Want To Be A NY Times Bestselling Novelist And Have Your Stories Turned Into Movies? Then You Owe It To Your Audience To Learn Craft. Period.

Over the last few days I’ve been wrapping up a content edit for one of my clients. I do a lot of content editing in my business for writers who’ve written a draft and now want to get feedback to make improvements.

I’ve never enjoyed a content edit as much as I did doing this content edit for my long-time client, because as I’ve worked with her over the last couple years, I’ve watched her become better and better at story craft. And it shows in her manuscript.

This is her best one to date. As I was reading it, I just kept thinking how proud I am of her for how far she’s come in such a short period of time.

She’s now a storyteller. She understands structure and opposition and she has character arc and a journey with stakes. She’s spent enough time studying and practicing and learning that she can now write a cohesive, engaging story that makes you want to turn the page and keep reading.

Most stories that I read are a total mess. There’s no structure, the plot is thin, opposition is nowhere to be found and the character arc is nonexistent. And this is a HUGE problem.

In fact, many writers never even hire a content editor (even BIGGER problem!), so they never actually find out what’s wrong with their story and how to fix it. And then, even worse, they go off and self-publish that baby, hoping it will somehow make a bunch of sales and even land them on the NY Times Best Seller list.

Fat chance.

And I’m not saying that to be mean. I’m saying it because landing on the NY Times list is already a hard enough thing to accomplish, but throw into the mix a poorly done story with no structure and no opposition, etc., and you’ve pretty much shot yourself in the foot.

There’s no way your novel will ever land on the NY Times Best Seller list or an Amazon Best Seller list or any list, for that matter, if you haven’t done your due diligence to become an actual storyteller.

News flash: just because you’re a writer and have lots of story ideas doesn’t make you a storyteller.

A storyteller is someone who understands what keeps people hooked. A storyteller knows how to structure a story so that the pacing and the conflict and drama unfold in an optimal way. A storyteller has mastered the craft of weaving words into a cohesive tale.

Writers are born, but storytellers are made.

So while it’s damn-near impossible to teach writing to someone who isn’t meant to be a writer, it’s not impossible to teach a decent writer how to be a good storyteller.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: you can write all the beautiful prose in the world, but if you don’t know how to write an engaging, cohesive story with structure and opposition, even your beautiful prose can’t save you from the slush pile.

You must learn craft. You must master the art of storytelling. You must do your due diligence.

Not just for yourself as a writer and storyteller, but for your audience, the people who will eventually read the words you’ve weaved into a story.

If you want to be a professional novelist, you have to care enough about your audience to step into the identity of the writer and storyteller you’re meant to be. You have to be willing to go the distance and learn as much as you can about the craft of storytelling.

I often say you must “master” craft, but the truth is, no one ever really masters it. Not even Stephen King. Because there’s always another layer of learning and always a way to go deeper.

Story craft is like an onion. And most writers are still dancing on the surface of it. But they’ve never actually taken the time to peel off the skin and start to dig deeper into the layers.

And that’s a huge mistake. One that could cost you your publishing career before you’ve even gotten it off the ground.

I spent 5+ years studying story and learning structure and gaining a deeper knowledge and understanding of how all of the pieces of craft work together to create a cohesive, engaging story that makes you want to keep reading (or watching). And I’m still learning to this day.

Because I know there’s always something else to learn.

A year and a half ago, I didn’t fully understand the nuances of writing a scene. I had a good understanding of purpose and mission and how to inject that into a scene and bring the story to life. But I hadn’t yet learned that, just like your story plot, scenes have a specific structure.

But because I’m always learning and growing and going deeper into my storytelling education, I learned about scene structure and began practicing and implementing it on my own stories and watching it come to life on the screen (I watch A LOT of movies).

Now not only is my own scene-writing better, but I’m able to bring that additional layer of storytelling into my work as a story coach and content editor.

And I’ll never stop. Not ’til the day I take my final breath. Because I am a born writer and a made storyteller.

Telling stories is all I ever wanted to do with my life. I wanted to write and create and make up stories to entertain people. From a young age, I saw myself as a novelist and a screenwriter and watching my stories come to life on the big-screen.

I always knew that was the direction I was heading, even if I pushed it away for a long time (and believe me, I did).

That’s why I’m so committed to being a better storyteller. Because I want my audience to LOVE my stories. I want my audience to RAVE about my stories. I want them to leave me 5-star reviews and beg me to write and release my next story.

I care about my readers. Very much.

That’s why I’ve spent so much time learning story structure. That’s why I hire editors and Beta Readers to read my stories and tell me how to make them better. That’s why, even though I’m a story coach and content editor and have worked with hundreds of writers on planning and developing their stories I still continue to watch and deconstruct movies and read books on craft and dig deeper.

Because I not only want to be one of those storytellers who hits the NY Times Best Seller list and has their stories turned into movies, but I WILL BE one of those storytellers.

I will be at the top of my genre. I will be an Academy-Award winning screenwriter. I will be famous in Hollywood and the writing world for my stories. I’ve already decided all of this and set my mind to it, so I know it’s a done deal.

But that doesn’t mean I can just sit on my ass and write a couple stories.

Knowing what you’re destined for and what you’re meant for and what you want to create in your life is awesome, but it doesn’t excuse you from having to then fully step into the role of being that person–that writer and author and storyteller–right now.

Which means being willing to do the things most writers aren’t. It means spending more time studying craft and practicing storytelling than sitting around watching mindless TV. It means investing the money in a content editor or Beta Readers or a story coach or a workshop or course or book that will help you become better. It means doing the work day-in-and-day-out to improve your storytelling skills and your understanding of craft.

It means being willing to accept that being a great storyteller is a life-long journey that never really ends. Because you’ll never master it and you will die still not knowing everything.

But if you show up every day and do the work, you will become one of those storytellers who gets remembered long after you’re gone.

And, really, if you see yourself as a NY Times Best Selling novelist and you can imagine your stories being made into movies on the big-screen, then you owe it to yourself AND your readers to become the best writer and storyteller you can possibly be.

And it all starts with craft. It starts with becoming an expert in craft–and not just knowing what the pieces of storytelling are, but actually being able to implement those pieces in your own stories.

Do the work. Your future readers will thank you for it.

Dream life or bust,

 

 

 

#DreamLifeOrBust #DailyThinkDifferent

P.S. If you’re ready to continue your storytelling and craft journey, I have a FREE 3-part video series coming tomorrow where I’ll be teaching you all about the #1 thing your story needs to be an actual story. Stay tuned… (and if you can’t wait another day, go to www.JenniferBlanchard.net and grab my FREE story training + workbook, From ‘Eh’ to ‘Awesome’ and start your craft journey right away.)

You Can Make-Believe Your Way Into Your Dreams

A little over a year ago, I became a best selling author on Amazon. I sold 1,007 books in 30 days and hit #1 in the Authorship category.

And when I looked back at what, specifically, I did to make it happen, I was surprised (but not all that surprised) to find out it was mostly the acting as if stuff that helped me manifest it.

Yes, I already had a following and other books out and momentum. But I’d had that for years. It wasn’t until I started to pretend I was already the successful writer and author that I dreamed of being and taking action from that place did things like hitting #1 start to happen to me.

Here’s the cool thing about creating your writing dreams: you can pretend your way into them.

You can figure out where you want to go in your writing life, and then you can make a list of all the things you’d be doing and being if you were already that person, and then you can go and take as many of those actions as possible, as if you already are that person.

Just like you played make-believe as a kid and pretended you were a teacher or a mom/dad or an actor or a cowboy or a princess or whatever you liked to pretend to be (for me it was always teacher, artist and storyteller). You can do that right now with your dream writing life.

Here’s an example:

When I’m developing and planning a new story and I’m ready to write the first draft, I always build a Scrivener file for it. First I create two folders inside the file: 1) Written 2) To Be Written. Then I add a text file for each scene in the order they’re listed in on my roadmap to the “To Be Written” folder. And if I know the name of the story already, I’ll put it on the title page and rename the manuscript as well.

This is my starting place. And then I marinate.

I’ve got the story in my head and the plan down on paper. I’ve been thinking about it, marinating on it, and pulling out pieces and writing them down as they come through for weeks, if not months.

And having the Scrivener file all set up and ready to go really stirs up the inspiration. I find myself waking up in the morning with the opening lines for the story or a particular scene dancing through my head. Ready to come out.

Then I sit in front of the blank Scrivener file and I channel the words down to the page.

Before setting up the Scrivener file, I have no idea what words to use, they just won’t come out. But by pretending I already have the words and setting up the Scrivener file like I’m ready to start writing, the words come to me. Every single time.

Because I’m acting as if. I’m make-believing that I know what to write, and so I do the things I know I’d be doing if I already had the words: set up my Scrivener file.

I have a story plan, OF COURSE, I won’t write without one. But the story plan–while insanely useful–doesn’t tell me the specific words I need to write. It only informs me of what the story is about and what has to happen in each scene.

The words are a whole other beast.

So I use the acting as if principle to make the words come to me. I do this for my novels and for my blog posts and my nonfiction and even for the writing I do for my clients. I even have a client who I’m so in-tune with, when I’m writing her email copy I feel like her voice is being channeled through me. (It’s pretty freaking cool!!)

A little over a year ago, I started to pretend I was already a best selling author. I committed to writing and publishing 9 books that year. I opened myself to the idea of becoming a best seller and receiving the inspired actions to take.

Most importantly, I declared it publicly to my community that I was going to be a best selling author on Amazon in 2016. And to hold myself accountable to it, I started a group called the Bestselling Author Mastermind and I told everyone they could watch me hit #1 and I’d talk them through everything I was doing and how I was doing it.

So when my new eBook hit #1 on Amazon a week after creating this group and declaring publicly that I was gonna be a best seller, I was surprised, but, again, not all that surprised.

Because I acted my way into it.

I pretended it was already true and I took action from that place.

If I was already a best selling author on Amazon, I’d most definitely have a group where I showed people what I did and how to do it, as well as held them accountable to taking action in their own writing lives. So that’s what I did. I started the group and showed them live in real time how I became a best selling author.

When you start to let go of how you’ve always been told you should achieve things and start opening your mind to using universal laws to create what you want, you’ll be amazed at how much easier everything becomes.

Now don’t get me wrong–you still have to put in the work. I was able to easily manifest best seller status because I had built up so much momentum over the years. I just wasn’t open to receiving it until then.

But my point in all of this, is that you can very easily act your way into the writing life you’ve always dreamed of. You just have to step into the identity of who that writer and author would be right now.

It’s up to you whether you take baby steps or huge leaps. Both ways work and both ways will bring you closer and closer to being that writer and author you’ve always seen yourself as.

Dream life or bust,

 

 

 

#DreamLifeOrBust #DailyThinkDifferent

P.S. Doors to the Bestselling Author Mastermind are NOW OPEN to new members!!!! BAM is my high-level support group for multi-passionate writers and authors who want to have the habits, mindset, craft expertise, consistency and follow-through of a bestselling author, while writing and publishing their books and creating their dream writing lives all on their terms.

I’m SO pumped to welcome the new members to the group. I’ve just filled the member’s site with a ton of new content, including all of my most recent workshops. This is the BEST the member’s site has ever been.

See EVERYTHING you get in the member’s site, get the full details on the membership and sign up for the group here: www.jenniferblanchard.net/landing/mastermind

Three Examples to Help Illustrate Opposition In A Story

There’s a very common saying (and misconception) in the storytelling world that goes a little something like this: the definition of story is Conflict.

Maybe you’ve heard this before?

And writers everywhere are being mislead into thinking that as long as they have conflict, they have a story. It’s how well-intentioned writers end up with an episodic narrative and no idea where they went wrong.

“But it has conflict!” they’ll argue. “There’s drama and conflict and all kinds of obstacles going on.”

Fine. That’s what there needs to be. But that’s not all there needs to be.

That’s where writers go off track. Because they’re been told for years that the definition of story is conflict. And it’s not.

The real definition of story, is this: opposition. 

No opposition, no story. Period.

And this is what writers get wrong. Over and over again, this is what I see from the writers I talk to and work with. They’ve got a really cool idea for a story, they have conflict and tension and drama. Sometimes they even have an Antagonist.

But they don’t have true opposition, because what the Protagonist wants has nothing to do with what the Antagonist wants, or there’s no compelling reasons for why the Antagonist is doing what he’s doing, etc.

That doesn’t work. A story needs opposition. Why?

Because opposition creates stakes, it creates a journey, it creates something to be resolved. And that’s what a story needs.

If you don’t have opposition, you don’t have real stakes or a real journey or anything that immediately needs to be resolved. Opposition is the thing that makes it all work.

Here are some examples to help illustrate it for you:

Example #1

Movie: Billy Madison

Protagonist: Billy Madison

Opposition: Eric, his father’s associate who’s getting the company instead of Billy

How Eric opposes Billy: Billy is going back through grades 1-12 and re-graduating to try and prove himself; Eric is sabotaging his efforts along the way so Billy fails

Why Eric opposes Billy: because Eric wants to be the new owner of Madison Hotels and stop Billy from taking over instead

Example #2

Movie: Scream

Protagonist: Sydney Prescott

Opposition: ghost-face killer who wants to kill Sydney

How Killer Opposes Sydney: Sydney is trying to figure out who’s after her and she wants to escape with her life, but the killer is psychologically torturing her and plans on killing her

Why Killer Opposes Sydney: because of a back story that Sydney is unaware of (her mom is the reason the killer’s mom left him and his father a few years ago)

Example #3

Movie: Twilight, Eclipse (movie #3)

Protagonist: Bella Swann

Opposition: Victoria and her minion, Riley, who both want to kill Bella (and Edward, her lover)

How Victoria Opposes Bella: Riley builds an army with the guidance of Victoria so they can travel to Forks and destroy Bella, Edward and his family

Why Victoria Opposes Bella: because Bella is responsible for the death of Victoria’s mate, James (from movie #1)

Get it? Opposition = story. 

If you’re doing NaNoWriMo this year, now’s the perfect time to figure out what the opposition will be in your story. If you do that, you’ll be lightyears ahead of the game come November 1.

Share With Us

Who or what is creating opposition in your story? Share in the comments. 

How To Plan Your NaNoWriMo Novel In 15-Minute Sessions

Are you participating in NaNoWriMo this year? I’m doing my own version of NaNo in November and revising the draft I finished earlier this year.

I’ve been going through my first draft, reading and re-reading and making notes for changes, and then creating scene cards to make my post-draft story roadmap more portable. And as I’ve been doing this, I’ve felt SO grateful for having taken the time to plan and develop my story before I wrote it.

This draft is total crap as far as the writing goes. But the story? The story is there. Sure, I’m finding ways to optimize things, and moving things around and changing stuff, but overall the story is still the same as it was when I wrote the draft.

Because I didn’t use my draft as a way to search for my story (I’ve tried it that way, it always results in epic failure for me), so my draft is actually a story.

This is a big deal, because it’s making my revision process much easier and less frustrating. And I totally expect to get it all finished during November. That may seem crazy (although if you’ve hung around me long enough you know I like crazy), but when you do enough planning ahead of time, you can write a first draft that doesn’t suck.

Which means my second draft is much easier to revise.

I’d say I’m able to save about 75% of my original draft (the story, not necessarily the way I wrote it). For me, revisions are more about infusing the narrative with characterization and description, for improving dialogue and making sure I’m showing more than telling.

I’m not ripping apart the story or fixing major plot holes or anything like that. Because I work that shit out first.

If you’re attempting NaNoWriMo this year, that’s exactly what I recommend you do too. If you plan your story before you write it, you will end up with a better first draft every single time.

And even if you’re busy this month, you can still make it happen. I’m making NaNoPlanMo even easier for you, with this 15-minute story planning schedule.

There are 20 days left in the month. That means if you worked your way through this list for 15 minutes a day, you’d have spent 300 minutes (or 5 hours) planning your story. Is that enough time to get it perfect? Probably not.

But it is enough time to know the most important information about your story. And since 15 minutes is a small amount of time, you can easily throw in an extra session here and there when you need it.

Here’s a list of story tasks/questions that you can do in 15-minute increments:

  • Brainstorm your idea, Concept and Premise 
  • Refine your Concept (aka: the landscape of your story)
  • Refine your Premise (aka: plot)
  • Who’s your Protagonist? 
  • What does she want in the story?
  • Who’s your Antagonist? 
  • What does he want in the story?
  • Why does he want to oppose your Protagonist? 
  • How does the introduction of the Antagonist create stakes for your Protagonist? 
  • How does the story open?
  • What’s the Hook?
  • What’s your First Plot Point?
  • What’s your Midpoint?
  • What’s your Second Plot Point?
  • What are your two Pinch Points?
  • What needs to happen in Part One (aka: Set Up)
  • What needs to happen in Part Two (aka: Reaction)
  • What needs to happen in Part Three (aka: Attack)
  • What needs to happen in Part Four (aka: Resolution)
  • What’s your theme/message?
  • What are your subplots?
  • Who are your secondary characters?
  • Write up a scene list (multiple 15-minute sessions for this one)
  • Expand on each scene (one 15-minute session per scene)

And there you have it. Your quick-and-easy-get-it-done NaNoWriMo story plan.

Now get to work!

Share With Us

How do you get your story ready for NaNoWriMo? 

———–

15 Minute WriterAnd if you want to kick some serious writing ass in only 15 minutes a day (yes, it’s totally possible!), check out my best selling book, The 15-Minute Writer: How To Write Your Book In Only 15 Minutes A Day

5 Ways to Plot Your Novel 

NOTE: This is a guest post from award-winning author, Janice Hardy. 

I’m fortunate that plotting is a lot of fun for me. Figuring out goals and tough choices for my characters is one of my favorite aspects of writing, and I love putting my characters in impossible situations just to see how they’ll get out if it.

Not every writer has as much fun potting, however, so if you’re a writer who finds plotting more chore than joyride, I’ve discovered a few tricks to make it easier. And hopefully, a little bit more fun.

1. Follow the Problem

Some stories revolve around a major problem that must be solved or else. To solve this big problem, the protagonist must first overcome a series of smaller problems along the way. When we look at what the protagonist has to do at each step, the plot emerges. Most of the major turning points of the plot will be steps to solving this big problem, and they’ll form a logical path from start to finish.

To plot a problem-centric story, start with your core conflict. Think about what caused it, what it’s doing to the main characters and story world, and what has to be done to fix it. Let the problems guide you to your plot and follow the steps that take your characters from the page one problem all the way to the resolution on the final page.

Great for: Writers who like to focus on what happens in the story, and those who find it easier to create the situations of the story first. It’s also good for plot-focused stories where the events are more important than the character journey, such as thrillers or mysteries.

2. Follow the Characters

Since a character’s choices drive the plot, focusing on what she wants and why will lead you through your story. These plots often focus more on how a character grows and changes, and the choices that shape those changes. The major turning points will revolve around your character’s needs and desires, hopes and dreams, and what she does to achieve those needs.

To follow your character, start with the one thing your protagonist wants or needs and think about the things she will (or won’t) do to meet that need. What impossible choices will she face? What will push her to her breaking point? What must she do that she’s never been brave enough to do before?

Great for: Character-driven writers and stories where the focus is on the characters and how they grow. It’s also good for stories with strong character arcs that illustrate themes or explore human nature.

3. Follow the Individual Arcs

If plotting out an entire novel seems daunting, try taking it in smaller chucks. Plots forms arcs—beginning > middle > ending. The steps of the plot follow this same structure, so plotting your novel one small arc at a time allows you to move forward without having to figure out what happens farther into the novel.

If you think about your novel in small story arcs, start with your opening scene (or favorite moment–no one says you have to plot in order). Figure out where that leads and how that problem is solved. Once your protagonist finishes that arc, take the next problem and do the same thing. Look at your various arcs and determine how they link together to tell your larger tale.

Great for: Pantsers who don’t want to know how everything works out ahead of time. It’s also good for writers who imagine their stories in vignettes and prefer to write the scenes that excite them the most first.

4. Follow the Mystery

Some plots exist solely to answer a question, such as, “Who killed the baker?” Exploring the story questions of who, how, and why create the key moments of the plot. The plot exists to reveal a secret or find a truth, and the characters work with–and against–each other to that end.

If you have a mystery plot, start with the mystery and decide what questions the protagonist will have to ask to solve that mystery. Who will she need to talk to? Where will she need to go? What lies might she encounter? What half-truths might distract her?

Great for: Writers who enjoy the puzzle side of plotting, and who want to keep readers in the dark as long as possible. It’s also good for genres such as mysteries or suspense, where the focus in on the mystery more than the characters.

5. Follow the Emotion

For novels that are all about the emotions (such as romances), the plot focuses on the relationships and how the characters interact. The key turning points of the plot will be emotional ones, usually denoting important steps in that relationship or internal growth (or lack thereof).

If you have an emotional story, start with your characters and how they feel, and explore how their emotions will change. Who are the people contributing to their lives? How do those people affect their emotional states? What emotion do they wish to get rid of? How do they want to feel?

Great for: Writers who want to explore relationships and how people interact. It’s also good for romances or any story that seeks to explore an emotional truth.

There’s no right way to write, so don’t worry if your process follows a different path than most. If an aspect of a story appeals to you and inspires you to write that story, let it guide you to the perfect plot the way you like to write.

Share With Us

What kind of writer are you?

———– 

About the Author: Janice Hardy is the award-winning author of The Healing Wars trilogy and the Foundations of Fiction series, including Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a self-guided workshop for planning or revising a novel, the companion Planning Your Novel Workbook, Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, and the first book in her Skill Builders Series, Understanding Show, Don’t Tell (And Really Getting It). She’s also the founder of the writing site, Fiction University. For more advice and helpful writing tips, visit her at www.fiction-university.com or @Janice_Hardy

pynw-2x3Looking for tips on plotting your novel? Check out my book, Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a series of self-guided workshops that help you develop your idea into a novel. For a hands-on approach, try my Planning Your Novel Workbook.  Revising your novel? Check out my newest book, Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iTunes | Indie Bound

Win a 10-Page Critique From Janice Hardy

Three Books. Three Months. Three Chances to Win.

To celebrate the release of my newest writing books, I’m going on a three-month blog tour–and each month, one lucky winner will receive a 10-page critique from me.

It’s easy to enter. Simply visit leave a comment and enter the drawing via Rafflecopter. At the end of each month, I’ll randomly choose a winner.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

How To Master Story Structure In 3 Steps

It took me 5 full years of doing what I’m going to explain to you in this article before I finally felt like I had mastered story structure. Now I’d argue that you never really master structure–or craft–because there’s always something new to learn.

But I finally got to a point where I could pick structure out in a movie without having to watch it a hundred times, and I could actually use structure in my own stories and make it work (I published my first novel, SoundCheck, last June, and my new one is tentatively set for a December launch).

The other day I was thinking about what it took for me to really learn and master structure. And there were three things that stood out to me:

1. I Studied Craft Religiously

Rather than just read a book and set it aside, I actually read Larry Brooks’ book, Story Engineering (and first, as an eBook called, Story Structure–Demystified) on the daily. Not the whole book, but I was always picking it up and reading sections from it (although I do read the whole book annually and reference it all the time).

I wanted to not only memorize the definitions of the plot points, but I also wanted to memorize what the mission of each plot point was, and what its purpose was in the story.

Super important to know this stuff front and back, otherwise you may misunderstand structure and not be able to use it properly. Which might not seem that bad, but it will be a death sentence for your stories.

2. I Watched Tons of Movies and Deconstructed Them

When I was deep into mastering structure mode, I spent hours of my time every day watching movies. Yes, sometimes even in the place of writing time (this was back when I was less disciplined on doing the writing daily).

Some nights I watched upwards of 3 movies, and just studied the structure points as they unfolded.

I did this for movies mostly in my genre, but I also watched and deconstructed movies in other genres. One especially good genre for studying structure is Thriller, because the plot points usually stand out a lot more than in other genres.

By watching movies and seeing structure illustrated visually, it really helped to cement in my mind how it worked to make a story cohesive and compelling.

Still to this day, deconstructing movies is a hobby of mine. (I’m a story nerd like that.) You can never do it enough.

And every time I have the chance to deconstruct a movie, what I know to be true about structure proves itself to me over and over again.

3. Read Through Story Deconstructions

One last thing I did to really master story structure is to read through story deconstructions from other masters in story structure, to see even more examples of how structure works.

Larry Brooks has some killer deconstructions on his blog here. Another favorite of mine is the Story Structure Database from author, K.M. Weiland.

By doing these three things–studying craft, watching movies and deconstructing them, and then reading through deconstructions other people have done, I was able to master story structure. And not just what it is, but also how to use it properly in a story.

If you want to be a master of story structure, I highly recommend you do the three things I listed here on a weekly, if not daily, basis.

Share With Us

Which of the three steps will you implement today? Share in the comments.

———–

And if you want a toolkit to help you do all three things all in one place, check out my Master Story Structure toolkit.

This kit will walk you through the basics of story structure, illustrate how it’s used, and help you actually implement it. This kit is about craft-by-definition, examples, and practicing on your own stories.

Basically it will help you become a MASTER of story structure (which is what every emerging fiction writer and author needs to become).

This kit includes:

•Story Structure Overview (video)

•The Story Structure Cheat Sheet (PDF)

•A collection of 11 story deconstructions of movies (and one novel), including: What Women Want, Rudy, Beerfest, Eraser, Cruel Intentions, and If I Stay (PDFs)

•How To Deconstruct A Movie (Instructional PDF)

•Movie Deconstruction Worksheet (PDF)

•Practice Plan (PDF)

This kit is available THIS WEEK ONLY for $7.

(Why only $7? Because I want EVERY serious novelist to be able to afford it. This is one resource that can truly support you in becoming the badass storyteller you’ve always wanted to be.)

>> Grab your Master Story Structure kit here

The Master Story Structure kit is a go-to way to help you write better stories, even if you write those stories by the seat of your pants (yes, when a “pantser” is a master of structure, you can write without a plan, a la Stephen King). It also works great for anyone attempting NaNoWriMo this year.

How To Turn An “Eh” Idea Into A “Gotta Read That” Story

When a blip of inspiration hits you, you have what I like to call an “idea seed.” This isn’t a story, not yet. It’s just an idea that may very well turn into a story.

The problem is, most writers don’t see that. They get the blip of inspiration–write a story about losing love set in the 1930s–and they just sit down and start planning or start writing. But they’ve skipped an entire step in the process.

Before you can turn your idea into a story, you have to develop it.

Your idea needs marination time, it needs to be poked and prodded and questioned. All of this is part of the development process. And it’s how you take an “eh” idea and turn it into a “gotta read that” story.

I’m big on examples, so here’s one from my writing life.

A few months ago, I got an idea seed for a story about a girl who has bad luck with love and who always gets dumped or broken up with, sometimes in an extreme manner (Think: the infamous Carrie Bradshaw Post-it note break up incident).

But how freaking boring is that?!

OK, maybe it’s not totally boring. Maybe some readers in my genre (Chick Lit/Women’s Contemporary Fiction with Romantic Undertones) would be interested in it. But would the majority of readers in my genre?

Probably not.

Would it become a smash-hit bestseller?

Definitely not.

Because there are already a ton of other books out there with a similar storyline. What’s to differentiate this story from all the others?

Most writers don’t think this way, because they believe nonsense like you need to write for yourself and not for anyone else (not true, by the way, unless you only plan on writing for yourself. If you want to be published and get a readership, you need to take your reader into consideration when you’re choosing which ideas are worth writing).

Being a professional writer is about having business sense and knowing what will sell and what won’t. It’s about putting your soul on paper, but doing it strategically and with purpose and intention. 

I think like a pro writer, so I knew right away that my idea seed wasn’t enough. It was just a spark, but I needed the whole fire.

So I sat on it. I let it marinate in my subconscious and I went into my days knowing that if I’m meant to write the story, it will come through to me in a more specific, kick-ass way. (Kinda like the idea of letting a story “chase you” before you write it.)

And, well, not long after that, something came through for this story that was so incredible it actually freaked me out at first. Because I could actually see it becoming a bestseller in my genre. I could see it being turned into a big-screen Hollywood rom-com that grosses millions of dollars at the box office.

It’s scary to think you have a story with that kind of potential.

And what came through to me was this: The Breakup Coach.

A story about a woman who is a “break up coach.” She would actually help people break up with their spouses and significant others. I’m imagining it like “Hitch” in reverse (Hitch, if you haven’t seen it, is a movie about a “love doctor” who helps shy, quiet men get the women of their dreams).

And the differentiator here, the thing that changed this from an “eh” idea into a “gotta read that” story, is Concept. It’s putting something conceptual at the heart of it. (The story still needs a Premise, which I’m working on now.)

It’s taking “a story about a girl who has bad luck with love” and bringing it to a whole new level.

In this case we have character as concept, because her job (being a “break up coach”) is so far out of the realm of what is “normal” or what you’ve seen before that it puts a totally unique spin on things.

Now can you imagine if I had just sat down and started planning (or, even worse, started writing), not truly seeing the big picture or taking the time to develop the spark into an actual fire? I’d have ended up with a much different story. One that wouldn’t have been nearly as good as it’s going to be now that I’ve elevated it to this level by infusing it with Concept.

This is why the story development process is SO important. More so than even the planning process (although that’s super important too). Because without the story development process, you may just end up wasting your time writing the lame story idea that has the potential to really shine if you just gave it the time it needs to become something more.

Patience becomes an important virtue in this case.

I know it’s hard. It’s SO HARD to stop yourself or put the brakes on when you’re burning with an idea that you want to just sit down and start working on. It’s super hard.

But it’s worth it.

Share With Us

How do you turn your story ideas from “eh” to “amazing?” 

Are you done trying to write a story before it’s ready to be written? Ready for a whole new way of turning an idea into a fully developed story plan? Check out the Story Roadmap Kit

3 Ways to Create A Roadmap For Your Novel

You have likely heard the term “roadmap” before. But have you heard it in relation to your novel?

Maybe. Maybe not.

If you haven’t, here’s a quick intro: a novel roadmap is a gathering of all the scenes you’ll need to write in your story to make it cohesive from beginning to end. 

There are a ton of ways to put one of these things together. But I have three specific ways that are my absolute favorite, go-to, wouldn’t do it any other way. Those are:

1. The Beat Sheet

A beat sheet is a bulleted-pointed list of scenes. Each bullet point equals one scene that needs to be in your story. And you write the bullet points in order, so you have a complete story from start to finish.

Here’s a quick example:

  • Hook: scene that shows antagonism to come
  • Intro Protagonist
  • Show Protagonist living her daily life
  • Intro what’s at stake for the Protagonist
  • Start the subplot love story

Now this is a very generic beat sheet example, and you’d want to be much more detailed when you put yours together. But the idea is getting you to think, specifically, about the scenes you’ll need to set up your story, introduce your core plot (Antagonist plus journey for the Protagonist), show the Protagonist and Antagonist getting stronger and overcoming challenges, and then resolve the story with your Protagonist stepping up to be the hero and defeating the Antagonist.

Here’s some more beat sheet stuff to go even deeper on this method.

2. The Detailed Scene Roadmap (AKA: Story Roadmap)

This is a much more detailed version of the beat sheet. It actually goes deeper into each scene, allowing you to determine not only the mission (aka: purpose) of the scene, but also the time it takes place, the location it takes place in, and any additional notes or information needed to move the story exposition forward.

Here’s an example of what a story roadmap scene can look like (explanation + example):

Screen Shot 2016-04-12 at 1.30.42 PM

I like to use this version to get to know my story in a bigger way, and to make sure I’m focused on the mission of the scene (this is mission-driven storytelling, after all).

You can find a complete template for the story roadmap in my self-paced Story Roadmap Kit here.

3. The Story Circles  

This is a method I just learned from my mentor and story coach, Larry Brooks. He uses this exercise as a way to get a bird’s eye view of a story.

What you do for this method is get four sheets of paper (lined or unlined is up to you). Turn the paper vertical and on each page draw 12 circles (either four rows of three circles, or three rows of four circles, up to you).

Next, label the pages: Part One, Part Two, Part Three and Part Four.

Then go back and account for your story structure milestones. Your Hook would be one of the first two circles on the Part One sheet. Your First Plot Point would go on the Part One sheet, written above the very last circle on the page (bottom-right). Your Midpoint would go on the Part Two sheet, written above the very last circle on the page (bottom-right). Same goes for your SPP, but put that one on the sheet marked Part Three.

Now you’ve got an idea of where all your story milestones need to land.

Using this document, you can go through and actually use each circle to mark a scene in your story. Of course you may end up having more than just the 12 scenes accounted for on each page. In that case, you’ll just need to add more (or less) circles to accommodate.

And there you have it. Three very simple, yet powerful ways to figure out the scenes in your novel.

Share With Us

Which of the three story roadmap methods is your favorite? 

Want a template for the Beat Sheet, Story Roadmap and the Story Circles? Join the Students of Story membership site, where you’ll find these three resources and more to help you develop, create, plan and write your novel.

How To Amp Up Your Story Idea

In this Periscope replay, I talk about how to amp up your story idea using a Concept (and I also define Concept and give you examples).

———–

Do you want to be a more effective storyteller and cut years off your learning curve, so you can write a kick-ass novel and get it out into the world in the next 12 months? Check out my Novel By Next Year program.