#NaNoWriMo2015–Get to the Heart of Your Story (writing tip #23)

If you are a fan of the classic 1983 coming of age/holiday film, A CHRISTMAS STORY, scenes come vividly to mind when I cue you: pink bunny suit; Scut Farkus; Santa and his elves; soap bar; leg lamp; Red Ryder; the dogs and the turkey. Today’s post is a day late and my only excuse is that a version of the ‘dogs and turkey’ scene unfolded in my home yesterday. This morning, I am still carrying around three different brands of carpet cleaner, still sweeping up broken glass and scrubbing butter from the oddest places, still highly miffed at certain …

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#NaNoWriMo2015–Get to the Heart of Your Story (writing tip #13)

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. Whether you are aiming to sell to a traditional publishing house, or you are going the independent publishing route, your story must hook your reader (agent, editor, or bookstore browser) on page one. Powerful prose is great–as long as you’re using it to tell a story with an engine. I call that “engine” the story equation, and it represents the cohesion and chemistry of the most important story elements: the story catalyst, the event that hooks the reader; the dilemma (sometimes …

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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, …

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National Novel Writing Month, November 2011

Ready to join tens of thousands of writers around the world and write a draft of your novel in 30 days? November is National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, and whether you register officially on the website and follow the rules (175-pages/50,000 words) or not, it is a great time to take advantage of collective creative steam. And in order to try, you must truly give yourself permission to work quickly, and messily, through the first draft. Is it a good idea? Yes, if you get the basics of your novel clear first. According to NaNoWriMo rules, you can begin …

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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 …

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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 …

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