The Big Nothing, Small Deaths, and How a Dilemma is Vital for Storytellers

 22 comments Two days into 2014 I had a ‘New Year’ conversation with a good friend.  Our talk turned to Noam Chomsky. I’d just seen Is The Man Who Is Tall Happy?, an animated documentary on the life of the linguist, philosopher, and political activist by French filmmaker Michel Gondry. (It is, btw, a delightful and provocative film.) Chomsky had been an early influence in my friend’s academic life. We touched briefly on Chomsky’s atheism and his belief in (I paraphrase) the “big nothing” that follows death. The topic of what comes after—nothing or something—tugged at me more than usual, due I think, …

Continue Reading

Deep Problems, Big Story

When it comes to creating a great protagonist, the character with the biggest, deepest problem wins. In my last blog entry–Does Your Story’s “Equation” Add Up?– I touched on the terms “story catalyst” and “deep-story problem”. I want to discuss them both in a bit more depth because they are crucial to the creation of a marketable story. A truly effective story catalyst (also referred to as inciting incident) kicks off the narrative, hooks the reader, and sets the protagonist on a journey (dealing with the deep-story problem) that will end in a life-changing crisis and climax. Because they are …

Continue Reading

Does Your Story’s “Equation” Add Up?

As an author, 2010 is my year of collaboration. I’ve been working with former CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson on a female-driven espionage action thriller. At times the process has included input from our two literary agents, select editors, a film agent, and various sub-rights agents on other continents. Needless to say, I’ve had story mechanics for highly commercial books on my mind. In my work as a coach and consultant, I read manuscripts on a regular basis. Often, I can identify what’s working–or not–within the first 20 pages. Assuming you are aiming to sell to a publishing house, your …

Continue Reading

Fiction According to John Irving: “You might say I back into a novel.”

Fiction according to John Irving: “You might say I back into a novel. All the important discoveries–at the end of a book–these are the things I have to know before I know where to begin.” In his lucid book THE FICTION EDITOR, THE NOVEL, AND THE NOVELIST, editor and author Thomas McCormack quotes Irving to say: “I want to know how a book feels after the main events are over. The authority of the storyteller’s voice–of mine, anyway–comes from knowing how it all comes out before you begin…” This quote comes in the midst of Thomas McCormack’s discussion of what …

Continue Reading

While On Vacation

This year’s beach read–Horton Hatches the Egg–inspired by daughter Pearl, reminds me of the value of studying children’s stories for classic structure. Cinderella is the usual choice, but I recommend Horton as a great example of “only trouble is interesting”. Horton undergoes countless trials as he waits for the egg to hatch. In the end, still loyal 100%, Horton emerges a true hero–and a Dad to boot! From the northern California coast, wishing you happy creating.

Continue Reading