Steroids for writers. Hmmm… what an interesting notion.
A magic pill that will make you stronger, faster, better and more successful, almost immediately.
I’ve got just the ticket for you. And it’s not even illegal, immoral or, once you let go of some old school brainwashing, controversial.
In fact, it’s not even debatable.
This is the dirty little secret of writing fiction.
You’ve been looking for something to take you to the next level. To put you into the game. Do this, and do it right, and your learning curve will go vertical, and your career will suddenly kick into a higher gear.
It won’t give you talent. But it will unleash the talent you have.
Here’s a tough truth: if you don’t go for this idea, you’ll have to find another way to discover and inject into your brain the exact same things it’ll do for you… only it’ll take you years, even decades to get there.
What same things? If you have to ask… you need this steroid.
This steroid changes you almost immediately. Overnight if you’re a fast reader. No, I’m not selling you my book or ebooks here. I’m pointing you toward a strategy that just might be the most significant milestone in your fiction writing learning curve.
Guessed it yet? I bet not. That’s because…
It’s not what you signed up for.
It might even offend your very expensive grad school aesthetic sensibilities. You might consider this akin to learning how to whip up a perfect Pomodori Secchi e Basilia sauce (sundried tomato and basil, after a year of cooking school in Paris) by first learning how to bread chicken.
Or, you think that because you’ve taken all the workshops and written a rather significant pile of manuscripts, that your learning curve is moot and it’s just a matter of time for you.
If that’s you, I submit to you that it may be this very skewed sensibility that is holding you back.
It doesn’t make you better if it takes you years to discover what’s at the core of this craft. It only makes you a slow learner.
Because you can discover it almost immediately. If you know where to look. (Yes, I know this reads like one of those red-ink splattered sales letters… that’s by design, because I want you drooling for this by the time I reveal it.)
Are you ready to let go of your critique group promulgated, let-the–characters-speak-to-you mumbo jumbo approach to storytelling, and cut smack to the sweet spot of dramatic and narrative truth? The physics of dramatic narrative?
Quick side note: characters don’t talk to you. Never have. That voice of dissent and resistance is your inner intuitive storyteller telling you there’s a better narrative path ahead. That you’re heading down the wrong road, or least not the best available road.
And by the way, this same phenomenon is every bit as available in a pre-story planning phase as it is mid-draft. And in that case, the consequences of listening don’t force you to trash dozens of pages or commit to a less than linear or logical path.
But I digress. Back to your storytelling steroid shot.
Are you tired of trying to stuff a cloud into a sandwich bag, sweep a puddle into a colander or build a house made of pink ribbons and ice cream?
Does your Big Idea flame out around page 90?
Has the muse been ignoring you lately?
After this steroid shot, you can fire her fickle ass and get on with the business of furthering your writing career.
Here it is.
It can be defined in two words: study screenwriting.
Even if you not a movie person.
I’m not talking about becoming a screenwriter here – that’s a different drug altogether – I’m talking about knowing what screenwriters know.
It’s the same stuff you need to know. Identical. Only in screenwriting, they start there. They don’t circle this wagon like they do in novel-focused learning, they use it as the basis of everything.
I’m talking about structure. About pacing. About setting things up to optimize reader involvement. About sub-text, character arc and thematic resonance.
It isn’t rocket science. But it IS screenwriting.
This works. Even if you believe that a novel is a five year commitment to drafting and sweating blood in context to nothing more than some mythical muse – the one you can now demote – speaking to you from deep within your subconscious.
The muse doesn’t know what makes a story work any more than gasoline knows what makes an engine run.
No, you have to light it on fire before it produces energy.
The muse is just an idea that excites you. Which are a dime a dozen and worthless without… well, knowing what screenwriters know.
Screenwriting basics are the match for that fire. Screenwriting basics are, in essence, storytelling on steroids.
And they absolutely can and will make any novelist better. Immediately.
No matter where you stand on the issue of storytelling structure, dramatic theory, the presence and criteria of six discreet yet interdependent core competencies and the complete and the utter unfairness of the wavering bar that comprises the publishing business, this is true:
All successful stories have the same set of fundamental essences and forces in common. Identical literary physics residing beneath what appears to be – and should be – very unique and completely original outer layers of narrative content, context and voice.
There are no exceptions.
The next commercially successful story you encounter that you may consider to be outrageously original will, in fact, be built upon these very same fundamental essences and forces.
Do you know what they are? You may think you do, but… are you published? If not, why not? You know you can spin sentences and concoct ideas with the guys in the window at Barnes & Noble, so… why not?
It’s not because the world isn’t fair. It is, perhaps, because you don’t fully understand what screenwriters learn in Week One and published novelists who haven’t studied screenwriting have managed to wrap their mind around, usually over many years.
Study screenwriting and you can wrap your head around it in just a few days.
It’s almost literally the equivalent of steroids for your writing muscles.
Stories are just like people.
Take away the clothing and the skin and disregard height and weight — all that exterior stuff — and we all pretty much look identical on the inside. Because people and stories are built identically in the inside.
Same organs, in the same place, for the same reasons.
When one of them breaks, we hurt, we limp and we die.
Same deal with the stories we write.
It is our hearts and souls and programmed socialization that makes us unique in an infinite number of ways, and that is analogous to what the writer brings to the inherent, commonly-held and commonly-bound physics of storytelling.
It is why no two stories are every really the same.
Screenwriting will teach you this faster, quicker and better than any writing workshop you’ve ever attended. Because…
Screenwriting is rooted in the fundamental physics of dramatic narrative. The forces that make a story work.
Traditional novel-writing methodologies don’t go anywhere near them without veiled, imprecise terminology often dripping with literary pretension.
Right up there with: listen to your characters when they speak to you.
They don’t have to speak to you if you know how and where to lead them.
Screenwriting is almost all narrative craft. Read a script sometime, you may find the eloquence of a grocery list (or, you may find genius). Either way, writing style is never the point.
Novel writing… the grocery list doesn’t stand a chance. And yet, too many new novelists have this exactly backwards. They are obsessed with narrative skin and the exterior realm of an idea. The one the muse fed them.
Novel writing aspires to art. As if craft somehow manifests by the mere aspiration to art.
But literary art is nothing more than craft taken to a level of excellence at which – like great architecture, sculpture and staying married for more than ten years – assumes a veneer of awe.
Art is really just craft done better than pretty much anyone else at the writing seminar can do it.
The muse left the room the moment the actual storytelling process began.
At that point, you need to take over.
If your muse was a screenwriter, she’d stick around to make sure you do this right.
How to inject this steroid into your storytelling bloodstream.
No needles are required.
Read the book Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting, by Syd Field. A better title would have been: Screenplay: The Foundations of Storytelling, Period.
That’s the only book you need to gain access to this steroid. There are many others that cover the same ground, including my stuff, but none with the clarity of entry-level illumination quite like Field’s. He didn’t invent it, he just gave it amazing and empowering access.
The initial resistance to the notion of this steroid at this point,at least for some writers, is the completely erroneous belief that storytelling for film is somehow different than storytelling for novelists.
Wrong, wrong, wrong. It’s only different on the outside. The guts of it are identical. The fundamental physics – the forces and structure that make a story work – are the same. And if you can’t bring yourself to quite believe that, continue reading and then do it, and you’ll discover this to be true.
You may never look at a film, or a novel, quite the same way again. And hopefully, you’ll never write one the same old unpublished way again.
You may want to get your hands on a few actual scripts to see this implemented with your own eyes.
Then, or in place of actually reading a script or two, start watching movies in context to what you’ve learned. You’ll be blown away by what you see.
After that, start applying these very same physics to the novels you read. You’ll find them valid there, as well, hidden among all the eloquence and wit and poetic and/or snarky genius of the narrative.
Yep, everyone from Stephen King to Jonathan Franzen (I found Franzen’s First Plot Point on precisely the exact page it is supposed to appear, according to basic dramatic theory, in his current #1 bestseller… I’ll leave the cause and effect of that to you) to Janet Evanovich is already doing what you’ve just discovered. Already implementing what screenwriters know at the most basic, elemental level of storytelling.
Finally, apply those principles to the novels you write.
Quick note — do this discovery with modern commercial films and books. Don’t expect Bill Shakespeare or Leo Tolstoy to become your contrarian banner wavers. You can’t write like them or their immortalized peers, and nobody is publishing them, either, so how they wrote their stories is a moot point.
Trust me, you’ll get a rush from this steroid.
It’ll be like the curtain rising on your writing future. Like a massive light bulb the size of a stadium tower going off in your brain.
Precious few screenwriters know how to write a novel. Frankly, they’re too busy chasing real money in the movie business to sit down and bang out 400 pages, when for them, 120 pages might make them rich. Only a few do both, because only a few can.
But you, the novelist, are already in possession of that which can’t easily be taught: the sensibility of artfully combined thoughts and words. When you add that to what the screenwriter knows – and what published novelists know, too, though perhaps without calling it what it is or giving credit where credit is due – your future suddenly looks much different.
Like an athlete on steroids. Only you’re not cheating.
Look in the mirror. That suddenly buff, confident, beaming literary athlete staring back at you with a grin that says it’s time to crush it out of the ballpark…
… that’s you. Because now you know.
Once you know, you’ll never go back. Or backwards. You can’t unlearn this.
And you won’t ever be asked to testify before Congress, I guarantee.
Have you experienced the breakthrough realization taught by screenwriting, or perhaps through the applied six core competencies model presented here on Storyfix? Please share your experience with writers who are holding on to their old school resistance.
They’re out there. It’s up to us to save them from years of plotting and plodding in the dark.
(Storyfix is an Amazon.com affiliate, but only when you buy something from a link here. Otherwise they’re on their own… and I hear they’re doing fine.)