Posts

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

Confessions of A Converted Story “Pantser”

It isn’t often that I’m truly touched by a blog post. But over the weekend, I was moved to tears when I read a guest post on Larry Brooks’ site, StoryFix.

I was moved because I realized that I had a hand in changing someone’s life; I helped turn an emerging writer from a dreamer into an author with the potential to go far in her novel-writing career.

The guest post was written by my client, Stephanie Raffelock, about her experience writing a novel that works. She worked with Larry and I to make this happen, and now she’s a total believer in the story planning and developing process.

Here’s an excerpt from her post:

Larry Brooks made me cry. An ego bruising, embarrassing cry.

He did it by asking a simple question: What is the dramatic goal of your hero?

I answered every question he put forth in that scary, unflinching Questionnaire he uses in his coaching programs… all but that one.

It was like when my mother asked me if I had taken her beloved blue Mustang without her permission and I told her, “I have so much research to do at the library. I have a paper due.” I never did answer her simple question–“did you take the freaking car or not!?”

A series of questions loomed on the rest of that damn Questionnaire.

After answering the first few, the harsh truth began to reveal itself. In spite of intelligence, a modicum of humor and a great passion for the written word, I would not recognize the components of a good story if I tripped over them and landed in a puddle of my own shock and awe.

Welcome to Novel Writing 101…

…And that’s when I began to study story structure.

Larry recommended story planner and coach, Jennifer Blanchard, to help me take my story to the next level after his initial feedback (it may have had something to do with some of the names I called him at the time). I bit the bullet and signed up to work with her. It is humbling, and also a great deal of fun, to be learning from a woman who is young enough to be my daughter.

Jennifer, by the way, is a passionate practitioner and spokesperson for the very same principles that Brooks used to crush my belief that my original story had legs.

Step by step, she took me through the principles of Story Engineering (Brooks’ first writing book), and helped me to plan and plot a story.

From idea to concept, premise, plot points, pinch points and character development, we worked together for a month before I wrote a single word of prose. The exercise not only changed the way that I write novels, it changed the way that I see the world: there are stories all around us in the people we know. When the next-door neighbor tells me about her trip to visit her aging parents, I’ll be darned if there isn’t a hero, a villain, if there aren’t obstacles to overcome and conflict to negotiate, demons to slay, and a desired goal motivated by stakes that matter.

I watch television and movies through different eyes now.

Where’s the first plot point? What does the hero want? Why am I rooting for him? …

…Working with Larry and with Jennifer, I embraced the notion of being a novelist. I respect the craft of novel writing enough to want to study it, learn it and integrate it, thereby respecting my readers enough to want to give them a good story.

We live in a fast, digitized world, where people abbreviate their words (that drives me crazy) and do their lives in limited character sound bites. Writers, I believe, are entrusted with the sacred task of being the keeper of stories, the full and rich stories that connect us all.

I haven’t read the latest talked about writing book whose cover reads “Story Trumps Structure,” but I can tell you that I hate the title. It goes against the grain of what I know in my bones to be true. Hey buddy, I want to say, story IS structure!

[You can read the rest of her post here.]

Share With Us

What has your novel-writing journey been like so far? 

 

The Last Book On Writing You’ll Ever Have To Read

Screen Shot 2014-10-01 at 12.01.54 AMI met Bestselling Author, Larry in October 2009 through his blog, StoryFix.com. I was a year into my novel writing journey, I had a shitty first draft, a revised shitty first draft and was about to get started on a third shitty draft… ’til I found Larry’s 11-part series on story structure.

It changed my entire life–my writing and my career.

So when Larry announced (back in 2010) that Writer’s Digest was publishing his book, Story Engineering: Mastering the 6 Core Competencies of Successful Writing, I was beyond thrilled.

I have read a lot of books about writing, but this book takes top prize. I consider it to be the novel-writing bible. (That’s why I’ve built all my coaching programs around the knowledge I gained from Larry, and why I give a copy to every client, and recommend it to every fiction writer I meet.)

It’s like Larry has handed you the keys to the writing and publishing kingdom through reading this book. You will finally feel like you know everything you need to know in order to write a successful and sellable novel. And that’s worth everything.

Story Engineering is like getting an MFA in Creative Writing, only it’s even better because it doesn’t cost you two-plus years of your life and upwards of $100,000.

The book is broken down into eight parts:

  • Part One—What Are The Six Core Competencies, and Why Should I Care?
  • Part Two—The First Core Competency: Concept
  • Part Three—The Second Core Competency: Character
  • Part Four—The Third Core Competency: Theme
  • Part Five—The Fourth Core Competency: Story Structure
  • Part Six—The Fifth Core Competency: Scene Execution
  • Part Seven—The Sixth Core Competency: Writing Voice
  • Part Eight—The Story Development Process

How To Read Story Engineering

With so much information to take in, here’s how I recommend you read this book:

  1. First read it all the way through from cover-to-cover, taking in as much information as you can.
  2. Next, use the Table Of Contents (TOC) to jump around and read for clarification. Every page of this book is packed with great information, but that can make it difficult to remember everything. Using the TOC reading method you can refresh yourself on the parts that were unclear or that you just needed to spend additional time taking in.
  3. Keep Story Engineering by your writing area and pull it out whenever you need a refresher or just a confidence boost (as this book will surely make you feel like you know everything it takes to write a novel that works).
  4. Read it all the way through once a year, as a refresher

This book fills in all the holes and gaps the classes, workshops and other books you’ve read left behind.

If you don’t already own Story Engineering, you need to own it pronto! Think of it as an investment in your future success as a writer. And for the price of $15 (on Amazon) it’s a bargain.

And if you want to hear even more about Story Engineering, check out this video interview blogger Joanna Penn did with Larry on his new book.

Share With Us

How did Story Engineering change things for you? Share in the comments.

How To Find Your Story By Asking A Shitload Of Questions

As a writer, you know how it goes: You’re sitting around having coffee or you’re driving to work and BAM! A story idea hits your brain.

You write the idea down and then you start thinking about the story. You wake up almost every day thinking about it. This goes on for awhile—maybe even years.

Finally you decide it’s time to put words on paper and get this story idea out of your head. So you sit down and start writing. You get a little ways in, maybe even halfway through, and then abandon it because you just can’t make it work.

The reason is because you didn’t take the time to develop the story. You went from “idea seed” to “first draft,” but totally skipped all the parts in the middle (story development and story planning).

So then you have to go back to square one and dig around again to see if you can figure out what this story is really about. And the thing that sucks is you could’ve started here first, and not wasted any time writing a draft that you’ll have to completely rewrite.

Finding Your Story

Finding your core story is a matter of asking yourself a shitload of questions related to your story: the setting, the conflict, the characters, and more. Asking questions is how you find your core story—and it’s also how you discover any plot holes that exist.

Pretend you’re a story journalist and you have to take your idea seed and tear it to pieces, so that way you get to the core of the idea, and you’re able to then develop a concept and premise.

Who are these characters? What do they want? What’s trying to stop them from getting it?

In his book, Story Engineering, storytelling badass, Larry Brooks, talks about asking “What If” questions in order to find your story.

What if he does this? What if she does that? What if he can’t get there in time?

When you ask questions, you’re able to pull apart the details and see what you’ve got to work with.

An Example

For example, if your idea seed is a story about two people meeting and falling in love, you can use this as the jumping off point for your questioning.

So in this example, here are some questions you’d need to ask:

  • Who is this guy? (Bob. He’s 45, single and dreams of traveling the world)
  • Who is this girl? (April. 35. World traveler. Divorcee.)
  • What does he want? (He wants to get up the courage to quit his job and go backpacking overseas.)
  • What does she want? (She wants some stability in life. She’s done the travel thing.)
  • How does what they want change once the First Plot Point is introduced? (They fall in love. He wants to travel. She wants to build a home base. Now what?)

And then once you have answers to these questions, you can dig even deeper:

  • How will these characters change over the course of the story? (They’ll realize that they need each other, and will find a way to compromise and make things work.)
  • How will they find a way to compromise? (They’ll have a “home base” where they live six months a year, and the other six months they choose six destinations from anywhere in the world and live in each place for 30 days.)
  • What will tear them apart before they come back together at the end? (She gets pregnant, then miscarries when they’re traveling somewhere. She says she’s done traveling. She buys a house in the town they met in. Says if he loves her he can come with her, otherwise he should go.)

Now obviously these questions are just barely scratching the surface of this idea seed. There are still a lot more details that need to be figured out.

But I think you get the gist.

Asking questions will be your guide to digging out the pieces of your story. Then once you have all the pieces, you’ll be able to figure out where each piece needs to go in order to make the story cohesive and engaging.

Could You Use Some Help Finding Your Story?

Join me for a free Clarity Call and let’s talk about working together to find your story.

Image courtesy of Duncan Hull

The Final Piece of Information Your Story Needs

This is the final post in a four-part series on story structure. You can read part one herepart two here and part three here

Story structure is the skeleton of your story; it’s the backbone that holds the entire thing together.

So here we are.

We’ve reached the final piece of structure on the storytelling road–the Second Plot Point (SPP).

All’s said and done after this moment in your story.

The Second Plot Point

The Second Plot Point, according to Larry Brooks of StoryFix.com, is: “the final injection of new information into the story, after which no new expository information may enter the story, and which puts a final piece of narrative information in play that gives the hero everything she or he needs to become the primary catalyst in the story’s conclusion.”

That means whatever shows up in the story after this moment must have already been in play, set up or foreshadowed.

This is a big moment in your story–it’s the final catalyst that transitions the Protagonist from part three “Attack” mode into part four “Resolution” mode. It’s the moment when the Protagonist becomes the Martyr, willing to do whatever it takes to solve the problem at hand and defeat the antagonist.

Brooks covered this in his blog post:

I’m gonna send you over to StoryFix.com now to read more about the Second Plot Point. Then be sure to come back here for some SPP examples.

Second Plot Point Examples

It’s hard to give specific Second Plot Point examples (as Larry mentioned in his blog post) because the SPP can literally be almost anything. So I’m gonna give ya one  specific example, and then a few generic examples, just to give you an idea of how the SPP works.

In the movie, Safe Haven, the protagonist, Katie, is running from a dark past. That past finally catches up to her at the SPP.

The SPP shows up in a dream–Katie falls asleep and dreams of her friend, Jo. Jo leaves Katie with a warning, “He’s here.” Katie replies, “Who is?” And Jo adds, “You know who.”

When Katie awakens, we’ve officially been transitioned into Part Four of the story. She now has all the information needed to resolve the story and secure the title of “Hero.”

There are a million possibilities for the SPP, some of which could be:

  • In a thriller, it’s when the chase scene starts
  • In a romance, it’s when the protagonist realizes he’s in love with the girl and must now do everything in his power to win her back
  • In a mystery, it’s when the final clue is dropped, causing the protagonist to have all the details needed to solve the puzzle

The SPP is the fuel that propels the Protagonist forward for the final time in the story.

Share With Us

Now that you’ve gotten the full run down of story structure–how will you use this information to write better stories?

Image courtesy of Robert Huffstutter

A Strong Reminder of What’s At Stake In Your Story

This is part three in a four-part series on story structure. You can read part one here and part two here

There are some moments in a story that are huge. And others that aren’t always quite as huge, but are just as important.

In fact, without them, your story won’t be balanced like it needs to be.

These not-always-huge-but-always-important moments are known as Pinch Points, and your story needs two of them. Not only that, but they also need to be impactful, and they need to show up in the right location in the story.

Get it wrong, and your story will suffer.

Pinch Points

Pinch Points are “an example, or reminder, of the nature and implications of the antagonistic force, that is not filtered by the hero’s experience“–according to Larry Brooks of StoryFix.com.

Essentially Pinch Points are two moments in your story that remind the reader–and sometimes the protagonist–of what’s at stake and what the consequences could be if the antagonist wins.

These little moments occur in two very specific locations in your story:

  1. Half way between the First Plot Point and the Midpoint
  2. Halfway between the Midpoint and the Second Plot Point (which we’ll be talking about soon)

Again I’m going to send you over to StoryFix.com to read a post Larry wrote about Pinch Points. He gives some really great examples of how Pinch Points work in a story.

So go read that article, and then come back here for another example from the movie, Twilight: Eclipse.

Pinch Point Examples from Twilight: Eclipse

I’m always on the look out for movies (and books) that have great story structure. And the Twilight series follows the structure that Larry and I teach perfectly. So I figured that would be the best example for me to use as an illustration of what Pinch Points are.

One of my favorite movies in the Twilight series is Eclipse. It has great structure and really fulfills the mission of each story milestone. Especially when it comes to the Pinch Points.

In this movie, the Pinch Points are done really well.

Pinch Point One occurs as a short scene–we see a news report on television talking about the disappearances in Seattle. The disappearances are getting more frequent and the city is being turned upside down during the night–and no one knows why yet. (What’s happening is an army of vampires are being created, but we don’t find that out ’til later in the movie.)

Then Pinch Point Two occurs as a dream–we see Bella, the protagonist, dream of vampire, Victoria (this movie’s true antagonist), telling an ally vampire to kill Bella. It turns out Victoria is “hiding” behind the vampire army she’s created, letting them make decisions for her. (The “deciding” thing comes into play because there’s a vampire who can see the future–but only when people make a clear decision.)

Without seeing a deconstruction of the entire movie, these scenes may not make much sense to you. But if you look at the core of what they’re doing–showing what’s at stake and what will happen if the antagonist wins–you can see the value they offer to a story.

But Pinch Points aren’t the final stop on Story Rd. There’s still one more very, very important story moment that has to happen. That moment is the Second Plot Point, and it’s up next.

Share With Us

What are your thoughts on Pinch Points? Can you see how they can be used to up the ante in your story? 

Image courtesy of umjanedoan

The Moment In Your Story That Changes Everything

This is part two in a four-part series on story structure. You can read part one here. To learn more about story structure, be sure to sign up to receive a free copy of the eBook, How To Write Better Stories

There’s a moment in every story (or at least there should be!) where the protagonist is heading in one direction…and then everything changes.

New information has entered the picture. There’s been a “parting of the curtain” (in Larry Brooks speak). Suddenly things aren’t what they seemed even a moment before.

Now that’s powerful. And it’s also the job of this next piece of story structure: the Midpoint.

The Midpoint

The Midpoint is a plot point that happens smack-dab in the middle of the story, at the 50 percent mark. It introduces new and vital information–and it’s also the moment that shifts the context of the story.

It’s the catalyst that takes your protagonist from part two of the story (where he’s in “reaction mode”) to part three of the story, where he’s ready to start attacking.

Again, just like the First Plot Point, Larry Brooks, bestselling author of Story Engineering, has written a very detailed post about the Midpoint and what it’s all about. So head on over to his site, StoryFix.com, and read:

Then come back here for some Midpoint examples.

Breaking Down the Midpoint: Two Examples

Examples are the best way to really wrap your head around this story milestone and the significance it plays in every great story. So here are two Midpoint examples from movies:

Ian

Cameron Diaz plays Christina in The Sweetest Thing

The Sweetest Thing

In this movie we meet Christina (the protagonist), a party girl who just wants to have fun. Her and her friends are partying at a club one night when she meets Peter, a handsome real estate agent. At first they don’t get along, but then as the night progresses we see them getting to know and like each other.

Then we find out Peter is at the club celebrating a bachelor party for his brother, who’s getting married that weekend in Somerset.

The Midpoint happens after Christina and her friend arrive in Somerset where they’ve secretly followed Peter. They sneak into the church–late–for the wedding. They figure they’ll hang out, watch the ceremony and then find Peter at the reception.

But the context of the entire movie is shifted at the Midpoint–when we find out it’s actually Peter’s wedding.

Before this moment the story was heading down one path, but now it’s on a completely different path. That’s what the Midpoint does.

Paul Sherwood

Bill Murray plays Bob in What About Bob? [Image courtesy of Paul Sherwood]

What About Bob?

In this movie we meet Dr. Marvin, an up-and-coming psychologist who has a new book out. Things are going well for him, until he gets introduced to a new patient named Bob.

Suddenly Bob has started showing up everywhere, including on Dr. Marvin’s family vacation, driving him nuts!

The Midpoint happens when Dr. Marvin has his Good Morning America interview–Bob pretty much takes over the interview and ruins everything.

After that moment, we see the Doctor shift into part three of the story, which is “attack mode.”

Without a Midpoint in place to shift your story, you won’t have the catalyst needed to push your protagonist from being a “wanderer” to being a “warrior” (more on this soon).

But that’s not the last stop on the plot point trail. There’s still one more major milestone that has to happen in your story (plus two smaller milestones that need to occur). Up next in this series: Pinch Points, what they are and how to use them.

Share With Us

What are your thoughts on the Midpoint? Have you noticed it in movies or books that you’ve watched/read? 

Image of Bill Murray courtesy of Paul Sherwood

Image of Cameron Diaz courtesy of Ian

Image of Midpoint Cafe sign courtesy of Peer Lawther

2 Books Every Novelist Should Read Annually

You know that feeling when you read a book and it lights up something inside you? Finally everything makes sense. You feel on-fire with insight. Your world will never, ever be the same again.

This feeling doesn’t happen with every book you read. No, it only happens with a few very special books. Books that are meant to change your life in some way.

You know those books I’m talking about. You’re running a list of them in your head right now as you read this.

For me those books include things like, Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott, and The Secret by Rhonda Byrne.

And then there are those books that you get this same feeling from–except at a much higher level. The book hits your core, your soul. It sings sweet music to your heart as you read it. (Go ahead. Run a list in your head of those books, too.)

When you finally discover the books that do this for you, they will usually get added to a very short list of “Books to Read Annually.” Or at least they do for me.

So far the books on my list to read every year include, The Desire Map by Danielle LaPorte, and two other books.

The two other books I read every year are books that are especially important for emerging novelists. If you want to stay on top of your writing game and keep working toward your dream of being a published novelist, here are two books you should make the time to read every single year: 

1. Story Engineering by Larry Brooks

I know I talk a lot about this book on my blog, but it’s because this book is fucking genius. It totally changed my life–and especially my writing life–in so many ways. This book is the core to knowing how to write a novel that’s publishable.

I truly believe this book should be on the shelf of every single writer in the world. While Brooks’ tell-it-like-it-is style isn’t for every writer, the information he shares is.

If I had to name only one book for a brand-new novelist to read if she wanted to learn how to write a novel, it would be this book. In fact, I’ve even gone so far as to create a story coaching program (that’s similar to a college course) based entirely around teaching emerging novelists how to execute the principles from the book.

Without this book, I wouldn’t be a novelist, I wouldn’t be a writing coach. It was that life-transforming for me. I could never say enough good things about this book.

Get yourself a copy of this book and read it once a year. You won’t regret it.

2. The War of Art by Steven Pressfield 

After years of hearing people talk about this book and having people recommend it to me directly, I finally decided to buy a copy and read it. To say it shifted things for me would be an understatement.

Back a few years ago I discovered the idea of the Resistance via a guest post written by Seth Godin (I even wrote about it).But this time, the Resistance hit me right in the face.

Pressfield dives deep into the Resistance–what it is, what it looks like and how to overcome it.  He gives clear examples to illustrate how the Resistance shows up in your life and in yourself. As I was reading this book, it was like a light kept popping on inside me over and over again.

You know all those reasons you give for not writing your novel? You know the excuses you have for not finishing it? That’s the Resistance in action. 

The Resistance is fear–and it will break you if you let it.

As a creative person–and especially an emerging novelist–you have to be able to overcome the Resistance. You have no choice but to  feel the fear and do it anyhow.

‘Cuz if you don’t, you’ll never publish your novel. You’ll never become the writer you know you’re absolutely capable of being.

And because the Resistance is something we writers and creative people will be dealing with always–the Resistance will never go away–it’s imperative that we find ways to push through to the other side.

The first step to doing that is being able to recognize your version of the Resistance in action. When you can do that, it will be much easier for you to side-step it and get your novel finished.

The War of Art is is a book that every novelist (and creative person in general) should read annually.

Share With Us

What books have changed your life? Do you have any books that you read every year? 

Image courtesy of Shutterhacks