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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!

Where Do Story Ideas Come From?

I read People magazine on the regular (it’s my guilty pleasure), and one thing I love about it is there’s always a “Best New Books” section, mostly filled with novels. I love reading this section to keep tabs on the new books that are coming out.

Plus, I always learn something about Concept and Premise.

Take the write up I saw for the book, Maybe In Another Life, by Taylor Jenkins Reid. The write-up for this book details the plot as:

Tired of meaningless jobs and fresh from a breakup, 29-year-old Hannah goes home to L.A. seeking a new start. What she encounters first is her old boyfriend, Ethan, in a bar. Is it fate? Should she stay with him or leave with her friend? In parallel story lines, Reid plays out the consequences of each decision.

What’s Conceptual about this story is the parallel story lines–we’re seeing two stories happening to the same character simultaneously, and we don’t know which one is reality and which isn’t. This in and of itself is interesting, and an Antagonist hasn’t even been introduced.

And then the Premise happens when we see that she has moved all the way back home–only to run into her high school boyfriend (the story’s Antagonist, I’m assuming, since I haven’t read the book).

Where Story Ideas Comes From

I don’t know about you, but I love the Concept that Reid is playing with in this story. It has so much inherent conflict, and so many possibilities built right in. It’d be cool to know where the idea for this story came from, and how it transformed into the book Reid published.

‘Cause story ideas are just that–ideas. They aren’t actual stories. Not yet.

In order to count as a story, it needs a whole list of things, like a Protagonist, an Antagonist, a Concept, a vicarious experience, and something happening.

Story ideas are merely seeds or sparks of inspiration that can be turned into a story by asking questions, playing with different scenarios, and finding the most optimal choices.

But a good story can be sparked by almost anything:

  • something you hear or see in real life
  • a story in the newspaper
  • a song lyric
  • another story
  • an experience you’ve had
  • an experience someone else has had
  • an experience you’d like to have
  • a character
  • a setting
  • a year in history

This list of story sparks could go on forever…

But none of these sparks is an actual story. Not yet.

First, a Concept and Premise needs to be introduced.

An Inside Look

There’s so much that goes into what you see in the final published story. And there’s so much that came before it–the story development process, writing the draft, revising the story, editing, polishing, etc.

Problem is, you rarely ever get to see this stuff. All you ever see is the final product.

So I wanted to give you an inside look at my story planning and development process, the one I use for my stories and all of my client’s stories. I’m live-planning my new story starting next Monday. 

The idea seed for my new story comes from something that actually happened. Back in 2008, I came across an inspiring story online that totally captured my heart–a Starbucks barista donated a kidney to one of her customers.

It struck a chord with me, and made me ask a lot of questions:

  • Why would someone donate a kidney to an almost-stranger?
  • What would it be like to go through this experience?
  • How would it change you?

These questions were enough to hold my interest and spark a story idea that I’ve been marinating on for years.

Next week, I’m diving deeper into how I’m turning this idea seed into an actual story, with a Concept and a Premise.

Be sure to join my email list so you don’t miss a thing (and you’ll also get a special freebie I only give to newsletter subscribers). 

 

Image courtesy of Magenta Rose

The 2 Things Stopping You From Finishing

How many times have you started a writing project, but never finished it? And you always have a great reason (aka: excuse) for why–it was too hard, it wasn’t working, you’re no longer interested, you don’t have time, etc.

But here’s the thing: at some point you have to finish something.

‘Cause if you never finish, you’ll never be successful. Not ever.

​Successful people finish what they start. 

So let’s talk about what’s really causing you not to finish things: Fear and Resistance.

Fear comes in many forms:

  • Negative voices
  • Limiting thoughts
  • False beliefs you think are true

Here’s how fear often shows up:

  • Telling yourself things, like “I can’t do this” or “I’m not good enough”
  • Believing things like, “this isn’t meant for me” or “it’s too late” 
  • Having thoughts, like “the world doesn’t need another novel” or “why would anyone read my book?”

This fear gets in the way of you finishing your writing project(s).

As for Resistance, Steven Pressfield covers this extensively in his series of books (starting with the War of Art). For now, think of Resistance as self-sabotage.

Resistance is basically your comfort zone trying to stop you from doing something “threatening,” like publishing your novel.

Here’s how Resistance often shows up:

  • You spend months working on a novel, and then suddenly another story idea pops up that seems “so much better” and so you chase that idea instead of finishing the one you were already working on
  • You know you need to work on your writing, but instead you decide to wash the dishes, clean your house, and catch up on those emails that were unimportant until right now when you were gonna write
  • You have a drawer (or computer file) of unfinished novels, short stories, etc. 

I’ve had seven years of fear and Resistance; of finishing, but not really finishing (I wrote and started to revise a novel, but never published it).

And even now as I’m putting the edits in place and doing the final-final polish on my debut novel, I’m freaking out, I’m afraid, I’m questioning everything!

But I’m pressing forward anyhow. Because I’m ready to get in the fiction game. I’m ready for my stories to live out in the world instead of in my head.

People can judge me all they want, but I refuse to hide any longer. And you shouldn’t either. 

Now I’m not saying that you should just write something and throw it out there. Not at all.

The opposite, really.

I think you should spend time finding your story. Getting to know it. Asking it questions. Playing with scenarios and “what ifs.”

And once you know everything there is to know about your story–or at least ’til you have a cohesive story that works from beginning to end–then you sit down and write your heart out.

When you’re done, revise it until every plot hole is filled and everything that shows up in your story is set up, foreshadowed and flows together.

Then hire an editor and get it in front of some Beta Readers. Make the edits and give the story a final-final polish.

Then let it go and release it.

There has to come a point with every creative project when you call it done and call it good enough. There has to come a time when you say, “this is my best work to date and I know I will do even better next time.” 

This isn’t the last book I’m gonna write, and I know it’s not your last one either.

So that’s why you have to finish what you start. Because at the end of the day, all of your stories and writing talent won’t do you any good if you don’t launch.

That’s the realization I came to recently as I’ve been finishing up this novel. (Pressfield talks about this in the War of Art, as well.)

Screen Shot 2015-05-27 at 11.49.02 AMI have all these stories and novels I’ve written, but if I don’t finish the journey–not just writing, but publishing–then I’m wasting my creative gifts that are meant to be shared with the world.

So I set a date: June 16. 

And on that day, I will publish my debut novel. I’m releasing it and setting it free, out into the world, to be loved, critiqued, judged, hated and adored.

I know this is what I’m meant for, and I’m not gonna deny it any longer.

Share With Us

Are you ready to step it up and call your book “good enough?” Tell us your launch date in the comments, if you dare.

Read to write your novel? Learn more about working with me.

 

Finish Line image courtesy of Sean MacEntee

 

Why Every Novel Needs Tension (And How To Create It)

Pro photo for book cover-small image

C.S. Lakin

This is a guest post by C. S. Lakin

I hope I don’t need to tell you why you need tension in your novel. Every story, regardless of genre, needs to ooze with tension.

Why? Because tension determines the pacing of the story.

Without tension of some sort, readers may lose interest. Their eyes might glaze over or their minds wander. They might start thinking about what to make for dinner or glance at all those bills sitting on the desk.

The last thing an author wants is for readers to think about anything other than the scene they’re reading.

To ensure readers stay riveted on a story, you need to ensure there is tension on every page.

Every page? Is that possible? Yes, it is.

But before we look at how that’s possible, we need to examine the types of tension at work here.

Different Types of Tension

Just what is tension, anyway?

In real life, we avoid tension, often at all costs. We don’t want to be tense, and we don’t like tense situations. And we don’t want others around us to be tense (although, some people are really into drama).

So let’s break this down a bit.

First, we need to look at two aspects of tension. There is the tension the characters feel as individuals, and then there is the overall tension in the story.

Don’t confuse action with tension. Don’t confuse high drama and high stakes with tension.

You can have the most exciting plot elements in the world—with car chase scenes and buildings blowing up and the threat of the end of the world and still completely lack any tension—as far as the reader is concerned.

So while you may be writing about tense things that should make people feel tense or you are showing characters under stress, that doesn’t necessarily equate to your book’s tension. The tension a writer should be aiming for is something other than making readers feeling uptight or worried.

Make Your Reader Tense

What we as writers want is tension in the reader. And that kind of tension is not dependent on what kind of action is going on in a story. Even the most subdued, quiet, nothing-seems-to-be-happening scene can have tension ramped to the max.

No, this doesn’t mean we want our readers to be stressed-out—although if you are writing intense suspense, that probably is exactly your aim. The kind of tension we want readers to feel is a sense of heightened anticipation, interest, curiosity, excitement.

This is a good kind of tension. Think of the tension in a tightrope. We want a reader’s attention to be taut.

In other words, we want readers to care so much about what is going on that they are uncomfortable. And when someone is uncomfortable, they want to resolve whatever it is to the point at which they can again feel comfortable.

The Secret to Tension

So what is the secret to creating that kind of tension in a novel? Great characters. Characters with a lot of inner conflict that is continually present.

Sure, outer conflict will add to that tension. But if your readers don’t care about what happens to your character—because you did not present and carefully showcase an empathetic, intriguing, vulnerable, engaging character—they won’t have much interest in the story and won’t feel that niggling need to know what happens next.

Let me just say this: without constant tension in your story, you won’t have a story.

If there are no stakes, no risks, nothing for your protagonist to lose, how can you have any tension? You can’t. And you can’t have a compelling story either.

So tension is story. Outer conflict throughout is crucial.

And the inner conflict your characters struggle with also creates tension. If your characters aren’t having problems making choices and don’t have conflicting feelings, your scenes will lack tension.

Keep in mind these important points about creating tension:

  • Create great characters who struggle with inner and outer conflict.
  • Have a terrific plot that features lots of outer conflict (which creates outward tension in the story).
  • Make the stakes high—high for the protagonist and ones that impact her goal for the book. High stakes are about what the character cares passionately about. This is the key. To create tension, then, you need your very empathetic characters, and particularly your protagonist, to be facing trouble with high stakes.

If you spend time making sure your novel is full of great characters struggling with conflict, tightening your plot so it moves ahead at a steady clip, and raising the stakes for your characters as high as possible, you will succeed in making your readers tense. Which is a good thing.

About the Author: C. S. Lakin is the author of sixteen novels and three writing craft books. Her award-winning blog Live Write Thrive gives tips and writing instruction for both fiction and nonfiction writers. If you want to write a strong, lasting story, check out her new release The 12 Key Pillars of Novel Construction, part of The Writer’s Toolbox Series, which provides a foundational blueprint that is concise and practical, and takes the mystery out of novel structure.

Image courtesy of conejoazul 

An Inside Look At My Story Creation Process

I spend a lot of time talking about how to write stories. I share the processes that I use and teach. But I wanted to go a step further, and give you an inside look at my specific processes and timelines for finishing my debut novel (ETA: May 2015).

I’m not gonna share all the specifics about the story right now (I’ll be sharing that info really soon), but to give you a snippet, this is the basic storyline: An employee and her manager engage in a secret relationship, but things take a turn for the worse when she breaks it off with him.

Stage One: Planning and Development (Eight Months)

The original idea seed I started with was inspired by a book I read called, Why Work Sucks (And How To Fix It), as well as my experiences working in Corporate America.

I wanted to tell the story of a woman with a tragedy in her past who is trying to make a new life for herself through her career as a music promoter, but she’s so out of practice at love that she doesn’t know how to handle it when the real thing shows up. And interspersed in this story I wanted to share my experiences in the workplace, and tie them into the Why Work Sucks book.

Except that wasn’t enough to make a story. I had a Concept, but no Premise

What I initially worked out was that the Protagonist’s boss would be out to get her, and that’s why her work was being sabotaged. But it just didn’t feel strong enough to me. She needed a much better journey to go on in the story (and a much more compelling reason for the reader to root for her).

That’s when I reached out to my mentor and colleague, Larry Brooks, to analyze what I had so far, and tell me which direction I should go in. Larry gave me some great feedback, as well as a kick-ass twist on how to make the story more conflicted and awesome.

I took everything I had figured out during my initial development of the story, combined it with the feedback I got from Larry, and I started planning out the specific scenes I needed in my story, to make it unfold in a compelling way.

I spent months working through the scene plan. I must have written up at least three different beat sheets and created index cards for every scene, twice. And then when I was so close to being finished, I found an even better way to amp up the story.

So I changed a good portion of it. Re-did my scene cards and took the story in a new direction.

This entire process took me about eight months. The planning and development process can be done a lot faster when you have someone to help you and keep you accountable.

Stage Two: The (Not So) Shitty First Draft (Two Months)

Since I did so much planning and development of my story ahead of time, I was able to bang out my first draft in two months, flat (and my goal was three months).

I had an accountability partner who I checked in with formally once a week via email, and also sent text updates about my progress throughout the week.

Having accountability on top of my story roadmap is what helped me get this draft finished so quickly. 

And because of all my planning this draft was decent. I knew right away I’d have to make changes, but I also knew I could use about 65 to 70 percent of what I already had. Which is pretty amazing, given it was the first draft.

Stage Three: Let It Sit (Three Months)

I usually recommend letting your first draft sit for a minimum of six weeks before you go back and try to revise it. You need enough distance to give yourself fresh eyes.

For me, that distance was about three months, because I had many other projects going on. So my eyes were really, really fresh when I finally went back to it.

Stage Four: Revision (Four Months)

I follow a very specific process for doing revisions on my storiesThis process includes multiple readings of the draft I have, three beat sheets and creating the final index cards I’ll work from when I piece together my new draft.

After I have all the revisions in place and on my revision roadmap, I start rewriting the draft. Since I was able to use 65 to 70 percent of what I already had, I basically spend a lot of my rewriting time copying and pasting from my first draft into the new draft, and then editing for clarity and connecting or changing information to match the rest of the story.

Once my revised draft is complete, I actually go through one final revision. At this point my story is in place and solid. The bones, muscles and joints are all there.

The final revision I do before sending it off to my editor and Beta Readers is on each scene. I go through each scene, one-by-one, and make sure it’s the best I can make it.

I focus on adding more descriptions (I tend to write bare-bones, it’s the journalist in me), fixing up characterization and making sure everything flows and fits together cohesively.

Stage Five: Off to My Editor and Beta Readers (Two to Three Months)

Now I let the draft I send off to my editor and Beta Readers sit for the time being. Instead, I’ll focus on building up my author platform and getting things ready for publishing the novel. I may even work on the early planning and development for my next story.

When the edits and feedback come back from my editor and Betas, then I can get back to work on the story.

Stage Six: Cleaning Things Up (One Month)

This time around it’s all about cleaning up the new draft by making the edits from my editor and Beta Readers. This is the polishing stage for me.

I’m not working on anything major, like structure, characterization, plot, etc. Those things have already been dealt with in Stage Four.

When all this is complete, there’s one stage left.

Stage Seven: Publish (TBD)

Right now I’m at Stage Four with my debut novel. I am more than a quarter of the way through the rewrites, and have a goal of getting the draft to my editor and Beta Readers by mid-March, latest. This is setting me up for a May publish date.

Since I haven’t gone through this stage with my novel yet, I won’t go into too much detail. But I will write another post telling you all about it as I get further along in the process.

I’ve gone several novels in different stages of this process, but so far I haven’t been inspired to take any of them all the way. Until this story.

This story, I’m publishing. (More on that soon.)

Three Things That Made the Biggest Difference For Me

So to wrap things up, here are the three things I did that made the biggest difference for me when it came to getting this story figured out, written and then revised:

1. I Got Really Clear On My Story–before I wasted any time writing a single word of this story, I spent a lot of time (eight months in this case) getting clear on everything.

Who is my Antagonist? What does he want? What does my Protagonist want? What’s her character arc? What’s my story structure? What happens in Part One, Part Two, Part Three and Part Four? How does it end?

These are (just some of) the questions I knew the answers to, before I started writing.

2. I Got Feedback From A Pro Story Coach–I know it’s cliche, but you really can’t see the forest from the trees. Being so close to my story, I needed to get an outside perspective to help me make sense of things.

I would never take a story into Stage Two of this process unless I had my plan analyzed by a story coach.

3. I Made Writing A Habit–when I decided to bring this story to life, I knew I was committing a lot of time to it. And I knew how badly I wanted it.

So I found a way to spend a minimum of 30 minutes a day working on my story (regardless of which stage I’m in). Most days I found more time.

Having a daily habit of working on your story will help you stick with it and move through all seven stages.

My process for this story, from initial “idea seed” to final draft, has taken me about two years.

But it doesn’t have to take you that long.

Working with me, you can go from story idea to completed first draft in 90 days. (Or, if you already have a first draft, I can take you through the revision process in 90 days.) And then you’ll be thismuch closer to publishing your story.

My work as a story coach is all about:

  • Efficiency–we get down to business and get shit done. You won’t spend eight months planning (like I did)
  • Saving time–you won’t waste time writing a single word until your story plan is intact and you’re feeling good about it

Ready to explore what working with a professional story coach can do for your story? 

>> Join me for a free Strategy Call

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.

Confession: Why I Ran Away From Being A Writing Coach

One of the people I admire most in the world made a confession this week: he feels not good enough. And that’s what’s held him back from pursuing the business he was truly passionate about, because he was feeling like he has no right to go out there and teach people things that he’s not really an “expert” in.

His blog post confession was raw, honest and full of love for his readers. And he inspired me to share myself with you.

I’ve been writing fiction for twenty+ years and studying the art of writing stories for almost as long. But it wasn’t until I came across an article from Larry Brooks talking about story structure that things really fell into place for me.

Not long after that moment I had an inspired thought—I could coach writers. I could save them time and cut years off of their novel-writing journeys by teaching them about story structure, and helping them execute it in their own stories.

I sent an email out to my list at the time and offered up five spots in a four-week coaching program where I would help each writer develop and plan her story before NaNoWriMo started. Within 48 hours, all five spots were full. And my writing coaching business was born.

Except it scared the fuck out of me.

Who was I to think I could help people with their stories? I’m not Larry Brooks—the expert in story structure and someone I admire. I’ve never published a novel (though I have written several, and published several nonfiction books).

So rather than dive full-force into my coaching business and help more writers, I resisted the calling. I ignored it. For years.

While I still helped writers here and there, my focus was scattered.

But the calling never went away. That nagging voice inside, telling me I wanted to help writers plan, develop and write their stories.

There’s a reason I’ve always been obsessed with writing fiction. There’s a reason reading novels is one of my all-time favorite-favorite things to do, and why story structure jumps off the screen at me when I’m watching movies.

It’s because I’m meant to be a fiction coach, a story coach, a writing coach. I am meant to help emerging novelists write and revise their stories.

And I’m not going to hide from it anymore.

For the last year—since my mentor died last October—I’ve been 100 percent focused on working with fiction writers and coaching writers on story structure.

I’ve worked with some of the most awesome writers this year, and helped them develop, plan and write their novels. I’ve watched stories come to life that may have never seen the light of day otherwise.

It’s been incredible. The best year of my life, so far.

I’ve learned, grown, and made huge commitments—to myself and to my work.

And now I want to make a commitment to you.

I am here to serve fiction writers to the best of my ability.

I will always be 100 percent honest with you about what it takes to write a novel you can publish. I will tell it like it is and never sugar-coat things.

I will learn, develop my skills, and grow as a person and a coach—to better serve you.

I will continually seek out the information you most need to overcome the challenges that stop you from putting your stories out into the world, and then share it with you in a way that’s easy to digest.

I’m holding space in the world for your story, the one inside you that your heart so desperately wants to write.

I will be an example of living the writing life, by writing the stories and ideas in my head, and publishing them for you (and the world) to read.

I accept that I am someone who takes on too much—because that’s how I work best. But I am not always gonna get it right. Sometimes I’ll bite off more than even I can chew, and when that happens I will do my best to make it right.

I will not teach you things I haven’t yet tried myself. Not now, not ever.

I will practice gratitude on a daily basis—because I’m so fucking grateful for you and for the fact that I get to spend my life helping people write novels (‘Cause let’s be honest, who gets to do that?!)

I will partner with people who inspire me to be great and do great things.

I will love myself every single day for being perfectly imperfect. And I will put myself and my creative work out into the world—where it belongs.

With this commitment comes new beginnings.

A new website. New content. New coaching programs. And a new contest where one lucky writer will win 90-days of free coaching with me.

Isn’t it time you let your story out? Let’s make 2015 the year you finally do.

How To Plan Your Story In 30 Days

When you develop and plan your story before you write it, you’re going to end up with a much better first draft than you would if you just sat down and started writing. Without a clear idea of where you’re headed, you’re guaranteeing yourself a full-draft rewrite.

Story planning is by far the best way to save time, make the writing easier, and ensure you end up with a draft you can actually use.

But you’ve gotta put a timeframe on the planning and development process, otherwise you could spend years of your life doing it and never actually get to the writing.

There’s no set amount of time that it takes to plan and create your story. It really just depends on a couple factors:

  • How much time you have available to dedicate to your story
  • How developed your story idea is (or how willing you are to let it grow)

If you’ve got the time, you can have your story planned and ready to write in 30 days (or less). Here’s the process and time schedule to help you do it:

Week One: Idea, Concept and Premise

The first seven days you’ll want to work on taking the idea in your head and turning it into a Concept and Premise.

Think of a Concept as the landscape—or setting—where your story takes place, and a Premise as the Antagonistic force (AKA: “something happening”). The story idea you have in mind right now isn’t a story, unless it has something happening—a problem to solve, a journey for the Protagonist to go on, a bad guy who needs to be stopped.

If you don’t have that yet, you don’t have a story.

The best way to find your story—to really dig deep and develop it—is to ask questions. To consider all possibilities. To step outside of your original “idea seed” and see what this story could become.

Once you’ve found your story, then you can move on to the next seven of your 30 days.

Week Two: Character Creation

The next seven days should be spent getting to know your characters, especially your Protagonist and Antagonist.

Who is your Protagonist, really? What does he want? What’s his backstory? His beliefs?

During this week you’ll want to create the three dimensions of character for your Protagonist, as well as build his character arc—how he’ll change—in the story.

When you have a clear picture of who your two main characters are, then you can move onto the next seven days.

Week Three: Story Structure

The next seven days should be focused on creating your story structure. Your structure is the core story—main plot—in your novel.

You’ll need to figure out your First Plot Point (FPP), your Midpoint (MP) your Second Plot Point (SPP) and two Pinch Points (PP).

Your First Plot Point is the most important moment in the entire story—it’s the moment the real story starts. Everything that happened before this moment is just set up for it. This is when the Antagonist enters the story and shakes things up for the Protagonist.

Then your Midpoint occurs—a moment that shifts the story in a new direction.

After that comes your Second Plot Point, the final piece of new information to enter the story.

And in between your FPP and MP is Pinch Point one, and between your MP and SPP is Pinch Point two—both of these moments are reminders of the Antagonistic force and what’s at stake in the story.

Really take some time to think your structure through, making sure you’ve chosen the most optimal path to telling your story.

Once you have your structure nailed down, you can move on to the final part of the process: building your story roadmap.

Week Four: Scene Building

Your final seven to nine days should be spent coming up with the scenes you’ll need in your story in order to connect the plot points together.

The scenes in part one of your story are Set Up scenes. Once your FPP hits, then you’ve shifted to part two of the story, where all the scenes need to be Reaction scenes.

Then the MP hits—you enter part three—and all of these scenes are Attack (action) scenes. Then the SPP comes along and the story moves to part four, which are all Resolution scenes.

Think about what needs to happen in each part of the story in order to reach the next story milestone (plot point). Make a list of all the potential scenes, and then organize them by which part of the story they belong to.

When you’ve got all your scenes figured out and connected to your plot points, what you’ll have is a story roadmap that you can use to write your first draft.

Making the Most of Your 30 Days

This story planning process is going to take some effort, so here are suggestions for how to make the most of your time and get your roadmap finished:

  • Spend 30 minutes a day, minimum, working on it
  • Block time in your schedule—you have to make time for doing the work
  • Use a timer—you’ll be surprised how much you can get done in short 20- to 30-minute work sessions
  • Say no—tough, yes, but it’s only for 30 days. Make your story a priority

The Self-Paced Story Roadmap Workshop

You can use the self-paced Story Roadmap Workshop to work through this 30-day plan and come out at the end with a detailed roadmap you can use to write your first draft (and every draft you write after that).

Each module will walk you through using the planning process on your specific story idea. There are videos, worksheets, a cheatsheet and everything else you need to plan your story.

Best of all, you get a free 45-minute coaching call with me included with this workshop, so you can get help planning your story—use it whenever you’re ready.

If you’ve ever felt frustrated trying to write your story or unsure how to make your idea work, the Story Roadmap Workshop is for you.

>> Learn More About Story Roadmap

5 Ways to Avoid Doing A Full-Draft Rewrite

No matter how good of a writer you are, it’s inevitable that you’ll need to do a lot of revising if you want to end up with a kick-ass final draft. And with revising comes a lot of rewriting.

But that doesn’t mean you have to rewrite your entire draft.

There are things you can do—five things, specifically—that can help you avoid doing a full-draft rewrite.

Now don’t get me wrong—if you want to rewrite your entire draft, or if you want to use the “write multiple drafts” process for story development, that’s up to you. But it’s definitely not something I recommend.

Writing multiple drafts take a lot of time and effort, and it’s likely you’ll either get burned out or grow bored of your story if you have to write several drafts in order to get to a final one. Or maybe that’s just me.

All I know is, if I have to rewrite a draft more than one time, I’m not going to finish the story. I don’t have the attention span for multiple drafts.

So I follow these five little steps to help me avoid having to do a full-draft rewrite:

  1. Convert Your Story Idea Into A Concept and Premise

If you write a draft before you’ve fully determined if what you have is a story or not, you’re guaranteeing yourself a full-draft rewrite. Without knowing what your story is really about ahead of time, you won’t know what to write when you sit down to the page.

So what will happen is you’ll start writing, heading in one direction, but then the story will take a turn and you’ll end up somewhere you never expected. Which is great for story development. But all signs point to you having to write another draft.

Take some time to work on your idea—do what it takes to convert it from a simple idea “seed” into a full concept and premise.

Once you can write a 1-2 sentence “pitch” of your story, then you’re ready to develop it.

2. Develop Your Story

Once you’ve converted your story idea seed into a concept and premise, you can begin the story development process. This is when you really dive in, dig around and try to drag out all the details and information about your story that you can.

The best way to start developing your story is to ask questions. Lots and lots of questions.

Who is this character? What does she really want? Who’s going to oppose what she wants? Why? What characters will support her on her journey?

The deeper you go with the questions, the better your story will be.

3. Plan Your Story

After you’ve spent time developing your story and really trying to make sure you have a grip on what this story is about and who this Protagonist and Antagonist are, then you can begin planning your story out. The planning process is all about determining your story structure.

What structure will support your core story? (Of course keeping in mind that there are specific structure points that you must hit). How will you execute this structure in a way that keeps the reader hooked ’til the end?

You need a First Plot Point, a Midpoint, a Second Plot Point and two Pinch Points.

4. Create A Story Road Map

Now that you have your story structure points in place, you can put together a road map that includes all of the scenes you need to connect these structure points. Creating a road map requires you to think about what scenes are needed in order for the story to unfold properly.

You’ll want to think about each part of the story—part one, part two, part three and part four—and determine what needs to happen in order to fulfill the mission of each part (part one is set up; part two is reaction; part three is attack; and part four is resolution).

Then when you’re finished with your road map, you’ll be able to write a strong first draft (at least structurally speaking).

5. Work With A Writing Coach

Of course writing a first draft can be a lot of work to take on all by yourself. Sometimes having support really does make the difference between a draft you finish and a draft that never gets started.

When you work with me, I will take you step-by-step through this process and help you pull the story idea from your head, develop it into an actual story, build the structure and scenes, and then I’ll be your rock while you write the first draft.

Together we will bring your story to life.

Jennifer has been incredibly helpful in structuring my work-in-progress. I now have an easy-to-use plan to write from, which makes the process so much more enjoyable”—J. Waggoner

>> 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 Nana B. Agyei 

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