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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…

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.

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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