Here’s the next installment of Lisa Cron’s workshop on Story from the Novelists, Inc. conference. If you missed part 1, it’s here. That post covered the physiological and neurological aspects of Story, and one we had a foundation in the “why” she moved along to the “how.”
Cron gave us 5 basic tips to help add depth to our stories, to create that emotional connection with our readers. They should sound familiar on the surface, but she expanded on the superficial and gave us new ways to approach our writing. And, she also pointed out that it wasn’t until you get to Step 4 that you’re actually in the ‘writing’ phase of the book. As I mentioned last time, she told us that most of this technique was pre-writing.
Step 1. What if?
This is the overall, broad story question, and it deals with plot. For example, your what if question might be, “What if you woke up one morning and the Internet had disappeared?” This isn’t necessarily what your story is about, but it’s the starting point. This is the external arena where your story takes place. And, as Cron pointed out (more than once), “Story happens when patterns are broken, when expectations are not met.”
Step 2. Who?
Who is the problem you came up with in step 1 going to happen to. Your story will be very different even given the same premise, depending on the who you choose. A researcher who’s on the cutting edge of finding a cure for an epidemic but is collaborating with an international group of colleagues who are sharing data over the Internet will have a different story than someone whose livelihood depends on the creation of a new virtual reality game. Choosing the right “who” is critical, because as mentioned last week, readers’ brain patterns are the same when they’re reading about the experience as when they’re actually experiencing it. You want that connection.
Step 3. Why does it matter?
This step is where your plot begins. Above, I mentioned two very different reasons losing the Internet might matter to characters. Cron told us to drill down into our characters to find the moment when a character discovers that a belief he or she has carried turns out to be wrong. Whether the character knows his belief is “wrong” doesn’t matter. You have to figure out what your character wants, and why, and ask yourself what they will have to overcome to get it.
She used the example of the movie Die Hard. (Which, to my amazement, I’d actually seen. Normally, I haven’t seen the examples, because I’m about 15 years behind in my movie-going.)
When the movie opens, John wants his wife back. The reason they’d separated was over his job. He believed his identity was tied to his being a New York cop. That’s not only what he did, it was who he was. When the terrorists come into the picture, we root for him, not to overcome the terrorists, but because he has to do that to save his wife. And, as he does this, he learns he can be a cop anywhere, which is his internal struggle. And that internal conflict, the internal struggle is what your Story is about. All the stuff that happens is just plot.
Causes Terry Odell Supports
Pro Literacy Worldwide, The Nature Conservancy, The Adult Literacy League, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society