Posts

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.)

Here’s A Scene-Writing Exercise You Should Try

Note: This is a guest post from my client, Stephanie Raffelock, a novelist and blogger. Enjoy!–jen

If I possess the virtue of patience, even a little bit, it is deeply hidden under mounds of enthusiasm that doesn’t want to wait around for anything. But recently, I’ve had an epiphany of sorts that has brought me to the place of making friends with the dreaded “patience.”

I have added a step to my writing process and it is serving me well. It has to do with what to do when you get stuck writing a scene, OR how to prevent getting stuck in the first place.

A Scene Development Exercise

As I began novel number five, I did so under the design of structure. I am a huge fan of structure as it relates to story because story without structure isn’t really a story—it’s a narrative or a portrait at best. At worst, it is a ramble.

Student of story, yes I am, but that does not necessarily make me a patient student and I use that disclaimer as I find the main reason people do not do the work of construction and preparation before they write a single word of prose is because they are eager to just start writing and get on with it!  Writers often fall in love with their words, when they should be falling in love with their story.

I feel your pain. I’ve been there. So what was I thinking when I added another “step” to an already lengthy preparation process?

Here’s what I was thinking:  When you write a story, you must be the God of the world you have created. You must know every detail of the place and every detail of the characters you have placed in it. When you do not know all of the details, you might fall back or rely on coincidence and cliché. The thing about coincidence and cliché is that they strip your story of meaning. They are nasty little buggers.

Recently I started writing my new novel and I did so with preparation. I sketched out my concept and premise, wrote a short synopsis, plugged in the milestones (i.e plot points and pinch points) and then backed out of them into my scenes. I have a 40-plus page detailed scene list.

Now you would think that would be enough, but I keep remembering this thing about being the all-seeing, all-knowing God of the world I’ve created. So when I write, I look at the scene I am doing for that day. I know the mission of the scene. I know what the protagonist wants and what stands in their way. I know how the scene will move the story forward. But, as you know, you can see all of that neatly spelled out for you and still wonder how you are going to create a thousand words out of it.

Enter the Yellow Legal Pad. I’ve just looked at my scene for the day and now I pick up my Yellow Legal Pad and I begin to write down every question and every answer I can think of about that scene. Where is it? What time of day is it, exactly? What kind of watch was he wearing that let you know the time? What did he have for breakfast. How is he feeling. Did he sleep well last night. And I go on and on and on.

Now most of those things will never make it into my story, but after several pages of this, the scene (because I already know how it moves the story forward ) is beginning to flesh out. I circle a few things that inspire and inform, and the rest is just the rest. It gets tossed.

I am the God of the world I created and I know everything about every scene and character and that’s why I can write a good story and that’s how I stay un-stuck.

Why This Works

Writing longhand does an interesting thing to your brain. It uses a different part than typing on a keyboard. It slows you down. And when you are slowed down, you become more thoughtful about your creation.

Think about when you first started writing, I’ll bet you were like me. I’ll bet you filled spiral notebooks with everything from lyrics and poetry to short stories and character sketches. I don’t write much longhand these days. I have two computers and a damn iPad and even email myself to remind myself to do stuff!

But I have fallen in love with the Yellow Legal Pad, and yes, it does deserve to be capitalized. I may buy stock in the Yellow Legal Pad company. A couple of them are always sitting on the table next to me when I write in the morning. And interestingly, I look forward to picking them up and riffing on my plot and my characters.

That’s my new step. A new addition to prep.

I love this Robert McKee quote: “Do the work, tell the truth and the results will follow.” The work that he speaks of is preparation. The truth is about how well you know the character so that cliché never exits their mouth onto your page, and the results, well the result is good, tight professional work.

Adding in this one step to my process is making my prose better and it is helping me to tell the most compelling story that I can. Seemed like it was worth sharing.

Share With Us

How do you develop the scenes in your story? 

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. 

Image courtesy of Jonathan Aquino