"What do you want?"
"I've got a story idea for you."
Ah, if it were only so easy, right? Ever have an idea pop into your head, so crystal clear that you start righting, only to finish 80,000 words later? No, me neither. I carve big lumps of word stone into story statues. Clink. Clink. I chisel each word into existence by looking at both the positive and negative space. What is said. What is not.
Last night, I listened to Gary Provost, founder of the Writer's Retreat Workshop. Again. And again. Gary has a beautiful way of distilling storytelling down to the emotional core. Something happens to the hero of this story, something significant. Because it happened, the hero wants something, badly, a prize or a goal. The hero devises a plan of action, moving closer to the prize. Forces oppose the hero at every turn. As the plan of action unfolds, the stakes rise. Moving toward the goal takes every bit of cunning, strength, and luck the hero can muster. Still, it's not enough. The hero hits bottom, emotionally, physically, mentally. At this bleakest moment, the hero makes a decision to solider on. The hero learns a lesson, gains more faith, changes internally. As the hero continues, he's faced with a decision point. He can gain his prize, his goal, but only if he gives up something he truly loves. This journey satisfies a need or fills a hole in the hero's psyche.
Every story has each of these elements:
|Inciting Incident||Story trigger ; what happens to hero|
|POV Character Goal||Prize or Goal|
|Strategy||Plan of Action|
|Rising Stakes||What happens during the journey to make this more important, more meaningful to the hero - internally? Externally?|
|Bleakest Moment||Hero is at the lowest point; opposing forces are winning|
|Lesson||What does the hero learn? How does he change?|
|Decision Point||What does the hero give up in exchange for the prize or goal? What is the cost?|
|Hole||What need or emotional hole is filled by the decision? The need was there before the story began, and is the backstory.|
What need or emotional hole is filled by the decision? The need was there before the story began, and is the backstory.
Then it hit me. When you can define these elements, you've got your story idea defined. One table. With a quick glance, you see, feel and know what happens in a story. Imagine what it could do for a synopsis or query letter. You could boil 80,000 words down to a single crisp paragraph.
I pulled out my dog-eared copy of Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connelly, determined to find each of these elements in the story. I did. That wasn't the exciting part. The exciting part was when I found the main character, Mickey Haller saying, "I had come four hundred miles for five minutes but those minutes were devastating. I thin the lowest point of my life and professional career came an hour later..."
There it was, the Bleakest Moment, chiseled out of the story stone, exposed for anyone to see.
Gary Provost said, "Do this analysis on fifty books, and then you'll be able to plot."
Sisters-in-Crime is a supportive community for emerging writers. Let's take this blog one step further. Join me on this journey of analyzing fifty best sellers. One down, The Lincoln Lawyer, forty nine to go.
Copy the table, grab your favorite best seller (it can even be your own), and post your analysis in the comments for this blog post. Let's see if we can hit fifty in two days.
C.L. Phillips writes mystery novels while nestled under a hundred-year live oak tree in downtown Austin. Except in August. C.L writes about the the gap between what people want and what they actually do. Broccoli or chocolate chip cookies, anyone? Check out her web site: http://www.clphillips.com/ or find her onTwitter: @clphillips787