Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Yes, You Can Be a Story Genius!


If you’ve been a Seekerville regular for a while, you may remember a post from a few years ago by Seekervillager Mary Curry entitled, “Story: Your Brain on Drugs.” Mary based her post on Wired for Story: The Writer's Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence, by Lisa Cron. If you haven’t read Mary’s blog, be sure to check it out later, because it contains some fascinating insights into why we love stories so much—and why they matter.
Lisa Cron has since published another book, Story Genius: How to Use Brain Science to Go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel (Before You Waste Three Years Writing 327 Pages That Go Nowhere). After coming across this book recently, I devoured it, highlighting dozens of passages that not only reinforced points from Cron’s previous book but also (re)opened my eyes to several vital aspects of storytelling.
It starts with “what if . . . ?”
Maybe you’ve played the “what if” game and come up with a general premise for your story. What if a girl is swept up in a tornado and lands in a magical place threatened by a wicked witch? What if a small, furry-footed creature is called upon to destroy a powerful ring before an evil lord uses it to take over the world?
Intriguing ideas, to be sure. But are they stories yet? Not until we know something about the central characters and have been given a reason to care.
That’s why I agree completely when Lisa Cron states: 
“Ultimately, all stories are character driven—yes, all stories.” 
Why? Because a story really isn’t about what happens. It’s about how the central character makes sense of what happens. And if the author hasn’t made the reader care about why any of this matters to the protagonist, there goes another book slammed shut and tossed aside.
What every story must have, according to Cron, is “the third rail”— kind of like the powered rail that drives a cable car or subway train. Cron explains the “third rail” in terms of the protagonist’s internal struggle to achieve a goal or strong desire while at the same time remaining true to the fear that is keeping her from fulfilling that desire. 

In other words, it’s the emotional power source that keeps driving the story forward. So, if you want your reader to stay connected to the story, then every action, description, and plot point must somehow connect with that “third rail.”
We care about Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz because we can relate to her frustration and discouragement when everyone seems too busy to pay her any attention. We care about Frodo in The Lord of the Rings because on some level we know what it’s like to feel small and insignificant, to be compelled to accept a task seemingly beyond our abilities or our courage.
Does your story make a point?
But again, story isn’t about what happens. The things that happen in your story should ultimately make a point—the overarching theme, or, as we’ve discussed here in Seekerville before, the Moral Premise. “The point,” Cron writes, “is what is borne out in the protagonist’s inner struggle.”
One of the first things you need to know about your story, then, is what your protagonist wants. Keep digging to discover the answers to the following questions:
  • Why does your character want this? In other words, what will getting it mean to her?
  • What is the misbelief that is keeping her from getting what she wants?
A misbelief is a belief that feels right to your character because of something that happened in her past. The belief may even be considered a universally accepted truth, until carried to extreme. Whatever the belief, it has skewed the lens through which your character views her world, and not in a positive way. 
How the character overcomes her misbeliefs is what your story is all about.
So the real story actually begins long before page one of your novel. As you dig deeper, Cron recommends actually writing out the scene where your character first forms her misbeliefs. While the scene may not appear in your novel except in brief references or flashbacks, the insights gained will flesh out your character’s background and help to ensure her actions and decisions are consistent with who she is.
Cron’s book walks you through the full process of discovering your story—far too much to cover in a single blog post—but here are a few of the important steps:
  • Identify three key turning points in the story that will help you develop the escalating arc.
  • Figure out the one thing that will catapult your protagonist into action at the beginning of the story.
  • Make a list of obstacles that could keep your protagonist from reaching her goals.
  • Sketch out the scope of your story—the time frame covered, the external plot and internal struggles. Beneath each “what,” always be asking yourself “why?”
Being a “story genius” takes time.

To thoroughly work through each step presented in Cron’s book will take a significant amount of time and brain power. I confess, I haven’t gone through the entire process yet, but reading Story Genius with my own wip in mind definitely gave me some new insights. When I’m ready to start my next book, I’m planning to implement even more of Cron’s techniques.

Lest anyone think this is going to transform me from pantser to plotter, though, don’t count on it! No matter how much preplanning I may convince myself to do, when it comes to actually writing the story, I’ll always leave room to be surprised by my characters!

Question: Writers, think about the story you’re working on right now. Readers, think about the book you’re currently reading. Can you identify what the protagonist wants most (dig deep here!) AND the misbeliefs keeping her/him from achieving it?  


Today’s giveaways: Writers, would you like your own copy of Lisa Cron’s book? I’m giving away one copy today! Also giving away a copy of my historical romance Castles in the Clouds (Flowers of Eden, book 2), recently named a finalist in the 2017 Selah Awards and the 2017 National Excellence in Romance Fiction Awards. Just mention your interest in the comments to be entered in either or both drawings.


About Myra: Award-winning author Myra Johnson writes emotionally gripping stories about love, life, and faith. Myra is a two-time finalist for the prestigious ACFW Carol Awards and winner of Christian Retailing’s Best for historical fiction. Originally from Texas but now residing in the beautiful Carolinas, Myra and her husband love the climate and scenery, but they may never get used to the pulled pork Carolinians call “barbecue”! The Johnsons share their home with two very pampered doggies who don’t always understand the meaning of “Mom’s trying to write.” They’re also currently harboring their younger daughter and family (six in all plus a kitty!) as they transition toward their next missionary calling. With grandkids underfoot ranging in age from 14 down to 3, there’s never a dull moment! 

Twitter: @MyraJohnson and @TheGrammarQueen 

Sign up to receive Myra’s quarterly e-news updates here!

128 comments :

  1. Myra, I'm reading this right now. And I had the same thought about the Moral Premise.

    Brilliant minds and all that.

    :)

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    1. Hi, Mary! Fascinating read, isn't it? Hoping I can put it all to good use in my next whip!

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  2. oooo ooooo good stuff. Good stuff. I wish she'd put this on video, I am so much more a visual person. I have the book too. (must read!)

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    1. Maybe she'll do it one of these days. That would be cool!

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  3. No, I have Wired for Story by Lisa Cron. Must get this now.

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    1. Both good books. Lots of insight, even by osmosis. I am not the craft book reader I used to be, but you never know when you'll pick up a tidbit that will open your mind to a new way of thinking about how you get the writing done.

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  4. Great post. I need to read both Lisa's books so please toss my name in the hat for all drawings. Wish one of you talented gals would teach a workshop on this subject.

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    1. Hi, Terri! The book is a workshop in itself--but I know what you mean. It can really help to have someone walk you through the concepts. I liked the way Lisa Cron used one of her students as an example to show the process unfolding.

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  5. Family is all in the book I am reading right now. Losing family, searching and hopefully finding loved ones. It's an emotional ride.

    I'd love a copy of "Castles in the Clouds" thank you.

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    1. Hi, Mary! Family is such a universal theme. I use it a lot in my books. There are SO many ways to vary family stories yet keep the central message of healing and unity.

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  6. Great post, Myra! This is going into the Seeker notebook. I've read Wired for Story but not Story Genius. I'd love to be entered in both. Lately, I've been digging deep...it's one of my favorite parts of writing.

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    1. You're in, Jill! Yes, I definitely recommend Lisa's books--both of them! Great fodder for digging deep.

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  7. this is an awesome post, Myra. I'm thinking my sagging middles have to do with not enough asking 'why?' I can see how this information can help me move slowly towards genius. I would love to be in the draw for both books.
    This is a keeper post for sure. :)

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    1. Thanks, Deb! I'm the same way. Those middles will eat your lunch if you don't have a clear idea of when and WHY things have to happen for the MC to reach her happy ending.

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  8. MYRA, this is a great post! As a reader, I love those stories that grab me from the opening sentence.

    I brought bacon, biscuits and gravy this morning!

    Please enter me in the drawing for Castles in the Clouds.

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    1. Caryl, thanks for breakfast! I've got a pot of Earl Grey ready to go, plus a selection of coffees for the Seekerville Keurig.

      Totally agree about the opening sentence. Love it when an author grabs me from the first few words and doesn't let go!

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  9. Myra, what an awesome post. It caused me to think about my stories and I will do some evaluating based on this. I would love a copy of the book for writers.

    By the way I love biscuits and gravy and am getting ready to make some for my breakfast.

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    1. Good morning, Wilani! Anything that helps us rethink our stories and dig deeper can make a big difference.

      Enjoy your yummy breakfast!

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  10. Myra! Great post. Thanks for sharing this resource! Going to go check it out!

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  11. What a super post! Please throw my name in for either drawing.

    Just finished two different novels about protagonists that came to US right before the civil war. They both were homesick, ended up in a marriage of convenience and eventually learned to love the country and their hubby. One book came on the recommendation of a secular reader friend and the other for an inspirational reading group at the library. The similarities were so obvious I had to make sure I wasn't confusing characters and situations in the second read.

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    1. Hi, Bettie! Interesting that you read two similar novels so close together. Just goes to show there are really no new stories (theme-wise, anyway), just different ways of telling them.

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  12. Myra, Thanks for the post. I've read books and blogs like this before, and they certainly are helpful. I guess my problem comes in when I read certain exercises or questions (or chapters) to spark story ideas and I just draw a complete blank. I suppose part of the problem is I'm working on a complete rewrite and I've got a lot of story baggage (lots of things I'm trying to fit together, but maybe I need to kill some of the ideas to move forward).

    Is there anything in the book about how to increase brainstorming productivity? (At first I thought the book was going to be about getting your brain to work better in the writing process, but it's more about writing with readers' brains in mind, right?)

    I'm also curious about the last chapter (I looked up the table of contents online) on the spiral growth of stories. I think that could be key for me. As a perfectionist, it's been hard for me to keep believing in my story through the current mess it's in. I just have to keep reminding myself that it's not done yet (and never will be if I give up). Sorry for the ramblings. Sometimes it's just nice to connect with others and get a little extra jolt of encouragement. Please put me in for both draws. Thanks :-)

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    1. Oh, Lara, I do know what you mean about certain writing exercises causing you to draw a blank. Some of them really don't feel relevant to whatever we're working on or our style of writing.

      And working on a rewrite--I can SO relate, having just finished some intense revisions that meant rethinking the last third of the book and rearranging the timeline.

      As far as brainstorming goes, I think Cron's book addresses this aspect more along the lines of continuing to ask yourself questions. From the start, it's all about asking why, why, why. And each answer leads to another question that carries you through the process of figuring out your story.

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  13. Way to make us think deep this morning, Myra! I haven't thought about story-crafting quite like this before, and The Wizard of Oz and TLOTR are perfect examples.

    In one of my WIPs, the heroine's desperate for her independence. She longs to be her own person, free from societal dictates, work demands, family influence, and boyfriend interference. Long story short, later in the story, through life's highs and lows, my MC learns that the greatest freedom comes from the very thing she fears the most: total reliance and dependence...on God.

    I would love to be added to the drawing for Castles in the Clouds (LOVE your cover BTW!) and Story Genius by Lisa Cron.

    Thanks so much for making my brain hurt...in a good way! Lol

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    1. LOL--glad to be of service this morning, Cynthia!

      My novel A Rose So Fair plays out the theme of seeking independence but learning you can't do it all yourself or truly be happy alone. See? Similar themes, different stories entirely!

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  14. Myra,
    I struggle more in suspense stories w/figuring out what my h/h wants to begin with. The obvious answer is my heroine wants to stay alive. Yes, but there's more.
    With suspense, I get distracted w/the clues and making sure the villain acts in character, that I lose focus.
    Most of the time, I know what my h/h want but can forget to write it in the story.

    “Ultimately, all stories are character driven—yes, all stories.” I believe this!

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    1. Hi, Connie! If I were Lisa Cron, I'd probably be asking you things like:

      WHY does your heroine want to stay alive?

      What deeper needs does she have that propel her to keep going?

      If she were not in this dangerous situation, what would she be doing with her life, and why does it matter to her to get back to it?

      So there's always a deeper reason for what the protagonist REALLY wants/needs, even if she isn't consciously aware of it at the onset.

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    2. I can answer those Myra. So I guess I really do know what they want, I just have to pay attention so it doesn't get lost among the chaos of the plot.

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    3. Never easy, but yes, you've got the idea!

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  15. Great blog, Myra, and I have to say that like you, I agree 100% with Lisa Cron in her statement that, “Ultimately, all stories are character driven—yes, all stories.”

    I reflected on this in regard to mysteries and suspense, which seem to me to be driven more by the plot than characters, which is one of the reasons I'm not prone to reading a lot of mysteries or suspense. But I suddenly realized that to make a really successful mystery or suspense, you have to draw the reader in with the characters (i.e. Colombo, Angela Lansbury, etc.), so yes, I totally agree that characters do drive the story in all cases.

    You asked: "Can you identify what the protagonist wants most in your own story (dig deep here!) AND the misbeliefs keeping her/him from achieving it?"

    I just finished writing the 3rd book in my Isle of Hope series, His Steadfast Love about a prodigal and a pastor. Deep down what the prodigal heroine wants most is the love and approval of both her earthly father and heavenly One.

    As a twin, she was the wild daughter on whom her pastor father held a tight rein, a mere shadow in the glowing light of the twin sister she adored. When her earthly father abandons her twice (once through adultery, once through death), she abandons her heavenly Father, becoming the prodigal who runs away from home.

    The hero is a pastor who was burned by a prodigal and what he wants most is a woman of God with a faith as deep as his own. But his commitment to the prodigal's family and to God compels him to pursue a friendship despite his deep attraction--and reservations--to her and her to him.

    LOL ... a wordy answer to your question, I guess, but did you expect anything else from moi? ;)

    Hugs,
    Julie

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    1. LOL--100% Julie!!! Great examples of digging deep to find the characters' true needs and goals!

      And I totally agree--I cannot get into a mystery/suspense novel, TV show, or movie UNLESS I can connect with the central characters.

      Thanks to Tina and Mary, I've started reading the Jack Reacher novels, and even though there's a lot of serious bad stuff going on, because of the deepening levels of characterization Lee Child is developing through each story, I can't help but care about Reacher.

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  16. This.Is.Fabulous. One more good way of looking at good story structure. I struggle with making the stakes high enough for my hero and heroine. Probably the best ones I've managed are Oona in my second Oregon Trail book, who has a burning desire to avenge her family against the English landlords, and Julia in the second of my Post World War I stories, who risks everything to try to find the daughter she thought died at birth.
    Julie, I also have a pastor/prodigal brewing, although mine is a little different. The girl, the prodigal, had a horrific childhood and has structured her life, being perfect at everything, to keep the chaos out. Without God. The pastor had his own horrific childhood with never feeling good enough, so they both have to learn to look at themselves as God looks at them. End of sermon (mine, anyway).
    I also agree with Julie (this is your day, Julie!) about mysteries and suspense. The old put-a-puzzle-piece-in-the-slot mystery doesn't cut it any more. Maybe it never did. Remember Lord Peter Wimsey in the Dorothy Sayers mysteries? As developed a character as I've ever read, and fully dimensionalized by the time he married Harriet. Dimensionalized, is that even a word?
    This week I'm reading one of Jacqueline Winspear's "Maisie Dobbs" books and that really bears out what we've all been saying. Maisie is a fully-realized character with deep needs, wants and baggage.
    Oh there is so much to learn on Seekerville.
    Today I have to write some nonfic, which brings in the money, and then work on my revise-and-resubmit.
    Back later,
    KB

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    1. Well said, KB! Deep needs, wants, and baggage--that about sums it up when digging for the protagonists real story.

      Hope you have a great writing day! Yay for the revise-and-resubmit!

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    2. Ooooo, KB, your plot sounds great!! Gotta love those pastors as heroes, eh? ;)

      And I am SURE glad I am not alone because you and I are definitely in the minority here, KB, with the way suspense/mystery has taken over the CBA! And our sweet our Debby Giusti packs a double wallop with Amish suspense, so go, Deb!!

      Hugs,
      Julie

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  17. Good morning, Myra!

    I'd never thought of making a list of obstacles to use against my character. It seems like an obvious thing to do--and important--yet it hadn't occurred to me. Thanks for your informative post today!

    ~ Renee

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    1. Glad to be of help, Renee! Just remember to keep asking WHY with each obstacle you come up with.

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  18. I would also like to be entered in the drawing for either book.
    KB

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  19. Great post Myra, and really timely. I am working on a project and the best way to improve it will be to apply these brain science principles you are talking about here. Yay. I keep needing to ask why, why, why. I'm asking myself why I'm writing too. LOL Sometimes I wonder. sigh. But if I get to the moral premise, that helps. Thanks for reminding me.

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    1. You're welcome, Sandra! Yup, I know the feeling about asking WHY we keep pounding our heads against the wall to be writers. At least, sometimes it sure feels that way!

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  20. Myra, what a great post. Some of what you shared reminds me of what Susan May Warren shares through My Book Therapy. Your post gives me a lot of questions to think through with my WIP. I think one of the things that I need to work on is creating that list of obstacles that will keep my character from getting what they want. This post is a copy and paste one. I'd love to be in the drawing for Story Genius and Castle in the Clouds. :)

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    1. Jeanne, what I love about discovering new craft books is that you never know what is going to resonate with you and help to clarify a concept. Some stuff I read just filters right on through. Other stuff--like The Moral Premise--gives me a real "aha moment."

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  21. Myra, I'm so glad you told us about this book! Brain science in regards to story fascinates me. I look forward to reading this!

    I love the suggestion to actually write the misbelief scene! I think that's a brilliant idea, because it will influence every action the main character takes. I will definitely do this on my next story!

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    1. I know what you mean, Missy! I've always kind of had those misbelief scenes very vaguely in the back of my mind, but actually living them out through the character would certainly help crystallize them.

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  22. Has anyone read her other book as well? It sounds really interesting. Trying to decide if it needs to be on my "read ASAP" list. Recommendations?

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    1. Lara, I don't think I've actually ever read Lisa's other book, but I heard her speak at a writers conference a few years ago and was blown away by her ideas on stories and brain science. So I know the book has got to be even more thorough in explaining how it all ties together.

      BTW, be sure to read Mary Curry's Seekerville blog on the subject (see link above).

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    2. I, too, was at her workshop based on the book. And it was excellent!

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  23. This is a great post, Myra. The book sounds like it has lots of interesting and useful ideas.

    Please enter me in the drawing.

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    1. Hi, Sandy! Yes, there's a lot to absorb from Cron's book. Well worth checking out!

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  24. This is great food for thought, Myra! It just goes to show how important Goal, Motivation, and Conflict is for each character, how important they are for the story. Thanks for making us think!

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    1. So true, Melanie! If we don't know why the characters want what they want, PLUS why they can't have it, it's going to be a lot harder to write a compelling story.

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  25. HI Myra!!!
    This line right here: “Ultimately, all stories are character driven—yes, all stories.” 

    This is so true. But more than that ... or maybe I should say...the way I'd put it is, all stories have to have both.
    Yes Character Driven
    Yes Plot Driven
    What is your story and who are your characters are just simple inseparable.
    Story genius, huh? Wow, I would love to be any kind of genius! :)

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    1. Mary, you ARE a genius. :)

      For me, the bottom line is that the most intriguing plot in the universe will be utterly boring UNLESS you place the right character into that plot--one your readers can't help but relate to and empathize with and cheer for.

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  26. Well done, Myra!

    Last night I finished a story in Barbour's "Secret Admirer" collection and the author did a great job with both character and plot.

    I'm currently writing nonfiction but am thinking about trying fiction again.

    Please enter me in both drawings, thank you kindly.

    May God bless you and all of Seekerville!

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    1. Thanks, Phyllis! Those stories where character and plot come together in ways that touch your heart are the ones that stick with you.

      When you're ready to try fiction again, you know where to find your support group, right? ;-D

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  27. Excellent post, Myra! Thank you! I just ordered Lisa's book. I would have waited to see if I won it, but I needed the it yesterday. LOL.

    This statement on the cover "Before You Waste Three Years Writing 327 Pages That Go Nowhere" was all it took to hook me. My wip was written two years ago during a Love Inspired contest and is currently on it's second round of revisions. My heroine is the only daughter in a family of six children. She's fiercely independent and has trouble controlling her tongue. I need to soften her up a bit because she tends to come off as unlikeable. Maybe, this book can help me finally get the revisions right.

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    1. Way to go, Rhonda! Glad you've already ordered the book. I know you'll find a lot of insights there.

      I think once you understand more about WHY your heroine is so independent and outspoken, you'll make her more relatable and even likable. Something in her past must have put her on this path, and how she overcomes it will be crucial to your story.

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  28. I've been interested in reading Story Genius for some time. Thanks for presenting some of the key points, Myra. I'm learning to ask myself more "whys," especially before the middle of the story because answering the whys gives me more potential obstacles to use. You have a way of getting to the point, which I need when it comes to craft books or I will waste time overthinking what the author is saying. Thanks for this!

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    1. You're welcome, Darlene! When I'm learning something new, I can be a "get to the point" person, myself, so I relate. I can read examples all day long, but until someone tells me how I personally can implement a technique, it doesn't sink in as easily.

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  29. Myra, thanks for sharing this important information. I should get this book! I love the idea of writing what happened to our protagonist before the story opens that has made her or him buy into misbeliefs that are in conflict with achieving the goal.

    As to plot driven or character driven, to me the character's goal creates and drives the plot. Maybe that's too simplistic. My brain is fried from playing golf this morning on a very hot day!

    I love stories when the romance seems inevitable, even with all the conflicts between the hero and heroine. I also love it when the character feels like the perfect person, the only person, capable of pursuing the goal.

    Janet

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    1. Good point, Janet--the protagonist should seem like the RIGHT person to deal with this particular goal and related story problems. When everything comes together, you know the author has done her job well.

      Hope you played a good round of golf! Now make yourself an ice-cold drink and put your feet up!

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    2. I made a tall glass of iced coffee. I only get one cup of coffee on golf mornings so I was in caffeine withdrawal. :-) Feeling much better now.

      Janet

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    3. Sounds like the perfect afternoon!

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  30. "The plot is the caldron in which character is forged. You may think a story is character driven but those characters themselves are creatures of the plot. The plot is the skeleton that enables characters to drive anything anywhere. Never dismiss the power of plot!"

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    1. I agree. I think both are equally important (and we can quickly start going in circles with which comes first or which determines which). See https://mythicscribes.com/plot/plot-or-character/ (Weiland convinced me, in one of her books, I think, but I can't remember exactly where now.)

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    2. Yes, Vince, but without a compelling character, that "plot cauldron" is just a series of events that happen to somebody.

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    3. Lara, I just checked out that blog post. Very insightful. I'm leaning toward the character-driven story idea in that it really comes down to what the character DOES that develops the plot. The character has to think, decide, and act. If it's ONLY about what events (plot) DO TO the character, then what will make the reader care?

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    4. Vince, are you working on your RPP book? Getting out my wet noodles.

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    5. Myra, I hear you. I think there's a nuance in all of this that's a little tricky to verbalize. Weiland is pretty much always talking about structure, whether it's the story structure or the character arc. The point is that the two should be related. And just to be difficult (it's what I'm good at), I'll play devil's advocate for a second. I agree completely that what the character does develops plot, but a writer could come up with the plot first and then find the character capable of making it happen. Nuances. I agree with you completely. Just that when you're thinking about creating a story it could go either way (first events or first character ... or back and forth).

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    6. Absolutely, Lara! Actually, the "story first" scenario aptly describes one of my first published novels, Autumn Rains. I got the situational idea first, then came up with characters whose backstory and current goals were the right fit for playing out the story.

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    7. Hi Lara and Myra:

      I agree with Lara who wrote, "I think both are equally important (and we can quickly start going in circles with which comes first or which determines which)."

      I also agree with Myra who wrote"...without a compelling character, that "plot cauldron" is just a series of events that happen to somebody."

      And while plot is a caldron that can forge character -- it is also much more: plot is the great 'mover' of the story.

      Consider these two cases:

      1. While Christ is the greatest character in all our written word, if the plot had not called from Him to be crucified, he would not have done it.

      Matthew 26:36-42

      "And he went a little farther, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt. ...

      "O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done..."


      2. If the plot did not call for it in the "Hobbit", Bilbo Baggins would have never gone on his quest. His character would never have been tested.

      All I am asking is for plot to be given an equal footing with character because to underplay its importance is like flying a twin engine airplane with only one engine.

      Vince

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    8. Okay, Vince, I'll give you that. Character and plot go hand in hand. :)

      But I still say the plot doesn't matter if you don't have the RIGHT character to cheer for. It has to be a character that will, however reluctantly, say yes to the challenge and be changed for the better because of it.

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    9. All good points. The character also colors the plot, meaning that he or she is the lens through which the reader is shown how to feel about what has happened, is happening, and is expected to happen.

      And I was also thinking about goal and conflict. Obstacles to the goal are conflict, usually in the form of a physical antagonist but not always. In any case (making it easier by assuming a physical antagonist), it's actually the push and pull of the reactions of the protagonist and antagonist, one after the other, that moves the story. So, yes, the character does something. Then (as it sometimes happens) someone does something to him or her (also character). Or something else unexpected crops up (plot) to foil his/her plans. Still, the main character will have a reaction.

      Yes, twin engines. Nice analogy.

      Also true: who cares about any story if the writer hasn't managed to get you invested in the characters. :-)

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    10. Lara said: "who cares about any story if the writer hasn't managed to get you invested in the characters?"

      Amen!!!

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    11. Hi Myra:

      Once again, I agree with both you and Lara.

      Indeed, I once bought a book simply because it was by my brother's favorite author. When he called to see how I liked it I said, "I pitched it in the trash. The characters were so unlikeable I didn't care if any of them lived or died anyway." My brother responded, "Yes, but they are very quirky characters. They keep me entertained." They didn't keep me entertained so out they went.

      However here's what worries me: if a young writer, with strong pantser proclivities, is told by experienced writers that all stories are character driven, then I feel she will believe that pre-planning is not necessary at all given that the characters will determine the course of the story. I think this is a disservice to the craft. That's all.

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    12. Vince, I can sort of relate to that. I panstered at first, didn't know much about story structure, and recently discovered that the big problem with my stories was that I didn't really know how to plot.

      Now I've read a lot about story structure, plot points, cause and effect, action/reaction, etc. But of course understanding is only half the battle. So, I'm still struggling along, but at least I know what the bullseye looks like.

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    13. Yes, there's definitely more to storytelling than entertaining characters. Vince, you'll never turn me into an all-out plotter, but I do freely admit the necessity of having at least some idea of what your characters want and where the story will eventually take them.

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  31. I'm with Rhonda, I just "ran" over to Amazon and ordered Story Genius with 2 day shipping! Thank you for this thought provoking post Myra! I've got "Wired for Story" but hadn't realized she'd written a follow-up book, so till I get my copy on Thursday I'll be using your points here as I edit/re-write the second half of my "middle" on my WIP. I'd love to be entered in the draw for your own book though and as I'm in Canada I'm always happy to win an ebook copy for Kindle. :)

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    1. Don't you just love Amazon Prime? I actually got the book on Kindle so it's always available on my computer, and I can highlight it like crazy and use the search function to find anything I'm looking for in the book!

      Hope your edits go well!

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    2. For some of these books I prefer the hard copy - don't know why as I read almost totally ebook fiction. I've spent ALL day writing my heroine's pivitol scene which gives her her Misbelief that's causing her internal anguish, and answering most of the above questions. This is exactly what I needed to get her more 3-D and realistic so thank you Myra! I can't wait to get my copy of Story Genius...now that I have my arm cast off and can type again I've dived back in to edits and can thank you for a very productive day!

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    3. Yay for a productive day, Laurie! So glad today's post helped you get deeper into your heroine!

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    4. Yes, Tina, I am working on RPP. I am trying to put my home office in shape with the items from my school. I need to set up some of the old office computers which have needed material for the RPP book. So once again I am slowly getting up to speed. But this time there is no job to go to. Writing in now my new job.

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  32. What an interesting post. I am an avid reader, not a writer, and this has made me step back and take a more discerning view of the book I am currently reading...I would enjoy being entered for Castle in the Clouds. The Depression provides such an interesting background, and there aren't very many books with that setting.

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    1. Hi, CC! Nice to "meet" you in Seekerville. We love our readers!

      Yes, it was really intriguing doing the research for my Depression-era romance series. I learned so much, and it was WAY more interesting than studying about it in high school history classes!

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  33. I read through this post, trying to decide who authored the piece. Even before I saw your name, I knew it had to be you, Myra. I can recognize your lovely voice even in your blogs.

    Excellent post! I need to get both of Lisa's books. Yes to everything you mentioned.

    You made me realize that I need to fine tune my heroine's external goal. I "have" it, but not in so many words, if you know what I mean. How to take the whole of what she wants and compact it into a short phrase or two...

    BTW, put me in the drawing for both giveaways. Just kidding! Seekers can't enter. :) Heading to Amazon to solve that problem.

    Hugs!

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    1. Debby, you are so funny!!! ;-D

      Anybody who ever thought writing novels was easy? Just try coming up with the "perfect" combination of character, backstory, external and internal goals, and all the obstacles and believable motivation to make a story!

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    2. "Perfect" ... I'm groaning :-D

      Yes, the more I try to write the "perfect" story, the more appreciation I have for those who have gotten things at least 90% right :-).

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    3. No kidding! I'd be thrilled with 90% success rate!!!

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  34. In my quest to always have this next book be my best, I like to find these little gem books like Story Genius. Recently I read a book on being productive by C.S. Lakin. It was helpful and practical, which I like. I'm mulling over your questions to see if I might need to sharpen my protagonist's motivation and ultimate goal. Would love to read through Story Genius and see what I could glean for my writing. Thanks for posting.

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    1. Paula, I'm sure you'd find lots of helpful insights in Lisa Cron's book. It certainly got me thinking in new directions!

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  35. As a relatively new writer, I feel overwhelmed by possibilities for good books on learning the craft. Story Genius sounds simple and practical, easy for me to follow. I'd love a chance to win a copy! And I'm a glutton for a good historical romance, too!

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    1. I know what you mean, Linda! There are sooooo many craft books available to the writer. This one is definitely a keeper for me.

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    2. Linda!!! Waving. You reminded me Genesis Finalists will be announced this week. We have lots of semi finalists waiting here in the Village. Linda, Amanda Wen, Laurie Wood, Cynthia Herron (double finalist), Tanya Agler (double finalist), Sherrinda Ketchersid, Deb Garland, Robyn Hook...hope I didn't miss anyone! Let the nail biting commence.

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    3. Exciting! Thanks for the reminder, Tina!

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  36. Wow, both books look so interested- I'd love to be put in both drawings, please. I've definitely had to put more focus on giving my character's motives lately. My WIP's protagonist is the child of that, being so focused on trying to rescue his two kidnapped children while also protecting his fragile wife.

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    1. Hi, Boo! Motivation is crucial--always asking WHY. Your hero does have a lot to worry over, and lots of strong motivation to succeed. Dig deep to discover why this character is the right one for the story. What in his past either prepared him for the task at hand or made him doubt his ability make things right?

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    2. Kristian is the right person because the predicament that has separated him from his family has also put him in a crucial place from which he can protect them. Something he will always do, no matter what, just like his father did.

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  37. My goodness, Myra! There is so much information here. You've posted yet another seminar :-) I'll be reading this several times, I'm sure.

    I've read Wired for Story but not Story Genius. Need to look into that.

    Thanks so much, Myra!

    Nancy C

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    1. You're welcome, Nancy! And what I covered here is only the tip of the so-called iceberg!

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  38. I'm using this post as I write today, so thank you, Myra. And Lisa Cron said thank you on Twitter too.

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    1. Did she? I missed it! Must go look!

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  39. Grrr. For some reason my phone would not let me post all day.

    I wanted to add this to my earlier comment (the Mary one):

    To me, one of the interesting things about the beginning of this book is that Lisa Cron seems to be throwing almost every other writing instructor under the bus. But she's not really. She's pointing out a flaw - an essential ingredient missing from most writing methods - the need to anchor everything in the protagonists inner conflict. What she explains is that so many of those models are based on finished works where the author/playwright already accomplished that. So just looking at the story structure won't help if you're missing what makes it a story to begin with.

    Jeanne T., I also wrote this earlier w hen I couldn't post. Cron's premise also reminds me, for those of you who are fans of My Book Therapy, of Susan May Warren's focus on the lie your character believes. If you've ever read her book, The Story Equation, or participated in workshops or chats, this will sound familiar.

    Lisa also points out that a lot of great storytellers just do this almost instinctively.


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    1. Well said, Mary/Cate! And Cron's misbelief ideas do complement the My Book Therapy concept of the lie your character believes.

      So, while what this book explains isn't necessarily new info, it's definitely (for me, anyway) a fresh and insightful explanation of what story is all about and what makes a good story work.

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  40. Hi Myra,
    Great blog post! I'm working on my next Safe Harbor book and loved the suggestion to not only think about 'what' when plotting, but also 'why.' I will definitely use that! Thank you! I need to read Lisa's book, so please enter me in the drawing. :)

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    1. Hi, Connie! The why is crucial, isn't it? Glad you found some useful tidbits today!

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  41. Wouldn't the lie be the same as Hauge's Identity process?

    These are some of the questions you ask your character as you develop your internal conflict via Hauge.

    1. What is your story about?

    2. What does my hero long for?

    3. What is my character's wound?

    4. What is your character's belief (THAT IS THE LIE)?

    5. What is your character's fear?

    6. What is your character's identity?

    7.What is your character's need?

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    1. Right, Tina. Sounds like just different ways of presenting the same concepts.

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  42. In my book my characters are trying to return home, but to do so they must accomplish a quest that their fathers set out on before, but failed to complete. So they spend plenty of time wondering if they can succeed where their fathers failed. And I don't know about some people's dads, but with my dad I kind of feel like if he can't do it then nobody can, and that is how my characters feel. Also they've never been to this world before so they have to deal with the uncertainty of not knowing what to expect, what dangers lurk there, or even what the terrain is like.

    Please enter my name in the drawing.

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    1. Interesting, Nicki! Yes, those are very relatable fears and uncertainties.

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  43. Good stuff, Myra!! I'm about to start plotting book #3 on my Natchez Trace series and I put your story question front and center! :)

    Can you identify what the protagonist wants most (dig deep here!) AND the misbeliefs keeping her/him from achieving it?

    I think I know, but the truth might be even deeper than I know.

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  44. Excellent post, Myra - - very timely as I plan to begin a new project very soon. :) Going into my Keeper File right now.
    I wanted to tell you I recently finished A ROSE SO FAIR and LOVED it!! In fact, that series is wonderful!
    Hugs, Patti Jo :)

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    1. Thanks so much, Patti Jo! Thrilled you enjoyed those stories!

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  45. Great post Myra! Sorry I missed it!

    The latest book I've just finished reading, the hero made a past mistake that he feels cost the life of someone under his watch as well as his career. In the end, we find out he wasn't responsible for the persons death. But in the meantime, he's determined to do whatever it takes to make it right so therefore it saturates his every move, decision, etc. And he also feels like because of that mistake, God turned away from him. Which we all know isn't the truth but when your mind is clouded with guilt, it's hard to see. It all turns out good in the end as it should, but there's a whole lot of healing & growth that goes on in the hero :-) I love stories like this :-)

    I already have a copy of "Castles in the Clouds" so no need to enter me for todays contest :-)

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    1. Great analysis, Trixi! This is a strong example of how something in a character's past creates a misbelief that he must now struggle to overcome through current story events.

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  46. I'm so glad I stopped by this morning, even if I'm a day late. This was too good to miss. Thanks so much, Myra!

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  47. Thanks for a very interesting post. I would love to be entered in both book drawings.
    Blessings!
    Connie
    cps1950(at)gmail(dot)com

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  48. Thanks for the summary, Myra. It helps, in our busy lives, when someone boils down a few main points for us. But it also reminds me to get back to reading "Story Genius" which I own. :) But I'd appreciate my name in the hat to win your historical romance. Best wishes!

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    1. Glad to be of assistance, Dana! :) Hope you find Story Genius as interesting as I did!

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  49. Thank you for introducing us to this book, Myra! I can't wait to read it. Thanks for the opportunity to win a copy.
    Blessings,
    Kimberly

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    1. You're welcome, Kimberly! Thanks for visiting with us in Seekerville!

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  50. Replies
    1. It is always great to get assistance with the writing process.

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