story?

The third question I ask on the Questionnaire given to my story coaching clients, after genre and voice, is just that.

Half of the writers presented with that question can’t answer it.  They either email me about it, asking what this means, or they answer this way: “I don’t know what you mean by vision.”

Half.  I kid you not.

To that I say… OMG.

This is like a chef admitting they don’t have any idea what is going to happen to the food they prepare.

I have to be careful here.  I don’t want to insult, talk down to or discourage writers who don’t understand the question.  It’s unthinkable and scary, but that’s just me, the crusty old writing teacher dude.  Not understanding the question is different than – darker than – not having an answer relative to your story.

Because it actually is an answer.

Imagine this:

A newly graduated business major, summa cum laude, goes for an interview as a management trainee.  One of the first questions asked is, “what’s your vision for your career?”  And the newly graduated business major answers, “huh?  What do you mean by that?”

Or worse, answers “do you have a vision for your career” with, “well, not really.”

End of interview, either way.

You’re about to get married.  You and your beloved seek out a counselor for some pre-marital advice.   A good thing.  The counselor asks – and she absolutely would ask – “so what’s your vision for your life together?”  And your betrothed answers, “uh… I don’t understand the question.”

Which translates to, “nothing special.”  I have nothing special in mind.  Three hots and a cot.   I don’t have a vision for our life together.

You’ve bought a vacant lot in a nice neighborhood with the intention of building a house on it.  One day a neighbor shows up and asks, “new house, eh?”  You nod.  Then he asks, “so what’s your vision for it?”

And you say, “I don’t know what that means.”

Which translates to: I have no blueprint.  I have idea what this house will look like, how many floors it was have, whether it will be brick or logs, what those kooky building codes have to do with anything, whether you’re going to live it or flip it or plant your mother-in-law in it, it hasn’t even entered my head whether or not my house will fit into this neighborhood, I’m just gonna hammer some sh*t together and see what happens.

Will the house get built?  Maybe.   But not without the approval of the plan by the community association, which in this case isn’t happening.

If they are to be great, if they are to work at all, we must write our stories in context to something solid.  And a vision is one of those solid foundations.

Beginning a novel is like working on a business plan. 

Entrepreneurs seek funding, writers seek publication and readership.  Both require strategy.  And the strategy, when it works, includes a vision for the outcome.

Without a vision, nobody is going to invest in you.  Without a vision, you’ll be out of business in a month.

To not know what this means, instinctively, is a very bad sign.  It means, basically, that you’re not ready for this.

You could argue that a vision might emerge during the process.  A concept, yes, definitely.   But how how can something emerge when the opening paradigm is that the writer not even understanding what a vision even IS, or what it means to the process?  That’s like saying to an athlete who wants to enter the Olympic Games, “just start practicing, maybe somewhere along the line it’ll dawn on you which sport you want to compete in.”

Modeling Vision

Here’s an example of what a vision for a new novel or screenplay looks like:

“I see this story reading like a Baldacci novel, deeply rooted in today’s politics , with rich characters and high stakes, entertaining as hell because it’s scary as hell.  I see this, best case, being published by a Big Six house and getting some cache, leading me to a subsequent contract and ultimately a career in this business.”

Just by saying that you’ve signed up to abide by certain criteria for your story.  A good thing.

Here’s what not having a vision says:

“I don’t really know or care what happens to my novel.  I don’t really know or care who will like this, or why they might.  I don’t really know what this story will turn out to be, in which niche it will play, or why a publisher will ever be interested in it.  I’m writing this in a vacuum.  For me it’s a literary experiment, a table for one, I don’t care about the outcome.”

All the wrong things.

The Correlation of Vision-less Storytelling

I’ve evaluated nearly 300 story concepts and architectural plans in the past year.  Of the nearly half who said they didn’t understand the question about vision, the stories that followed were broken in all of them.

All of them.

Not because they were bad ideas leading to bad concepts.  But because the path toward an outcome was muddy, compromised, created in ignorance of, or apathy toward, the criteria that a positive outcome demands that you meet.

One of the smartest and best prose-wielders I’ve come across in this program was the most guilty of vision-void writing.  Her answer was the classic “I don’t know what you mean by this” response, in this case imbued with a certain sub-text of being above it somehow.

The story that followed violated nearly every applicable principle in the storytelling book (including mine).

She was trying to invent her own Olympic sport.  Which just never works.  We can invent a unique voice and approach within the arena of a given niche/genre/sport, but when you try to play basketball with a hockey puck wearing a figure skating tu-tu, the seats will be empty except for the guy shooting a Youtube video.

The thing was, when I called her on it, when I said that without a vision there was no reasonable destination, that the outcome was not rosy, that she really shouldn’t try to invent a new literary form, she said she didn’t care, this was the story she wanted to tell and the way she wanted to tell it.

We all get to choose.

And – here is the worst part – she expects it to be great.

But… IMO it will sit there, for all eternity, without a publisher… until she finally hatches a vision for a reasonable outcome, even if ambitious, and for the nature of the story that could lead to such an outcome.  And that vision will substantially change both the story and her approach to it.

That’s why we need a vision for our stories.  If you envision a bestseller, the odds are orders of magnitude better that you’ll actually write one.

A viable vision will put her back on the path to success.  Because that path has signage and precedent to guide us.

Without vision we are blind and alone.  And the abyss awaits.

What’s your vision for your story?

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56 Comments

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56 Responses to What’s Your ‘Vision’ For Your Story?

  1. Kenneth Fuquay

    On 10-2-2011, I wrote in my journal, “I want to write stories that thrill, scare, & inspire. I want readers to close a book and think, ‘Wow! What a ride!’ or, ‘I felt like I lived it!’ I want to impact readers where they think, live & breathe.”

    These were my visions as I began my journey to educate myself on how exactly, to accomplish that. Thanks to your insights, I am working on that mission, and hope to deliver one, fine day. Thanks.

  2. @Kenneth – now THAT is a vision…a great example that serves you and helps the rest of us. Very nice, thanks for sharing. L.

  3. Shaun

    In my opinion, It’s not that they don’t know what it means, It’s that it could technically mean a couple things which I think is where the confusion stems from. “What’s your vision for your story?”. The actual vision for the story (plot)… or the vision of what you hope the readers will get from the story you write… Or both.

  4. @Shaun — I agree, and I see your point. But… to not offer an answer in search of precision when there is no precise response… to me, that’s dodging the deeper question, the opportunity before the writer. That’s like asking someone “are you in love” and they respond, “what do you mean by love?” If you don’t know, you aren’t there. I think it’s like that. No vision, HOWEVER you wish to define it, portends struggle down the storytelling road. My point is: create a vision HOWEVER you want to define that vision, just HAVE one, for you. There is no wrong answer, other than no answer. L.

  5. Shaun

    “There is no wrong answer.” This is true and that about sums it up. I see your point.

  6. Sara Davies

    When I hear “what is the vision for the story” I think of what I am trying to accomplish with the story itself, what might loosely be described as my “artistic intentions” – why I was writing that story and not another story.

    I’m not thinking about the market for the story, because I haven’t learned how to write it yet. Seems premature to wonder about the audience or market for something I haven’t finished (although I recognize other people will be in different stages of development and may be ready to answer questions about a target market).

    In the above example of a correct response to that question, it sounds like you’re saying the “vision” is about destination or intended audience. Is that how I should interpret the question?

  7. The tagline on my blog says it all. Thrills, mystery and suspense.

    And in every case, as much wry wit as possible. The writing group I’m a part of critiqued (very well) my latest first chapter and one of the group described my book as “a Bruce Willis type action adventure”.

    Spot on. Lots of action infused with humour and as fast paced as possible.

    But to be honest, if you’d asked me what “my vision for my story” was before I’d read what you meant, I wouldn’t have know what you meant.

  8. My vision is, and always has been, much smaller in scope. I want to write a story that I enjoy reading, that I can be proud of, and that others will enjoy reading, too. Part of that pride will come from knowing I constantly study the various facets of writing in order to produce a story that is the best it can be. I’m not looking to write tomorrow’s blockbuster hit; I just want to touch people’s hearts. Maybe that’s not grand enough for some people, but it works for me. However, if you want a blockbuster, I say go for it! Larry’s blog is a good spot for you to learn how to accomplish that. It’s also a good spot to learn how to make your story “the best it can be.” That’s why I’m here.
    PS: I love the analogy of the basketball player with the hockey puck and tutu. Got quite a chuckle out of envisioning that.

  9. @ Nann – Writing a story you want to read is precisely what Tolkien and C.S. Lewis set out to do. Tolkien lamented that there were no books that he enjoyed reading so he decided to write the Hobbit, and then LotR. in my opinion, the only way that we can “touch people’s hearts” is by creating the story that we as the writer want to read. I think you are directly on target with the goal for a vision of your story, and without writing a story that you want to read there will always be something missing from the tale.

    i’ve got the vision part down, its just everything else that i need help with… 😉 (of course now i’ll get my coaching document back and will be wrong on this point too, but i’ll learn from it and move forward. 😀 )

  10. Thank you, Tzalaran. I’ve been an editor for many years, and your attitude is one that always delights me: “…but I’ll learn from it and move forward.” I once had a conversation with a woman who said she didn’t need an editor; her story was perfect. She was serious! She also hasn’t ever been published – no surprise.
    Good luck!

  11. Martha

    I have to agree with a couple comments here . . . ‘vision’ could mean several things, and when asked ‘what’s your vision for your story?’, I might feel unsure about my answer. Does it mean, what do I hope my story will do for readers? Or, what type of story do I envision this will be? Or, what will I do with it when it’s finished? Or even, what future do I hope it might have?
    I might bumble through with an answer of some kind, but wanting to get the most out of the session, I can imagine myself saying “Huh?”
    I get it now, Larry. As usual . . . thanks for a great post!

  12. Norm Huard

    That question wasn’t on my story coaching questionnaire way back when. Had it been there, I just might have been in that half of respondents that said: I don’t know what you mean by vision. Though, I would like to believe that my answer would have aligned with Nann Dunne’s because I keep coming back to Larry’s blog for the same reason’s as Nann, to learn to make my story “the best it can be.”

    Often it is the simple questions that stump us: Are you happy? How do you know? Why do you love me? And, it is such simple questions that get us thinking, honestly and seriously, about any endeavor we take on in life.

    The “crusty old writing teacher dude” has done us aspiring authors another favor with this post–he has caused us to reflect on what just might get us in the game, minus the “hockey puck and tutu.”

    And, he’s done himself a favor by explaining question three. Hopefully he’ll get some thoughtful answers from now on.

  13. Michael

    Larry,
    Good post, as usual. Thoughtful. While some writers may be “just writing to write stuff”, and really don’t have the basics, I have to agree with a couple of the commenters here. In our culture we commonly use many words that we think we know the meaning of or (worse) believe we share the meaning of with others (like love, vision, peace, etc.), when in reality, nothing could be further than the truth. That’s the reason Plato made such a big deal about it. Webster gives at least four definitions for “vision” that are both relavent and very different in this context. Having been on the questioning side of one or two of those email myself, I think what we mean is “What do you mean by ‘vision’?” Because we do live in a culture where questions are assumed to have a correct answer, and no one like to thought a dolt.

    That’s the biggest hurdle for the marriage counselor (or any professional) — to first find out what the words actually mean to the other person, and decide on a mutual use. The incorrect assumption is that “what do you mean by that word” equals not having any answer, when it can also mean “in what context are we using the word” because there could be more than one answer, depending on context. The real value of the questions becomes consideration of the answers in varying contexts that can all be at play at the same time.

    Thank you for starting the dialogue.

  14. Yeah, I would have wondered which context of “vision” we were talking about.

    I *hope* I would have offered the following, rather than being in the dreaded 50% . . .

    My vision for my story is that my hero will grow in ways he didn’t expect to, in ways I hope I’m growing now; that the villains will be properly routed; that the funny parts will make readers laugh, not cringe, the romance will be romantic, and that it will all come out Chandleresque, yet cozy.

    or

    My vision for my story is that once I publish it myself, I’ll share it with everyone I know who might love my style, and it will become, not a tree, but an acorn, a first sapling in the forest of sequels and similars I intend to write and publish.

    And I think, in part, those who fail to even take a stab at it are missing part of what seems to be your style, Larry; poking to see whether they respond, or just look confused. (I wear different color socks with my dress clothes. I learn *worlds* about people by how they react. For instance, when someone is seriously bothered by it, I’m pretty sure we’re not gonna be all warm and fuzzy anytime soon.)

    Wherever all this falls in the sense/nonsense continuum, I experience a frisson of delight every time I see your emails come in.

    Thanks ever so much.

  15. @Joel — I love your response. Several people have responded here by saying (I paraphrase), “yeah, I’m not sure what you mean… I, too, would have needed clarification.” Hmmm… my point exactly. Because later in the post I say, if you don’t intuitively, inherently, understand what “vision” means, in ANY context (why do you need me to tell you the context? The context here is CLEAR), than it’s a sign (not definitive proof) that you may not ready.

    If you didn’t know what the words “dramatic tension” mean, would you be ready? Clearly, no. Same with “vision.” It’s basic stuff whenever anybody, in ANY context, seeks to achieve something.

    Harsh words. Hairs bristle. But true.

    You’re teaching your kid to drive. She asks you what that yellow light means. Take away from that question: she’s not ready to drive alone yet. More training is required.

    A pilot is on final approach. The tower instructs him to turn onto base from the downwind leg. The pilot radios back for clarification. If that happens… he/she is not ready to fly alone. More training is required.

    A lawyer is pleading a case. The judge suggests there is no precedent for his argument. The lawyer wants to know the context of the word “precedent.” The lawyer is then fired and escorted from the room.

    There is no “right” answer to what “vision” means, in ANY context (if someone thinks I’m referring to contact lenses here, then they DEFINITELY aren’t ready to write a novel). The need to be “led” to a context – I’m sticking to this, in this day and age the term AND the context of “vision” is not remotely vague or remote – is a sign… a sign that you may not be ready. This work isn’t precise, precision isn’t required. Depth of intuitive interpretation IS.

    Again, my own experience validates this. Writers who don’t even know what “vision” is, who need clarification, who need to be told what it means… it’s a sign they may not be ready… and the stories I see from THOSE writers tend NOT to be ready. That’s not a coincidence.

    This isn’t an argument or a debate. There’s a level of working knowledge and competency we have to reach before we can write a publishable, readable story. Having a vision for the story is part of it. Not knowing what it means, or needing some guidance on it, simply identifies where one may be on that learning journey, and everybody has things to learn. Writing fiction is about seeing and knowing the world and social interactions around us… to not understand or need clarification on one of the most basic principles of that knowing… it’s just a sign of something yet to be learned. That’s why I wrote about it, to begin that learning.

    Interestingly, almost everyone here who said, “I’m one of those people who would have needed to ask you to clarify,” went on to offer a solid and workable vision for their story. Guess you didn’t need it afterall (or you got it from the post itself, so the outcome is good). The need for clarification is a sign of a limiting belief, not an intellectual hunger for accuracy. We don’t need clarification on what love, hate, regret, ambition and danger mean, those are intuitive things novelists must know. Our protagonists need a vision, and so do their writers. It’s a 101-level requisite skill. Let the learning begin, and solidify. L.

  16. Bea

    Larry, I’ve already written a vision for my writing: I want my stories to engage, entertain, inspire and ennoble the reader, and be hard to put down and hard to get out of your mind when you do.

    I wouldn’t have thought, though, that that would have answered your question, “What is your vision for your story.” Judging by what you answered a poster or two here (Kenneth, and Joel as regards his second vision statement, for want of a better phrase), however, it would. I would have thought that Joel’s first vision statement, which seems specific to a particular story or group of stories, was more what you are after. At any rate, I now will make sure I can nail down my vision for my WIP.

    The short version of my vision for learning and progressing in writing at the moment is this: to learn how to structure a compelling story with all the essential elements, to learn how to write beautiful, moving prose, and to discipline myself to form and stick to better habits in my writing life.

  17. Matt Duray

    I think if I would’ve filled in this questionnaire before seeing this post, I would’ve answered with something describing the ‘feel’ of the story, something like, “dark, challenging, action-packed” etc. But while reading the post I remembered my thoughts when the original idea started to form, a couple of years ago. My previous short story, while published, was rather theme-heavy and metaphorical. Before I threw myself into my current one I said to myself, “I want this to be a STORY, with drama, action, that takes the reader on a ride, not with characters talking endlessly to each other about their inner demons. And I want it to be published.”

    Even though I didn’t fully understand what kind of answer you were looking for, that vision has informed my story planning since Day 1. So yes I have a vision, I always had one, but the question still threw me off a little.

  18. Kamela

    Awesome post-as always!! Side note: You should add social buttons to your blog so I can easily share this via Twitter, FB, Google +, and perhaps, images on posts so that can be shared on Pinterest. I know you hate WordPress but more writers and those inspired to write need to be reading your advice and not a single other person!!! Thanks again for even blogging in the first place!! I love your blog!!!

  19. @Kamela — THANK YOU for your comments and enthusiasm, makes my Happy Easter Day! You’re right, I’ll get that done… but there is a Twitter icon high up in the right hand corner. Just checked it, it works. Thanks again! L.

  20. @Kamela — if you (or anyone) have a favorite widget plugin for that, I’m all ears. L.

  21. Vision in regards to “Story”. Clearly that throws a lot of people, for many reasons and it’s clear that they don’t have a vision SPECIFIC for that specific story.

    Instead of Story, consider something else, like you’re building a Park for people to come to. Imagine you are wanting people to come to your park. WHY would people come to your park? The Why is in the VISION.

    What if your name was John Hammond whose Vision was Jurassic Park? Hammond envisioned an upgrade to a zoo whereby it became a type of Disney Theme Park full of live dinosaurs, where people could see the dinosaurs in their environment. Small dinosaurs would be accessible by hand, at least the ones that didn’t eat you. Yet.

    If John Hammond would be asked–heck you may as well say Michael Crichton–“what is your Vision for your Story”–what would he say?

    All of Crichton’s stories had a Vision. The Vision gave Crichton an agenda, just like Hammond had an agenda to create the Jurassic Park, just like others created Sea World, Disney Land, etc. Disney Land wasn’t an accident created out of a junkyard of scrap parts due to a tornado coming by and tossing things into shape either.

    People go to Disney Land because they have a Vision of themselves having a great time in a land of mystery, action and adventure, and fun. It’s why they PAY for it.

    Does anyone on this blog thread seriously believe that people will take time off work, pack up the kids, and head off with their money–to visit a nondescript thing that the builder is proud of and claims they’ll enjoy–without providing any specifics? No, because there’s no “What it is” that creates a “Why we’re coming to your ‘thing'”.

    Consider you are about to cruise the Internet. Where are you going? Simple: each website has a Vision for what it is–and for those that don’t–they usually don’t get much traffic and die on the vine.

    If you wanted to create a Website and were asked what its Vision was, would you say something vague, or would you be specific? Do you want visitors? If so, you better get specific (unless you’re some kind of celebrity but that will only get you so far).

    Visionaries in the past have created today’s world you live in, for better or worse. Much of this present day alleged ‘utopia’ is actually a Vision of multiple Think Tanks that you’ve never heard of, funded by groups you’ve never heard of. These people do NOT encourage the common people you and I are to have Visions–as we would end up competing with them and really questioning what goes on today–instead of just whining and saying “someone (else) should do something about…” No, the average person doesn’t believe in Visions far into the future and instead, spouts “conspiracy theory nuts”–to anyone that believes in Visions, and more importantly–discovers them written in the past that connects to today’s so called New World.

    Thus this Vision deal is something NEW for all of us to wrap our heads around and get specific.

    Stories (books and movies) are like Parks. Your Vision attracts us to the park–if you have one.

    Otherwise, it’s not a park. It’s land with a bunch of stuff on it that you drive by wondering “What was that all about?”

    Kerry

  22. @Kerry – nailed it. Well stated, thanks. L.

  23. MikeR

    My vision is that my story will bring you into you the socially and racially ambiguous time that was Chattanooga, Tennessee in the late 1950’s – but not to tell a “civil rights story,” nor “historical fiction.” I will tell you a tale that occurs at the intersection of (at least) four people’s lives, one of whom is murdered, another of whom is the murderer, and a third of whom (the protagonist in the main story) is almost the witness. (I think.) And, “all of them have (or had) their reasons.”

    I want you to vicariously feel the time and place, authentically. I want you to see these as real people in a real situation. And, I want to give a sense of that ambiguity. That sometimes things are neither entirely right nor entirely wrong. That sometimes “who done it” is not the question to be asked. That circumstances which force you to act and to prevail, might be both winning and losing.

  24. @Mike — this is a 10. It is from visions this clear, touching on multiple core competencies (theme, drama, character) that great stories are written. Never by accident or by listening to a perceived muse. But from allowing a vision this clear to drive you. Awesome. L.

  25. @Larry, get the free Jetpack plugin. It has a “Sharing” function. Adds a bar along the bottom of every post. Even allows readers to transfer your post to their kindle, if they want.

  26. Robert Jones

    It’s funny and kind of annoying at the same time looking at my answer on that questionnaire. My initial response was exactly what Larry is talking about here. Then, in doing research into what other people have said on the posted questionnaire samples, I figured this question was more geared toward where my story was going, almost an expanded look at what I had written for my concept, how that core conflict was going to play out.

    That may be one answer, but I’ll be going back to my first answer now, thank you. I have hight hopes for my book and I intend to put that into my answer as well. Because I’m also working hard to make some sales. I want it to do well. I also think that’s really important to fix in your mind. Here’s why:

    I’ve known a lot of creative people in my life. From school, to a professional career, to friends who want to be creative. I also know a lot of people who want to hop aboard the current train of e-published projects. Stories, music, comic strips–it’s all available at the push of a button these days so why not get it out there? There’s absolutely no reason that anyone under the sun can’t live their creative dreams these days. However, there’s a line in the sand that all those who haven’t had professional careers in the entertainment field (and even some who do) are afraid to cross.

    Call it an attitude, a mental pitfall, or maybe it’s a secret fear of not being all that great. But if you go at your creative endeavor with a tentative attitude, you will most likely get tentative results.

    Everything we do, every goal we achieve, every result we manifest, is based on two principles…the amount of time and effort we “believe” it is worth to us (therefore put into the project/goal), and the belief that the end result is worth the time and effort for our target audience to read it, watch it, buy it.

    Maybe the subtext to, “What’s your vision for your story?” should be, “How do you see it being received by your intended audience?” I hear, “I’m just doing it for the hell of it, to amuse myself, to feel I lived some small part of the childhood dream I let go all those year ago. I don’t expect to make money. IF it does, great, if not, no biggie.” That “IF” might be a little spark of secretly hoping that it sells, but it’s never fanned into a flame. “IF” also says the entire effort (vision) was iffy, speculative, tentative, a maybe sorta’ whatever crapshoot. Mixed feeling, mixed results.

    I don’t think there is anything wrong with a creative hobby, if that is your “vision.” I think everyone needs one. I will also say that everyone does indeed need to write their story for themselves. We all write for ourselves first anyway. We want to tell the kind of stories we want to read and enjoy. But if you believe you have something to say, say it. Mean it. Claim it. OWN IT. Because everything we own deep within our hearts on that emotional gut level sooner or later returns home to us.

    If you love your writing and put it out there and like a beloved pet that was lost, and it returns to you with the same hopes you had for finding it, your vision bore good results. You wanted it badly and it happened just like somehow you knew deep down it would. Isn’t that always what you say when you take charge of something with that inner knowing in full swing?

    But if you put something out there believing deep down the result will be not so good, then you’ve basically put yourself in the witness protection program on some mental level, hoping the worst won’t happen. The walls go up to protect yourself from the hurt you expect will ensue if you get your hopes too high. It’s the same inner knowing, you just didn’t dive in. Something kept you from ever leaving the diving board. Lack of experience, or maybe even some past traumatic issue. Either way, you convinced yourself of a negative result. And you got it.

    I believe that mental line is a confidence factor. A pro (even those you may not think are anything special) has a certain knowing. It comes from experience. Sometimes maybe it’s ego. Sometimes it’s just because they’ve been doing it long enough to know on some intellectual level they’ve found a niche for themselves (the experiece factor). But it’s still a belief system by any other name. One they own.

    “Like feelings” breed “like results.” Not sure if that’s a part of story physics, but it’s certainly the physics of anything we hope to achieve in life. We either see that ball sliding into the basket, or we don’t. And it almost always happens just as we mentally projected it would. Don’t be afraid to cross that line. The worst that can happen is you land in the sand on the other side with a skinned knee, or a few bruises. Everything discovered, or invented, has been based on a series of failures. Sometimes for years. But each failure has taught the creator some small piece of what they were doing wrong. The next failure might gain you another piece, maybe several pieces, because you’ve gained insight from your experience. One day, your project, or goal, becomes complete. But only those who picked up the pieces and kept crossing that line gained enough confidence and know how to make it happen.

    Likewise, some who have made it happen become complacent, or stay at a certain level where they feel a measure of safety. One example you’ve probably read about is how some agents believe a book to be great, but still say they can’t sell it. That’s because they have created a reputation on selling certain kinds of books. If they took a chance on selling something that doesn’t come within their purview, they would either have to make new connections (extra work), or fear if it fails, it will add a minus to their current reputation.

    If everyone turned away out of fear or embarrassment, we would still be living in caves and hunting for our next meal with sharpened stones and arrowheads. But even then, someone had to invent the bow, keep missing the target until they found a way to make the arrow fly straight. And that took an inner belief, a confidence that they could make it happen.

  27. @Tony — want to acknowledge and thank you for the depth of thought and volume of work you put into this, all to help others. Much appreciated. L.

  28. Sara Davies

    @ Robert:

    Thanks for saying that. Can’t find your email, so if you want to reach me, mine is sellyndavies@hotmail.com.

    When I was entering juried art competitions and thinking about finding a gallery, I resented having to submit an “artist’s statement,” an explanation of what the work is about (such as the delicate balance between our inner selves and society, etc.) meant to help viewers interpret the work. My feeling at the time was that if I wanted to write, I would write. I wanted to say, “It’s a picture. Look at for a while. See what it does for you.” But that wouldn’t fly. So I made up some stuff that convinced even me.

    Trying to freelance as a designer, similar problem. I felt there was a gap between what I think about my work and what other people expect to hear that makes me feel like I have to compromise my integrity in order to promote the work. It feels icky. Plus, there’s the aggravation of dealing with clients who don’t take designers seriously and think if Aunt Jane likes hot pink, everything should be hot pink, even if that’s a terrible choice for the intended goal. The ones who want you to be their pencil and consult a committee of people who are not designers and try to tell you what to do. I tend to lose those battles, give them what they want even if it’s stupid, and then hate myself for doing less than what a project needs. I wait for jobs to fall into my lap. Sometimes they do. I want to be like the princess in Rumplestiltskin, stay in a tower spinning straw into gold, with perhaps the occasional break to stroll down to the royal espresso cart for an americano.

    I hate self-promotion so much that thinking about it can bring on a kind of paralysis and keep me from getting stuff done. I don’t think it’s about lack of confidence in my ability to do the work so much as a lack of willingness to do what feels inauthentic and/or a general fear of talking to people.

    When I write an essay, if it’s convincing, what I say tends to veer away from what I might consider to be the whole truth, into a slanted, emotional, selective version of truth that makes me feel uncomfortable. Feels like lying. If I’m going to distort the truth anyway, may as well write fiction. At least that’s honest. (Fiction more honest than non-fiction? Absolutely.)

    Entire issue makes me twitchy. For writing, I could get over it.

    Off-topic, this is an amazing story that I think highlights the function of the Midpoint in a novel:

    There’s an artist who’s known for work described as a commentary on social oppression, who uses Nazi iconography. One of his pieces is a blue and white porcelain teapot shaped like Hitler’s head, with the word “Idaho” on it. I think he’s made some porcelain machine guns. He’s put swastikas on bars of soap and whatnot. A number of museums around the country own his work, Now they are freaking out because it’s come to light that this guy is actually a Holocaust denier and Hitler apologist. That changes the perceived meaning and intention of his work. That is a hell of a real life Midpoint shift, if you ask me.

  29. MikeR

    Can I toss-in 2¢ here, Robert?

    Fifteen years ago, I had a “programmer’s problem.” I developed a solution for that problem (which, confessed nerd that I am, was probably massive overkill?), and mentioned it in the mid-1990’s on a Usenet newsgroup.

    Fast-forward 15 years: “That product has been good to me. VERY good to me, even though I am not today driving a Ferrari.” I am … grateful.

    Okay, it’s winding-down now, it has run its course. But … I never in a thousand years, dreamed how many countries, on that globe above my fireplace, would have push-pins in it. And I know that every single one of those pins represents a customer. Who had the same problem that I did, who needed the solution that I made, and who was glad to pay for it. Wow.

    Did I “know” what I was doing? No. Or maybe, Yes. I knew exactly what I was doing for the customer (read: “the reader”), and THAT’S who I was “doing it for.” I =was= them. I felt their pain. I built my own solution, then shared it.

    “Priceless.”

    Write for your =reader.= Whoever in the world (s)he may be, wherever in the world (s)he may be. If the Golden-Handed Hands of Fate should “$mile on you,” REJOICE! “W00T! W00T! And ALL of that!” But … do it anyway. Because … “your reader,” stuck on that four-hour flight with six bucolic babies in the three rows behind of him or her, desperately needs you. “Your reader,” absorbed in YOUR book and for-the-moment forgetting thereby the pain of his broken ankle, also needs you. You might have written the very last book that “your reader” will ever read … or, the first one. You never know.

    “Do what you love, and (maybe) the money will follow.” But, do it anyway, no matter what. That pin-studded globe upon my mantelpiece is one of the prize accomplishments of my =life.= And it came as a =complete= surprise.

  30. Matt Duray

    @Robert – your comment was every bit as inspirational and clarifying as Larry’s original post.

    I’ve always maintained that I’m writing my story for myself and that if it sells, great. But for while now I’ve also wanted it to be published, to see my name on the cover. I want it to be the time travel story to end all time travel stories. There’s a part of me that thinks I’m being far too ambitious with these visions and it’s almost embarrassing in my more timid moments, but your comment made me realise: if I want these things I have to aim for them, because no one’s gonna hand them to me. Thanks guys.

    @Sara – is that last part a true story? If so, I’m sure that the artist’s audacious vision was to see his Nazi artwork in galleries and museums. The power of a vision indeed.

  31. MikeR

    Oh, good grief, but this IS “the Internet,” so can I be forgiven for chiming-in twice? :-/

    @Sara, you said: “There’s an artist who’s known for work described as a commentary on social oppression, who uses Nazi iconography. One of his pieces is a blue and white porcelain teapot shaped like Hitler’s head, with the word “Idaho” on it. I think he’s made some porcelain machine guns. He’s put swastikas on bars of soap and whatnot. A number of museums around the country own his work, Now they are freaking out because it’s come to light that this guy is actually a Holocaust denier and Hitler apologist. That changes the perceived meaning and intention of his work. That is a hell of a real life Midpoint shift, if you ask me.”

    … and something just popped: “Goody for this artist, and goody for the museums that he has so-far managed to sell his work to, but . . . . (and, trust me, I wouldn’t be saying this if I did not sense a reason to do so) . . . “right now, for lil’ old me, wandering through this gallery with a glass of white wine in my hand (AND by-the-way money in my pocket)” … what’s in it for M-E? Okay, I can grok that =the= =museums= are freaking out, and that this might well be “a midpoint shift” for =them= … but, what does all of this tempest-in-a-teapot have to do with M-E?

    =I= am presented with: a teapot with a Hitler-head shape and the word “Idaho.” Porcelain machine-guns, swastikas on a bar of soap(?!) … make of it what =I= will … which by-the-way is “nothing much.” (The museums can make their own conclusions.)

    The “reason to do so” is this: “=I= am The Gentle Reader, not the museum who now might be having second-thoughts. Entirely lacking the context of having made (say) a million-dollar purchase that I may now regret, I do not see this as “a midpoint” at all. I’m the one who picked up this copy of your book… I’m the one who’s sipping wine in the gallery tonight.

  32. Robert Jones

    @Sara–That is a helluva mid-point shift for the life (and no doubt career) of that artist. Many creators use violence because they are opposed to it. But finding out someone really has that inner landscape…some will no doubt think of him as a purist because his images were felt, not faked. Others will believe his work to be an insult. And the resulting scandal will either drive him out of business, or drive his prices so high that he becomes very wealthy. Such things make me crazy. Value by reason of fad (a sort of insanity by most standards) doesn’t make a think good, or even tasteful.

    My feelings for writing is that it is what my “art” has morphed (or matured) into. It’s what I have become, or grown into, over time. I was heading in this direction even before i was heading in this direction–if that makes sense. People look at art and see it very quickly, then move on. Some take a longer look. A few understand. To the average person, however, it’s either pretty, or it’s not. Unless you’re a collector, art is defined by that which can be hung in one’s living-room and either get comments on their taste, or bring a feeling of tranquility at the end of the day while watching the six o’ clock slaughter. A paradox of confounding dimensionality.

    Self promotion is something I’ve had my own good and bad experiences with. Idea-wise, I’m not bad. I’ve learned some things freelancing from corporate owned companies. Dealing with people used to be a problem sometimes. Coming up against overbearing sorts, my response would be to clam up. That was because I had overbearing sorts around me growing up and my instinctive reaction was to shut up because there was never any reasoning with that sort. Not such a good tactic in business, though it actually worked for me during interviews where I had to keep answers brief and to the point.

    Over time, I became pretty blabby. Sometimes maybe too blabby. Still not crazy about the overbearing sorts, but I think you have to do what comes naturally, be more at ease. It isn’t so much what is said, or isn’t, but the attitude with which it’s said. Much of the marketing and self-promotion is done through our computers now. Even our babble-fests here is a sort of practice for that. When I’m near to completion, I’ll do the blogging and the Facebook thing, babble more there. Meantime I read various successful author’s blogs. There’s a lot of “how to” stuff out there. I don’t respond on many sites though. This one takes a scientific approach and is close to how I think and like to do things–so you guys get most of my babble.

    I’ve added you to my contacts list. Here’s my email. Anyone who wants to do their own babbling can add me. Just know that sometimes when I get busy, several days might go by before I write back. Other days, I’m babbling in between things and may contribute a couple of hours worth of my time to the babble. Which is probably a good habit to learn how to regulate because once we get our work out there, a portion of our day will be over to the promotional dealings thereafter.

    rjones221b@gmail.com

  33. Sara Davies

    @ Matt:

    Yes, that’s a true story, and a recent art world scandal. Dude’s name is Charles Craft. Google him and I bet you can find news stories about it printed within the past month.

    @ Mike R:

    Not sure I understand your point. I’m just using the story as analogy to describe what a midpoint DOES.

    From the point of view of the museums who now OWN the stuff and are wondering what the hell to do with it, Craft’s true beliefs are a revelation with earth-shaking consequences. It’s the same work, but now it means something completely different.

    If that is not what a midpoint does, then I still don’t understand what a midpoint does.

  34. Robert Jones

    @Matt–Thank you.

    @Mike–Point well taken. Sometimes you don’t always know. Conversely, sometimes you think you know and land on your butt just the same. We have to keep on marching. In art, as in writing, I didn’t always know. Sometimes I thought I was doing crap. But I always aimed my creative arrow as high as I could on whatever level I was working at during those times. My thought was that if i aimed the arrow high, and my editor’s expectation fell lower on the target–or any of any number of wind variations along the way–if I landed anywhere between the mid-level and my high point, I would be doing okay.

    A few times, I landed below the mid-point, but mostly, my feeling toward quality ruled out–and the praise usually outweighed the booing and the throwing of eggs and rotten vegetables :)

    I never worked for money, but I made my living at it. I write because it is what i currently do. But I’ll do my best to aim high here as well. It may be that I struggle making little from it for a time. I just don’t leave money and/or decent sales out of my equation, or my “vision” and longer.

    I’ll always write because I love it first, but I’m seeing myself training for the olympics. To not give it my all just doesn’t make sense to me any longer. If you really love something, it becomes you..as Sara has said, “You are your story.” Win or lose, I’ll keep on trying because it’s better to compete in the “event” of your choosing than to live an “eventless” existence. But I’ll keep on thinking winning thoughts along the way–seeing that ball going into the basket–for all the reasons I listed above. The only reason not to would be to stack a few more odds on the side of losing.

    If I suddenly sound more determined…it’s been an odd few days, but this is basically what I took from them. Time to play big because going home sounds like a lousy option.

  35. MikeR

    @Sara,

    My only point was meant to be … “if I’m the one who picked-up your book (nee, am sitting there in a gallery on Main Street, Scottsdale on a Thursday night in the wintertime), I’m the Buyer, but I’m NOT the one who feels any of the Pain of those museums.” There’s only a small number of those museums, but there could be thousands of identical copies of me.

    “Call me selfish. Call me a little too tipsy on too much wine. Call me Ishamel. But …” Call me someone who stares (briefly) at “a teapot with a peculiar shape with ‘Idaho’ on it,” and who derives from the experience “nothing in particular.” :-O “The midpoint” might mean something radically different, now, to the museum owner, but … as Mark Knopfler (Dire Straits), put it … “I don’t watch much T-V … you don’t mean (!) to me.”

    “A midpoint,” I think, needs to connect with =everyone= who is wandering along “Art-Walk” on a Scottsdale Thursday night. It needs to be universal. Whether I’m in Scottsdale, New York, or, heck, Liverpool or St. Petersburg. Your =story= needs to somehow provide the =entire= context.

  36. Janine

    Just wanted to say thank you for this blog! I have been writing fiction for only about 6 months and I feel very lucky to have found this and read your book so early in my learning process. The learning curve got a lot less steep! You’ve helped me understand why my first novel attempt just was not working and now I’m developing a plan before i write 160+ pages!

  37. Lisa

    Hi Larry and thank you for this post. I asked myself the question yesterday about a stalled novel I’ve been writing for some time. The answer came immediately to mind and has helped me see a new dimension to the story that I hadn’t been considering all these years. Wow! I’m excited about this WIP all over again. :)

  38. @Larry, thanks, but it pales in comparison to the stuff you’ve taught me.

  39. Robert Jones

    @MikeR–Actually, Sara is correct in that the curtain has parted and revealed a superior knowledge of the darker aspects in this artists life. Assuming that he’s a bit of an antagonist and the museum who bought his work is the protagonist.

    The mid-point is concerned with the core drama of the hero and the villain, not everyone else in the street, or on the planet. Technically, it could effect everyone who is sitting around drinking their coffee and not caring if the revelation were some type of disaster–either globally, or locally. But even that would be a bi-product of the core story effecting (and eminating) from the conflict surrounding the hero and villain of any given story.

    In this case (looking at this as a potential midpoint in a novel), the conflict is very localized. It’s primarily effecting the artist and the museum (which would have to be boiled down to one person whose career is on the line). Some other folks might care. Artistic and Jewish communities would be at the top of that list. You might show their outrage juxtiposed with the people sipping their coffee who could care less, but it isn’t their story. Therefore, their reaction is secondary, or indirect, in terms of constructing it as a story.

    Of course, if the chips happen to fall against the artist and he decides to martyr himself because his career has been destroyed, and maybe he plans to blow himself up along with the museum–then I imagine those folks sipping coffee in the lobby will suddenly care a whole lot.

    Another example of circumstances trumping backstory by introducing the unexpected situation into the lives of very average people. And how might their reaction change from the nonchalant coffee sippers to something else if they discovered the museum doors were suddenly locked and they couldn’t get out? What if Nazi sypathizers appear and begin firing automatic rifles into the crowd because the artist and his friends want those coffee sippers who look at his art every day and don’t see the meaning the way he want them to see it?

    Now you’re part of a lunatics revenge scheme simply for not caring. And as you look at the panicking crowd, they’re only worried about their own skins, pushing shoving, someone is even ducking behind you, hoping to use you as a human shield.

    Scary. And I’m not trying to be facetious, but when as a writer, you’re asking me how this might effect the average guy sitting in the lobby and why should he care? My mind just starts whirling with possibilities. If an editor were to ask that, I would need to always have a way to up the ante.

  40. Matt Duray

    @MikeR – I feel the same about Sara’s hypothetical Midpoint as Robert does. We, as the reader, might not care about art, or Hitler apologists. But we SHOULD care about the effect the Midpoint has on the protagonist. If it means the protagonist could lose their job, or if she’s targeted by journalists or members of the public for displaying the pieces, we absolutely should care, because stakes have been raised.

  41. Sara Davies

    @ Robert:

    That’s what I like about you.

    @ Matt & Mike:

    It’s a NEWS STORY. I didn’t make it up. It’s in the news. It’s the art work of a man: Charles Kraft. A real person who’s made blue-painted china grenades and bars of soap with swastikas and words like “forgiveness” on them. This is fact, not fiction.

    I mentioned the revelation of Kraft’s true intentions only as an ANALOGY for HOW a midpoint works, as it highlights what might be meant by a “contextual shift.” The CONTENT of the news report is not relevant to the FUNCTION of a mid-point, just illustrates HOW IT WORKS.

    The report also serves as an example of 1) the provocative and controversial; 2) the juxtaposition of opposites – two facets of a “concept with teeth.”

    The content and meaning of the report could have been about anything. It’s personally significant to me, which is why I read the article…but my purpose in mentioning it wasn’t to draw attention to the content of the report, but to the DYNAMICS of the revelation, which could then become a mental placeholder for ANY subject matter in a work of fiction.

    But that was an off-topic aside, so never mind.

  42. Matt Duray

    @Sara – I was agreeing with you too, that it was a good example of how a Midpoint could change perceptions and raise stakes. I know it was a true story :)

  43. This is a very helpful post and brought to my attention that I need to write out my “vision” and post it next to my storyboards. The comments are helpful too, especially the one about the Midpoint.

  44. MikeR

    Sara, Matt, Robert, et al … I can’t edit my posts, so I will just have to eat them. If I offended anyone – I own those words, and … I’m sorry. ‘Nuff said. Let’s just leave that right where it is now.

    Having said that, I am right now finding it interesting to confront how “vision,” theme, and the particular time-and-place of my particular story (real time, real place, fake hotel), are right now putting me through a =selection= process, of what exactly the plot (and the surroundings of the plot) actually =ought= to be. It turns out that there are lots of easy reasons to murder someone, and lots of easy reasons to run away, and not one of them will do. Because all of them would bust-out of … well, “out of character.” They’d strain your “suspension of disbelief.” They wouldn’t ring true.

    I have a good idea of what the theme I want to use is. Chattanooga, you see, was a very northern city in many ways, as well as a very wealthy one. The dynamics were never like Selma nor Memphis – and by saying these things I am not passing judgment. I want to put you =there= for a few hundred pages, knowing that it will feel like a strange place when you return to it based on what you know, or think you know, fifty years later. I want you to feel it without judging it, and to do that, I’ve got to displace myself into the point-of-view of cast members for whom it was not strange at all; it was life. (And when the story ends, it is still “life.”)

    It is =hard= to choose(!) what actually happens to them … The “Story Engineering” book makes it very clear what the litmus-test must be, however, and that regard I feel most fortunate. Creativity … as it turns out … is hard. :->

  45. Robert Jones

    @MikeR–For what it is worth, I was not offended. What I was trying to demonstrate was how easily things might get out of hand in terms of a villain who might take on aspects of a Hitler. I think it speaks not only to what Sara was saying, but what you are currently saying in terms of getting back there in time and living as one who believes this is the norm.

    It also applies to what I am trying to do–which is also a period piece. The part of the vision I’m stuck with, like a chicken attempting to hatch an egg I can’t quite get my mind around, is my villain. But the remarks concerning the story we were creating between the artist and museum was actually helpful to me. If my egg hasn’t fully hatched, it at least heated it up a bit.

    So let’s return to that artist/apologist once more and look at him from a modern standpoint, then try to place him back in time–in the period he is now fascinated with. I’ve known many artists who were fascinated with the WWII era. It was by all accounts a simpler time. It was a time for great change in attitudes–if one could look at the end result objectively. It was the time when Superheroes were first created in comic books. And this was no coincidence. I don’t believe in coincidence. We did, after all, have one of the all time largest (possibly the foremost in history) comic book villains/mad geniuses running around.

    Looking at the very notion of a Hitler in terms of what we’ve previously said in terms of creating villains, he didn’t believe he was wrong. Every dictator is someone’s hero, and every hero becomes someone’s dictator, depending on whose side of the fence you fall on.

    Now let’s get back to the artist, who obviously admires Hitler with the eyes that someone today might envision an actor, or pop-star whose life if fraught with abusive, or strange eccentricities. I think we only need to look at Michael Jackson, listen to what people say about him–things like, when you’re the best, some leeway has to be given, or you’re allowed to be a little bit over the top. And to some extent, that may be true. No artist gets to where they are going by staying within the confines of what is dictated as the “NORMALLY PRESCRIBED” lifestyle. However, if Michael weren’t the huge pop star but were your next door neighbor, and you saw him constantly having surgery, wearing masks to cover his face, read the sort of things printed about him in you local paper that appeared in the scandal sheets, would those same people give him the same leeway, or would they be just a little afraid of him?

    It’s all about perspective. As writers we don’t always have the luxury of being kind. We can’t always worry about offending someone. We do have to see the possibilities from both the good and bad sides of any issue. Because that’s life. It’s a delicate balance that perspective thing. The scales of the psyche can tip. But we can’t be foolish either.

    On which note, let’s place the Hitler apologist in a time machine and send him back to the time he obviously has an affinity for. He’s about to meet his hero. But this is a crap shoot because I have a little experience growing up with someone who had a bit of a god complex. I would hate to see what might’ve happened if someone gave him an army.

    The artist might catch Hitler on a good day, explain how much he admires him. Maybe he get a nod from Adolph, maybe even a handshake and a kind word. Hence the artist goes off like any star-stuck fan. But here’s the rub–what if the artist catch Hitler on a bad day? He sees Hitler in a parade, or marching down the street, runs and trips in front of the march, halting the parade. Adolph is now pissed. He says, “Shoot this man. No, wait…on second thought, find his entire family and kill them. But wait, I see he is of a race, or religion that I have had unpleasant encounters with in the past. Let’s wipe them all out on a global scale.”

    Blind hatred has not been expunged from the human condition. In doing a period piece where any type of bias, or prejudice existed, all one has to do is look at the world. Genius, or peasant, dictator, or those living under oppression, anything different gets the blame. But guess what, we’re all different. So no matter who you are, everyone else is a potential threat if you want to get all tribal. And if those different people come into your country, your town, your neighborhood, your safety zone is violated. The age old fear of being taken from within kicks in, the fear factor escalates. It might look like anger on the surface, but it’s fear all the same. The 50’s, in spite of nostalgia films, and how great the folks who grew up during those times said it was–that was a very paranoid era. Much like it is today because the cycle of history loves to repeat.

    That’s your townspeople. The rest is up to you. You have to give them personality. Some will be more broad-minded because there were always those who felt this sort behavior was appalling. But keep in mind that a town becomes a crowd, and a crowd usually falls in line with whoever is the most dominating, yelling the loudest, poking the button of their inner fear and prejudice.

  46. Robert Jones

    On the note of my villain–who does have a position in the a certain government, military career. But he wants more. I’ve tried to wrap my mind around reasons, since he is already doing well in life.

    But the question is, do reasonable people who are easily satisfied seek these positions in the first place? Once you turn a certain corner, is it ever enough? Is there “vision” for life, for the world, the same as the average working class individual?

    I think, once that personality turns that corner, all the see becomes very limited. This is probably because there is a certain void they hope to fill that doesn’t get filled. If the lack is from within, you’re going to start looking for an outward source to blame. But if you’re god (many kings throughout history believed themselves to be the embodiment of god once they took on the mantle of ruler) who do you punish?

    Usually it comes from within. Again, I think we have to look at who might make a person in a leadership position feel less than smart, or poke their fear button.

    There was a line in “A Game of Thrones” that went something like, “Claiming the throne was the easy part. But them you have to sit on it, knowing everyone else with same aspirations want to take it from you.”

  47. I’m sorry, but I don’t agree. If anyone asked me “What is your vision for this story?” or “What is your vision for this house?”, I would think, “What sort of airy-fairy question is that? Who IS this person?!”

    However, if you were to ask me, “What are the themes of your story? Who is your ideal reader? What other books would you compare it to?” – I could answer all of those questions, without any problem at all, and at length. I KNOW what I want my stories to do. My “vision” for them is that they be truthful, thought-provoking, and entertaining. In other words, people who are baffled by your question may find it frustratingly vague.

    My two cents.

    (BTW, as to this question in general, Flannery O’Connor once said that, if a story was any good, and someone asked her what it was about, she could only respond by telling them the whole story. A story has its own integrity, she asserted, and the meaning or “vision” could not be separated from the action. I can only dream of becoming as good a writer as she was. Again, just my two cents!)

  48. @Mary said: “What sort of airy-fairy question is that? Who IS this person?!”

    The lady doth protest too much, methinks.

    Airy-fairy, that’s specific? Who IS this person…that’s specific? Sounds like Ridicule.

    Perhaps it’s an open-ended question on purpose? We ARE supposed to be creative people, yes? If you told me you were building a house and I asked what is your vision for it–you’d be lost? What, do you think I’m asking about–your eyesight?

    Vision is similar to the term Dream in regards to how Martin Luther King used it in a speech…I have a Dream. His term for dream was his vision for the future. Google the term Vision and look for how it’s used relative to how one sees their future.

    Flannery O’Connor said she’d have to tell the entire story if someone asked her what it was about. Sorry, but that’s someone who has trouble with being concise, and precise. Try telling the publisher you met in the elevator that you can’t explain your story in under thirty seconds–because it’s too good.

    Imagine you’re in a job interview and I ask you what is your vision for you working here (thus relative to working with this company, say something like IBM, HP…something large). Would you want me to be more specific? The question is geared to see if you have been envisioning working for the company and what your dreams would be ideally for that venture. A person who has those dreams, has thought of them and can most importantly–articulate them–will be more likely to produce such information in a conversation, and be more likely to get hired.

    Larry is coaching people to write a better story. People are supposed to come to him with a story that they have been envisioning. Ideally. If Sly Stallone was asked back in 1975 what his vision for Rocky was, do you think he could verbalize it? Or would he need a couple of hours to tell the story? Which one would get him taken seriously that he was READY to do this movie…or that he wasn’t ready yet. There’s nothing wrong with not being ready, but there is a problem with not knowing the difference between having a vision–and NOT.

    On a side note: Articulation is an art, something that journalists are taught. For what it’s worth I’m no journalist but my wife has a degree in it, and labored to beat me on the head to be more articulate with what I am writing about, or talking about. I strive to do that and hope I am somewhat. Larry’s story questionnaire is to get us to be articulate about our story…whatever it takes.

    Moving forward, I meet people everyday who have no vision for anything. Their life is about tail gate parties at football games, who won the NCAA tournament, and what’s for supper. They lack imagination, vision, and dreams. It’s a result of our alleged civilized society–and is NOT saying they’re less smart than the dreamers. Imagination is a muscle, but it will apathy if it is not used. Watching someone else’s creation (sports, TV, movies) does NOT use imagination, and at the very best creates improvements via derivatives.

    Imagination IS tough work as you’re creating something original. Derivatives are essentially making a copy with some changes. Much easier, and yet has value. But someone had to come up with the original. Ground Breakers are rewarded and are also known as Visionaries. Oh, while I’m thinking about it, Vision statements are highly sought after in business, and Visionaries are highly sought after in business development. Hardly airy-fairy.

    Yet it gets personal, all these questions. Someone asking us about our writing–that’s personal as it’s questioning our imagination and creativity. Something WE made, not something we modified of someone else’s. Thus we’re going to get buttons pushed and as a result, we may follow that emotional trail, instead of just answering the question as if someone wanted to know what’s for supper–and dessert.

    What’s your vision for your life? The next five years? These are tough questions, and have always been for me. I analyze a LOT and study trends and research alternative information to the alleged “facts” that are repeated from generation to generation. The information I have learned from such research actually makes it harder to have a vision for myself living in a society that is so heavily manipulated by Think Tanks and other hidden (not really that hidden) organizations. But alas, I will suffer “ridicule” by those who haven’t done the research (repeaters) as such researched information threatens the subjective realities we all surround ourselves with like a moat around us, the castle. BTW, we guard ourselves with beliefs, all subjective and thought to be universally true ironically–and anytime these beliefs are threatened, we strike back.

    With Ridicule.

    All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.
    Arthur Schopenhauer
    German philosopher (1788 – 1860)

    Best of luck to ya!

    Kerry

  49. I’m sorry if I was insulting, but, honestly, I did not and do not understand the question. I do not think I would ever understand the question. And I refuse to believe that I’m therefore unable to tell a story.

    Similarly with the house: If anyone asked me “what is your vision for this house?” I would just be bewildered. If they asked: “What sort of house do you envision here?” or “What kind of house would you like to see?” I would be able to answer them.

    A quick question: Have you ever read any Flannery O’Connor? She is known as one of the best short story writers of all time for a reason. One of the things she’s known for is her precision and brevity.

    But I didn’t mean to be offensive, and I’m sorry I was. I did feel rather attacked, obviously. Bowing out now-

  50. I wasn’t attacking you, I was “engaging” your “move” as you made your entry onto the grand chessboard. You made a premise that Vision doesn’t exist from the POV of a dreamer and isn’t necessary for the creation of a novel. I responded to your call if you will.

    As in Nature, so in the alleged society we believe ourselves to be civilized, forces attract equal forces all day long. It’s the way of things. Please don’t bow out of the flow, as this thread is about adaptation…it’s how we learn. We don’t learn by being static.

    I hear you. Some combinations of words don’t work for you as in unlocking the creative secrets hidden in your mind. Nevertheless, life is a dance and if the music changes, either one adapts or leaves the floor…their choice.

    O’Connor, have I read her? No, and I’m not sure if I heard of her before or not. I like her name. Sounds like she could write a precise short story but she couldn’t adapt in the moment to articulating what her story was. That’s like being great at sales proposals and poor at engaging the customer in person. That doesn’t make her bad–it reveals that she may have trouble closing the customer, if we stay with this sales allegory. What is the real shame is if, in this allegorical story, that the sales person quits sales–because she wouldn’t learn to think on her feet.

    Ever see Good Will Hunting? There’s a scene where essentially Robin William’s character tells Will that the “good stuff” is in the gems of so called disharmony. People today don’t want to argue over things and adapt to make a breakthrough in understanding either the other side, or learning something new that is a synergy of the discussion. Instead, I see that people get way too easily offended and walk away.

    In a story, we expect the protagonist to face the antagonist and learn something. Yet in real life I find it rarely happening. They take personal offense when it wasn’t about them–it was about the discussion. I think people today lack a backbone, no offense pointed at yourself. We are not brought up in school or at the office to have a backbone–be courageous. No, we are conditioned to be collective, acceptive and not to question. Which is why I found your initial comment to be refreshing.

    People want heroes and someone to “do something” about the ills in society (out of control banks, fraud, greed) yet being heroic is akin to playing baseball and being at back. Most of the time one will strike out. Fail. But is that really failing? Today I see the masses laughing and ridiculing (again this isn’t about you) those that have differing opinions from the status quo. That’s just sad. The blue skies overhead aren’t that blue anymore–they’re a milky white full of streaks and cotton candy foaming looking clouds–that aren’t clouds. But I get the ridicule from those who have been conditioned not to see. Or question.

    Just keep going and explore your idea. Might help your conflict in your stories.

    Best,

    Kerry

  51. @Mary — what Kerry said. All of it. Including the wrist slap for throwing the first punch, then “feeling attacked” yourself. Then ducking out of the room. Wow.

    Not being capable of attaching context to the language (what the word “vision” means… and it ISN’T theme, by the way)… sounds like you have some 101 work to do, on several counts. Larry — the “airy-fairy” guy who asked the question.

  52. Larry, I am just dropping back in to apologize again. Until your response, I really didn’t realize how my initial response could have been interpreted. I am truly sorry I was so rude to you. That I didn’t mean to be – doesn’t matter. I was. And I’m sorry.

    Of course, I know I have a lot to learn. I fully expect to continue learning all the rest of my life, if not longer. But, as to staying in the conversation further, I do think we have a profound difference of opinion that won’t be bridged by further conversation. I believe, with all my heart, that everyone in the world has a story to tell and an absolute right to tell it. To publish it? Maybe not. But everyone has a right to tell their own story.

    Also, I’m a pantser. I think pantsers (those who discover their story by writing it) and plotters (those who plan out stories in advance) have equally valid methods of working. I don’t think you can say that pantsers have to become plotters in order to write. That’s what I heard you saying. It’s very likely that I just didn’t understand you.

    Again, I’m sorry.

  53. @Mary — thanks for the apology. Appreciated.

    You said: “I believe, with all my heart, that everyone in the world has a story to tell and an absolute right to tell it. To publish it? Maybe not. But everyone has a right to tell their own story.”

    I have never, in my life, indicated a contrary opinion on that count. Indeed, everything I do here supports that. Wondering why you say this here? Maybe you’re weilding subtle implication unknowingly, or maybe your in full command of it here. Can’t tell.

    You said: “I do think we have a profound difference of opinion that won’t be bridged by further conversation.”

    Sounds like stubborn closed-mindedness to me, because you haven’t presented a case for a contrary opinion. When a beginner hears advice from a seasoned professional (me or anyone else, who doesn’t say they “know everything” but know enough to see a limiting belief when they get it thrown at them), that beginner should LISTEN. Not be stubborn. Hubris is earned, never a starting block.

    You said: ” I don’t think you can say that pantsers have to become plotters in order to write.”

    I’ve probably stated a hundred times, here and in my books, that this is true, that pantsing CAN work. You’re seeing, through a defensive lens, what you want to see here, because it challenges your paradigms. Everything I write about CAN be applied by organic writers. Everything. Whether you pants or plan, the principles apply. Pantsing is not a free pass, or an end-run, around the criteria for effective storytelling. It’s just a chosen process. Both need a vision for the story, sooner or later (if that’s the opinion you’ll never budge on , then sadly your road will be long and rough)… the pantser uses drafting to “find” that vision. That’s all. That’s the only difference.

    You’re right when you say you didn’t fully understand me. Bad on me if I’m not clear. I seem to be clear to 10,000 readers each day, many of whom a) are pantsers, and b) write to share their liberated understanding. Not pantsers turned into planners, but pantsers turned into enlightened storytellers who understand the joys AND the limitations of their chosen process.

    I hope, soon, you will join them. The longer one clings to outdated paradigms, defensive stances, closed-mindedness and can’t-be-wrong points of view, the longer that will take. There are a lot of really good sources for mentoring out there, maybe you should compare what they’re saying to what I’m saying. You won’t find it to be much different (it is what it is), but you may like their approach better. Many do. Like Jack Nicholson said in “A Few Good Men,” maybe “you can’t handle the truth.”

    I should celebrate the thousands of readers who DO get it, rather than sweat the one or two that don’t. But that’s just me. Thanks again for the apology, it’s a good start. I wish you well, and I worry that your dream will be stalled until you let go of some things. Larry

  54. Robert Jones

    Mary,

    I sincerely hope you stick around do some further reading, ask some questions, share your opinion. I’ve known a lot of people who find it difficult when a meathod, or percieved rule, challenge their personal system of working. I also know a lot of people who confuse rules with a lot of work, or that the learning takes the fun factor out of anything.

    Sometimes this can be true when looking at it in terms of what most think of in terms of conventional, or grade school learning, those notions fostered during a time when learning interfered with the fun of just being a kid.

    So it doesn’t take a Sherlock to deduce there hasn’t been a great deal of formal, or creative training in your experience. That’s okay. It’s never too late to do anything you put your mind to as far as I’m concerned.

    But learning a craft isn’t quite the same thing as studying to be an accountant, or most other types of trade. For example, a person can very well teach themselves to draw. But only an experienced artist can show them the proper tools to polish their work to a professional level, or teach the principles of perspective drawing.

    That’s what the fundamentals of any of the arts are by definition: principles. We can call them rules, but most rules in the arts are littered with a great many opinions. However, learning the basic principles deepens your understanding, as well as helping to hone your craft. Craft might also be considered to have a blueprint, or recipe, as in building, or cooking…which are also creative and artistic endeavors.

    Lots of folks need further explanations as to certain things we may not grasp. Learning the lingo is also part of understanding, looking as if we know what the heck we are talking about, becoming proficient, professional.

    So again, I hope you’ll stick around and ask some good questions while broadening your own art.

    Robert

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