Writing Better Fiction: Inside the Six Core Competencies

You’ve heard a lot of people in your life say something like, “I’d like to write a novel someday.”  Or a screenplay, perhaps.  Or some variation thereof.  And if you’re already a writer yourself — definition of a writer: someone who actually writes — you may have thought at the time, good luck with that, it’s a lot harder than it looks.  And while I willingly cop to the reason I created The Six Core Competencies of Successful Storytelling development/learning model – to make the utterly complex something that is reasonably clear and accessible — please don’t mistake that as me saying it’s remotely easy.  No, my view is quite the opposite.  The bar is higher than you know.  But once you get inside the Six Core Competencies model, you’ll see that it does carve a roadmap through the creative jungle toward writing a publishable manuscript, a process that’s about as clear and left-brained as anything relating to a highly right-brained endeavor can be.

And if you think that’s just me, the creator of it, popping off, I can give you about a thousand email addresses of people who enthusiastically agree.  They’ll tell you that too much of the teaching related to telling stories these days comes off much like a big white (or dark, depending on your genre) cloud, a body of thought that morphs and moves and separates and then gathers itself again, hopefully into something beautiful, constantly defying any sort of box an ambitious teacher might want to stuff it into.  You hear sage advice such as this, all of it true and valid: you have to make the reader root for your hero… there has to be emotional stakes and resonance… there needs to be a theme and sub-text… the denouement needs to be contextually aligned with the narrative exposition… the character arc needs to spark a sense of empathy… and so on.

Say what?  Cloudy concepts, all.  It certainly sounds good, and you certainly wish you knew what the person saying it seems to know.. but how the hell do you go about doing any of it?  It’s like telling an artist how to paint without talking about the brush.  Where do you start, or even, what do you start with?  And after you do finally start, what comes then?  And again after that.  How do you know what to write?  How do you even approach conjuring those estoteric literary clouds?  The Six Core Competencies model endeavors to answer these questions, and in doing so provide a set of standards and criteria for achieving the aforementioned vaporous asethetics.

How, you might ask?  Through criteria-driven, content-specific modeling of a successful story.  Yes, regardless of form or content, all successful stories — novels and screenplays — share certain elements, internal dynamics and standards. Not a formula, per se, but an accepted structure.  Omit one of the Six Core Competencies, and your story will fail.  Or at least, your story will suffer for it.  Take a swing at one and miss, and your manuscript wreaks of newbieism.  Most writers begin their journey with a sense about these issues of craftsmanship, but without a box to put them in.  They just set off down the storytelling trail and wing it, armed only with the motivation that comes with believing they can write a story every bit as good as the one they just finished reading, or (if it’s a movie) watching.

It is wise to never forget that solid writing, like any flavor of professional skill or craft, looks easy when finished.  And that, invisible to the untrained eye – much like software code lurking behind the most simple and beautiful fo web pages – there is an entire infrastructure in place that empowers the program to run.

The real value of the SCC model, though, is an awareness that all six are necessary to create work at a professional level.  Omit any one, or be weak in any one, and the overwhelming odds are that your story won’t sell.  All six define the entry-level skillset required, the ante-in to the writing business.  And even then — sorry folks, this is where the truth hurts — there’s no guarantee of a selling what you write.

Because, to resort to a baseball metaphor, just about everybody at the tryout has the basics covered.  In the beginning you don’t set out to simply play baseball, you begin by learning each element of game separately — how to hit, how to pitch, how to run the bases, how to field your position… and then how to take them to a professional level by learning the nuances of advanced play, such as hitting to the opposite field, the hit and run, spotting and varying your pitches, and the aptly-named suicide squeeze.  The player signed at the tryout won’t be weak in any single area.  Rather, with high proficiency in all of those skills as a given, the player with something spectacular to offer in one or more of those skills will be the player offered the contract.

If this is your first read here at Storyfix.com, then check out the post just prior to this one, which introduces and briefly defines what The Six Core Competencies of Successful Storytelling are.  If you recognize the inherent opportunity to take your writing to the next level, to land that book or screenplay contract, then I invite you to stick around.  I’m here for the long haul if you are.  And believe me, the goal of writing profesionally is nothing if not a long, challenging and wonderous haul.

2 Comments

Filed under Six Core Competencies, Write better (tips and techniques)

2 Responses to Writing Better Fiction: Inside the Six Core Competencies

  1. Hey Larry,
    I’ve got all of your posts…reading them, studying them. When I look at everything piece by piece, then I’m fine. The problem is when I try to string everything together and start somewhere. I’m writing a totally fresh new story for NaNoWriMo. Normally, I start with characters, but this time I’m thinking more of a theme. Is there a better way to start? Any chronology? Is it better to start with characters, plot, or theme? Or does it matter? Or is that writing style, which differs from writer to writer?

  2. Hey Trina — complicated, isn’t it. No, it doesn’t matter which “corner” is the starting point of the creative process. The reader will never know anyhow. At the end of the day you need a killer concept, a compelling character, a meaningful and powerful theme, and a structure that unfolds the story with the right pacing and elements.

    The first challenge, and the one that derails many writers (okay, most) is the realization that all of these are equally important. They have one or two of these elements, and off they go, writing up a storm without realizing they haven’t finished fleshing out the story.

    You can do that work before you write the story, or during the process. Or some combination thereof. Use the power of the one element you have in hand — theme, in your case — and play “what if?” games with it until you arrive at a conceptual heart and a compelling hero. Don’t rush this, don’t short change it, make this the front line of your creative process.

    If that doesn’t work, then beging writing the story… but not with the intention of leaving those bases uncovered, but with the urgent need to discover them quickly. And knowing that when you do, you’ll need to go back to square one and rebuild the story in context to the presence of these new elements. Which will be a joy, because now you have what you need to make it fly.

    You may be surprised at how quickly this happens. Immerse yourself in the process. I have dozens of posts here that can help, both in terms of process and substance.

    Please keep me posted. Just dive in. You’ll swim. Because now you know the game, the criteria, the need. Those who sink don’t even know they’re on the bottom, because they don’t understand what was missing from their story.

    You have the tools. Don’t kick yourself for feeling you haven’t mastered them yet… nobody ever really does. We just use them and allow them to work their magic. Which they will. Good luck to you!