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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.)

People Will Leave Reviews…If They Actually Make It To The End Of Your Book

A few months ago, I started seeing a ton of reviews popping up on my books on Amazon. Reviews from total strangers.

And I wasn’t even asking for the reviews. They were just showing up.

Then I discovered that Amazon added a new feature to Kindle where, after you finish reading a book, it pops up a message and asks you to leave a review. (I also recently started adding a “note from the author” at the end of my books, asking people to leave a review if they enjoyed the book.)

But here’s the thing about getting more reviews. Something really, really key that a lot of writers forget about.

People will only leave reviews if they actually make it to the end of your book.

No one leaves a review on a book they started and never finished. No one leaves a review on a book that didn’t keep their attention or that didn’t make them walk away feeling like they enjoyed their experience.

And they’ll only see the message from Amazon, asking them to leave a review, if they get that far.

This is one of the most important questions you can ask yourself as an author: is my book engaging enough that the person reading it will read all the way to the end AND have liked what they read so much they will take the extra few minutes to leave a review?

If you’re not getting enough reviews right now–or any–there’s a good chance it’s because no one is making it to the end of your books.

I’m not saying this to make you feel bad. But I am saying it to wake you up to the fact that you may need to take a serious look at what you’re putting out there and whether or not it’s actually any good.

Some things to consider:

Did you hire a good content editor who actually knew what they were doing? Did you listen to the feedback and suggestions from said content editor? Or did you just take it upon yourself to think that you know what you’re doing and you don’t need to listen to the editor?

Or maybe you didn’t hire a content editor at all, and instead assumed your book was good enough because you’ve read hundreds of novels so obviously you can write a novel? (Not true, by the way.)

Did you find Beta Readers–who aren’t friends with or related to you–to check the book out before you published it? Does the book have an actual plot and story structure? Or is it an episodic narrative of a character’s day-to-day life?

Did you give the reader something to sink their teeth into? Was the book actionable? Did it give them information they could take away and use right now in their own lives?

Does the book actually have an ending that’s satisfying to the reader? Or does the ending come as a total disappointment or not even actually feel like an ending because nothing really gets resolved?

All of these are errors I see writers and authors making. And it’s a big part of the reason why no one reads, finishes or leaves reviews on their books.

Harsh? Maybe. But I’m hoping it’s also a reality check for what it really takes to write a book that gets reviews. And not bad reviews, but 4- and 5-star reviews. Rave reviews. Reviews that say the person loved the book so much they couldn’t put it down or it totally changed their life and way of thinking and being.

What it all comes down to is knowing the craft of what you’re writing and doing due dil to bring the best possible story or nonfiction book to your readers. It means stepping into the identity of the pro writer you want to be and treating your book with the same care and professionalism that you’d get with a traditional publisher.

Because when you self-publish, you are the publisher. And readers will still hold your book to the same standards that they hold books that come from traditional publishers.

A reader may not know the difference between a traditionally published book and a self-published book, but if you don’t do a great job with your book, they will be able to tell that something is off. Because stories require certain principles and criteria.

And readers have read enough books to know when a story (or nonfiction book) doesn’t work.

You’ll never fool your readers into enjoying your book if it doesn’t fit the principles and criteria of storytelling. For people who read a lot of books, even if they can’t tell you what’s wrong with the story, they will still have an innate sense of whether it’s good or not.

And even your beautiful prose will do nothing for you if your story isn’t compelling, engaging and cohesive. Beautiful prose is important, but it’s not the most important thing.

That’s why books without beautiful prose will still hit the bestseller lists and gain a huge readership and get turned into movies. Because it’s about the story more than it is about how beautiful the prose is.

Many people think Stephenie Meyer is a horrible writer. And I agree that her writing style is pretty basic. But her storytelling ability is so great readers can see right past the simple words and even cliche ways of describing stuff.

None of that matters when the story is awesome. When the story is awesome the beautiful prose is just icing on the cake.

But beautiful prose will never save a story that doesn’t work.

Dream life or bust,

 

 

#DreamLifeOrBust #DailyThinkDifferent

P.S. I have 3 spots available right now for private story coaching. If you’re ready to take the idea in your head and turn it into a fully developed story plan with structure and a scene-by-scene roadmap that you can use to write your first draft… and not just any first draft, but a first draft that’s a revision and edit away from being publishable, send me a PM (private message) right now and let’s get this show on the road.

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.

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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.

The Most Important Ingredient in Every Novel (And One Proven Way to Deliver It to Readers)

Note from Jen: This is a guest post from my badass bud, David Villalva. He’s awesome. You need to check out his site here

The epiphany struck in the bathroom.

I stood in front of the mirror as my inner voice revealed I was meant to write novels.

That revelation forced me to unleash the story living inside my head. I wrote everyday by the seat of my pants, and less than a year later, I celebrated the completion of a first draft.

During my first read through, it took me all of a few minutes to realize my story sucked all kinds of suck.

That’s because my story lacked focus. Every character drifted without purpose. Uh oh, I’d written a two-hundred plus page hopeless opus.

This enlightenment encouraged me to start looking into authors who had actually written and published novels. I ended up investing in an author’s lecture series where he asked one simple question:

“What’s the number one thing that readers want in a novel?”

I froze because I hadn’t considered that question. Of course, I knew why I wanted to write my story, but what would future readers want from it?

Did they want my story to inspire them? Educate them? Change them?

The author’s lecture shared the answer, but all I needed to do was look inside the very definition of the word, “story.”

Story (noun): An account of imaginary or real people and events told for entertainment.

Novelists Must First and Foremost Entertain Readers

People want a form of escapism. They’re begging you to transport them into your created world, but it better be entertaining upon arrival.

Because if it falls short of their expectations, they’ll hop back into reality, and look for another novel that offers the right recipe of leisure. (Or cruise Facebook, Twitterest, Instachat, uh, you get the point…)

Quick poll:

  • Why did you read the last novel you purchased or borrowed?
  • Did you read it to be inspired by the author?
  • To be changed?

Come on, you probably read its synopsis, thought it looked fun, and leapt inside. If you got more than entertainment, that was a cherry on top.

Entertainment is the greatest common denominator among fiction readers.

Except far too many emerging novelists misplace the importance of this core ingredient. Heck, even well-known authors end up getting sidetracked during portions of their story.

Ever heard this one about a popular or trending novel? “Just get through the first fifty pages because then it gets really good.”

Do you really want someone talking about your story like that?

Of course not! Your goal is to captivate the reader on page one, and keep them hooked every chapter thereafter.

Fortunately, there’s a proven approach that you can use to increase your chances of giving readers what they want.

Explore the Proven Structure Living Inside Novels

Novels are pieces of art but even the most creative art often comes to life within a proven framework.

We all know that novels have a hook and climax, right? Well, it turns out the hook and climax are just two of the plot milestones inside a novel’s plot structure. There’s also a proven scene structure that moves your readers and characters throughout an overarching plotline.

I recommend emerging novelists explore the principles of story structure for the following reasons:

1. Readers expect to be entertained by a well-designed story.

People subconsciously know stories should have a special rhythm to them.

Readers have been encouraged to receive stories in a certain way because story structure has been infused into novels for decades. So audiences expect to experience plot milestones at specific intervals, meaning plot points occur at well-timed moments to deliver maximum impact.

And then there’s scene structure which helps pace readers to inhale, exhale, process, and absorb all of those special moments in your story.

2. Story structure focuses your ideas.

It’s a beautiful thing to be blessed with exciting story ideas except it can feel like a curse when you’re not sure how to use them.

Story structure can help you arrange your ideas inside a novel’s proven foundation. Don’t worry, this isn’t like painting by numbers because that approach tells you what colors to use. Story structure is more comparable to building a house.

Every house needs a solid foundation to make sure the big bad wolf can’t blow it down. But once that foundation is established, its interior and exterior can be customized in unique ways.

3. Story structure can solidify your mastery of the craft.

You may have instinctively picked up story structure through years of reading and writing.

I was amazed the first time I compared one of my drafts against story structure’s basic principles. That was the moment in my storytelling journey where I became lucid to how the pieces fit.

What if you’re already using some story structure principles without realizing it? Better yet, why not discover if story structure’s full potential can help you finish a story you’re proud to share with the world?

Create Your Story With Purpose

People read novels to be entertained. It’s that simple.

So let’s take advantage of a proven approach that helps us give readers the entertainment they’re seeking.

Fortunately, story structure can help you, too! It can focus your ideas, solidify principles you’re instinctively using already, and help you finish a story you’re proud to share with the world.

Straight up, story structure isn’t going anywhere. It’s just a matter of whether or not you’re open to going anywhere with it.

About the Author: David Villalva helps novelists write stories that connect with readers. Connect with him HERE to receive a free visual guide that illustrates the plot and scene structures used in best-selling novels and screenplays.

Structure and Character Arc 101

A very common mistake writers make is thinking character is separate from plot or that plot can work without a proper character arc and vice versa. Not only is that not true, but believing that will greatly affect your story.

Here’s a video overview of story structure, character arc and how the two play together to create a cohesive and engaging story for your reader:

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What are your favorite inner demons to give to your characters? 

Image courtesy of SuperCar-RoadTrip.fr 

Story Deconstruction: Cruel Intentions

I’m a big fan of story deconstructions—where you watch a movie or a read a book and do a break down of all of it, from the structure to the exposition. This is one of the best ways to learn and understand how story works. To see it in action.

And it helps even more to see it in action AND get to see a break down of it.

That’s what helped me to master story structure. It’s what helped me to program myself into the novelist I dreamed of being. (Because the novelist I dream of being is a pro, and to be pro, you gotta know story structure.)

After discovering Larry Brooks’ storytelling principles, I spent 5+ years of my life reading books and watching movies and trying to find the plot points in each one. As the years went along, I got better and better, and I started to see how structure really works.

And what I saw amazed me.

Every story had the same general plot structure—a Hook, a First Plot Point, a Midpoint, a Second Plot Point and at least two Pinch Points. No matter if it was a thriller, a romance, a comedy, a drama or some other genre (only kind I didn’t see as much structure in was Indie, but the best Indie films did have structure).

I came to the conclusion that story structure is like a skeleton—everyone starts out the same—and then you get to choose the skin color, the eye color, the hair color, what clothes the person wears, etc. By using a general framework, you can get super creative with how you actually bring it all to life.

And that’s what being a storyteller is all about: getting creative with the specifics, while adhering to the principles that readers expect.

Something that surprised me while I was doing all this story deconstructing, was how much each Protagonist’s inner demon played against the external Antagonist. The inner demon flared up because of the Antagonist being there.

But that’s just another principle at play, and when done right, works magnificently to deliver a strong vicarious experience for the reader (or viewer). The external Antagonist brings out the inner demon in the Protagonist.

That’s the whole point. Otherwise how can he overcome and defeat the internal struggle? He’d have no reason to, not unless the external struggle was causing the internal one to be more present.

One of my favorite stories is Cruel Intentions (which is a remake of Dangerous Liaisons). The reason I love this story so much is because it’s a really great example of how powerful a story is (and can be) when you combine plot with character arc (as opposed to letting them be separate—some writers actually do that, but it doesn’t work).

Sebastian Valmont is a great character and in Cruel Intentions you can actually watch the four parts of story unfold as you follow the change he makes over the course of 90 minutes or so.

>> Read the Cruel Intentions story deconstruction here 

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What did you like best about the plot and character arc in Cruel Intentions?

And if you loved this story deconstruction, be sure to check out the Students of Story community, where you get a full story deconstruction every month, plus a whole lot more! Right now you can join the group for only $5 for your first 30 days. Learn more here.

Image courtesy of DaveBleasdale 

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.

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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.

I’m On Periscope! Check Out My Replays…

I’m sure by now you’ve heard of Periscope, the live-streaming video app from the people behind Twitter. If you haven’t, you can learn more by going to the app store on your smartphone and downloading the Periscope app. Once you do that, you can watch live broadcasts, interact with the broadcaster, ask questions/chat, and give “hearts” (Periscope’s version of “likes”).

I’ve been doing tons of Scopes lately, covering all different writing-related topics, like how to create playlists for your stories, whether or not story structure is formulaic, the 6-week story planning process and more.

You can find me on Periscope at @JenniferBlanchard. 

And since not everyone is available when I do the Scopes live, I created a landing page where you can go to view all of the replays. I will be posting all of the video recordings on there when I’m finished with the live broadcasts.

>> Check out my Periscope video replays

What’s your handle on Periscope? Let me know in the comments so I can follow you!

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.]

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

 

Is Your Story Suffering From “Convenience Factor?”

Has this ever happened in your story:

Your character is on a quest to find a missing watch. He spent the last three scenes retracing steps, questioning bystanders and searching high and low. Then he finds himself at home, trying to piece together the clues, when all of a sudden in walks his sister’s best friend’s mom. She’s holding a clue in her hand that will solve everything. She gives it to the him. 

Or what about this…

Your Protagonist is chasing her lover to the airport. He’s about to get on a plane and leave forever. She gets to the airport, and what do you know, they just happen to be giving away free tickets. She grabs herself a ticket, the security guard upgrades her to first class so she can get through security faster, and she catches her lover before his plane leaves. 

This is a common thing I see in stories all the time.

I call it the “Convenience Factor,” and it’s a big no-no. As one of my clients says, it’s “lazy storytelling.”

What he means by that is, rather than optimizing the story in a way that moves it forward and ties into the plot, the writer uses convenience methods to make things happen: adding a random character in to deliver important information, dropping things in your Protagonist’s lap and not actually forcing him to do any work.

Rather than convenience, spend time planning and developing your story, that way you know exactly what has to happen in the story, and how your Protagonist will be receiving the important information he needs in order to move forward and become the hero. Then you won’t have to do any convenience adding, just to fill space or try to explain something that doesn’t really fit in the story.

Whenever I see Convenience Factor in a manuscript, nine times out of 10 I know the writer did very little, if any, planning before writing the draft. And that’s a huge problem.

Because when you don’t take the time to plan and develop your story—ask questions and consider all possibilities for the direction the story could go in—you’re selling your story short. You’re stopping it from really blossoming into the story it could be.

Convenience Factor is a side effect of pantsing your story instead of planning it out. When you don’t plan, you have no idea what needs to happen to move the story forward. And that’s when you reach for convenience items, like random characters, all-too-coincidental story lines, etc.

Don’t do it.

Don’t waste your time writing a draft like that, a draft full of convenience. Readers don’t want that.

What readers want is a story. A vicarious experience for them to go on with your Protagonist.

They want a Protagonist who’s a bit of a mess, but has the qualities of someone who could be really kick-ass. They want to see things happen to this Protagonist–bad things–in order to find out what he’s made of. And then they want a satisfying ending that resolves everything and has the Protagonist really stepping up and earning his hero title.

Anything less than that isn’t worth their time.

But you can’t create a story like that–a story of that caliber–without doing some developing and planning ahead of time. (Well, you can always write multiple drafts, but you’ll just end up frustrated.)

Do yourself a favor: Give up the Convenience Factor, plan and develop your story, and write a damn good first draft.

Want Help?

Helping emerging novelists write damn good first drafts—that’s what I do. I teach story planning and development, which means creating your Concept and Premise, figuring out the beginning, middle and end of your story, your structure and all of the scenes, before you write a single word.

This ensures a better, stronger first draft every time.

Join me for a free Strategy Call. We’ll talk about your story and see if we’d be a good fit to work together.

Image courtesy of AJ Batac