I have been doing NaNoWriMo for many many years and I LOVE it. In fact, I love it so much that I’ve created a new course all about writing a novel in a month, it’s called
FROM NOTHING TO NOVEL and it’s going to get you from the blank page to a completed novel in just a month—now, you will need to revise said novel–but don’t worry, I’ve got you covered because included in my new course, is a special bonus on revisions. AND, since I run a concierge service for writers, you know I will give you lots of options for courses, workshops, and books on revising that I KNOW you will LOVE. Find out more here https://www.stephaniebourbon.com/from-nothing-to-novel
I’m super excited about this course because after spending the summer with writers and talking to writers of all genres and levels finishing a novel seems to be the thing that they need the most help with and since writing a draft fast is my JAM, I created this course.
I also blog about it on my OTHER BLOG—I know I know, I have more than one blog–I’m a writing slut that way. LOL for lack of a better term.
Happy Thursday. This week I’m talking about when you get that dreaded feedback that goes something like “I couldn’t connect with the characters” or “she/he wasn’t believable” or “I just didn’t care.” And, there’s more too but you get the point.
Your story is fine, but the reader, or agent, or editor, just couldn’t connect.
What do you need to do to fix it?
If the feedback is that they couldn’t connect or care about the characters, then you need to do more work there.
Revisions like this can seem impossibleand your gut may be saying to just keep sending it out to others until someone likes it. I’ve seen writers do this and after two years the agent who took a chance couldn’t sell the work and then drops them and they are right back where they started.
I want to save you time and heartache.
There could be many reasons that this is the feedback you are getting.
1. Your characters are living on the surface
2. Your dialogue isn’t strong
3. Your characters wants/needs and goals aren’t present
4. Your plotting and story arcs are nonexistent (yes some character problems go back to storytelling basics)
There are a lot of reasons but let’s start with these because they are the most common.
YOUR CHARACTER LIVES ON THE SURFACE
This means that you haven’t gone deep enough, and hey, I know that it sucks hearing that and it’s like vaguebooking but it’s a real thing. When you aren’t going deep enough it is because you yourself don’t understand the psychology of your characters.
What? I need that? But, I’m just writing light romance, like a Hallmark movie, she just wants to find a guy.
Nope, that’s not good enough. You need more. Even in lighter stories, you need a real need, want, and or goals for your protagonist that drive her the entire book. The way she handles these things are because of WHO she is and that goes back to her misbelief about herself and that informs her flaws.
The best holiday Hallmark movies have this. Trust me.
EXERCISE-go watch any holiday Hallmark movie that you love and break it all down and you will see that it’s there. Obviously, you can’t know for 100% her misbelief but based on her actions you can make a great guess.
READ-Wired for Story & Story Genius by Lisa Cron–once you do you will understand what I mean. Every single one of us has some misbelief that was created early in life and while we don’t go around and announce it to the world, “I’ll never be good enough!” our actions SHOW who we are. Maybe we push people away, or maybe we have a need to always get straight As and be perfect?–this is just an example.
Here’s an example of a great character from television from the 2000s. Logan Echolls from Veronica Mars. When we meet him, he’s kind of a dick right? Well, not really.
We learn through his actions and dialogue and storytelling throughout the first season (your novel) that his parents are famous actors and never give him any attention and when they do it’s bad. His misbelief (or this is how I see it) is that he will never be good enough and no one will ever really like or love him because if his parents don’t, why would anyone else? So, his character flaw is that he acts like a jerk, all the time. This is his defense to keep himself safe and not get rejected because he knows that will come. Everything he does is based on that misbelief. The writers of that show dug deep! And, you can too!
WHEN YOUR DIALOGUE IS THE PROBLEM
Ah, dialogue-my favorite tool to show who a character really is. I love it because it’s so powerful but so many writers get it wrong. They focus on being clever, especially in women’s fiction and any movie with a female lead. The trope, trend, overused thing that still happens is that the main female is headstrong and sarcastic. Now, we all can’t be that way can we? No, we can’t. If you have written this in your first draft or second, or third and you are getting feedback that the agent, reader, whomever, can’t connect to her, this is why.
You have cleverly filled the pages with clever quips and comebacks, usually aimed at her love interest and in weaker writing he takes it!
Steve Kaplan of Kaplan Comedy talks about this in his comedy workshop and he used an example from a movie with Kate Hudson and Luke Wilson. Kate Hudson’s character insults him over and over and he doesn’t react at all but he keeps flirting and smiling. It’s so true. No guy, no woman, no person would be okay with being insulting all the time, and yet this is used constantly. Look at The Ugly Truth as another example. Katherine Heigel’s character is always insulting Gerad Butler’s character for no reason that makes any sense, it’s really that the writers decided she would be this type of woman for no reason, and he takes it and keeps flirting with her. This is NOT what would happen.
Back to dialogue. So, you will stop that clever rude girl and witty dialogue now. Phew, now that’s over remember that every single word that comes out of your character’s mouth MUST be said for a reason. Dialogue SHOWS us WHO your character is. Think about the way you react to a situation and what you might say and how your sister or mother does to the same? You all speak differently right?
In Gilmore Girls, Paris Geller is a BRILLIANT example of this. Everything she says SHOWS US who she is, and all of that goes back to her misbelief about herself. I suggest you watch a few episodes, especially in the early seasons when we are getting to know her.
Use your dialogue to show us who your characters are and you can’t go wrong.
YOUR CHARACTER’S MOTIVES ARE MISSING
You have some characters and a story but why they are in that story is muddled. They don’t have any stakes and so it’s boring, and not relatable at all. Now, everything doesn’t have to be life or death, it can just be internal too-like Bridget Jone’s Diary. Bridget wanted to improve herself and her dating life so pretty much all of her actions were based on this. At first, she makes a list of all the things she will change in the new year, then she decides she wants to date the bad-boy in the office, Daniel Clever, but since that is something superficial and he is a jerk, she still isn’t happy, so she gets a new job, and is still looking for happiness—the entire movie. Her motives are that she wants to be in love and she wants connection but she has the misbelief that it’s her weight because she doesn’t believe she deserves what others have and that’s why it works. Her motives are clear.
Obviously in Harry Potter his goals are always to fight Voldermort–but are they really? Isn’t Harry a boy who desperately needs a family? Read the first book again and you’ll see that Harry has external and internal wants and needs that are clear.
The stakes MUST be there. In all the really good Hallmark Holiday movies the main character always has a want that we learn immediately. Usually, it has something to do with a promotion at her job, but it’s always clear. Then something happens that derails that and has her questioning everything in her life, but all her actions are based on reaching that original goal.
Look at Legally Blonde-Elle Woods wants to get married and at the beginning we learn that she believes she is going to be proposed to by her boyfriend, who instead breaks up with her so he can go to Harvard and be with a serious girl (his words, not mine). Well, Elle decides to follow him to Harvard and show him that she can be the kind of girl he wants. Her entire story is about getting this guy back, until she gets to Harvard and realizes that no matter what she does she’s never going to be good enough for him, so she learns that she can do things for herself instead of for the approval of others. It’s a “chick-flick” as they used to be called but it’s powerful like Bridget Jones is.
YOUR PLOTTING & BASIC STORYTELLING ARCS AREN’T WORKING
You want to be different and decide NOT to follow traditional story structure, or you simply don’t know or understand it, and therefore your story is flatlining. This isn’t because you aren’t a good writer or anything but you for some reason forgot about it, or didn’t think about it. Maybe you were focusing on wouldn’t it be cool or funny if scenes and not thinking about the big picture.
That’s okay, for first drafts.
You need to follow story structure. You don’t have to have your inciting incident on page 19 in your script or on the second chapter of your book but it does need to be at the beginning because it is the reason for this story. Your story starts with your character’s life being altered in some way. This needs to happen.
Then you need to continue with traditional plotting and arcs, which I will cover in another blog but basically your story NEEDS these elements.
Opening-WHO the story is about and WHAT they want or need
Inciting Incident-WHAT happens to set the story into motion
New World-WHEN the story actually starts moving because of the inciting incident
Middle-a CLEAR middle with a recommitment or mirror moment scene where your character decides to take some action
Climax-everything comes to a head
All Is Lost Moment-when the character wants to give up or feels like they have lost whatever it is
Resolve-your character finds a way to come to a solution to her problem or how to live with her new life.
These things must be there.
Every scene in your story must move the story forward in these directions. There is no reason to have scenes there just because they are fun to write but don’t serve the story. Look at the strongest movies, books, or TV shows and they all do this!
When you are super famous you can break the rules, but when you are new, or not a household name, don’t do it. Even when you are famous it can backfire. Story structure works for a reason.
Ever have that friend who starts telling you a story and they just go on and on and there seems to be no point or they add in details that have nothing to do with what they are telling you? Don’t let that be your book or movie or TV show.
Okay, my Dears! That is this week’s Story Concierge blog and I hope that you found it helpful.
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Happy Sunday! Usually I blog on Wednesdays but I decided to toss in a bonus blog this week because this has been on my mind a lot! Here’s a little reminder if you are stuck in a rut!
DO WHAT YOU LOVE and accept nothing less for your life and career.
TRUTH ~ when my mother was sick with lung cancer about two months before she died when she knew it was growing again and she would need at least one more surgery that would probably leave her paralyzed from the waist down she said to me “if I make it out of this, I’m going back to painting. I hate graphic design.” I knew she wasn’t making it out of it. I hoped, but I knew she wasn’t going to, and this crushed me. I thought, “I don’t want to be dying and have regrets like that.” It changed the course of my life. You see, society tells us from the moment we are born that we need to do certain things. Get a college degree, get married, own property, pop out some kids, and have a steady career that makes money.Art and everything creative is fine for a hobby but not for a career. Why is that? EVERYONE enjoys art.
Yes even those who pretend that they are so above it all that they don’t own a TV, go to the movies, go to concerts, etc.. and yes all that POP CULTURE stuff? All the commercial films and TV shows, and books, etc.. all that is ART TOO. I once had a friend of mine go off on an article she read about an actor on set who was wasted and he was caught from mandatory drug testing on that set. She was pissed off because she felt that it was a “nothing industry” and wasting money that should be going to something else. I was like, “Um don’t you watch movies? Shouldn’t the sets be safe?” only to get an F you and delete from her FB friends list. Movies are art. TV is art. Comics. Video Games.Books….etc. This is all art! Sorry if I got distracted about this but as a creative, I’m passionate about it and I refused, and have refused my entire life to accept anything less for my career. Full transparency here—I don’t own a house and I don’t have kids. I always thought I would have those things but the kid thing didn’t happen because like in my career in my life I refused to get married just to get married. I watched my mother get divorced in her 40s and marry the man she really loved at 49. She didn’t love my father in the way she should have. I asked once when I was in my twenties, why she married him and she said, “because that’s what we did back then” It made me sad so while I always hoped that I’d get married in my thirties and have kids, when I hit my thirties the universe had other plans and started killing off members of my family almost yearly, it was devastating, and at the time I was working in animation-which I did love-but it wasn’t my dream, it was a great job in the entertainment industry. But dating and marriage? That just wasn’t a priority as I had to survive. Survive grief and survive my career. *** BTW I met the man I love in my early 40s and married him in my late 40s and I’m so happy that I waited.I made it work because I always knew that I had to continue to do what I love. What is that? Working in entertainment. Being a creative. Storytelling and everything that goes with that.
I have a chapter in a new book called She Did It And So Can You that explains what I did to make this work for me. And there are 16 other stories too. You can get that HERE it just hit number 1 on Amazon and is an international bestseller. 🍾❤️ I want you to really think about what you are doing 40 hours a week and ask yourself these things. Is it what I LOVE?Does it bring me JOY? If I was dying today would I have regrets? Be honest with yourself. If the answer to the top two are no and the third is yes, please make a plan of action to do what you love. A friend & colleague sent me this email today “I’ve been studying all kinds of self help things lately, and they all boil down to what you said in your email about the book: Following what makes you happy. I’m so glad you found that out while you are young!” It’s important to always do what you love! In my upcoming career course, STORY CONCIERGE, for female writers who work in (or want to) film, television, and novels I go deeper into this and WHY it’s important to always follow your dreams.
You can get on the waitlist HERE and by signing up for that list you will get access to free trainings that are coming this spring. I want you to be happy and never have regrets. Do what you love always! If that is writing, then write. If it’s painting, then paint. If it’s having a boring desk job, then have a boring desk job! Don’t let society or ANYONE tell you what you need to do and or how to live your life. Okay, that’s my extra blog for today. Come back on Wed for some writing craft or career tips to help you succeed and reach your dreams!! xo Stephanie Here is a YouTube video I did from 2019 on this very subject CLICK HERE
Some days it’s just too hard to do anything, especially in 2020.
Last week I hit a wall, and thus I skipped everything-including my blog which is a day late this week too. This is a big no-no in the business world but I’m only one person.
I felt guilty about it all last week, all weekend, and yesterday when I literally crashed out for 8 hours in the middle of the day.
You see, in life “shit happens” and I am one of those, like the great Cristina Yang in Grey’s Anatomy who always says “I’m fine” even when I’m not. I won’t bore you with the details but just apologize for being absent for these few days. I’m sorry, do you forgive me?
NOW, let’s talk about the importance for creatives to take a day off!
Please head over HERE and read all of this and STORY TIPS from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off!
I loved this movie so much when I was a teen and I still love it now. I wrote a blog on the importance of taking time off AND I give story tips from this movie, so here over.
I have loved having this blog here but the other one is my new blog on my website where you can get HEAPS of FREEBIES
thanks for reading and being here for all these years!
In film and especially television writing the “beat sheet” is something that is needed to show your showrunner or director the beats of the script so they can approve the story before you spend hours and hours writing it.
It helps them “see” it. It also helps you see the big picture.
The beat sheet is an outline of your story in beats. What happens in the story beat by beat.
You open your notebook, notecards, or even Word/Scrivener (I like to use Scrivener for this) and literally write out the beats like this.
Scene 1–this happens
Scene 2–this happens
Now, you may not know what happens in perfect order–so then just write what you want to happen out. This is why I love using post-its and or notecards and the stickies in Scrivener
Scene-character finds out….
Scene–character makes this decision
If you are doing it this way, leave the scene # out until you figure it out.
Most novels have roughly 66 scenes
When you are writing them out you are making a narrative plan for your story.
Remember that every scene/beat moves the story forward. When you sit down to write your story you should always think of what is happening now and going to happen at the end.
In novels, it’s always the end of the current book for your beat sheets. In television-it’s always the end of your current episode, unless you are working on your series bible and that’s a horse of a different color–but uses a lot of the same principals here.
For a screenplay, it’s like a novel–your beats take the characters from A–the beginning to Z-the end.
Example. You are writing a story about a man who wins the lottery but must spend it all in a week without giving it away in order to prove his love to the woman he loves–or something like that-just making this up as I go for this purpose.
So your rough beats may go something like (this is when you are just figuring it out)
Scene–man goes into work
Scene–man buys lotto ticket
Scene–woman he loves tells him that all he cares about is money
Scene–he makes a plan to prove to her that he doesn’t care
Scene–man wins lottery
Scene–woman tells him he must spend it all in a certain amount of time
Scene-man buys a house
Scene-man buys a plane
Scene-time is running out scene
Scene-man proves his love
Something like that—you would start with.
your character—this is the first beat sheet.
Harry Potter lives under the stairs
Harry Potter discovers he’s a wizard
Harry Potter defeats Voldermort
(basically book one–this is what happens)
If you want to write a love story, like a rom com it’s the same.
Harry and Sally meet and drive to New York together
Harry and Sally become friends 10 years later
Harry and Sally get together
then you go back and fill it all in.
I use the beat sheet method when I know where I’m going-as I generally am not an outliner-but it works and helps keep me on track.
Why and how to put into action for story planning.
WHY–to get organized and see the story and if it is even something that will work.
HOW–that’s up to you. You can use Word/Scrivener/Contour/Save the Cat on a computer
You can use a notebook or notecards, post its.
Just get it done so you have a road map for your story.
Then you can start drafting.
You can either do the beat sheet PRE or POST writing.
You use it PRE/before drafting to avoid things like writing in circles and having the story go no where.
You use it POST/revisions to fix story issues that you may be having.
There is no right or wrong way here.
For me, I like to pants it out for novels or screenplays with just an idea in my head first but always, and I mean ALWAYS, use beat sheets for making sure that it’s all working nicely.
I highly recommend Save the Cat, and Story Fix both will help you with the concept of using beat sheets. Contour software has specific examples of the hero’s journey on films well known and loved so you can see the beats and calls to action for your main character.
I have a new course for novelists called FROM NOTHING TO NOVEL and I’m inviting you to sign up now before Oct 1, 2020 to get a special thank you gift from me.
Forget About Being a Great Writer and Focus on Story First
Have you ever picked up a book that has been on the bestseller list for months and months and the author is all over the publishing news because all the movie deals coming in and how rich they are—and then the writing is bad, like really bad, and you think—WTF???Yup–been there, done that. Have you ever gone to the movies and so many things are wrong and yet the film is bringing in millions and millions and you cringe at the story mistakes? Yup–been there, done that.
This has been my philosophy for as long as I can remember.
There is nothing wrong with being great with words or wordsmithing. I admit, it’s not my thing, but if you allow it to get in the way of the story, that is where you will have problems.
The reason is that people come to you for the story not the words.
STORY IS ALWAYS FIRST.
The words should come LAST.
The sequence of writing a novel should go something like this.
NEW FULL DRAFT– I do this from memory with a blank page.
REVISIONS on story, character, at the chapter level.
Then workshop it.
Then critique group.
Then if you are really sure this is the best version of your story you get to line edit. (usually about the 8th or 9th revision)
Sounds like a lot of work right?
Yup, it is.
Writing novels is hard.
Think of it this way, if you were to make a wedding cake, you finish with the tiny details you start with the eggs, flour, sugar, etc.
It’s the same with your story.
Now, for the screen and TV writers out there, this is the same for you.
if you waste your time writing clever dialogue, scenes, and jokes but the story isn’t working, your movie or your episode will most likely suck.
Why? Because story always needs to be first. Great sentences and super clever jokes won’t and can’t carry a story.
I STRONGLY recommend the below two books by Lisa Cron-they are game-changers.
WIRED FOR STORY & STORY GENIUS
They will help you get to the root of your story and the exercises she has are invaluable
EXERCISE Make a list of your top ten favorite books or movies (or both) and then write down what you love about it. I bet ya, it’s the story. It may be all the clever jokes or the witty dialogue but at the end of it, it’s probably the story. Example–THE 40-YEAR-OLD VIRGIN–very funny, lots of hilarity–but why do we love this movie? The STORY is solid. The character has a want and a need that isn’t happening for him until he is forced to change. Another example is the GILMORE GIRLS--talk about your witty dialogue but is that why you tuned in? Nope, it was the story of a mother and a daughter in a small town. The witty dialogue was just the flower on the icing on the cake. One more. TWILIGHT. Is the writing brilliant? Is she a wordsmith? No, but the story of two teens in love and one of them having a dark secret that is dangerous is one we know and instantly want to know more. Also, 50 SHADES OF GREY.
Now, are you ready to make your STORY stand out?
I know that you are. It’s hard because it’s been drilled into our heads that we have to be these perfect writers to be successful but honestly, that’s part of it but more importantly is the STORY.
Don’t forget that.
Then pretty words.
If you like this blog please share on social media and with other writers.
Hey everyone, I created a new e-book called the 5 Stages of Being a Successful Writerand you can grab it HERE
I created this to help you get past those mental roadblocks and limiting beliefs you may have around submitting your work and being successful. As a creative, we are taught to repeat the mantra of “I’m a starving…..” enter writer, artist, actor etc.. we have been trained to be the “broke….whatever” and I call BS on that. You can be a successful writer. I hope this is helpful to you!!
so I have started a new blog that is attached to my course and membership site which is hosted on Kajabi and I’d love you to head over there and check out my blogs that post every #writerwednesday but it’s okay if you still love it here too!
This week I wrote about CRUSHING YOUR QUERY LETTER.
It’s not a difficult task to talk about our stories, right? You love telling friends and family and co-workers all about your novel, screenplay, or new idea for a TV pilot–it flows easily but for some reason when we go to write that query letter we get completely locked and it never comes out right.
This is like playing golf or any sport really, it’s a MENTAL GAME. You psych yourself out that this query is the most important piece of writing and your life depends on the outcome and then you forget how to write and you forget how to talk about your manuscript in a way that draws people in.
The pressure is too much!
It shouldn’t be.
So what I want you to do is change the way you think about queries and trust me, they will get easier.
Also, it is not the end of the world, whomever you are sending it to may or may not be the agent for you, so stop pressuring yourself.
I want you to be successful and I know you can do it! You can, you just completed and revised your screenplay, your novel, your children’s picture book, your TV pilot so you can do this!
I want you to head up to the link I posted before and to make it easy, here it is again.
And if you still need more help, I’m offering a FREE look at your query for the entire month of July–meaning you can email me your query and I will look at it and give you some general feedback to help you get it right!
You can get in touch by emailing me at Stephanie@judaniebean.com and put CRUSHINGMYQUERY in the subject line.
Okay, that’s it for this edition of #writerwednesday and I hope you have a super day, week, month, and get that query written!!
So I started a new blog that is on my website and I love this one so much that I promise not to go away forever but all my business coaches tell me that I need to focus on the one connected so I will do both!