Story is not plot. Plot is not story. I think one of the hardest things for beginning writers to understand is that these two words are not synonyms. Plot is a sequence of events, but story is much more. Otherwise, we’d all stop at the outline phase, slap a cover on that bad boy, and call it good.
So what the hell is story?
All writers fall into one of two categories: overwriters and underwriters. Editing as an overwriter can be pretty agonizing, as you have to line up your darlings against a wall and get out the shotgun. Underwriters don’t have it any easier, though. By the time you’ve wrapped up your story… it’s done. So what if your “novel” came in at 40k?* The story is done.
If you’re an underwriter, first, know that there is no inherent shame in short work. It’s okay if you thought it was a novel, but it turns out it was a novella. There’s nothing superior about a huge word count–especially considering that most novels with epic wordcount could stand to hit the gym, even the ones by brilliant authors. Read more
The most powerful stories–the ones that stay with us–are about change, and change comes from struggle.
By now, we’ve spent some time establishing the stakes of the story–what the character stands to lose, and what they stand to gain. This is where those stakes come into play. If we’ve done our work well, your Hero is standing at the precipice of a task for which he is unequipped. Time for Step 4. Read more
This is where stuff really gets rolling. You’ve introduced us to your Hero in their Ordinary World, using that opportunity to demonstrate both what is lacking in their circumstances, and what stands to be lost if they change them. If you’ve played your cards right, we are now invested in your Hero, and are eager to see him embark on his quest.
As some of you know, my day job is book cover design and illustration–Vivid Covers, wink wink nudge nudge. I started my cover work several years ago, after many years of graphic and web design. The title of this post is, admittedly, a little click-baity… but one thing I’ve learned in my years of cover design is that authors are absolutely terrible at recognizing what will make a good cover/blurb for their story.
We all know what it’s like to read a story that feels, well… fake. Every page gets a eyeroll, each plot point feels fabricated, and every line of dialogue feels wooden and artificial. Any book in any genre can suffer from this, but oddly, it doesn’t have a lot to do with the actual subject matter. I’ve read biographies of actual people that have earned some major side-eye from me, and fantasy novels that felt deeply, intimately real, with worlds that seemed to exist beyond the boundaries of the story itself.
So, how is that possible?
In my first post on The Hero’s Journey, I talked about why this story structure can often result in rote, formulaic stories–but also why, if you understand the dramatic intent behind each step, they can add strength and impact to your stories, whatever you’re writing. Read more
The Hero’s Journey gets a pretty bad rap for producing rote and formulaic stories, but it can still be an incredibly powerful tool for creating compelling fiction. The key is understanding the why of each of the journey’s elements. Why do we need to establish an Ordinary World? Why does the hero need to Refuse the Call? What’s the purpose of a Black Moment, and how does it increase the impact of the eventual resolution?