Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Developing Story Concept (notes from Larry Brooks' presentation)

As promised, I've got some fun notes from the LDStorymakers Writers Conference I attended this past weekend! 

I'm starting with the storytelling presentation by Larry Brooks of the Storyfix blog because he lays out some important building blocks for story. As the keynote speaker, he spoke about the difficulty of standing out in this market, and the importance of story, even over a beautiful narrative. 

I consider my writing an art, so I like to think it's all about the language. In fact, there are a few examples I can think of where the story wasn't quite crisp but the writing was so enthralling I couldn't put the book down. BUT. But I realize those novels suffered from soggy story and could have been even better had the author been given the tools of story, implemented with a master's stroke. 

So here's how Larry Brooks got us started:
He asked a series of thinking question, beginning with, "What's the most important word in storytelling?" 

I scribbled down "meaning," and he acknowledged there are several that could be considered the most important words. But the word he eventually seemed to settle on was "concept." This he differentiated from "idea," which is like the toddler years of Concept.

Then he asked, "What's the most important moment in any story?" 

I wrote in my notebook, "the moment of enlightenment right after or before the climax." But clearly, he was moving toward a point, so I waited.

He asked, "What is the one thing about your book that makes it the best book at this conference, different from all others? What makes your book special?"

My pen went, "uh..." 

The best book at this conference? That's a seriously tough one. The truth is I didn't think my book was the best book at the conference. And even as much as I loved my story, I didn't think I could put into words what made it special. A one-line pitch, sure. I've crafted dozens. But when asked in an elevator by a literary agent to say in one minute what made my story the best story out there, I would draw a complete blank.

This is where Concept comes in. It's richer than just the idea. It's the evolution of that idea into story.

He then spoke about the Four Arenas of Storytelling Physics (meaning it's practically a physical law for stories to include these):

1) Dramatic tension: conflict and choices

2) Pacing: move the story forward, and not just by the days on a calendar

3) Vicarious Empathy: make the reader understand, relate, and possibly like your characters.

4) Concept: the inherent, compelling nature of the SOUL of the story. 

I really liked that. I'd never thought of the concept as being the story's SOUL before. But it makes sense that a story must have a soul and that that soul would be the thing that makes my book different from all other books. That's what we've got to capture in a short pitch in order to share that soul with other people, to get them excited about our story before they choose to sit down for hours with the whole thing.

Okay, this is getting long, so I'll share a little more of my notes from Larry Brooks tomorrow. Meanwhile, you can check out storyfix.com for more of his confident literary awesomeness. His blog was voted into the 101 Best Blogs of 2010 by Writers Digest. 


GREAT NEWS!! Matthew Rush just joined Afterglow Book Reviews as a contributor. We now have a male reviewer who is not my husband. I'm very stoked about this (no offense to my honey). Read Matt's other announcements today.  

We've added a couple new and stellar writer/readers to Afterglow's Reviewers page

Angie Cothran, Shallee McArthur, and Kris Asselin are now on board. So be sure to stop by, read the new reviews, and welcome the newbies with your comments.

For a laugh, check this out! Afterglow contributor Angie Cothran posted one of my favorite moments at the LDStorymakers Conference: the MC's seven-year-old defining literary genres. (e.g. Romance - "That ones easy. If there is kissing it's romance, if there is more kissing than talking it's gross romance.")

Also, did you know you can now read Elana Johnson's first two chapters of POSSESSION?!! Yeah! Here they are. 

Kristal Shaff of Operation Awesome is passing along some fabulous opportunities for writers, including a chance to win a Kindle from publisher Angry Robot

Enter to win Break, Hex Hall, or The Liar Society here!


  1. I am also going over my notes from Larry's class. I'm focusing on structure today, and applying what I learned to my completed MS. I think can achieve it with only minor tweaking.

  2. Woot! That's awesome if you can do it with minor tweaking. My story is going to have a re-haul, whether it wants it or not. It was too much what Larry Brooks would call organic.

  3. This is fantastic! Definitely hard to pinpoint that ONE thing that makes your story better than anyone else's--but that's totally what the industry wants. I GET IT. But I still don't know if I could pinpoint mine haha siiiiigh

  4. Thanks so much for sharing info from Larry's presentation~ I felt like I was at a mini-conference while reading this post. I got some serious food-for-thought from this, so thanks!


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