Story Core

Today’s classic was originally posted on November 17, 2011. 

A few days ago, I came across some advice that has transformed the way I’m thinking about my current WIP. I found an interview with Robert McKee (who’s famous for his book, webseminars, etc. on screenwriting) where he says this:

Story begins when an event, either by human decision or accident in the universe, radically upsets the balance of forces in the protagonist’s life, arousing in that character the need to restore the balance of life. To do so, that character will conceive of what is known as an “Object of Desire,” that which they feel they need to put life back into balance. They will then go off into their world, into themselves, in the various dimensions of their existence, seeking that Object of Desire, trying to restore the balance of life, and they will struggle against forces of antagonism that will come from their own inner natures as human beings, their relationships with other human beings, their personal and/or social life, and the physical environment itself.

I knew, of course, about the concept of an “inciting incident”–that thing that happens that starts the hero or heroine on their journey, the thing that sets this particular day off from all other days. However, I’d been thinking of it more in terms of the “call to action” that takes place in the classic hero’s quest.  And I knew that my character had to want something–and that there had to be something that prevented her from achieving what she wanted.

What is THE COREof your story_.png

But I find that this idea of balance clarifies my thinking about the core of the story itself: why is the MC’s life out of balance? What triggered this imbalance? (Was it a slow evolution or something that happened suddenly, catastrophically). In short, it’s not enough for the character to want something–she has to want something because it will restore something to her life that she feels that it lacks.

For example, in the lovely children’s book The Higher Power of Lucky, Lucky is continually searching for the “higher power” that she hears people talking about in the various twelve-step recovery programs that she eavesdrops on. Her search is intensified when she begins to fear that her guardian, Brigitte, is going to leave her and go back to France. Once this fear develops, she searches for a way to keep Brigitte in Hard Pan (pop. 43).

Sometimes this imbalance is dramatic: the death of someone in the MC’s life, a divorce, a break-up. Sometimes, though, it can be as simple (and complicated!) as falling in love, realizing something unwanted about yourself, or feeling like an outsider.

So now I’m back to another revision–but one I feel hopeful about, because I feel like I’m finally peeling away some of the issues that are holding the story back. I know what needs to happen (if not how it happens). (Also, McKee reminds me that 90% of what we write is crap–and that’s why we revise.)

What about you? What tricks have you discovered for unearthing the core of your story? And what sustains you as you revise?

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93299-cyxmu9i1

Rosalyn Eves is a part-time writer, part-time English professor, and full-time mother of three. She loves all things BBC, especially costume dramas and mysteries. When not wrangling children (and sometimes when she should be wrangling children), she’s often found reading. Her debut novel, BLOOD ROSE REBELLION, is now available. The sequel, LOST CROW CONSPIRACY, comes out March 27.

Writers Need to Start with Why

When my husband started working as a general manager of a hotel that had recently been bought by new owners, he dedicated a good portion of his “not-working” time to understanding how to help people unite. It didn’t take long until he came across Simon Sinek – first TED talks, then supporting YouTube videos and daily email hints, etc. Soon he was listening to the audiobook Start With Why. Many of our subsequent conversations fell along the lines of why it’s important to start with asking why.

When I started a new job, I found myself going back time and again to those conversations and listening to the audiobook myself, which is summed up well by this graphic:

golden circle

Though these conversations about why began outside my writing life, as tends to be the case more and more, things that are pertinent to one aspect of my life trickle into my writing life. In studying Story Genius by Lisa Cron, I came across the following:

“While we might know what is happening, we have no idea why it matters or what the point is. Because the point doesn’t stem from the events; rather, it stems from the struggle they trigger within the protagonist as she tries to figure out what the heck to do about the problem she’s facing. That invisible, internal struggle . . . not only connects the novel’s surface events to the protagonist’s internal progress, giving those events meaning, but it’s also what ultimately lets you know what those surface events will be (read: the plot).”

Thinking about this led me to reflect on one of my favorite books, Me Before You. 

writers need to start with why

In Me Before You, Jojo Moyes allowed the reader to see why Louisa needs a job, to see why she stays when she has every reason to leave. But through Louisa’s eyes, we also get to see why Will hates her, why he then tolerates her, and then why he wants to be better with and because of her. We see his struggle with being quadriplegic, with knowing that the good days won’t stay good days. As we come to learn about Louisa’s why & we know about Will’s why.

Have you thought about your own life and writing? For the latter, here are a few tips to really hone in on a character’s why:

  • What is the character’s purpose?
  • What is the character’s cause?
  • What is the character’s belief?
  • Why should the reader care about this character?

What techniques have you used to discover and convey your character’s why? 

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profileTasha Seegmiller is a mom to three kids and coordinator of the project-based learning center (EDGE) at Southern Utah University. She writes contemporary women’s fiction with a hint of magic, and thrives on Diet Coke, chocolate and cinnamon bears. She is a co-founder and the managing editor for the Thinking Through Our Fingers blog as well as the Women’s Fiction Writers Association quarterly magazine, where she also serves as a board member. Tasha is represented by Annelise Robey of the Jane Rotrosen Agency.

13 Ways to Get OUT of Your Writerly Funk

FUNKSometimes we have a retreat, and we want to write ALLLLLLL the words ALLLLL day, but we get there, and… our brains don’t cooperate.

Sometimes we’re trying to finish a project over several months time, and it’s just not…happening.

 

Here are few tips to help you reset and start writing again:

1. Take a break. I know there are a TON of writers who say you have to write every day. You do not have to write every day. And most importantly, you need to not feel guilty about taking breaks. (If you’re at a retreat, don’t be afraid to step away from the computer for a while).

2. Remember that publishing is not personal. Sometimes passes (the nice way to say rejections) can get you down, but you HAVE to keep in mind that it’s the RIGHT project, in front of the RIGHT person, at the RIGHT time. That’s a lot of things that have to fall into place for a YES. Move forward. Prove them wrong.

3. Sometimes we have this precious chunk of time – a couple hours with a babysitter, or away from work, or at a writing retreat, and the words just aren’t coming. Remember there are a TON of non-writing things you can do to move your MS forward. Character sketches, character and setting pictures, storyboards, use a pacing or plotting tool to set up where your story is going next… Just because you’re not putting WORDS into your story, doesn’t mean you’re not putting WORK into your story.

4. Pick ONE thing you know is coming up in your story, and write that – even if it doesn’t come next, which brings me to…

5. Don’t be afraid to write out of order. Now, if you write the ending early on, chances are you’ll have to redo it when you get there, but it gives you SOMETHING to write. Sometimes writing ANYTHING will lubricate that sticky brain.

6. THEATER EXERCISES! Look up breathing, and characterization exercises. Getting into your character’s head can be a brilliant way to unlock those words, which leads me to…

7. Write something unrelated from your MC’s point of view. Maybe an essay on their thoughts after the end of the novel. Maybe an essay or their thoughts on one of the things you’ve put in your story to torture them.

8. Ask yourself, Did I make this big enough? The plot, the plot points, my main character – will be people be rooting for this to work out? Is there something else I can do?

9. Set the mood: Gum, snacks, drinks, music, smells… Maybe go a step further and pick stuff your MC would like.

10. Prep before your writing time. Try to think ahead…

11. Set a timer – YOU HAVE TO WRITE ANYTHING FOR XX MINUTES, and then you can break.

12. MOVE YOUR BODY. I promise that moving your body, lubricates your mind. Yoga, walking, stretching, running, swimming, biking… Bonus if it’s something your MC would like too 😉

13. DON’T PANIC. Finding yourself in a funk happens to everyone 🙂

HAPPY WRITING!!

~ Jolene

17361785_1313033622107898_5983686946276267719_nJolene Perry writes YA fiction for AW Teen and Simon Pulse. She writes about writing on BEEN WRITING? And you can stalk her on her website HERE. She’s also the vice-chair for the LDStorymakers Conference. YOU SHOULD COME…. Join the Tribe…

 

 

Visualizing Plot Structure

a-visual-analysis-of-plot-structure

A few weeks ago, my agent asked me to do one final pass on my verse novel for pacing. Make sure I wasn’t focusing on one emotion or idea for too many poems and that I kept the action moving. I really, REALLY wanted to get this absolutely perfect, so I maybe went a tiny bit overboard and graphed out all the storylines in my verse novel by color.

Here’s the evidence.

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Yes, that is over 400 pages worth of poetry goodness right there. What was really interesting though, was that this little experiment gave me an entirely deeper understanding of plot structure. Because instead of it being just this idea, it became something I could actually see unfolding in my post-it notes.

The verse novel format gave a perfect way to break this down and really see how it works because each poem is a snapshot, a moment. It usually focuses on one idea or one emotion, or one specific plot line. I think this graphing experiment would be much harder to do with a prose novel since you’d have to do it by scene and scenes are so often multi-layered and go through several emotions and tie things together. In a verse novel, a series of poems can make up a scene, but each poem has its own specific focus, which made this such a neat visualization.

So, without further ado…let me show you what I saw!

First, I’m going to give you a very brief run-down of the color coding system.

Orange = the MC’s father’s battle with Cancer. This is where the book begins. It is her normal life.

Yellow = the World Series and the MC’s attempts to get there.

Green = the MC’s interactions with friends.

Hot pink = the MC’s discovery of her possible genetic condition and making the decision of whether or not to be tested.

Light pink = Breathers. Moments of lightness and happiness (It’s a heavy book, so you’ll notice I tried to sprinkle these throughout.)

However, I’m also going to use this graph and color system idea to show you that this plot structure works for any story. Not just mine. And since I just saw and analyzed it, I’m going to use Doctor Strange as my example. There will be spoilers. Sorry.

So now that you know that, let’s take a look at the whole story graph again, this time with the inciting incident, first turning point, midpoint, climax, and resolution labeled.

overview-of-entire-plot

Now what do you notice for the most part about the inciting incident, the first turning point, and the midpoint?

They are all huge blocks of color! Far larger blocks of color than you find anywhere, ANYWHERE else in the book. (For the most part, you can probably see where some of my pacing problems were. After my revision pass, it was even more obvious.)

So what does this mean? Well, let’s zoom in and take a closer look.

inciting-incident

Here is the first panel. As you can see, the beginning is a whole lot of orange. Orange being the MC’s normal, but flawed life. Here the orange is all about her Dad being diagnosed (again) with Cancer. In Dr. Strange it is his life as a brilliant doctor.

The MC’s life goes on for several poems with a sprinkling of baseball and happy poems and friends and then all of a sudden. A new color! Hot pink! Something new comes along and completely changes the MC’s life in a way that can not be undone.

In my story, it is when the MC discovers that she has a 50% chance of having the same devastating genetic mutation as her dad.

In Dr. Strange, it is the car accident and total destruction of the MC’s hands.

Something totally new that changes the trajectory of the MC’s normal, but flawed life. That is the inciting incident. And from here on out, that storyline will keep appearing along with the other ones that have all been hinted at in the introduction.

Let’s go on to the next panel!

1st-turning-point-alternative

midpoint-2

You’ll notice this panel looks a little bit different than the one I used in the overview shot at the beginning of this post. That’s because sometimes my poems really dealt with two storylines at once. When that happened, I layered sticky notes. (You can actually see some of those layered sticky notes in this panel.) At the first turning point, I had a few poems that were both yellow (World Series) and green (friendship). I removed the green sticky notes to give a clearer picture of the first turning point.

The first turning point is another solid block of color. It is not a totally new storyline. You have been dropping little hints about it up until now. But here, it comes and throws your character for another loop. A loop so big, that there is no going back once they know what they know.

In my verse novel, this is when the MC finds out that her family won’t be able to go on their annual trip to the World Series because of her dad’s chemo treatments and compromised immune system. It’s something she looks forward to every year and now it’s taken away. She can’t just suddenly get it back without a lot of hard work (which is what this storyline becomes.)

In Dr. Strange, this is when he finally gets inside that mystic place and the ancient one shows him all the amazing power he could tap into and control and then throws him out. He can not go back. He can’t unknow what he saw. He is forever changed.

So, first turning point is not a totally new storyline. You’ve been foreshadowing and hinting at it. But it, once again, changes your MC’s life in a way that can not easily be undone.

Next panel(s)!

midpoint-1

I’d never thought of the midpoint as something with two parts until I did this exercise. And then when I analyzed the plot of Dr. Strange, the pattern held, so I know it’s not that I’m crazy. The midpoint takes place over the course of two panels. It is that huge block of orange followed by that huge block of yellow.

Here’s what that means. The midpoint is really that place where the entire story shifts or gets turned on its head. It is that place where really, truly, there is a point of no return. And I firmly believe that every plot achieves this midpoint shift in two parts. I don’t think they have to be in this order, in some stories the yellow block might come first and then the orange block. But let’s look at what that shift means.

The orange is the MC’s original normal, but flawed life. Remember? So an important part of that life now comes to the forefront of the story and drastically changes.

In my verse novel, this is when her dad’s cancer spreads and now he’s dying.

In Dr. Strange, this is when he realizes that he can either have his perfectly, masterful hands back and go back to his life as a brilliant doctor, or he can use his powers to fight evil. But he can not do both. He can go back to his life, but at a very high price. See the normal life shift?

Then we have the block of yellow. Again, this doesn’t necessarily have to be the storyline highlighted in the first turning point. I believe it could also be the inciting incident storyline. But it has to be one of them. Something from that storyline fully changes too. In a big way.

In my verse novel, the MC goes to this big meeting and pleads her case and gets approval for a big fundraiser to get her dad special, private box seats, to watch the World Series from. So that is a big shift in the storyline.

In Dr. Strange, this is when the bad guys take down the London headquarters and blast one of the gateways and Dr. Strange gets thrown into the middle of the battle and the gateway is sealed off. This is literally, a point of no return. He has to use his powers to fight the bad guys. The powers that he got a glimpse of in the first turning point…remember?

See? Now, I used to just view my midpoint as the point when the MC’s dad’s cancer spreads. And I probably would have originally seen the midpoint in Dr. Strange as that big moment of truth when he finds out he can’t have everything. But now I see that each midpoint has two halves to complete a full shift of the storyline.

Is your mind blown yet? No? Maybe just me? That’s ok! Let’s look at the next part of the plot!

fourth-panel

Okay, so I already showed you this panel when I was focusing on the midpoint. But now let’s talk about what happens next. I LOVE to write the story after the midpoint. It’s when you just slowly ruin your MC’s life completely. EVERY storyline crumbles. EVERYTHING goes bad. So, you can’t tell just by looking at the colors, but I labelled it here very scientifically. Each of these places where I have a small or large block of color, bad things are happening. My MC is losing everything. Each of those green blocks is a different friendship falling apart somehow. That big block of orange is her dad’s biopsy coming back and getting a terminal diagnosis. This, my friends, is the dark night of the soul.

I’ve only seen Dr. Strange once so I don’t remember enough to be specific, but this is basically where he’s getting his butt kicked by the bad guys.

But then look at that last line! It’s a freaking rainbow of storylines! And it’s hard to see it in this picture, but a lot of those post-its are doubled or tripled up with other colors.

IT’S THE CLIMAX!!!!!!

This is when all your storylines collide into one great big, messy, exciting, pinnacle of action and emotion.

In my verse novel, it’s her big fundraiser. It’s successful! But then, oooh. See that light pink? For the end, I ran out of colors, but here at the end, that light pink isn’t a breather or happy poem. It’s my twist. Every story needs a plot twist. And here’s mine. Right at the climax. I’m not going to tell you what it is because, you know, I’m still hopeful this story will get published.

But…I’ll talk to you about Dr. Strange. I’d say the plot twist is probably at the beginning of the climax of Dr. Strange, whereas in my verse novel it’s obviously at the end. Either one works, in my opinion. In Dr. Strange, the plot twist is when the Ancient One reveals that she has been tapping into the power of the evil guy and then dies. Then the rest of the climax happens where Dr. Strange brings time to the universe of immortality and that’s how he beats the bad guys.

So, to recap. The climax is a rainbow of all your storylines with some kind of twist thrown. However, that twist doesn’t come completely out of nowhere. It’s hard to see this in my graph, but several of those light pink, “breather” poems are actually foreshadowing this twist (as well as some of the orange poems). You can’t have a twist without foreshadowing.

And then the last panel.

fifth-panel

I think this picture speaks for itself.

I hope this gave you a deeper understanding of plot structure like it did for me!

_____________________________

Amanda Rawson Hill grew up in southwest Wyoming with a library right out her back gate, which accounts a lot for how she turned out. She now resides in central California where she is a gardener, chemist, homeschool mom, Yosemite explorer, and Disneyland enthusiast. She writes middle-grade fiction and is represented by Elizabeth Harding at Curtis Brown LTD.

Landing the Plane

From a physics standpoint, flying a plane is pretty straightforward. Because a plane is designed the way it is, all you really need to do to take off is to apply enough forward thrust, and then gently pull back on the stick. The Bernoulli effect kicks in and creates lift, and you’re up, up, and away. And once you’re in the air—barring any major problems—maintaining level flight is relatively simple as well. Shoot, planes basically fly themselves. The real challenge isn’t in the takeoff or cruising, but in the landing. Pilots will tell you that landing a plane is always the most challenging part of any flight, and it’s not hard to understand why. After all, you’re trying to wrestle a giant metal tube with wings traveling several hundred miles an hour down to the ground without crashing into a giant fireball.

Writing can be likened to flying in this regard. You have the takeoff, the flight, and the landing. I don’t know about you, but I personally don’t have a problem coming up with story ideas. I have a whole folder on my computer filled with great beginnings to stories that I’m constantly adding to. I see a sad news headline about police arresting a woman who was pushing the body of her dead toddler on the swings, and I see the beginning of a horror story or mystery novel. I read on Wikipedia about the “Dancing Plague” that occurred in Strasborg in 1518, where hundreds of people suddenly and mysteriously started dancing for days on end, and my mind starts sparking with ideas. Just the other day I thought up the opening scene to a crime thriller based off the recent “Pokemon Go!” game that’s so popular at the moment.

So yeah, I’m awesome at story beginnings. The story I’m currently working on is a good example. I had a solid idea and got the plane in the air with very little problem. And I’ve been cruising along smoothly for a while writing the middle parts. It’s ending the darn thing that has turned me into Ted Stryker sweating buckets in the cockpit while trying to land the plane.

You know the feeling, I’m sure. Once you’re up in the air, so to speak, your story will only end one of three ways. One possibility is that because you’re not sure how to end the story, you’ll putter around in the air until you just run out of fuel and crash. Another possibility is that you’ll do something terribly wrong during the ending, and you’ll crash. Neither of those options are acceptable, and your readers will never forgive you if you ruin their flight by crashing and burning the ending. 10 Cloverfield Lane is an amazing story that kept me on the edge of my seat with suspense, but fell apart in the last ten minutes. Lord of the Flies was all but ruined for me because of the very last line of the book. TV shows such as Castle, How I Met Your Mother, and LOST are other examples of otherwise excellent storytelling being hijacked by weak and/or terrible endings.

To avoid these same kinds mistakes, let me suggest a few ideas to help you land your story in one piece.

It’s all about conflict. 

Your story’s ending should be a natural extension of the primary conflict. It’s the answer to the question the story has been asking all along. Will the homicide detective catch the murderer? Will Alan finally get up the courage to confess his love for Stacy? Will Blast Ironsteak find a way to save the world from the nefarious schemes of Dr. Darkbad? That question is the reason your readers have been following along, turning pages with ever increasing speed. If the ending doesn’t answer the question the story has been asking, then there’s going to be trouble.

In the story I’m currently working on, I was having a difficult time trying to figure out the ending. I went through draft after draft of unsatisfying endings before I made a stunning realization. I hadn’t introduced the primary conflict early enough in the narrative. I had stuck it in towards the end, and the story literally was ending two paragraphs later. The story was starting off well enough, but then was just in a holding pattern for several thousand words until I decided to essentially say “and then this happened, which was bad, but it was okay, because they did this, and everything was okay. The end.” I had written the equivalent of the Snow White ride at Disneyland, which sets up the story, building tension as you ride along the darkened corridors, culminating with a huge mural showing Snow White and the dwarves on a cliff during a thunderstorm. Action! Suspense! Peril! And then you turn the corner and see “And they lived happily ever after!” painted on the exit. Lame.

Begin with the end in mind. 

This is related to knowing your conflict. If you’re having trouble finding a satisfying ending to your story, it could be that you aren’t clear what the conflict truly is. If that’s the case, you might consider where you want the story to end up at, and work backwards from there. If you know you want to end with a kiss on a beach at sunset between two reunited lovers, then you have to figure out how they got to that point. What kept them apart initially? How did these two crazy kids get back together? Who or what stood in their way? When you can answer those questions, you’ll begin to see where the path begins as well as ends. This sort of structuring can be difficult for discovery writers like me who run scrambling to the airplane at the first inkling of an idea, and are airborne before we know what to do next, but it can really help you not get lost along the way.
This is also why a truly satisfying ending hearkens back to earlier events in the story. A great ending will cause the reader to remember clues that have been scattered all throughout the story, so that when they look back from the ending, it will be obvious this was the only possible way this story could have ended. Think of the film The Sixth Sense. Clichéd twist ending notwithstanding, that story left a solid trail of crumbs all along the way so that the viewer says, “Of course! I should have seen this all along!”

You need a resolution. 

Every story needs an ending, yes, but to be a satisfying ending, it needs to be a resolution. It’s when the solution is presented, the loose ends are tied up, and the questions are answered. Cinderella gets her prince; Parzival foils the Sixers’ plans; the Spooky Spectre is unmasked and shown to be Old Man Carruthers (who woulda gotten away with it, if it weren’t for those meddling kids!).

I saw a YouTube video recently where someone edited various Pixar films to end at the sad parts. The results were horrifyingly funny. Jessie is abandoned in a box to the strains of Sarah McLachlan’s “When She Loved Me,” only to smash cut to the end credits and “You’ve Got A Friend In Me.” Mike and Sully send Boo’s closet door through the shredder and never see her again. Bing Bong fades away into nothingness, and then we get the Tripledent Gum jingle over the credits. Those endings are jarring because nothing gets resolved.

This doesn’t mean that in order to be a satisfying resolution, the ending must be a happy one. There are plenty of stories that end on spectacularly dark terms. Many of William Shakespeare’s best-known works, including Macbeth, Othello, Romeo & Juliet, and Hamlet are virtual slaughterhouses where most, if not all, of the main characters die. But they’re satisfying endings because the issues within the story have been resolved. Similarly, the film adaptation of Stephen King’s The Mist is WAY darker than the original story (I won’t spoil it if you haven’t seen it, but . . . dang), yet King is on record saying he likes the darker ending better than the one he wrote. And dark as it is, it works perfectly for the story. It’s an emotional roundhouse kick to the gut, but it works.

The main character has to earn their ending. 

Ideally, your story’s ending will grow out of the choices made by the main character along the way. Whether it’s a happy or sad ending you envision for your main character, they’ve got to demonstrate along the way through their choices that they deserve the ending they’re headed towards. Frodo has earned the right to sail off into the Undying Lands because of the choice he made to take the Ring to Mt. Doom. The Blues Brothers go to jail, but it’s okay because they got the band back together and saved the orphanage. And Hamlet has to die because he chose the path of revenge.

Conclusion

In the end, all the fancy flying in the world won’t mean much if you can’t stick the landing. Your readers will be angry, and won’t likely trust you to tell them a story ever again. But by following these suggestions, you can avoid all that by carefully crafting an ending to your story that leaves them satisfied. You goal should be to write an ending that makes your reader want to turn around and read the story again. But first, you have to land that plane safely. And as the author, you’re the only person who can. So my parting thought to you is what Leslie Nielsen’s character said to Ted Stryker in Airplane!: “Good luck. We’re all counting on you.”

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Dennis Gaunt has worked as a slushpile reader for Deseret Book and Shadow Mountain publishers since 2000. All those years of reading other people’s words inspired him to take a crack at writing himself. His first book, Bad Guys of the Book of Mormon, was published in 2011, and he has since published other books and magazine articles in the LDS market, and has even recorded talks on CD for LDS youth and young adults. Though primarily a non-fiction writer (for now), he loves reading and talking about what makes great fiction stories work. His years of wading through the slushpile from the other side have given him a unique perspective on the writing and publishing processes, and he’s excited to be a part of Thinking Through Our Fingers. Dennis lives in the Salt Lake City area with his wife, Natalie, who still has the text he sent her all those years ago that read “Holy cow–I think I’m writing a book!” In his spare time, he enjoys photography, playing the guitar, cooking (hold the onions, please), going to Disneyland, and Godzilla movies.

And I Wonder…

We’ve all heard the phrase “write what you know” at least once in this journey of writing. Is that honestly true though? Are the stories we come up with strictly what we know?

Robert Peck is quoted as saying “We don’t write what we know. We write what we wonder about.” I find a little truth in this statement. Of course you need to research your world and your subject matter so your story and the worlds created have meaning and substance. Still, writing can be much more than what you already know, it can be about what you’re afraid to know.

As I wrote my story “Beyond Here” everything pieced itself together. It started when my little sister was in the hospital and slipped into a coma for a month. I watched her get put on a ventilator, and saw everything my mom went through emotionally. The first inkling of a story came then. For the longest time as the story unfolded I thought that was the main theme. When I finished the first draft and reread it I realized it was about what my daughter may have gone through in the divorce.

It exposed my own fears of what could come in the divorce process. Heck, it even solidified that a divorce needed to happen for everyone’s sake. The first idea came through a shared experience with my family, but it became all that I wondered the future could be, good and bad.

Stories are a piece of us. When we write we leave our heart, soul, and blood on the page. Who you are and what you wonder about, everything you are will be exposed. That is the cost of being a writer. It’s our therapy and salvation. So write on. See who you truly are and be better for it.

Until next time have a writeous day!

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Matt Williams is an avid reader, a collector of many pens, an ever improving father of two, and an all-around fanboy. When he’s not wrestling with cats or a long commute you can find him hunkered down writing something imaginative. He’s working on publishing his first book Beyond Here, a middle grade story involving a coma and a singing flower with a bent stem sometime in 2016, along with a few projects with his other daughter.

Are You Writing the Story You Intended to Write?

So. There is the story you intend to write and the story you end up writing.

And it’s important to make sure you don’t settle for something you didn’t intend to write.

I’ve learned two things to do to make sure I write the story I intended, and not the one that was easy to just settle for.

1) I keep a one-line summary of what I expect from the story at the top of my outline. At the top of my synopsis. And on a Post-It note (the trustiest of all reminders).

One of my more recent stories had a one-liner like this next to me: “Gilmore Girls meets Lifetime Movie meets Nerdier Indiana Jones dealing with INEPTITUDE.”

Notice that I’m not using the tried and true character plus conflict plus hidden shadow plus antagonist’s outer shadow (or whatever gobbly gook we’ve picked up from 100 writing books over the years). Sometimes, over-thinking this part of the story—the “What do I intend to write”—can get muddied by over-thinking it.

Go back to your childhood roots of watching awesomely bad TV that hooked you (TJ Hooker anyone?). To your worst moments that still stand by you and you’re trying to work through (those moments of being inept aren’t high on anyone’s list, I’m thinking).

So you need a line that hits you in the gut. And Gilmore Girls, Lifetime movies, Indiana Jones, and ineptitude? They all hit my gut, remind me of why I wanted to write this story, and keep the lighter fluid going on the fire.

2) I study how screenwriters & directors create some of the most spot-on revisions for some of my favorite movies and shows. The kind of revisions that created stories that socked me in the gut.

Unlike book writers, screenwriters (the story editors) and the directors (the story manipulators) have to weed through all that prose/exposition/tangents/side plots that never make it on the screen in order to find the root of what the story is all about.

I’m going to show you what I mean via these two fabulous stories:

Groundhog Day and Outlander.

Groundhog Day, as originally written, was supposed to come right out and say:

1) Phil had been cursed by an angry extra girlfriend to relive the same day over and over again.

2) He was stuck in this loop for 10,000 years.

Can you imagine knowing these things in the Groundhog Day that we saw? It would’ve changed the tone of the whole movie, making it about this curse and also being absolutely floored with knowing how long he was in this loop—and it sticking in our heads and perhaps ruining our enjoyment of the movie as we kept thinking “Poor, poor, POOR sap!”

WHAT THIS MEANS FOR YOUR WRITING: Do you need to share everything you know about your story, or will it ruin the feel of the story, aka, the story you meant to write? There’s an adage that you could give the same story cue to 100 students and they’d write 100 different stories. For instance, imagine it was 1980 and you told a roomful of students: “Write me a story about a boy wizard who lives with his hateful aunt and uncle and who is then summoned to a wizarding school to learn how to fight the warlock who tried to kill him.”

How many are going to write JK Rowling’s Harry Potter? Uh, none. (Unless JK Rowling is in there, and maybe not even then if she didn’t have all the experiences she’d gone through yet.)

Oh Outlander, how much do I love thee? Let me count the ways. Sigh.

Sorry. I got distracted for a moment. The pic above is one of my absolutely favorite scenes in the show.

I love watching this series because the director will discuss what he did to help move the story along—about which characters he gave extra scenes to so the viewer understands them more or the plot points he cut so that we could get back to the story the viewer wanted to see faster. (History is all well and good, but give us Jamie and Claire arguing and making up—sigh!)

WHAT THIS MEANS FOR YOUR WRITING: Every scene should keep at the forefront what this story is about. I read a series that had a first book that floored me—it was utterly fantastic. But the rest of the series? The author had no idea what had made that first book so fantastic!

To help you remember what makes your story what it needs to be, you can apply #1 help you out. Let’s take a look:

GROUNDHOG DAY

Curmudgeonly Walter Matthau-type meets corn-fed town and corn-fed girl meets weird continuous loop situation dealing with GETTING NICER.

OUTLANDER

Florence Nightingale feminist meets alpha-male Highlander feminist dealing with TRUE LOVE.

Putting down words to hit word count is not a story that’s coming from your heart and soul. It’s the story that’s coming from your brain. It’s up to you to dig deeper to create the story that resonates. Will you succeed? As Maya Angelou has stated:

“Do the best you can do until you know better, then when you know better, do better.”
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Sydney Strand is a fiction writer who has published two young adult books through New York and another six books via self-publishing. Over the last two years, she has focused on writing fun romances, but not of the Red Room of Pain variety. More like the Dan and Roseanne/Sam and Diane variety–humor is sexy, dontcha know. You can follow Sydney on Instagram (1st Favorite), Twitter (2nd Favorite), and Facebook (Not a Favorite). She’s also at www.sydneystrand.com. (Her favoritest of favorites.)