The Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine
Publisher: Randy Ingermanson ("the Snowflake guy")
Motto: "A Vision for Excellence"
Date: October 21, 2016
Issue: Volume 12, Number 9
Circulation: 15,750 writers, each of them creating a Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.
"Fiction Writing = Organization + Craft + Marketing"
What's in This Issue
1) Welcome to the Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine!
2) Organization: How to Keep Focused
: The Story Equation
4) What's New At AdvancedFictionWriting.com
5) Randy Recommends . . .
6) Steal This E-zine!
7) Reprint Rights
1) Welcome to the Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine!
Those of you who have joined in the past month (210 of you signed up in September), welcome to my e-zine!
If you missed a back issue, remember that all previous issues are archived on my web site at: www.AdvancedFictionWriting.com/ezine/
This month, the Craft column is an extra-long interview with best-selling award-winning novelist Susan May Warren, so I decided not to do a Marketing column.
2) Organization: How to Keep Focused
Half the battle is staying focused. With all the day-to-day chaos that comes with normal life, it’s easy to get off track and forget what you were supposed to be focused on.
Many people make an annual plan to get back on track at the beginning of each year. I’ve done this for many years, and I’m always struck by how different my year was from the year I’d planned. My most successful years have been the ones when I stayed on track. But it seems that most years, things got off track quickly and stayed off track for the rest of the year.
This year, I was a little tired of making an annual plan that didn’t pan out, so I decided not to make one. If you don’t have a plan, then you can’t get off track, right?
That turned out to be a mistake. By April, I felt like my year wasn’t going the way I wanted, but since I didn’t have a plan, it was unclear exactly what that meant.
So in April, I decided to do a quarterly review and make a plan for the coming quarter. I’m a fan of simplicity, so here’s what I did:
I made an aggressive plan
- I read through my personal journal for the past three months.
- I made a list of about three projects I’d like to get done in each of the four major areas of my life.
for Q2, with a total of thirteen projects. I worked hard on some of them and not at all on others of them. The good news is that I actually completed two major projects in Q2 and started two others. That felt a bit like a success. But there were nine projects I didn’t start at all, so I wouldn’t call it a huge success. For me, the important thing is that I got two major projects completed, which was better than Q1. It’s a good feeling to complete something.
In my quarterly review in July, I made a plan for Q3 that was a bit less aggressive. It had only eleven projects. Q3 is now over, so I recently did a quarterly review and was surprised to see just how much I’d got done. This time I completed three major projects and made good progress on two others. I also completed several other major projects that were not on the plan but they came up so I tackled them. That still left six projects in the Q3 plan that I didn’t get to at all. Some of those are now in the Q4 plan, and some of them I’ve decided are less important.
My Q4 plan has twelve projects. One of those is already completed and four are in progress. It would be great to get at least those four done by the end of the year. It would be even greater to get all twelve done, but I’m going to take what I can get.
One thing I’ve learned is that you lose track of a quarterly plan unless you keep it visible. But how do you keep it visible?
Here’s what I do: I have a template in Scrivener that I use to make a daily plan. It has a link to my current quarterly plan. Each day when I fill out my daily plan, I click that link and review the current plan. It takes only a few seconds, and it serves as a daily reminder of the big picture. And then when I fill out my daily plan, I’ve got some motivation to schedule time for the important projects in my life.
Are you keeping a daily journal of what you’re doing in your life? If not, start one. You can’t do a review at the end of the quarter if you have no record of what you did. A journal doesn’t have to be fancy. It’s enough to write a few sentences telling the things you worked on that day. I prefer an electronic record because it’s easier, but a handwritten journal would work just fine.
Do you have a plan for the current quarter? If not, make a list of the main areas of your life. Under each one, write a few things you’d like to achieve by the end of this quarter. Find a way to make it visible on a daily basis. A low-tech way to do this is to print it out and post it at your work area where you can’t help seeing it. The key thing is to look at it every day when you’re planning your day. Some days are crazy and you can’t possibly work on your important projects. But some days you can. If you take advantage of the good days, you can do amazing stuff.
Are you doing a quarterly review? If not, schedule one for a date near the end of this quarter. Some people like to take a full day for this. Personally, I prefer an hour, because I’m more likely to do it if it only takes an hour. Schedule it on your calendar. Then do it.
3) Craft: The Story Equation
Susan May Warren is a best-selling award-winning novelist and also a well-known fiction-writing teacher. (She’s technically one of my competitors, but neither of us thinks like that.) Susie is one of my best friends and I’m in awe of her success as a novelist.
Susie has just put out a short book that teaches her methods of designing a novel. The book is called The Story Equation, and you can read it in a couple of hours. And it’s amazing.
I read an early draft of it back in February and then I read the almost-final draft last month, when Susie was getting it ready to launch.
Here’s the endorsement I wrote for her book:
“The Story Equation is pure genius.”
I don’t write an endorsement like that lightly. When I say an idea is brilliant, it’s brilliant.
Now it’s true that if I’d written her book, I’d have written it totally different. I’m an analyst. I’m big on logic. Susie’s an intuitive. She’s big on emotion. That’s not to say that I lack emotion or that Susie lacks logic. But we shine in different areas, and I’m glad, because that means I can learn something from Susie and she can learn something from me.
I asked Susie to do a Skype interview with me on The Story Equation. We did it last week and it was a high-energy slugfest of words and ideas. I’ve trimmed it way, way down and also cleaned up the flow so it sounds like we were doing an interview instead of typing over the top of each other and interrupting like crazy.
Here is the result:
Randy: Hi Susie! Last month in my e-zine, I talked about your idea of the Dark Moment Story, which is the main driver in your Story Equation method. What are some of the things that come out of the Dark Moment Story?
Susie: Oh, that is a great question! I love using the DMS (Dark Moment Story) as the centerpiece of what I call "The Story Equation." I came upon this method of plotting--characterization based--about 7 years ago. It has revolutionized how I plot my novels.
Randy: I've been finding the Story Equation a very powerful method for creating the backstory for my own current series of novels.
Susie: The concept is that a specific, relatable, poignant Dark Moment STORY of the past fuels your character's CURRENT story. We all have DMStories in our lives--so our character may have a few pivotal stories, but for the purposes of your current story, you pick ONE powerful one and use that to pull out all the pieces of your plot.
From the DMS, you can discover your character's Greatest Fear (which then helps you determine the Black Moment Event), your character's LIE, (which determines the inner journey, or Black Moment Effect), and it also helps you find your character's WOUND, or the emotional component to your character's journey.
You can also find those values that drive your character, his/her Greatest Dream, which helps you discover his/her WANT (and thus, determine the external GOAL), and finally, it gives you the simple WHY this story--WHY now?
So, in short, the DMS builds the essential motivational components.
Randy: What I find valuable here is the fact that your method ties together the inner story and the outer story. They are strongly connected when you develop your story this way.
Susie: Yes. That was actually why I developed it--I needed to connect the two. This makes it seamless, and really provides so much plotting material. It even makes ACT 2 so much easier to plot!
Randy: One thing that took me awhile to figure out was the relation of the LIE to the WOUND. The LIE is essentially an intellectual problem. The WOUND is an emotional problem. They're not necessarily linked, but they can be. Am I right on that?
Susie: Yes!! They're only linked through the DMS. And a lot of people make the mistake of combining the LIE and the WOUND. But the way we see it realized in a story is that TRUTH heals the Lie (and you can find that truth in many ways), whereas another character in the story--usually a bro, or, in a romance, the significant other, heals the wound. So, it adds that extra layer of satisfaction for the reader.
Randy: OK, that's good. I had missed that, so I learned something today.
Susie: I am constantly learning. :)
Randy: So this is all good theory, but now let's connect it to a real story. What is the Dark Moment Story in Star Wars? (The original, Episode 4.)
Susie: That's a great question! So, as we start the story, we meet Luke, who is working as a "frustrated farmer boy" on his uncle's ranch. What he knows, as he starts the story, is that he's been left there by his father, who was killed. He thinks his father was a navigator in a spice freighter, and this heightens the lie that Luke believes...which is that he will forever be stuck on Tatooine. He actually says that he'll never get his chance to go to the academy and fight. He thinks he'll live a life of insignificance. He also has a deep wound of being abandoned.
There is talk between his uncle and aunt about Luke being "too much like his father," so you can imagine that he hasn't heard good things about his father. However, he doesn't know too much....UNTIL he meet Ben Kenobi. Old Ben fills in the pieces...
Luke's father was actually a Jedi Warrior who was killed by Ben's student, Darth Vader. Suddenly, Luke's DMS takes on new life. Not only was his father a fighter in the clone wars (something that greatly interests him, as seen by his conversation with C-3PO), but he was murdered. Now Luke's Greatest Fear comes into better view. Remember, we use the DMS to pull out our Greatest Fear, which helps us with the Black Moment Event.
Luke's Greatest Fear is to lose the people he loves and be abandoned. We see this confirmed when his aunt/uncle are killed. But it happens as a Black Moment Event when Obi-Wan is murdered by....Darth Vader!
Randy: Question for you: Usually it seems that the DMS actually happens to the lead character. But in this case, it sounds like you're saying that the DMS is an event that Luke never witnessed--the death of his father. Luke only knows about it from others, and what they tell him isn't even true. Because his father isn't dead. His father is Vader.
Susie: It's the MOST IMPACTFUL event in the past that changed the hero's life. So, the death of his father changed everything and put him on a course to live with his aunt/uncle. It's greatly affected him. And then, when his uncle/aunt are killed, that DMS effect is repeated. It becomes real.
So, to expand on your question, every pivotal character in your story should have a DMS --it's what drives them, makes them who they are. We might only discover the DMS of the main characters, however.
Randy: But his father isn't dead. So his DMS is basically a lie.
Susie: YES!! Which is WHY it is so powerful in Return of the Jedi. A DMS is all about the power to inflict change in the POV character's life.
Like Han--what is his DMS? We know he's in debt, we know he is a smuggler...but something drives him.
So, you might have a DMS that occurs off the page...e.g. Oliver Queen's parents dying on their yacht. But then his life changes, he goes to boarding school, and maybe his DMS is the Christmas after they're killed and he returns home and they aren't there. THAT is when it hits him. (Not to change movies or genres here.)
So, we look for that most impactful moment that cements their lie, fear, wound and values.
Randy: One of the things I've found very useful in your Story Equation is the idea of asking each character for their Happiest Moment. Because that then tells you emotionally what that character is driving toward, even if she doesn't know it.
Susie: Yes, I love using that too! Because we can then discover the character's greatest dream! Yes. The SEQ (Story Equation) is really just a tool to discover your character. And then use it to plot your story. :)
Randy: I often hear from writers who don't know how to end their stories. Or they wrote an ending and it's lame beyond belief. And they have no idea how to fix it.
Susie: That happens when they don't understand the components of a happy ending. It's 1 part Greatest Dream (discovered by an examination of the Happiest Moment), and 1 part Wound Healing (discovered from the DMS).
Randy: If you're looking for a happy ending, then knowing the Happiest Moment in the past gives you a key to a happy ending. That's a pretty powerful recipe.
Susie: Absolutely--that's why getting married at the end might NOT be the happy ending!
I know a lot of people like to write "by the seat of their pants" and you can do that with the SEQ. you don't have to plot out your entire book. But the SEQ gives you the ingredients to building a powerful story.
You just "read the recipe" and you know where you need to go. But, I'm a plotter, so I like to take the next step and plug it into a plot. Either works with the SEQ.
Randy: I think that even if you use the SEQ to write seat-of-the-pants, you're still going to have a lot of rewriting. That's the nature of the beast with SOTP.
Getting back to Luke, his LIE is that he'll never get off the planet. But he gets off right after the first disaster at the end of Act 1. Is there a further LIE? And is there an epiphany for this LIE?
Susie: Let's go deeper. I think his lie is that he'll never be significant. He sees himself trapped on Tatooine, but more than that, he is just the son of a navigator, and a farmer. He doesn't really see himself as significant, or different. He gets a GLIMPSE of who he could be 1/2 way through the movie when he's training with Ben (remember when Ben makes him put on the helmet and forces him to use the Force? And he gets it?-- by the way, thank you to James Scott Bell for that moment).
But we see him sink into the "farmer" role when he goes to fight the death star. He says, "Oh, I used to hit womprats, and they're only 2 meters" and he likens the run to the shaft where he will shoot his lasers to running Beggars Canyon. He is using his "farmer/pilot" skills. He is also ALONE...remember, Han and Ben have abandoned him at this point.
Randy: It seems to me that part of his lie is that he's good enough to beat the bad guys without the Force. And he nearly succumbs to that lie late in the movie, but then he hears Obi-wan's voice in his head saying to use the Force, so he turns off the special equipment in the cockpit and just uses the Force. And that's what wins it for him.
Susie: YES, that's exactly it, Randy!!
Randy: OK, and then his Wound is healed how?
Susie: So, what do we see at the end? He is SIGNIFICANT, he's a WARRIOR/HERO and he has a FAMILY (in more ways than he realizes, he he). And this harkens back to his values...Loyalty and Heroism. He's so loyal he won't leave his aunt/uncle until they are killed (he wants to but we see him arguing with Ben about leaving). And yet he wants to be a hero, too.
His loyalty gets him into real trouble when he abandons his training with Yoda to save Han.
So, yes, his wound is healed, his greatest dream is fulfilled, his TRUTH is that he CAN trust the force.
By the way, the DMS is great because you can pull out a number of different responses, lies, etc from it, if you need to use it again. :)
Randy: But HOW was his Wound healed?
Susie: Sure---his wound is abandonment/loss of his family. He has that family at the end, in the form of Han, Leia, and the rest of the Jedi family. And frankly, I think the wound is healed when Han comes in and saves him from Darth.
Randy: Oh, that's a good point. The Han Solo rescue-out-of-nowhere thing. That was a high point of the movie.
Susie: Think about it--Han sort of represents his image of who his father was...and when he leaves, he's wounded (although it's not his Black Moment). Han comes back and is the hero Luke needs him to be. So, big wound healing. :)
Randy: One more question before we wrap things up. Are there books for which the SEQ just doesn't apply? I'm thinking of books like The Day of the Jackal or the entire Jack Reacher series by Lee Child, where there's no real emotional journey. Or any James Bond movie. (Well, most of the Bond movies.) There's no Dark Moment I can see in these kind of novels. They're more intellectual problems.
So I'd think that a lot of detective series, where the character really doesn't change much from book to book, there's no character journey and no DMS.
Susie: Yes--they are intellectual, plot driven stories. I would say that the revolutionary Bond movie was Casino Royale where we saw his backstory.
Randy: Yes, that was the one Bond exception I was thinking of.
Susie: If the character doesn't have a journey, then it wouldn't apply. One story that comes to mind is Forrest Gump, although he DOES have a slight journey. It really is about the character change journey. BUT, you can still use it to find the Black Moment, based on his greatest fear....and keep it intellectual.
Randy: And of course there are the Michael Connelly novels with Harry Bosch, where there's always a big emotional journey. His books can be pretty dark. And there's always some terrible thing from the past that looms large in the story. John LeCarre is another one like that.
Susie: Yes. He's an amazing writer. But I get depressed after his books. I think if your character doesn't go through a big change, then the DMS isn't a huge factor.
Randy: Well, I think we're about ready to wrap this up.
Susie: I really appreciate you letting me chat about the SEQ!!
Randy: Thanks for everything. This SEQ stuff has been huge for finding the story in my Crown of Thorns series.
Susie: It's changed my writing, and made my stories deeper. And now I look for it in every movie I watch and book I read.
Randy: Bye, Susie!
Susie: Bye, Randy!
Learn More About The Story Equation
Randy sez: I highly recommend Susie's latest book The Story Equation, which explains her ideas in much more detail than we could cover in the interview above. I've known for months that Susie was planning to release this book, so I've held off doing this interview until the book was available. It's now in print, and you can grab a copy here:
Click here to check it out on Amazon
Click here to check it out on B&N
Click here to check it out on Kobo
4) What's New At AdvancedFictionWriting.com
I’m hard at work on a series of novels about one of the most influential humans ever to walk the planet—Jesus of Nazareth. I’m finding Susie May Warren’s Story Equation to be incredibly valuable in finding the plot for the books in this series..
I am currently on sabbatical from teaching. I’ve taught at many, many conferences over the last sixteen years, but the time has come to focus on my writing. So I’m no longer accepting requests to teach at conferences. When that changes, I’ll make a note of it here.
5) Randy Recommends . . .
I don't take paid ads for this e-zine. I do, however, recommend people I like.
I'm a huge fan of Margie Lawson's courses, both the ones she teaches in person and the ones she sells on her web site at www.MargieLawson.com
Margie is a psychologist who applies what she knows about human psychology to writing fiction. I believe her material is brilliant. Check her out on her web site!
Please be aware that in this section I ONLY recommend folks who have never asked me to do so. Tragically, this means that if you ask me to list you here, I will be forced to say no.
6) Steal This E-zine!
This E-zine is free, and I personally guarantee it's worth at least 1729 times the price. I invite you to "steal" it, but only if you do it nicely . . .
Distasteful legal babble: This E-zine is copyright Randall Ingermanson, 2016.
Extremely tasteful postscript: Yes, you’re allowed to e-mail this E-zine to any fiction writer friends of yours who might benefit from it.
Of course you should not forward this e-mail to people who don't write fiction. They won't care about it.
7) Reprint Rights
Permission is granted to use any of the articles in this e-zine in your own e-zine or web site, as long as you include the following 2-paragraph blurb with it:
This article is reprinted by permission of the author.
Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, "the Snowflake Guy," publishes the free monthly Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, with more than 15,000 readers. If you want to learn the craft and marketing of fiction, AND make your writing more valuable to editors, AND have FUN doing it, visit www.AdvancedFictionWriting.com.
The Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine is Published by: