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When You Master Craft, It Opens Up A Whole New Level Of Confidence and Belief In Yourself

I wrote my first novel back in 2008. I was SO proud of myself the day I wrote “the end” on my first draft. And I fought hard to get that draft finished–I actually wrote the final chapter in the dark, by candle light, during Hurricaine Ike, on a laptop with a dying battery.

I was that committed to finishing.

After I finished I popped the bottle of champagne I bought for that very occasion. I was beyond excited. I finally did something I’d been wanting to do for most of my life… write a novel.

But little did I know, that was just the very early beginning stages of my fiction writing career. Because while I did have a first draft, what I didn’t have was a novel.

Instead I had an episodic narrative of a character’s day-to-day life. And that is not a novel. It’s barely even a story.

Because a novel–and a story–are very specific things. They have criteria and principles. If you don’t follow them, you’re not technically writing a novel (or a story).

In 2009, after months of trying to revise the first draft of my novel and getting nowhere, I finally accepted that I didn’t know what I was doing. Despite having read thousands of novels over the years and taking dozens of fiction writing classes and reading dozens of books on writing.

Because having read a ton of novels isn’t enough. Taking a few classes or reading a bunch of writing how-to books isn’t enough. Writing a compelling, cohesive, engaging story takes more than that.

Thankfully, not long after I accepted that I didn’t know what I was doing, I came across a blog post that totally changed my life. It was a blog post about story structure, written by best selling novelist and author, Larry Brooks.

I remember sitting on my couch, reading the article and feeling like the entire world had just opened up to me. I felt like I’d found the holy grail of storytelling.

Structure.

As I sat there reading the article over and over and over again, taking it all in, I finally got why nothing I’d written prior to that moment ever worked. I finally understood the core of craft.

Structure.

All stories must have structure. All stories must have plot points that fit specific criteria and fall at specific places in the story.

That day in 2009 was the first time I’d ever heard of story structure, and I’d taken evey class and read every book I could get my hands on. No one talked about structure, or at least, they didn’t talk about it in a way that actually made sense to me.

Larry’s article on structure filled in all the gaps that were left by the books and the classes I’d taken all those years. And I knew my writing life would never, ever be the same again.

I spent the next five years studying craft–and especially structure–like my life depended on it. I watched 2-3 movies every single day, breaking down the story and paying attention to the execution of the plot points. I devoured every blog post and eBook Larry Brooks had available at that point (and every post and book since as well).

I made it my mission to not only master the craft of storytelling for myself, but also to teach it to other writers, so I could save them the years of stuggle and stress I went through trying to write a story that worked.

Eight years after I found that article by Larry on story structure, I have mastered the craft of storytelling (although I’d argue no one ever really masters it because there’s always a new layer or level of understanding you can get to). And now, as I gear up to write my first screenplay, I’m feeling insanely confident in my ability to do a good job.

BUT even with all the studying and practice I’ve had these last eight years, I’m still re-reading Screenplay by Syd Field and I’m still watching 2-3 movies a night and studying the structure and scene execution, and I’m still looking up screenplays online and reading them.

Because even though I know craft and I know structure and I can pretty much do that shit in my sleep now, I also know that I can always learn more and do better.

I’ve committed to being a lifelong student of story. And I’m not dumb enough to think that just because I’ve watched thousands of movies in my life means I can just sit down and write a screenplay (nope!!).

All of this practice and studying and implementing on my own stories has made me feel amazing about my ability to tell a kick-ass story. I may not be the world’s greatest prose writer, but I’m a damn good storyteller.

I believe in my stories and I have confidence that I can turn any idea in my head into a compelling, engaging story that my ideal readers (or viewers) will love.

And that confidence and belief in myself came from being willing to do what others aren’t.

Most people won’t spend years of their lives studying story. Most won’t watch 2-3 movies a night and break down the structure. Most won’t put off the writing for months on end until they’ve got a solid story plan.

But I will.

So now as I move into a whole new arena (screenwriting), I still feel damn good about my ability to tell a great story. I know there’s still a lot for me to learn and I’m open to learning all of it.

And I fully believe in my stories and in myself as a storyteller. That came as a byproduct of my willingness to dive in and master craft.

Want to amp up your confidence and belief in yourself as a storyteller? Stop telling yourself that just because you’ve read a bunch of novels means you can write one.

Master craft. Study story like your life depends on it. And commit to being a life-long student of story.

It’s the only way.

Dream life or bust,

 

 

#DreamLifeOrBust #DailyThinkDifferent

P.S. I’m opening a few spots this week to work privately with me on planning and developing your story idea into a cohesive, engaging story roadmap that you can use to write your first draft. Private coaching isn’t for everyone, but if you’ve been wanting to work with me on your story, stay tuned…

The FREE “Story Engineering” by Larry Brooks Read and Discuss Event Series

The new year is upon us, and with it a refreshing sense of what’s possible. A whole new 365 days to do with whatever we desire.

And one of the things I like to do every year, is re-read my favorite craft book, Story Engineering, by Larry Brooks.

But this year, I wanted to do something different. This year, I’m inviting you to JOIN ME.

I hosted a 7-day livestream series where we read and then discussed the sections of Story Engineering. (Video replays below) 

Why did I choose this book? Because the information in it changed my life. It took me from writing in circles to writing actual stories that were cohesive and worth publishing. It helped me get my debut novel, SoundCheck, out into the world.

It’s the only craft book that ever spoke to me and that finally made me really understand story structure and how to use it. (I was lucky enough to have found Story Engineering back when it was an eBook on Larry’s site called, Story Structure–Demystified.)

Not to mention it’s a best-seller, and Signature recently named it #3 Best Books on Writing.

And if you are following along, I highly recommend you also do the following:

1. Buy (or borrow) a copy of Story Engineering by Larry Brooks (it’s available on Kindle and in print)

2. Download the Story Engineering Reading Guide that I created to go with this event

The Story Engineering Read and Discuss Series

Additional trust-building content (will add the rest as I go, since I’m doing it live on my business Facebook page–and then sharing the replay into my free FB group):

Day 1 Livestream: Part 1 and 2 in Story Engineering 

Day 2 Livestream: Part 3 in Story Engineering 

Day 3 Livestream: Part 4 in Story Engineering 

Day 4 Livestream: Part 5 in Story Engineering up to “Foreshadowing”

Day 5 Livestream: The rest of Part 5 in Story Engineering 

Day 6 Livestream: Part 6 in Story Engineering 

Day 7 Livestream: Parts 7 and 8 in Story Engineering 

BONUS Live Call

Larry Brooks and I did a live Q&A call, to wrap up the Story Engineering series (Note: I forgot to hit record for the first few minutes of the call so it starts right into the content with Larry)

———–

Ready to find your story? Grab my FREE story development training + workbook, ‘From “Eh” to “Awesome!”‘ here

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. 

“Will It Ever Get Any Easier?” One Writer’s Journey Into Craft

NOTE: This is a guest post by Stephanie Raffelock 

The very first novel that I ever wrote was one big face-plant, replete with a black eye. Like so many writers before me, I believed that because I’d read a lot of books, I could write one. I mean, how hard can it be, right?

A story analysis with writing guru, Larry Brooks, revealed a crucial missing element to my efforts. My 65,000-word narrative was not even remotely close to an actual story. Enter Jennifer Blanchard, courtesy of an introduction via Mr. Brooks.

She remains one of the most important relationships in my writing life.

Deciding to work with Jennifer was a big investment, both in time and in money. Nonetheless my eyes had been opened to the fact that creating a novel was going to involve a little bit more than just reading one.

In fact, I was slightly embarrassed that I hadn’t realized learning the craft of something before claiming it as your art was arrogant as well as ignorant. So it was with a fair amount of humility that I gave myself to becoming a student of story. I gave myself to the pursuit of craft.

 Enter the Process

Meeting on the phone one time per week, Jennifer started me out by brainstorming a dozen “what ifs.” This was the how she ushered me into “discovering my story.”

Writers have lots and lots of ideas, but the story must be discovered, courted, wooed into existence. Each week she took me to the next step. Concept and Premise. Synopsis. Character background. Plot Points. Pinch Points. Resolve. And then we started the beat sheet, which would grow into a detailed scene list. As the structure came together, I created a personal code by which I worked: Complete the assignment. Finish on time. Don’t push back. Stay open.

By the time I was given the green light to begin writing my prose, the process was easeful. I knew my story, knew exactly where I was going and I skated to the finish line. I completed two sets of revisions and then sent it off to a professional copy editor.

In the end, I birthed–with the help of a wise “mid-wife”–my first real novel, a novel that garnered me representation with a good New York City literary agency. 

Novel Number Two

Yes, I worked with Jennifer again, certain that I would need her expertise to help birth another creation. On this go around however, she pushed. She held back answers, offering instead more questions. It was a more difficult task, but again I completed a novel. However on this novel, I decided that the execution, meaning the narrative, was off somehow, so I shelved it, promising that I would return and revisit once my ideas about the piece had cooked and simmered a bit more.

I have no issue whatsoever with shelving something that doesn’t feel like it’s my best. I am not in the business of saving or salvaging work. I crank out about 150,000 words per year between novel writing and essays and I know that not everything I write is going to be good.

Third Time’s A Charm

Jennifer guided novel number three into existence with just four phone calls. From there, I sprinted to the finish line. I like this manuscript a lot. I know that it’s a good story. It is on its first set of revisions and my goal is to have it on my agent’s desk by December 1. It is my Plan B novel.

Here’s the thing about traditional publishing; first of all it moves at glacial speed. Second, there are no guarantees that your first novel will sell, so you need to keep writing and keep writing well. Sometimes your first novel sells because your third one did and the publisher decided to go back and pick up the first one. I am in it for the long haul, so I will keep writing.

Integration (AKA: “Will This Ever Get Any Easier?”) 

I will start a new novel in January 2017, unless I am lucky enough to be re-writing one of my first two novels because a publisher wants it. The next project will likely begin with a phone call to Jennifer. I’ll get to go through my synopsis and each plot point with her. Then I’ll be on my own. After writing three novels, I’m to a place where I understand craft and how to use it in my own story.

Most good authors have a team. Go-to people with whom they can discuss and hash out their works. Jennifer will always be a part of my team.

Here’s What Makes You Integrate the Craft and Novel Development Process

Here’s what will help you integrate craft: Repetition and study. Read all of Larry Brooks’ books and all of Jennifer’s blog posts on story. Participate in her Facebook group. And find a few blogs that emphasize craft and sign up for those too. I like Steven Pressfield, Larry Brooks and Kristen Lamb. Take workshops and keep reading the novelists that you admire.

In the beginning, working in the long-form format of the novel will seem daunting. As you keep studying and practicing it becomes easier. Then you’ll be able to see for yourself when your Midpoint is thin, and you will begin to notice when you need more conflict and tension. It will occur to you one day that dialogue is in fact, action.

But you have to be committed for the long haul. You never stop being a student of story. You never stop investing in yourself. If the first novel doesn’t sell, you don’t cry, you create a Plan B.

 Eventually it gets easier and you start to feel like a pro, because honestly writing novels is not for the faint of heart. It requires the strength and courage of determination and tenacity. It demands that you keep learning the same thing over and over again, each time on a deeper level.

To some this may sound too hard. For me, it sounds like a perfect way to spend my days. I say of prayer of thanks each morning that I get to get up and write today!

About the Author: Stephanie Raffelock is a novelist and a blogger. Her debut novel is represented by Dystel Goderich Literary Management in New York. Subscribe to her quarterly newsletter and receive an appreciation gift: “The Writers Dinner,” a unique vision for an entertaining evening. 

 

I’m humbled to hear my students and clients sharing experiences like the one you just read in Stephanie’s guest post. My mission is to EMPOWER you to UNDERSTAND and be able to effectively IMPLEMENT craft in your stories. 

I want you to walk away from working with me–regardless of if you’re doing private coaching or a group workshop–and feel like you could do this again, all on your own. (Not that you have to be on your own, but I want you to be able to be.)

If you’re participating in NaNoWriMo this year and DON’T want to waste your 50,000 words, but want to write 50,000 words that you can actually do something with, be sure to check out my sixth-annual NaNo prep workshop, Novel University: NaNo Edition. It’s an idea-to-draft workshop that uses the power of story planning combined with the momentum of NaNoWriMo to help you say, “2016 is the year I FINALLY wrote a cohesive novel!”

Not only will this workshop help you plan and develop your story before you write it starting November 1, but it will give you a REPEATABLE PROCESS that you can use with every story you write from here on out. You’ll know what questions to ask, what information you need to know, and how it all works together.

Process and an integration of craft are PRICELESS when it comes to being a successful novelist.

>> Learn more about Novel University: NaNo Edition here